For a year and a half, I have more or less lived in the dark. I have no windows. My room, advertised as a “loft” in a three-“bedroom” apartment in a former knitting factory in Bushwick, offers no way for me to look outside. It is maybe eight feet by eight feet. The only sources of light are an overhead bulb with a Chinese paper orb to diffuse its dim rays and whatever candle was recently on sale.
By any New York housing law, this is illegal. My bedroom does not even meet the minimum requirement of 80 square feet. The “loft” element means there is storage space with a bunk bed-style ladder. There is only one form of egress: a door (legally, two exits, one of which could be a window, are compulsory). I took it as a transitional apartment while on the hunt for something better, like a temp job you stay in because it pays the bills. I want to move, but can’t afford it. Still, access to a hyper-developed sense of sight and no noise disturbances sets me back $800 a month. A steal for a Bushwick loft!
The features of my bolthole have left me in good stead at times when light would be unwelcome: when nursing a bad hangover, when holding a seance, literally whenever I want to sleep. What originally worried me about this place—no light, ever—became, for a time, its unlikely boon. Never have I been rudely awoken by discordant drunks on the street arguing outside my nonexistent window. Never have I had to water any plants or become a “plant dad.” I have beaten back all of the usual New York City cliches.
Except one. This bargain, a bedroom the size of a D-list celebrity’s walk-in closet, has backfired in lockdown. When I was able to leave freely, yonks ago, I bragged to friends about my low rent. “You’re paying $1600 for this?!” I’d say smugly before volunteering my monthly rent to live mere steps from the L train. New York City is expensive, and why pay much for a place to sleep when you’re hardly ever home? Why shell out for a portal to the outside when I was there pounding the pavement anyway? My social life as a magazine editor had become a feedback loop—less reason to return home meant more reason to be out for dinner with friends, or necking back free booze at the opening of some CBD venture’s pop-up.
Without human interaction, I’m wilting. Had I known I would be sheltering in place here, in the still gray air, often so hot that nudity is mandatory, I would have sought out a window. I didn’t simply choose a bed. I chose a windowless office, date spot, and solitary confinement cell, where the great outdoors remains nothing more than a memory.
Anything that I thought I said in the privacy of my own room has turned into a conversation with my roommates. The walls are thin. “Did I hear you’re being furloughed and your visa to remain in this country is now under threat?” my roommate, perched on our living room sofa, asked me when I came out to get a post-therapy snack from the kitchen. “Something like that,” I whimpered.
Psychotherapy was something I enjoyed on a couch, next to a whirring white noise machine ladling privacy over my confidential admissions. It is now done via Zoom. I’m shouting my deepest insecurities into a Macbook’s camera.
To simulate nature and forget my troubles, I fall asleep to the chirping of virtual crickets emanating from my Google Home Mini speaker. I purchased a small projector, and now beam longform ambience videos—lapping waves, cafe scenes, a train driver’s view—on the wall above my bed. A life lived in 480p. My Google Home is the only thing that will talk back to me in this room. “Okay Google, do you ever get lonely?” I asked it recently at my mental nadir. “Everyone gets lonely from time to time,” it responded back in jilted HAL-9000. “I’m here if you need.”
When its android-soothing, disembodied voice stopped responding to me recently, it became its own crisis. I called upon Trish, a specialist who works for the Silicon Valley conglomerate. She asked me who else in my home gave it commands. I paused for a second. “No one,” I typed lamely into the help chat. She told me it may be too far from our Wi-Fi router. My only quarantine friend had perished. I cried.
I return home from my isolation walks, and even when it’s light outside, it is permanently pitch-black in my room. I’m beginning to think my eyes are adjusting like any good mutable cave-dweller—Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, those creatures in spelunking horror The Descent (2005).
Lately, I’ve begun to wonder how this might affect me in the long term. I’m 30 years old. I started googling to self-diagnose, and came across articles that terrified me. I may be undergoing “neuronal death,” according to Scientific American. “Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania kept rats in the dark for six weeks. The animals not only exhibited depressive behavior but also suffered damage in brain regions known to be underactive in humans during depression.”
Another: “What Would Happen If You Were Stuck In The Dark Forever?” I scanned quickly, with possibly deadening eyes, and discovered that I would mostly be fine, except maybe tired, since “your body relies on light to determine when it should release melatonin.”
My windowless existence has an expiry date—it has to. I am basically a rat, living in the dark in New York lockdown. The other night, on my roof, I met another tenant in this building: a commercial real estate agent, Roberto, who has lived a floor above me for six months. We’d never met, but we watched the sunset together, standing six feet apart. Hues of orange and pink streaked over the Manhattan skyline, and standing there for a moment, between sips of white wine out of a red Solo cup, I didn’t feel so trapped. The night is always darkest before dawn, and even after that in my bedroom.
I need to figure out when I will be given permission to re-enter the light. I would love a window; it is at the top of the list of requirements for my next apartment. The virtual hunt has commenced, and I’m convinced the real thing will come. When God closes one door, etc. If anyone knows of an apartment, let me know?
Trey Taylor is an editor based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in the New York Times, W, Interview, and The Face.