Disclaimer: Had I not taken that unplanned break, this episode would have been posted the weekend after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. By complete coincidence, this episode also takes place during a time of mourning for the British royal family. Please know that I only mentioned that in the episode for reasons of historical accuracy. I am not in any way trying to capitalize on a sad, newsworthy event to get people’s attention. I send my condolences to all who are affected and in mourning, both now and then.
“Welcome to Jeromeville Covenant Church,” Pastor Dan announced from the front of the church after the worship band finished their opening song. “I’m Dan Keenan, the college and young adult pastor, and I always enjoy this time of year when we start to see some of the UJ students coming back.” Dan looked around as confusion appeared to show on his face, as if he expected to see more returning university students than he did. He continued, “Maybe not yet this week, but I thought I saw Greg Dennison around somewhere.”
I was not sure how to feel about that. I had been attending J-Cov for a little less than a year, after making the complicated decision to leave behind the Catholicism of my mother’s Italian and French ancestors, but apparently I had already become well-known enough around church that the pastor was noticing me and calling me out in front of everyone. I looked at Pastor Dan and waved, trying not to be too conspicuous; Dan saw me and continued, “There he is. Welcome back, Greg.”
I had not been to J-Cov in two and a half months. I spent most of my summer in Oregon, doing a mathematics research internship, where I had the life-changing revelation that I did not enjoy mathematics research. I had spent the last three years at the University of Jeromeville assuming that I would just stay in school forever and get an advanced degree in mathematics, but the experience of the last two months had brought that plan into question.
While I was in Oregon, I found a church to attend, and they offered a weekly Bible study for the college and career age group. That gave me much-needed Christian fellowship in the midst of doing math with other students with very different beliefs. But it just was not the same. Eight weeks was not long enough to form meaningful bonds with that group, and while they were all very nice people, I did not form the kind of close friendships with them that I did with my friends from J-Cov and Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. I also got involved at J-Cov as a youth group leader last winter, which made me feel more a part of the community.
As I walked out of the building after church ended, I heard a familiar voice shout, “Greg! You’re back!”
“Hey,” I said to Ted Hunter, a boy from the youth group. He and his friends randomly asked me to take them to lunch last year, leading to my involvement as a youth leader. “How was your summer? You went to camp, right?”
“Yeah! It was so much fun! Have you ever been to Mission Forest?”
“No, I haven’t,” I replied.
“You should go next time!”
I looked around, trying to find Josh and Abby; I saw them earlier, and I needed to talk to them, since Josh was directly involved in why I had come back to Jeromeville this weekend in particular. “So what’s the plan for today?” I asked after I found them.
“Hey, Greg,” Josh replied. “Welcome back.”
“We’ll come over to the apartment with a truck later this afternoon,” Abby explained. “Are you all packed and ready? Everything cleaned?”
“As much as I can be. That’s what I was doing all day yesterday.”
“Great!” Josh said.
“We’re going dumpster diving this afternoon. We’ll bring the truck by after we’re done,” Abby said.
“Dumpster diving?” I asked. “What is that exactly?
“You’ve never been dumpster diving?”
“It’s so much fun! This is the week that everyone is moving, so a lot of people just throw out furniture that is still good. You never know what you’ll find. We’re gonna look for things we might be able to use at the new house.”
“That does sound fun.”
“Maybe you can come with us next time.”
“Sure. Let me know.”
After I came back from Oregon, I spent two weeks at my parents’ house. I did not do much during that time. I had lost touch with all of my high school friends by now, and I did not do anything particularly interesting with my family. My brother Mark got his friends together last weekend to have another Moport tournament. Moport was a game that Mark and I invented in the yard, inspired by a game I played in physical education class in high school. The game I learned was best described as a hybrid of soccer and rugby; our variation added hockey sticks to the mix, because more sports meant more awesome. The Ice Monkeys of Rage, consisting of Mark and his goofy friend Eric Kingston, won this year’s tournament; they had been heavily favored to win the previous year, but were upset in the final round.
I arrived at my old apartment yesterday morning. Brian and Shawn had moved out earlier in the summer, cleaning their rooms and taking some of the furniture. Josh had done a lot of cleaning and packing already; he was staying with his parents in Oak Heights this week, about forty miles to the east across the Capital River. I had to be out of the apartment by six o’clock tonight; after working hard yesterday, I had everything ready to pack into Josh’s rental truck, except for a few things that I needed. One was the television and VCR; I put in a tape, turned on the TV, and pressed Record. This weekend was the start of football season, and I did not want to miss the Bay City Captains’ first game. Since I would be cleaning and packing, I would not be able to pay attention to the game today. I would disconnect the TV and VCR last as I loaded the truck, after I knew the game would be over, and I would watch my recording of the game after we hooked everything up at the new house.
I also left my stereo unpacked and brought it to the living room; listening to music required less concentration than watching a football game on television. I had not listened to much music when I was in Oregon except for the five CDs of Christian rock bands that I had brought with me. Over the last couple weeks, I had discovered all sorts of new bands I had never heard before that had become popular that summer, bands with names like Matchbox Twenty and Sugar Ray and Smash Mouth.
Josh and Abby showed up with the truck around three-thirty. “Come look what we got!” Abby said excitedly, motioning me to the back of the truck. Inside was a beat up round wooden dining room table, a dry-erase board about three feet by four feet with no frame, a small end table that looked perfectly good, and some kind of cabinet, about five feet long and four feet tall, with glass doors. It was probably supposed to be a display case for something, maybe the fancy plates that some people have that no one ever actually eats from. “I was thinking we could put the table in the backyard, since it’s not in very good condition. But the other stuff can go in the living room-dining room area.”
“What goes in that cabinet?”
“I don’t know! But we have room for it.”
“Sure. Sounds good.”
“Ready to start loading?” Josh asked. We went back in the house and began carrying the remaining boxes and furniture to the truck. Moving was tedious work. I hated it. But at least I had a new house to look forward to, a sort of fresh start to my living situation. And this house was not an apartment in a large complex, so I would not have to use coin-operated laundry machines in a common area and risk my clothes getting stolen again. Josh’s parents were currently on their way to Jeromeville from Oak Heights with a used washer and dryer in good condition.
At one point, I saw Josh carrying a box of his textbooks. “‘Educational psychology,’” I said, pointing at a book in his box with that title. “That’s Ed 110, right?”
“How was that class?”
“Pretty straightforward. Are you taking it? Does that mean you’ve decided you’re going into teaching?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out. I want to meet with someone in the education department to talk about the options. I didn’t like math research, and I liked helping out in the math class at Jeromeville High last year, so it seems like the route I want to go, as of now.”
“Good for you! You’ll need that class, but it’s offered every quarter, so it’s not hard to get into.”
“I’ll probably take it winter quarter.”
“What are we gonna do with this?” Josh asked, pointing to the spot in the living room where the couch was. At the beginning of the previous school year, Jeromeville Christian Fellowship had performed a skit based on the old Scooby-Doo cartoons. Brian had played Shaggy, and our cardboard prop of the Mystery Machine van had ended up at our house. Brian left it here when he moved out, so apparently it was mine now. I had been part of the skit too, in a very minor role with one line.
“Bring it with us,” I said. “It has too much sentimental value to throw away. I’ll keep it in my room, behind the bed or something.”
Yesterday I had meticulously disassembled the bed loft that I had bought from Claire Seaver, which her dad had made for her sister years earlier. Now we were loading it into the truck, along with everything else left in the apartment. We worked quickly, giving us enough time before we left to vacuum the floors in the rooms that needed it. When we were done, I took one last walk through the apartment, carefully checking every cabinet and closet to make sure nothing was left inside. I noticed there was one thing that we had left in the living room: the television, still recording the Captains game. I turned on the TV, squinted my eyes so I would not be able to see the score in case the game was still on, opened my eyes when I saw that the game was clearly over, and stopped the recording. I unplugged and disconnected everything, bringing it out to the truck. Abby and Josh packed the television and VCR into the truck while I went to the apartment office to return the key.
“Well,” I said, “time to go?”
“Yep,” Josh replied. “We don’t live here anymore. Sean should be at the new house, and my parents might be there by now too. I’ll see you there in a few minutes?”
I originally knew Abby from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, and Josh was her boyfriend. Josh was one of my roommates at the old apartment; he had approached me a few months earlier asking if I wanted to live in his house next year. He would be rooming with Sean Richards, whom I was also friends with, and a guy named Sam whom I did not know as well.
The trip to the new house was very short, only about half a mile away in the direction closer to campus. I drove south on Maple Lane, stopped at the red light at Coventry Boulevard, then made the next left after the light onto Acacia Drive. I drove down a long block, with an apartment complex on the left and a row of nearly identical duplexes on the right. I was familiar with these apartments. Nine of my close friends from my freshman dorm had lived in three separate apartments in that complex sophomore year, and Noah and Brody, two other youth group leaders from church, would be living there this year.
At the end of the long block, the street made a 90-degree right turn. Our new house, 902 Acacia Drive, was right on the corner, the left side of the last duplex in this row. The living area made an L-shape, with three bedrooms on the left, a covered parking spot on the right, and a living room, dining room, and kitchen in the back. The attached house on the right, 904 Acacia Drive, appeared to have the same floor plan, but mirrored, so that the two covered parking spots were adjacent. Like our apartment last year, this house had three bedrooms, and I would be sharing the large bedroom. This one had two full bathrooms, though, with one of the bathrooms attached to my bedroom. The old apartment had one full bathroom off of the upstairs hallway and a toilet and sink, with no tub or shower, downstairs. I found it an interesting coincidence that, last year, I was sharing the large bedroom with a guy named “Shawn,” and this year I would be sharing the large bedroom with a guy named “Sean.”
Sean Richards was tall and thin, with hair cut short. He was in UJ’s Army ROTC program; after he graduated, he would serve for a few years as an officer in the United States Army. Sean was in his fourth year, like me. He was a wildlife biology major, and I had met him when I used to attend Catholic Mass at the Newman Center, but Sean also attended Jeromeville Christian Fellowship sometimes. JCF was a chapter of the nondenominational Christian organization Intervarsity, not affiliated with any specific church.
When I arrived, a middle-aged couple stood outside next to a pickup truck, with a washing machine, dryer, and other items in the back. “Are you Josh’s parents?” I asked them.
“Yes,” the man said. “Ron McGraw. This is my wife, Linda. You must be Greg.”
“Yes. Josh and Abby should be here in a minute; they were just locking up the back of the truck when I left.” I looked behind me, where I could see the moving truck turning from Maple Drive onto this long block of Acacia Drive, and said, “There they are.”
After Abby and Josh arrived, they began unloading a few things from the truck, when suddenly they stopped, noticing that the front door was closed. “Where’s Sean?” Josh asked. “He has the key.”
“His car is here,” Abby observed, pointing to a gold-colored compact pickup truck parked around the corner, just past the McGraws’ truck.
“There’s something going on inside,” Mr. McGraw said in hushed tones. I wondered exactly what this meant. Sean was friends with one of the guys who had lived in this house last year, a guy named Chris; was Chris not giving Sean the keys for some reason? Were they arguing? Did we do something wrong? I asked what was going on, and Mr. McGraw gestured toward me as if to say to be quiet and not get involved.
Sean emerged out of the front door a minute later, leaving it open. “Chris is still mad,” Sean said.
“I’m gonna find out what’s going on,” Mr. McGraw announced. Josh and Sean followed Mr. McGraw back into the house, as I stayed outside with Abby and Mrs. McGraw. I heard snippets of a discussion about Chris having said that we could start moving in today.
“I said Sean could move his stuff in and stay here,” Chris replied forcefully. “There’s no way all of that crap in those trucks is Sean’s.”
“He’s being petty,” Abby whispered to me outside. I nodded.
“What happens if we aren’t allowed to move in tonight?” I asked. “Will we have to sleep in the truck or something?”
“Don’t do that,” Mrs. McGraw said. “We can take all the stuff back to Oak Heights, and you guys can sleep in the guest room and on the couches.”
“That seems like a waste, but if we have to, I guess.”
After about ten minutes of further negotiations, which I was not part of, the others came outside. “We made a deal with Chris,” Sean explained. “We can move in, and he’s gonna stay here and leave his stuff in his room just for tonight, and get it out tomorrow. So Josh will have to sleep in Sam’s room tonight, since Sam isn’t moving in until next week. Then after Chris gets his stuff out, Josh can move into that room.”
“That works,” I said. I was not entirely enthused by having to spend one night under the same roof as this guy who obviously believed in holding petty grudges, but at least I would be sleeping in the same room as Sean, the guy whom Chris had been friends with. Hopefully Chris would not attack me in the middle of the night with Sean nearby.
Everything went smoothly after that little hiccup. The newspaper arrived the next morning; Brian had canceled his subscription when he moved out of the old apartment, and I had restarted service in my name, to begin September 1, delivered to 902 Acacia Drive. We had no kitchen table yet, and I was out of milk, so I ate bananas and toast as I read the newspaper. Yesterday morning, the news had broken that Princess Diana and her significant other had died in a high-speed car crash, and today’s headlines were full of more stories related to this tragedy. I generally did not spend a lot of time following all the drama and gossip surrounding the British royal family. Celebrity gossip did not interest me. Besides, this was the United States of America, and we fought a war in the 1770s so that we would not have to care about the British royal family. But something really did feel terrible about this news, for someone’s life to end like this after having been in the spotlight for so long, with all of the marital problems between her and her ex-husband, the future King Charles, put on display for the world to see and judge.
At the bottom of the front page, I saw a photo from the Captains game out of the corner of my eye and pushed the newspaper aside before I saw anything else that might give away the score. I would have to come back and read it later after I had time to watch the game.
I spent much of Monday morning and afternoon unpacking, grocery shopping, and doing other things related to having a new house. I had already called to set up telephone service, and the phone seemed to work by Monday afternoon, so I spent Monday evening in my room using the dial-up Internet to try to flirt with girls in an Internet Relay Chat channel. It had been some time since I had been on IRC. While I waited for girls to reply, I worked on my silly Web series Dog Crap and Vince. Sean was not home for much of the night; when he got home, I minimized the chat window and told him I was working on Dog Crap and Vince. I restored the window and continued my conversations only when he was not in the room.
I finally got around to watching the Captains game Tuesday afternoon. I would have been better off not knowing what happened. The Captains lost, with injuries to each of their two biggest star players. This was not looking like a promising season so far.
I went for a bike ride late Tuesday afternoon, my first time on a bicycle since I had returned Joe Ferris’ beat-up old bike three weeks earlier in Grandvale. I rode south on Maple Lane, turned right on West Fifth, and worked my way through the trees and fields of the rural part of the UJ campus. I took a deep breath of the warm valley air, full of the smell given off by dying grasses. I had been waiting for months to see this view and smell this scent again. I was finally back in Jeromeville.
After about forty-five minutes of riding around, I found myself in south Jeromeville, heading back north across the overpass with trees on it. It was time to start heading home. I liked the sound of that. Home. I had a home, and this time it wasn’t an apartment. Next time I wrote someone a letter or wrote my return address on a bill payment envelope, I would write “902 Acacia Drive,” with no apartment number. That house turned out to be my home for a total of four years, with different combinations of roommates each year.
Not only did I have a home, but I had a tentative plan for my life. I was going to be a teacher. Mathematics research was not right for me. Maybe someday, but not right now. I remember telling people that there was no way I would ever be a teacher, that I did not want to get involved with all the left-wing politics tied to the public school system. But I did enjoy helping out in that classroom last year, I enjoyed working as a tutor for the Learning Skills Center on campus, and I did not want to let politics hold me back from doing something I loved. I would probably have to take more prerequisite classes before I could become a teacher, and I was not sure how long it would take, but I was in no hurry. In the meantime, I had Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant Church to be involved with. I did end up becoming a teacher eventually, and that is still my career to this day.
Readers: Tell me about a time you came home after a long absence.