San Francisco

Sandra Lim

My older neighbor on Rose Street once showed me
the contents of his rent-controlled apartment, just up the stairs from mine.
He was a hoarder, living in a state of tragic grandeur
that his circumstances did not entirely support.
Recurringly, his latest boyfriend would flee from him.
When we met later in the alley to take out the trash, we would reliably
turn into two lumps of fear. What was more terrifying than
being abandoned? Downstairs, I was a collector, too,
with my need to interpret and sort everything.
But we didn’t tire of the spectacle
of our private lives, though many initiatives went badly wrong.
I was altogether more anxious about being light-minded.
My railroad apartment was a small cloth diary
with a lock and key. It was my real life,
or what so often passes among us for real life. And for all his possessions,
my neighbor dreamed of having a Petit Trianon with a vast garden
to walk in and dog roses lavishing a limitless dining room table.
Of course, there was no table, because there was no dining room.
Obviously, there was never a garden to walk in.

Sandra Lim is the author of The Wilderness and Loveliest Grotesque. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Originally published:
January 1, 2020

Featured

A Faceless Compass

Johannesburg’s haunted streets
Ivan Vladislavić

Case Studies

A critic tracks herself
Margo Jefferson

Geoff Dyer

The essayist on not having a career
James Surowiecki

Subscribe

New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.
Subscribe