The closest thing Jeromeville has to an industrial area is East Second Street. East of downtown, the street follows a railroad track all the way to the city limits, running parallel to Highway 100 just on the other side of the railroad track. I drove down East Second Street, past the frog pond, under the new overpass that had trees in it, and into the small parking lot of Second Street Self Storage. The entrance to the office opened to the right side of the parking lot. Behind the parking lot and office were about five or six long buildings with dozens of garage-type doors on each side; a sliding gate separated the parking lot from this area.
I walked into the office, where a middle-aged man sat at a desk. “Hello,” he said. “May I help you?”
“I called about fifteen minutes ago, asking about the 6 by 8 unit,” I replied. “Was that you that I talked to?”
“It sure was. You’re still interested?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I’ll need you to fill this out,” he said, handing me a small stack of papers. He explained the terms and conditions, the hours that I was able to access the storage unit, and what I would have to do in order to get my cleaning deposit back. “Do you know if you’re going to keep the unit long term, or just temporarily?”
“Probably just for one month,” I replied. “I just need a place to put my stuff until my new apartment is ready, and that’ll be the first week of September.”
“I see. We get a lot of one-month rentals around this time of year for that reason.”
“Makes sense,” I said. Most of the large apartment complexes in Jeromeville use the same lease terms, specifically written in coordination with the Associated Students organization, in order to be favorable to student renters. Leases usually begin September 1 at noon and end August 31 at noon, leaving students who do not renew their leases for the following year without a place to stay for one night. During the end of August and beginning of September, cleaning and remodeling crews in Jeromeville are working overtime, cleaning apartments as soon as students move out and hurrying to have them ready before new students move in.
After I filled out the papers, I got out my checkbook and wrote a check for the rent and cleaning deposit. “May I see your ID?” the man asked when I handed him the check. I handed him my driver’s license. He looked at it, started to look at the check, but then did a double take and read my driver’s license again. “It’s your birthday,” he said.
“It is,” I replied, smiling slightly.
I went home after I finished at Second Street Self Storage. I had no special birthday plans. Tonight was Bible study, but that was my normal plan for Thursdays. I had not made a big deal of my birthday in a long time. I remember my family having birthday parties for me in early childhood. I had my sixth and seventh birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s, which was new to my area at the time. After that, I decided I did not want birthday parties anymore. The other kids in my class were mean to me, so I had no one I particularly wanted to invite. I would get presents from my family, but other than that, little recognition was made of my birthday, at my own request. That was what I was used to.
When I arrived home, before I went to the apartment, I walked to the mailbox. I saw three envelopes in my mailbox. One was a credit card bill. One appeared to be a birthday card from Mom. The third envelope had unfamiliar handwriting; I got excited at this, hoping that it might be from Haley Channing since I had written to her early last week. It was not from Haley; the return address said, S. Madison, 809 Walnut Lane, Sunnyglen. It took me a few seconds to process why someone named S. Madison from Sunnyglen, over 100 miles away, would have sent me a birthday card.
“Ha!” I exclaimed out loud when I figured out what this card was. Six months ago, I had been sitting at a table on campus with my friend Scott Madison. He was showing me his fancy new organizer. As a joke, I flipped ahead to August 15, and wrote “Greg’s birthday” in Scott’s organizer. Scott went home for the summer, but apparently he was still using his organizer, because he had actually sent me a card. My little joke had turned into a thoughtful gesture. I opened the card when I got home; it had a drawing of sheep on a roller coaster, and on the inside it said, “Hope your birthday is filled with sheep thrills!” Scott had written, “Happy birthday, Greg! I hope that you’re having a good summer. I’m working, but I miss Jeromeville a lot! See you in the fall!” I do not know if Scott remembered my birthday in future years, but I do get Christmas cards from Scott and his family to this day.
The light on my answering machine was blinking, one blink with a long pause in between, meaning that I had one message. I pressed Play. “Hey, Greg. This is Shawn Yang. I was just checking when the new apartment will be ready, so we can figure out who will be first to move in, get the keys, all that stuff. Call me back. Bye.” I picked up the phone and dialed Shawn’s number at his parents’ house in Ashwood.
“Hello?” a voice that sounded like Mr. Yang said.
“Hi. Is Shawn there?”
“He went out for a run. He’ll be back soon. Who is this?”
“This is Greg. I’m one of his roommates for next year in Jeromeville. I met you at the graduation party.”
“Oh, yeah!” Mr. Yang exclaimed. “The tall Mexican guy!”
I snickered a little, trying to hold back laughter, hoping that Mr. Yang could not hear my reaction. “Tell him to call me back. I’ll be at Bible study from seven to nine tonight, but I’ll be here the rest of the day.”
“I’ll do that. You have a good day.”
“You too. Bye.” I hung up the phone and started laughing loudly at Mr. Yang’s description of me. I was not Mexican, although I did occasionally get mistaken for Mexican, because of the dark complexion that I got from the Italian great-grandfather whom I never met. A few months after this, Shawn said something about his father having no filter. I told Shawn about this conversation, and he replied incredulously, “He actually said that?” We both started laughing.
Shawn did call me back later; I would be the first to arrive at the new apartment on September 2, with Shawn arriving the following weekend. Shawn would relay the message to the others; he thought Brian was moving in the same weekend as him, and none of us had heard from Josh yet. I went to Bible study later that night, and after the study, Lillian and Chris, the leaders, asked if anyone had prayer requests. A few people asked for prayer for classes, roommate drama, and a friend who did not know Jesus.
“Any other prayer requests?” Lillian asked.
“I have one,” I said. “My mom is coming up next Tuesday. We’re going to move my stuff into storage, and then I’m going home for a couple weeks, and when I come back, I’ll move into the new apartment, with Shawn and Brian and Josh. I’ve never had roommates before. So just pray that the moving process will go well.”
“We can do that.”
“I think you’re really gonna like living with those guys,” Amelia Dye added. Amelia was a year older than me; I had met her at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship at some point during the previous school year. She was the girlfriend of Scott Madison, who had sent me the card with the sheep.
“I hope so,” I replied.
We began prayer requests a few minutes later. Each person took turns praying for the person sitting to our left. I prayed for Amelia’s friend who did not know Jesus. As the others finished their prayer requests, I heard someone get up and move, but I thought nothing of it at the time.
“Father God,” Lillian said, “I pray for Greg’s living situation. I pray that the move will go smoothly, that he and his mom will be able to get everything packed and cleaned. I pray that Greg will adjust to living with these other men of God. I pray that Greg, Shawn, Brian, and Josh will enjoy fellowshipping with each other, and that as roommates, they will grow closer to God together. And I pray for all of us, that we will take what we learned in our study tonight and apply it to our lives this week. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” I opened my eyes; Amelia was no longer sitting next to me. Lillian spoke again before the group had time to disperse. “One more thing,” she said. “We heard it’s Greg’s birthday, so we have cupcakes tonight.”
Wait, I thought, what? Cupcakes? For me? As Lillian finished speaking, Amelia and Chris emerged from the kitchen, each carrying a muffin pan with twelve cupcakes. The cupcakes in Amelia’s pan had chocolate frosting, and the ones in Chris’ pan had white frosting. The cupcakes had lit candles on top. Lillian led everyone in the room singing “Happy Birthday.” I smiled through the entire song.
“Make a wish!” Amelia said.
I closed my eyes. I wanted to wish for better friendships with my JCF friends in the next school year. I also wanted to wish that I would get to go on a date with Haley Channing after she came back to Jeromeville next month. I panicked and blew in the general direction of the cake before deciding which one to wish for. I opened my eyes; all the candles had been extinguished. At that moment, I noticed that exactly four of the two dozen cupcakes did not have candles in them. “Twenty candles,” I said. “I just noticed. Nice.”
“Is that right?” Chris asked.
“Yes. I turned 20 today.”
As I bit into my cupcake, one of the ones with white frosting, I wondered how they knew that it was my birthday. I had not told Lillian or Chris. But after Bible study last week, I had mentioned my upcoming birthday to Ramon and Jason. Also, since Scott remembered to send me a card, he could have easily told Amelia. I was pretty sure he knew that we both attended this Bible study for the summer. I realized a minute later that this had been the first time in thirteen years that I had celebrated my birthday with friends. I stopped celebrating my birthday as a child because I did not have friends that I wanted to celebrate with, but this year was different; I had friends, and I got to celebrate with them.
Five days later, I sat in my apartment reading, waiting for the knock on the door that eventually came in mid-afternoon. I got up to open the door. “Hello,” Mom said, entering the apartment after I stepped aside. She had made the trip in Dad’s gray Ford pickup truck, which was now parked just outside. She gave me a hug. “This is for you,” she continued, handing me a rectangular wrapped gift. “The rest of your presents are back home. Most of them are things for the new apartment, so it didn’t make sense to bring them now. But you can have this now.”
I took the gift; it was unexpectedly heavy, probably a book. I opened it; it was The World According to Dave Barry. Dave Barry had a weekly column that appeared in newspapers around the country; I faithfully read his column and found him hilarious. “Thank you!” I said. “So where do we start?”
“What still needs to be done?” Mom asked.
“Pretty much everything.” Mom and I started with the closet, putting clothes in boxes but setting aside one change of clothes for tomorrow. From there, we moved to the living room, packing books in boxes, but deciding to wait until tomorrow to disconnect the television, stereo, or computer, in case we still needed to use any of them.
After working for a couple hours, I was hungry. “Are we going to go out to dinner?” I asked.
“No,” Mom replied. “We have to use up all the food in your refrigerator.”
“Oh, yeah,” I replied, disappointed. I was in the mood for an Arch Deluxe, and it would have been nice to have Mom pay for it, but she was right. I had not been thinking about the upcoming move in my recent grocery store trips, so I did not make a conscious effort to keep the refrigerator and freezer empty. We had to eat the food I already had, so it would not go to waste. We ate Hungry-Man dinners while Mom told me about her drive up here and shared the latest drama with her coworkers.
“I’m off work for Labor Day on September 2, and Dad was able to get that day off work,” Mom said at one point. “So we’ll come up that day with the truck and help you move into the new apartment. Does that still work?”
“When are the other guys moving in?”
“Shawn and Brian will be up the weekend after Labor Day. I haven’t heard from Josh.”
We continued packing and organizing that night, staying up until almost midnight. Mom brought a sleeping bag; I offered for her to use the bed, and I would sleep on the floor, but she insisted that I use the bed. The next day, she complained quite a bit how uncomfortable it had been to sleep on the floor. I said that she should have taken the bed, but she still insisted she was okay.
After a breakfast of more Hungry-Man dinners, we finished packing, putting everything into boxes until the boxes were full. We used trash bags for the clothes in my closet. Mom had brought a cooler with ice packs to salvage what food was left in the refrigerator, but some of it we had to throw away. We made two trips to Second Street Self-Storage during the course of the day, both with the truck completely full. I had hoped that we would only need to make one trip, but that was unrealistic.
We returned from Second Street Self-Storage early in the afternoon. The apartment had been emptied of all of my things; all that remained was the refrigerator and microwave that came with the apartment and the cleaning supplies that Mom had brought. We spent the afternoon cleaning. Mom started in the kitchen, and I started in the bathroom, although I felt that I did not know what I was doing. The toilet paper roll handle had begun coming loose from the wall a couple months ago; fixing that would probably come out of my deposit. The bathtub was covered in soap scum and mildew, because I had never lived on my own before and I did not know the importance of regular cleaning. This was the first time the bathtub had been cleaned since I had moved in a year ago. Even with lots of spraying and scrubbing, the soap scum and mildew did not all come off. The toilet and sink were easier to clean, fortunately.
“How are you doing?” Mom came in to ask after I had been working in the bathroom for about an hour.
“The soap scum isn’t really coming off,” I replied, gesturing toward the bathtub. “And the handle of the toilet paper roller is loose.”
“You can try spraying it a second time. Some of that just might not come off, and it’ll come out of our deposit.”
I tried cleaning the bathtub a second time after I finished with the sink. A little bit more of the soap scum came off eventually. “What should I do now?” I asked Mom when I finished.
“Start scrubbing dirt off the walls,” Mom answered. “I’m almost done in the kitchen.”
“You can use a sponge with soap, and then rinse it with a damp paper towel. They’re probably going to paint, I would think.”
A large dark discoloration spread for about three feet across the wall, a foot up from the floor, in the spot where my computer and table had been. I realized that this was the spot where I often put my feet while I was working at the computer, and that is what had caused this dirty spot. Disgusting. I scrubbed it off after much scrubbing with the sponge, along with some of the paint underneath.
“I need a break,” I said.
“Don’t take too long of a break!” Mom replied, sounding annoyed, as she worked on mopping the kitchen floor. “We need to get this done soon! I have to work tomorrow, and you need to turn in the keys.”
“All right,” I said, moving on to other dirty spots. I was exhausted and dripping with sweat, but I kept going. We finished at 5:37, twenty-three minutes before the apartment office closed. I went through the apartment one last time to get everything we had left behind. I took out two large bags of trash and went back into the apartment one last time to make sure the lights were turned off. I went to the office to turn in my keys, checking the mailbox on the way; all I had was junk mail, still no card from Haley. I also made sure that I had packed my car with everything I needed for two weeks back home.
“That’s it,” I said. “Ready to go home?”
“Yes. I’ll just see you there. You know the way; we don’t need to try to stay together.”
Mom pulled out of the parking lot at Las Casas Apartments, and I followed her. We turned west on Coventry Boulevard and then south on Highway 117, following it to westbound 100, southbound 6, and southbound 11 until we reached Plumdale. It was almost dark when we finally arrived home at a quarter to nine. I showered as soon as I got home; I usually did not shower at night, but I still felt so dirty from all the cleaning today. I went to bed early.
My year of living alone was over, and so were my teens. I did not take the best care of that apartment, but I had learned some things to do differently next time, and I did get a little bit of my security deposit back. When I got back to Jeromeville, I would have a new challenge of learning to live with roommates, including sharing a bedroom with Shawn. But I would also be much less disconnected, having people in the apartment with me. My little studio apartment number 124 had served its purpose well, but now I had moved on to something else for the beginning of my twenties.