My New York Obsession

My Nightmare Apartment

Sometimes you need to live in a really, really bad place in the city to get to a good place.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Every person I know in New York has had at least one Nightmare Apartment. I say at least one because it’s not uncommon for longtime New Yorkers desperate for cheaper rents to cycle between two or three of these before landing in a space that doesn’t make them break out in hives. A Nightmare Apartment, so defined, is an apartment that embodies all the things terrified parents warn their children about before moving to the big city, plus a few extra things that Mom and Dad (bless their hearts) could never imagine.

My own Nightmare Apartment included roaches, multiple sewage leaks that caused the basement (my roommate’s bedroom) to flood with human waste, a carbon monoxide scare, an attempted extortion, a fake laundry room complete with fake washer-dryers that did not work, and a literal rat infestation. But hey, it was cheap and close to the train.

My Nightmare Apartment included a carbon monoxide scare, an attempted extortion, and a fake laundry room. But it was cheap and close to the train.

Most people discard their Nightmare Apartments like a bad ex, never to be seen or spoken of again. When the Nightmare Apartment comes up in conversation, they roll their eyes and say something vague like, “Omigod, I can’t believe I ever lived in that place.” But not me. No. When I left my Nightmare Apartment for a dreamier one, I moved a mere two blocks away. I now pass the old place every day on my way to the train (did I mention this place was close to the train?), which leads me to be obsessed with how that old dumpster fire is doing. Like an even worse ex, I just can’t let Nightmare Apartment go. Why’d it do me so wrong? Who lives there now and how are they putting up with its (literal) crap?

nightmare apartment stories
The author confronts her nightmare. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

As far as I can tell, they are not. Based on my daily check-ins, the apartment is frequently empty, with tenants moving out at an alarming and almost certainly lease-breaking rate. I often peer into what used to be my old bedroom to see the apartment empty again, undergoing some kind of renovation, with no trace of the tenants who’d moved in only a few months before. I take a weird pride in this petty validation. See? I’ll say to myself. It really was that bad. The biggest piece of evidence that things had gone from bad to worse at the Nightmare Apartment was a sign that appeared about a year after we moved out, on the chain-link fence surrounding the backyard. It read: “Please stop feeding the cats. They are bringing raccoons. I wish we weren’t serious.” Well, I thought, at least I missed the raccoons.

Far from alleviating my curiosity, these tidbits have only made me more ravenous for information about my tormentor, my former home. Why did the most recent tenants move out? What renovations are they doing now? How are the rats? Do they think about me at all? There was even a point when I considered reaching out to the new tenants—I knew their address, after all—detailing all the pain the apartment had caused me. I wanted to warn them, to slide into their IRL DMs (also known as “mail”) with a “Heyyyyy, you don’t know me, but I see you’re shacking up with Nightmare Apartment and I just wanted to let you know he’s toxic.” But I resisted. They’d have to learn about Nightmare Apartment the hard way and leave in their own time, just as I did.

Why did the most recent tenants move out? What renovations are they doing now? How are the rats? Do they think about me at all?

Now would probably be a good time to mention that I stayed with Nightmare Apartment for two and a half years. Because that’s the thing about Nightmare Apartment. For all its flaws, it had ways of drawing me in. I used to say that the apartment was kind of like a gingerbread house—it looked cute to visitors but was ultimately held together with frosting. The cheap rent, the backyard, and, yes, the closeness to the train all made you feel that apart from the rats, the poison gas, and the floods of human excrement, it wasn’t all that bad. Plus the backyard was, like, really good for parties—and not just raccoon parties.

Her nightmare is gone, but will never be forgotten. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

It took meeting someone else to find the courage to leave Nightmare Apartment. Finally, I found someone who was nice and funny, with a good credit score and the ability to pay a security deposit, and I was out of there. My roommates also scattered to the winds, though my former roommate Ian—whose bedroom was ground zero for not only the rats but the poo floods—told me he still has dreams in which water is pouring into his bedroom.

As for me, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may never get over Nightmare Apartment. I’ll keep mining the area for clues, peering into the backyard and peeking into windows for signs of life, human or rodent. When I’m being generous, I’ll say that I had to live in Nightmare Apartment so that I could learn what I don’t want: Valuable red flags like a landlord whose “emergency number” routes to an answering service and a super who tells you not to listen to the fire department’s insistence that you need new smoke alarms because “all they care about is fires.” Should I have known these things were suspect as soon as they happened? Sure. But like all bad relationships, sometimes it’s the most obvious lessons that are the hardest to learn.

Alise Morales is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn. She is the news and politics editor at Betches, where she writes the Betches Sup newsletter and cohosts the Betches Sup podcast. Follow her on Twitter (@AliseNavidad) and Instagram (@pandalise). She previously wrote about Tina’s Restaurant for What Should We Do.