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  • The brushes and rollers I needed to complete my getaway were under the sink, where I'd stashed them with the paint cans five years earlier. A moving team from the storage company had already picked up the furniture and books I wanted to keep; the rest I’d sold through Craigslist or left in my building lobby, free for the taking. Three moving men carted out boxes of pottery I’d swaddled in bubble wrap and favorite photos I thought I could do without seeing for a year. That’s how long my exile from New York City would last. A year. That was the plan.

    The drips on the brush handles served as reminders of back and forth trips to Home Depot and the late nights I’d spent painting the apartment walls. I knew those colors would be hell to cover back over, to return them to the eggshell the lease demanded, but this wasn’t going to be a temporary place. It was supposed to be years before I even thought about painting again. The deep chocolate brown wasn’t supposed to be a risk. My parents, after all, were still in the New Jersey house they’d given up Brooklyn for 38 years earlier. We are not people who move.

    And, after twelve years in a crummy studio on the fourth floor of a walkup on the Upper East Side, the one-bedroom apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens, with an elevator, laundry in the building, a chaat shop around the corner, and windows that looked out on the Manhattan skyline seemed some great—though far from extravagant—reward. If the guy who installed my dead bolt wasn’t already married, I think he would have proposed for the view.

    But five years later, at 39, I was breaking my lease. On Facebook it felt good to paint a different version of the truth, to point my finger at the recession. But the recession was just a pretty little addition to the list of things that sent my financial panic attacks into overdrive, that made it impossible to breathe, that had turned me into somebody people were careful around

    I had debt that made my accountant look down for an extra beat before meeting my eyes. Debt that was already a constant companion when, in 2007, I didn’t delete my ex’s email apologizing for his bad behavior when we were together 12 years earlier. Debt that made it easy, after a few weeks hanging out together again, to ask him to move in, to split the rent.

    And when I woke up from all of that, when, on (yes, really) Independence Day of 2008, the movers finally cleared my ex again’s stuff out of my life (holiday moves are pricey but, in this case, worth it) my bedroom’s herbal green walls didn’t comfort me and my surfer blue hallway looked dingy.

    A year later, I decided it was time to take a breather and finally took my parents up on their offer to turn their computer room back into my bedroom. It was time to paint my apartment again. I went to Home Depot but, this time, I didn’t pull thousands of paint chips. I went to the paint department and asked for the thickest primer they sold.

    I took the rollers, brushes, and paint pans out from under the sink. But the deep chocolate brown wouldn’t give up. My office’s bright red walls refused to go quiet. When I ran out of primer, I gave up. My security deposit was at risk but I didn’t care. I loaded the last few boxes into a borrowed car and drove over the 59th Street Bridge, up the FDR, and across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey.

    Three years later, the panic attacks are long gone, the finances in a much better place (my accountant goes so far as to smile at me), but those photos, the pottery, and the furniture are still in storage. The last paint color I chose was for a car. (It’s black.) Instead of moving back to my New York, I wander. Two months in Alaska. Three months in Nashville. Seven months driving around the country. And, in between, the couch in the computer room.

    Now I tell people it’s because I can, when else will I do this? But there are days I wonder if that’s the truth. Because when I think about moving back into the city, when I think about the bills and what happened before, I get scared. I never want to buy primer again.
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