Every morning for the last six years, I've woken up in an apartment that isn't my own. I roll out of a bed I didn't purchase, pour coffee into whatever mug I find in the kitchen, and stare out on to walls adorned with art that makes me cringe.
Before I met my husband, I found this kind of life absolutely unthinkable.
A year out of college, I stumbled on a rent-stabilized apartment in Brooklyn for $700 a month. (Just writing that sum now leaves me stupefied.) Only a moron would turn down such a deal, but when I signed the lease, I had no idea I'd call this place home for the next 11 years. In fact, it was the apartment's laughably low rent that allowed me to survive in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. I painted the walls "café latte"— a color chosen, foolishly, for the name alone — unpacked boxes of books, and despite the fact that my friends and family mostly lived close by, surrounded myself with photos of them.
Although rising rents forced my peers to move once a year, I stayed put, which suited me perfectly. My parents have lived in the same house for half a century, with minimal variation in decor. Each year we celebrated birthdays at the same steakhouse and happily vacationed in the old reliable spot in upstate New York for 25 summers in a row.
Perhaps it now goes without saying that I am calmed by the familiar and can veer dangerously toward the nostalgic. After over a decade in the same neighborhood, I could wander around with my eyes closed. I knew the guy who sold me stamps and the hot, sleazy bartender's weekend schedule. Most of my friends lived within twenty blocks. I loved my tiny, familiar village, all within arm's reach. I was never, ever going to leave.
But all of this went out of the window when I met a man who had no sentimental attachment to home: an American who lived in Europe and eagerly flew across the Atlantic for our first date.
Making do anywhere you land is all quite normal to Daniel. In the last 20 years, he has set up shop in Amherst, Oxford, Boston, New York, Beijing, Berkeley, Manchester, Tel Aviv, Munich, and Vienna, with month-long stints all over Europe. Until we moved to California this year, he kept his most prized possessions — his 4,000 books — in a storage space. They were the only things he missed while he was gallivanting around the globe.
Our courtship, which involved a whirlwind of emails and trips across the Atlantic, swiftly capsized my sedentary, contented life. A year later, we were married and living in Vienna, Austria. We weren't sure how long Daniel's job would keep us there, so rather than rent an unfurnished Viennese flat and fill it with pieces from Ikea, we sublet year after year as his contract was extended.
How could I, someone who'd spent weeks obsessing over the perfect mattress, ever make this transient place home?
During our first few months in Vienna, I felt lost on an almost existential scale. To fight that feeling, I would find a café I liked and return to it again and again, pretending I belonged until I came to believe it. I would discover a route that got me from the Westbahnhof train station to our apartment on Beingasse without getting lost, and refuse to diverge from it, like a needle settling into the grooves of a record.
Daniel, on the other hand, yearned for the unknown, for a big world waiting to be discovered. "We haven't been this way before!" he'd say in those early weeks as we exited the U-Bahn station, turning down a foreign path. He sought out and thrived on the appeal of the undiscovered: a new route, a new city, a new language, a new adventure.
Despite how this made me uncomfortable, I saw his boldness as a boon to our marriage. He would push me to be more adventurous, while I'd create some sense of ritual at "home." For a time, it worked beautifully, a weird yin-and-yang of marital balance.
After almost five years away, we've returned to the U.S. and I've found myself daydreaming more about the little house in upstate New York where we got married. It was a few miles from where I'd spent those 25 summers as a kid, and where Daniel and I had our first date more than six years ago — the weekend that made us realize we'd found our match.
In my fantasies, I played out the next 20 summers together: our daughter bunking with our niece and nephew, my parents and uncles and aunts all squeezed around the table for fresh corn and mojitos, teaching our kid to swim in our favorite freezing cold lake. The last few years had felt slightly unstable, and upstate New York seemed the closest to something that we could call ours.
When I shared this fantasy with my husband, he gave me the side-eye. "But don't you want to go someplace new?"
Over the years I've come to think of us as having fundamentally different ways of taking pleasure in the world: does it come from novelty and adventure? From familiarity and repetition and comfort? How do two people reconcile such opposite ways of going about life?
I am also starting to understand that there is no going back to any of it. I can't return to those childhood summers, to my younger self who had just met this mysterious traveler, or to the two souls who were falling in love in the woods.
Our stretch in Europe wasn't a blip or an interlude away from home — it was our home. It was the reality of life with the wanderlust-filled soul I've chosen to hitch my wagon to, and increasingly, it is the reality of who I've become, of how my marriage has transformed me. I, too, am now someone who can make roots wherever she finds herself. I have become someone who isn't quite as averse to change.
In L.A., we live in yet another sublet. There are days when I want to pitch our ugly wooden coffee table out the window, and when I look at the bare walls and it takes all my will power to not grab a hammer and nails and stamp the place with our tastes, our history. There are days when I want to just stay put.
But I also think: if I hadn't met Daniel, would I have ended up here at all? Would I have gotten on that plane to Europe and had escapades I could never have fathomed? Would I have pushed myself outside the boundaries of my neighborhood, my friendship circle, my small, comfortable piece of land? Would I have made as much of this wonderful world my own?
Abigail Rasminsky has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Cut, Marie Claire, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Racked, among other publications. She lives in Los Angeles and can be found on Twitter @AbbyRasminsky.