I’d become friendly with Ava, my Brooklyn yoga teacher, after finding ourselves at the Fort Greene dog park several mornings a week. One gray morning, staring out at the circling canines, she said, “I’ll tell ya, I love my son but if I could do it over, I’d just have dogs.” It wasn’t your typical yogic convo. In fact, there was nothing typically yogic about Ava—she didn’t espouse recycled bits of wisdom, have a vegan glow, or even a lithe, sinewy body—which drew me to her. When she invited me to hang out after class one afternoon, I had no inkling of the potential impact.
Ava snuffed out the candle on the altar next to the elephant statue, and waved goodbye to the last yogi. “Come on up,” she nodded towards me, and headed up the stairs. At the top, the green paint-chipped door opened not to her office but to a modest apartment—a sunny room filled with hanging window plants, and a kitchen on one wall. It smelled vaguely of incense and garlic. She wanted to hang out there and make cookies for us and her son.
“Wow, you live here!” I said.
“Yeah. I own the building.”
While she rummaged through her old white stove for a baking sheet, I fixated on this new insight into her life. How on earth does she, a single mother yoga teacher with an MIA baby daddy, OWN A BUILDING?, I wondered. I was a single therapist in my mid-thirties, a serial renter. My unbalanced checkbook was probably—hopefully, I thought—buried in the desk drawer with the unused stapler, Scotch tape and useless pens. My meager savings account accrued less than a dollar in interest each year. I wanted to know more, and apparently my sense of tact had flown past the dangling buckets of spider plants and out the rickety old window: “How did you manage to buy a building in Brooklyn?” I blurted out.
“Actually, I have four,” she said, unimpressed with her feat. “I got in at the right time.”
She’d worked a corporate job, she explained, but hated it. A colleague of hers bought property, and from the passive income it generated, was able to quit. He taught her about creative financing, keeping neighborhoods intact and housing affordable, and handling renovations. Her income was supplemented by rentals. It all seemed so sophisticated. My mind was officially blown.
“Really, it’s no biggie,” Ava said as she plopped blobs of cookie dough onto a sheet. “You could probably do it. There are tons of mortgages available if you get the financing right.”
It seemed to me like a big biggie. Mortgage rates. Brokers. Coop boards. Renovations. It made my head swirl, but it also seemed like a portal to something I’d been looking for. I couldn’t control my waxing loneliness as my friends moved on into families of their own, the stream of ill-suited suitors on dating apps, or my waning fertility. Home ownership felt like an alternate path to greater adulthood, one that would allow me some choice.
When she took the cookies out of the oven, she fumbled with an egg timer. “It’s so hard to let them cool! Five minutes,” she said. “It’s supposed to be 10, but I can’t wait any longer.” She poured us some almond milk.
The cookie was warm, crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside — my favorite. The chips were a classy bittersweet, and they thinned out like tiny strands of pizza cheese with each bite. The dark brown sugar in her batter gave the cookie a rich, molassassy flavor. The creamy cold milk on top of all that cocoa goodness was like heaven in my mouth. I felt full from the home-baked yumminess; from the new friendship; from the possibilities of a more stable life. Then, it was time to head back to work.
“That was delicious,” I said, picking up my mat.
“That’s it?” she asked, incredulous. Her demeanor had changed drastically. I wondered if I’d done something to offend her, when she added,“You’re just going to have… one cookie?”
“How in the world do you do that?!”
I folded my lips, flummoxed by the force of her curiosity and how to respond. Because there were days, months and years when enjoying one cookie would have been impossible, though I hadn’t thought about those times recently. I’d spent decades feeling helpless as I plotted my routes from school and later work, in order to pass the bagel store with the fluffy warm bagels, or the greasy diner with the luscious spanakopita, or the bakery with the cheap, frothy eclairs. Hours of wrestling with my desire for the leftover ice cream, until I finally snuck into the kitchen when everyone else was sleeping to shove spoonfuls in my mouth, straining to leave a little so it was less obvious that I finished it. Stretches of time spent lying on my bed post-binge, bloated with self-hate and undigested food, swearing I would start eating right, and then watching the resolve slip through my greasy fingers the next day as I stood at the kitchen counter downing donuts.
“I couldn’t always just have one cookie,” I said, bringing myself back. “I had a compulsive eating disorder, and healing from it took a lot of work.”
“Really? How? I want to do that!”
There was no one thing, one trick I could offer Ava. I could try to explain the brief, failed stint in Overeaters Anonymous, the hours in therapy and women’s groups, struggling to accept my body as it was, my curvy body which didn’t have the long, thin lines of my mother or sister. Or the phase when I bought all the snacks to signal to my little girl that she could have whatever she wanted, and it had a paradoxical effect: I stopped craving. Or the time spent trying to fill my inner emptiness with divine presence via living at an ashram, where I willed myself to sit on a chair instead of going to the snack bar for cookies I wasn’t actually hungry for, and held on for dear life as I breathed right down into the crack in my soul, through the most heinous psychic pain, until the craving passed, because I would not stand for one more night hating myself for stuffing my face.
Instead I opted for simple. “It’s really no biggie,” I said with a wink, mirroring back the words she had said to me earlier regarding her magical ability to finance her life. When it comes to personal transformation, all we can really give each other are the bare bones, and hope. Beyond that, we have to explore our deepest challenges ourselves, and make mastery our own.
“At least take some for the road,” she said.
But I didn’t want any more cookies. They wouldn’t be warm. They wouldn’t include Ava’s ironic presence. What I could take was the mutual hope we had given each other just by living our lives, and the incredible reflection that all that grueling personal work I did to heal had actually inspired someone else without me doing anything except eating one cookie: the cookie that would change my life. While I never found anything remotely affordable in the city, two years later I purchased a beautiful home in the (then affordable) Hudson Valley, where I found a calm, compassionate mortgage broker, and, despite everyone’s fear that leaving the city would be a mistake, I landed in a community long on like-minded friends, good food, and suitable male companions.
Blair Glaser is a consultant and writer whose work appears in Longreads, Oldster, Yes! Magazine, Scoop, Shondaland, Insider and others. She's completed a memoir about living in an ashram in her 20s. More about Blair can be found at www.blairglaser.com