lessons from my heater

The temperature has finally dropped: when I asked Siri what the weather was this morning, she said “Brrr. It’s 19 degrees in Brooklyn.” You will understand my disappointment when I walked into my apartment from work at 1130PM last night to see snowflakes forming when I spoke. For the last year, I’ve meditated every single morning for 20 mins first thing when I wake up. Anger is not an easy thing to process or feed into anymore. It paralyzes me, it makes me cry. I’ve trained myself to immediately look at the positive when crazy begins to leak. But leak it did. I begin to take out the trash like I’m warming up for my quarterly half-marathon. I keep my entire winter gear on, including my Tims, and when my boyfriend says he’s on his way home, anger comes unleashed.

I hate being cold. In my gratitude journal, there’s a daily entry for my appreciation of heat, warm clothing, and drinks. I was born and raised 300 miles from the Equator and cold feels like someone’s robbing me of my heated foundation; one of the few constitutional rights I had as a Colombian citizen. That’s what being cold feels like. It unleashes a crying monster unlike any Hanger has ever seen. Hanger, as my loved ones will tell you, is another chronic problem that inhabits my body. In short, I hate being cold.

I immediately texted our landlord, letting her know that the heat was still malfunctioning, that it’s the coldest night thus far, and that we need someone who could give a more extensive look. I don’t like this kind of aggression or demand. So I sat down, the anger boiling up to my earlobes, replacing the heater’s inadequacy even for a moment. And I began to cry. What arose in that moment was immeasurably convoluted and deep seeded.

My parents are wonderful mentors. It’s a noun I’ve come to terms with in describing their parenting in my adult years. To be fair, I think I was born an incredibly independent child. Bear with me as a I divulge my spiritual beliefs, but I probably chose them for that exact reason. Parents more protective, present, or overbearing would have suffocated me. But with this kind of distance, I’ve grown accustomed to doing for myself as a child the things that most of my peers didn’t learn to do until their early twenties. I’m not good at cleaning and I often wait a few nights to fold my laundry, but I am an overall responsible person. I’ve had to be.I survive and thrive well.  It’s in my creation story. What I felt last night was not just a white-girl-living-in-Bed-Stuy tantrum. What I felt last night was a familiar resentment of having to demand of an adult to do their part with the 25-year-age gap reminder that I shouldn’t have to.

What arose last night was a reminder that I am still afraid of standing up for myself for fear of losing my place, in this case, for fear of being thrown out. I actually apologized for the ask, justifying my request only because of the 19 degree weather. Forget that NYC law requires that if the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees, the inside temperature must be at least 68 degrees everywhere in your apartment; or forget, even, that our rent was raised a hefty $100 a month this fall. I question this fear. The current political climate makes me wonder what pushes it most. Is it my womanhood? My Latinidad? My being an immigrant? When the boyfriend finally made it back, I monologued in amazement of this fear. I know full well that being in a 19 degree weather room you pay a thousand dollars a month for is unacceptable and yet I still felt guilty for my request that it get taken care of. 

I tried to get myself out of the boiling zone by remembering to be grateful for the nice coat I was wearing, the boots, for the stand-in-heater-aka-my-boyfriend, for the roof over my head, for the fact that I can even afford my room, and also, HELLO PRISCILA, SYRIA! Jesus. But that’s what also made me angry. I thought, here I am, trying to justify 19 degrees in my room because I should be grateful to have the room at all. The little voice in my head that said, hey, you’re an immigrant and you were given this lease because this nice lady took pity on you, and also be grateful that you even have this money. If you’re not grateful, there’s someone else who will gladly take your place.  

Listen, all of that is true. I am grateful. I live my life through my gratitude journal and I ugly cry on my daily walk from the train thinking about what my amazing friends have done for my life. I even wrote “I love you, thanks for keeping us warm,” on the radiator last night I believe in this stuff so much. But you know what else I thought of, still fully wintered up in my room last night? That my whitest white girl badass friend, or any guy friend for that matter, would have already purchased three space heaters, highlighted the total, and sent it in to the landlord for reimbursement without thinking twice about it. And that made me cry.This quickly escalated from a tug-of-war with the powers of my heater and I to a tug-of-war between all my complexes.Grateful that such a small moment presented me with the opportunity to break through a wall of my own; to stand up for myself and my hard-earned dollars— and weepy that despite my daily affirmations, I have a lot of unlearning left to do to stop feeling like a burden when I demand a right. 

The heat ended up coming back on around midnight. It spewed only for an hour but it was long enough for us to fall asleep feeling like we weren’t in an icebox. I fell asleep thinking of all the times our cars were cheaply fixed trying to save an extra buck. Thinking of car mirrors held with duck tape and bumpers with bungee cords. However our heat is being handled, it’s similar to that. And I get it. I know that. I came from that. But something shifted last night. If there’s anything this Trump era has taught me, it’s that I should always and forevermore empower myself to change my situation. I thought about the fact that at 2 days shy of being 25, I pay my rent, all my bills, and my Shonda Rhimes classes with the money I make working three jobs. And damnit, I don’t have to expect or be okay with bungee rope and duck tape services anymore! And that it’s New York and everyone’s in a freaking hustle. Including my landlord, whom I respect very much and otherwise adore. But I hustle to pay my rent on time with those hard-earned dollars and I expect the same respect back. The point is that this isn’t about my rent, or the heater, or the fact that I fell asleep with my coat on (which, like I said, my Colombian blood is very grateful for)— it’s that it’s time I learn the difference between entitlement and standing up for myself. It’s time to internalize that power to be able to say no to a situation and have the courage to change it without fear of being seen as too demanding or bitchy. It’s a lesson I actively work on in my professional spaces and it’s something I’m ready to implement in every aspect of my life. So you see, I’m very grateful for this heating problem after all. Onward. 

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