September 2-3, 1996. Moving in and getting mail.

“This is the front door key, and this is the mail key,” the woman in the office at Sagebrush Apartments explained, placing the keys on the desk as I filled out paperwork.  “Looks like you have roommates; are they all moving in today?”

“Shawn should be here later today,” I said.  “Brian is moving in later this week, I think.  I’m not sure about Josh.”

The office employee took me around the grounds, showing me where to find the pool, laundry room, and mailboxes, and where to empty garbage.  She handed me a brochure, the same brochure I got when I first came here in May, but this one was the actual color printing, not the blotchy black-and-white photocopy that they had given me on that day when they were out of color copies.  The brochure had a map of the complex on it; she circled my apartment’s location, as well as the locations of the communal areas she had shown me.  “Just come back here if you need anything.  We’re open until six.  And once you get your phone connected, you can call this number.”  She underlined the office phone number.

“I will,” I said.  “Thanks.”

I walked back to the car in the office parking lot.  Mom and Dad were parked next to me, waiting in Dad’s gray pickup truck.  “I have the keys,” I said.  “Follow me.”  I drove my red Ford Bronco around to the back of the complex and parked next to building K.  Sagebrush Apartments consisted of around a dozen small buildings, named with letters, each containing six to eight individual apartment units.  While I waited for Dad to find a parking place, I looked through the brochure that I had gotten from the office.  Inside, on the second page, was the floor plan for each of the different types of apartments, and as I looked at my apartment, I saw something that made me recoil in horror and shame.  I may have made a huge mistake when I signed this lease four months ago.

On the blotchy photocopy I was given in May, when I was deciding between this apartment and another one, it looked like the large bedroom that I would be sharing with Shawn was 11 by 18 feet.  But on this clear copy, it was definitely 11 by 13 feet. The other place I had considered did have a very large bedroom, and I had told Shawn and Brian that the two places were similarly sized, and this one was less expensive.  I supposed, however, that if the others wanted to save money, they did not have room to complain about the place being a little small.

I tried to hide my disappointment at the room size when I unlocked the door and went inside, Mom and Dad behind me.  “This is nice!” Mom said.  “There’s that wood-burning stove you told me about.  That’ll come in handy when it gets cold.”  The stove was right in front of the door, with a stairway on the left leading upstairs to a small loft and the three bedrooms.  The living room was on the right, with the dining area straight ahead and the kitchen to the right of the living room, open to the living room through a bar behind the sink.

I went upstairs to my bedroom and looked around.  It was not huge, but not as tiny as I had feared.  I said to Mom and Dad, “Claire from church has a bed loft she’s going to sell me, with a desk underneath.  Do you remember Claire?”

“I’m not sure,” Mom replied.  I remembered Mom saying something embarrassing about Claire when she and Dad came to church with me freshman year, and I chose not to remind her.  

“Once I get that set up, I’ll have more room,” I said.

“That’ll be good.  You said Shawn is moving in later today?”

“Yeah.  I think so.  He’s back in Jeromeville already for his student teaching program.”

“Oh yeah, he’s going to be a teacher.  What’s he teaching?”

“High school math.”

“I didn’t know he was a math guy too.  But you met him from that Christian group, right?”

“Yes. Jeromeville Christian Fellowship.  He was my Bible study leader last year.”

Mom and Dad and I emptied the truck of the things we brought from home.  Next, we drove across Jeromeville to Second Street Self Storage, where I had stored everything from the old apartment.  It took us two trips to unload it all.  The Post Office was just around the corner from the storage unit, and we stopped there on the second trip.  I waited in line for five minutes, then I filled out a form to have mail forwarded to the new apartment and picked up the mail they had been holding.  Coupons and other junk mail.  Notices from utilities acknowledging that I had canceled service at the old apartment.  And a letter, in a small, off-white envelope.  When I saw who it was from, I felt an excited surge of adrenaline run through my body, and I tried to make myself look calm and normal when I got back in the truck.

“Did you get anything good?” Mom asked when she saw me holding a stack of mail.

“A lot of junk,” I said.  “And a letter.”

“Who’s it from?”

A sweet girl with pretty blue eyes, I wanted to say.  I wish I had the guts to ask her out.  And even though she’s a good Christian girl and I know it’s wrong, I wish both of us could fit on Claire’s bed loft.  “A girl from JCF,” I said instead.  “Named Haley.”

When we got home with the rest of my things from the storage unit, I put Haley’s letter and my other mail on top of the dresser.  I wanted to read it, but I also wanted to finish moving, and I did not want to read the letter in front of anyone.  I put the mattress on the floor, where the bed loft would eventually go, with my computer on the floor next to it.  That would not be particularly comfortable; I needed to call Claire soon.

We moved the rest of my furniture, what little I had, into the apartment.  The bookshelf went into the bedroom, between the mattress and the closet.  The television, the little table that held it, and the chair I sat on while watching it went into the empty living room; I would adjust it as necessary after the others brought more living room furniture.  We kept my kitchen and bathroom supplies, and my books and clothes, in boxes; I would unpack those gradually over the next couple days.  We left the box spring and the folding table I used as a desk in the truck, for Mom and Dad to take home; I would have no need for those once I got the bed loft set up.

After we finished unpacking, Mom and Dad took me to McDonald’s, where I ordered an Arch Deluxe.  “Are those any good?” Mom asked.  “I haven’t tried one yet.”

“I think so.  I like it.”

“What’s so special about it?”

“It’s on a different kind of bun, with special sauce, and supposedly higher quality ingredients.  It’s supposed to be marketed more toward adults.”

“I’ll try it next time.  I’d ask for a taste, but I don’t want to eat your burger.”

“Sounds good.”

“So what do you have going on in the next few weeks?  You’re going to that camp with JCF, right?”

“Yeah.  The camp is the 16th through the 20th.”

“Where is it?”

“A retreat center somewhere outside of Green Meadows.  About a two hour drive.”

“Is Taylor going to be there?”

“I don’t think so.  He’s been more involved with his church lately instead of JCF.”

“Are Liz and Ramon going to be there?”

“Yes.”

“Will that Haley girl be there?”

“I’m not sure. Probably.”

Mom, apparently having exhausted all of my friends whose names she could think of at the moment, changed the subject, telling me about my brother Mark and his friends and the start of their school year a week ago.  It was Mark’s first year of high school, and so far he seemed to be enjoying it.

After we finished eating, Mom wrote me a check for three hundred dollars.  “This is for when you go grocery shopping,” she explained, “and anything else you might need for the new place.”

“Thank you,” I said.

When we got back to the new apartment, we had to park several spaces down from where we were before, because a moving truck was in our old parking space.  Shawn and a guy I did not know were figuring out how best to unload a couch from the truck.

“Hey, Greg,” Shawn said, seeing me out of the corner of his eye.

“Hi.  How’s moving going?”

“We got most of my big things unloaded.  Looks like you did too.”

“Yes.  Mom and Dad, this is Shawn.”

Shawn walked over to shake my parents’ hands.  “Nice to meet you,” he said.

“You too!” Mom replied.  “We were just going to head out.  We have a long drive back to Plumdale.  And it looks like you guys have everything under control.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

“Enjoy the new apartment,” Mom said, giving me a hug.  “And good luck with the new school year, and with camp.  Nice meeting you, Shawn.”

Dad hugged me afterward.  “Dad loves you,” he said.

“You too,” I replied.

After Mom and Dad left, while Shawn was busy with the couch, I went upstairs to read Haley’s letter, quickly, so that Shawn would not see me.


August 29, 1996

Dear Greg,

Thanks so much for writing!  I was glad to hear about your summer so far.  Sorry it took me a while to write back. I’ve been so busy!  It sounds like your new apartment with Brian and Shawn will be good, and it’s in a good location too.  You mentioned Urbana – that’s exciting!  I’ve heard great things about it.  It’s awesome that you want to know more about how God has called you to serve Him.  I haven’t decided yet if I’m going.  I really want to, but I’m just not sure if I can.

Summer has been great so far!  I’m working at a kids’ day camp, which is so much fun!  It’s been very nice to be home relaxing with my parents.  I love summer!  Tomorrow is the last day of work, so I’m really excited for the next three weeks of relaxing vacation.

Well, thanks again for your letter!  I love getting mail!  Have a great end of the summer.  I’ll see you in a few weeks!

In Christ,
Haley


That was sweet, I thought.  Haley actually wrote me back, finally.  I smiled and put the letter in a drawer, thinking about what I would say when I wrote to her next.  After that, I found the box where my telephone was, plugged it in, and dialed Claire’s number.  As I was waiting for an answer, I realized that if I got Claire’s answering machine, I was not entirely sure what number to tell her to call back.  I assumed that Brian had successfully transferred his telephone service to the new apartment, since there was a dial tone, so my phone number was now Brian’s number.  However, I had not actually confirmed this with Brian or Shawn.

“Hello?” a female voice said, making that thought a moot point.

“Is Claire there?” I asked.

“This is Claire.”

“Hi.  This is Greg.  I’m unpacking, and I was calling to ask about the bed loft.”

“Yes!  Are you ready for it?”

“I am, but I don’t know if it’ll all fit in my car.”

“My new roommate is coming up tomorrow with a U-Haul.  Can we just drop it off after she finishes unpacking?”

“Sure!  That’ll be perfect!”

“You’ll probably need a ratchet to put it together.  Do you have one?”

“No, but I can get one.  It’s probably a good thing to have around.”

“Good idea.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“Yes!  Sounds good!”

After the phone call, I went downstairs and helped Shawn until we got everything out of his truck.  This place was starting to feel livable, although when it was time for bed and I slept on my mattress on the floor, it suddenly felt a little less livable.


The following afternoon, Claire arrived with the disassembled bed loft in the truck.  “Here it is,” she said.  “These two big pieces go on the ends, and this long flat one is the desk underneath.  These two go across the top to support the bed, and then these three flat pieces go between them.  You put the mattress on top of those.  And those go diagonally to brace the corners.  All the nuts and bolts are in that bag.”

“I think I get it.”

“These other pieces over here, you can make a shelf that goes around the desk.  But that’s optional.”

“I see.”

“I don’t remember exactly how that goes.  My dad built this for my older sister when she was in college.  It’s been great, but I don’t need it anymore.  I’m excited to have my own room!”

“I’m a little nervous about not having my own room,” I replied.  “But this will help with both of us fitting into that space.”

“Definitely!  Should we start carrying it in?”

“Sure,” I said.

With Claire’s help, I carefully carried all the bed pieces upstairs into the bedroom.  “This is a nice place,” Claire said.  “It has an upstairs.  And a wood stove.”

“I know.  That’ll be useful in the winter.”

After several trips up and down the stairs, we finished unloading the bed; I was sweating and breathing heavily by now.  “Thank you,” I said, giving Claire the fifty dollars we had agreen upon for the bed loft.

“You’re welcome!  I’ll see you at church?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Bye.  Have a good one.”

“You too!”

After Claire left, I went upstairs, trying to figure out exactly how to assemble the bed.  First, I got out the new ratcheting socket wrench I had bought that morning.  I propped up the two large side pieces, wondering if it mattered which was the right and which was the left.  The side pieces had holes for the diagonal braces, which went in the back; I used this to figure out which one was which.  Next, I found the two long beams that went across left to right, and attached those to the right side piece, with the extra holes in the back again.  Each beam attached to each side with two bolts.  I tried to attach the diagonal pieces next, but I seemed to be missing a bolt, so I only attached one diagonal brace.  Next, I bolted each of the three flat pieces that held the mattress to the frame.  I adjusted the position of the bed in the room, making sure the back and the right were almost touching the walls, but not quite.  This would definitely make the room feel less crowded.

After that, I lifted the mattress into position.  Then I slid the desk, which was really more of a table, underneath the mattress.  The table did not attach with bolts; it rested on wood bars that protruded from the side pieces.  Finally, I shoved the unused shelf pieces under the table, and I moved the ladder up against the frame, near where the pillow would eventually go.  I took a step backward and admired my work, then I got in the shower, since I was dripping sweat at this point.  This was perfect.  After I got out of the shower, I read Haley’s letter again, then I sat at the desk under the bed, found a sheet of paper, and began writing.


September 3, 1996

Dear Haley,

Hi!  Thanks for writing!  It was so good to hear from you!  I’m getting settled in the new apartment.  Shawn moved in yesterday too, and Brian is coming later this week.  It’s been an adjustment sharing the large bedroom, but Claire Seaver sold me her old bed loft, so that saves a lot of room.


I added no further context to the name “Claire Seaver.”  I knew that Haley and Claire knew each other, through an embarrassing moment that happened back in the spring.


The rest of my summer was fun.  My birthday was August 15, and my Bible study made me cupcakes.  I wasn’t expecting that at all.  Then I went to my parents’ house for a couple weeks.  My brother and his friends and I have this game called Moport, like a cross between soccer and hockey and football, and we had a two-on-two Moport tournament.  I’ve been riding my bike a lot too.

I hope you get to go to Urbana.  I keep hearing such good things about it.  As a new Christian, I don’t know if I’m ready to go fly overseas and preach the Gospel, but I want to find out what kind of service opportunities are out there, especially with so many of my friends doing stuff like that.  I saw the guys from J-Cov when they got back from Morocco; it sounds like that was a great experience.

I’m excited for Outreach Camp!  I’ve never been up that way.  And it’ll be good to see everyone.  It’ll be good to get more involved with JCF and find out what God wants me to do.

What classes are you taking this quarter?  I’m taking advanced calculus, numerical analysis, and Intro to New Testament.  I’ve heard such good things about New Testament and the professor.  I’m going to do chorus too.  People from my church choir keep telling me I should, and Amelia said the same thing at Bible study once.  You said you used to do chorus, right?  Is the audition hard?  I’m a little nervous.  I forget; are you going to Outreach Camp?  I’ll see you soon!

Sincerely,
Greg


As I have gotten older, I have noticed that one peculiarity of adulthood, particularly for a storyteller like me, is that certain inanimate objects will acquire backstories because of memories of how they were acquired.  To this day, I still have Claire’s bed loft.  I used it as my bed for the remaining five years that I lived with different combinations of roommates in Jeromeville, as well as two living situations later in life when I rented a room in someone else’s house.  When I bought my current house, in my early thirties, Claire’s bed loft became a storage shelf in the garage for a while.  I set it up again some time later as the guest bed, where it remains today, and it became my bed again for four months when my house was torn up for repairs and I had nowhere to move my regular bed.  Claire’s bed loft was quite possibly the best fifty dollars I have ever spent.

I walked to the mailboxes and dropped Haley’s letter in the outgoing mail slot.  It was warm and breezy, with that smell of late summer afternoon all around me.  A day like today felt exactly like the way life should be.  I had the next two weeks to get used to living with Shawn and Brian and Josh.  Then I would be spending a week in God’s creation with dozens of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And I would see Haley soon.  Great things were going to happen this year.  I knew it.

August 15-21, 1996. My final week in Apartment 124.

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.

“Happy birthday.”

“Thank you.”

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?”

“Yeah.”

“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.”

“How?”

“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.”

“Sounds good.”

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.

Summer 1996. The friendly neighbor.

According to an old saying, people come into your life for either a reason, a season, or a lifetime.  Some of the people I met in Jeromeville only crossed my path for a reason; I only met Moises a few times, and he showed me the gross misconceptions held by other Christians about Catholicism.  For the people who came into my life for a season, the season varied dramatically in length.  Megan McCauley, my older friend who became a hopeless crush, was part of my life for a little over a year, but Sarah Winters, one of my best friends at the University of Jeromeville, we were friends for about thirteen years until life got in the way and we gradually grew apart in our early thirties.  And, of course, some of the people I met in Jeromeville, like Taylor Santiago and Eddie Baker, have become lifelong friends whom I am still close with today.

One person who came into my life for a literal season, the summer of 1996, sat in a lawn chair reading one afternoon in front of apartment 224 at Las Casas Apartments, the apartment directly above mine.  The class I was taking had just started a few days earlier.  I rode my bike home from campus, checked my mail, and rode up to my apartment.  “Hi,” I heard a voice say above me as I walked my bike up to the door.  “Do you live downstairs from me?”

I looked up at the balcony and saw a short, stocky African-American woman with short curly hair and glasses looking at me.  “Yes,” I said.  “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”  As far as I knew, the leases at Las Casas ran from September 1 to August 31, to correspond with the UJ academic year.  I was not sure how I could have a new neighbor at the end of June, but she promptly answered my question.

“I’m Marie.  I’m Dan’s friend, I’m subletting this apartment from him; he’s gone doing research for the summer.”

“Nice to meet you.  I’m Greg.  I never actually knew Dan; I kept to myself a lot all year.”

“Nice to meet you too!  So what do you do?  Are you a student?”

“Yes.  I’m a math major.”

“Undergrad?”

“Yeah.  I just finished sophomore year.  What about you?”

“I’m just working at a temp agency.  I’m kind of at a point in my life where I’m trying to figure out the next step.  I’ve been moving around a lot, working here and there until I figure things out.”

“Where were you before this?”

“Southern California.  I liked it there, but I was just ready to move on.”

“That makes sense.  Have you been to Jeromeville before?”

“No!  But Dan has told me about it, and it seemed like a nice place to check out.  So here I am!  Are you from around here originally?

Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“Oh, okay.  I’ve been to Santa Lucia a few times.  It’s so pretty there!”

“Yeah.  What about you?”

“I’m originally from North Carolina, but like I said, I’ve lived all over the country.”

“Wow.”

“Are you taking classes this summer?  You’re wearing a backpack.”

“Yeah.  I’m taking Introduction to Software.  I don’t need it for the math major, but it’s a prerequisite for an upper-division computer science class that counts toward the math major.  And I like fiddling around with computers.”

“Wow.  I’m not a techie at all.  I’ll come to you next time my computer isn’t working.”

“I don’t know if I’m that good,” I said, chuckling.

“It was nice meeting you!  I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Yes!  It was nice meeting you.”


The next time I saw Marie was about a week later.  She knocked on the door as I was typing an email to my mom, who had just recently gotten Internet access for the first time and was writing to me almost every day.  “Hi,” I said after I opened the door.

“Hi, Greg!” Marie said.  “How are you?”

“I’m doing okay.  What about you?”

“I’m good!  Have you had dinner yet?”

“No,” I said.  “Why do you ask?”

“I decided to try this new chicken and rice recipe that I got from a friend, and I made too much for just me.  Want to come upstairs and try it?”

“Sure.”

“Great!  Come on up!” she said.  I locked the door behind me and followed Marie up the outside stairs into her apartment.  The apartment above me was a studio apartment with a loft; the loft was set up like a bedroom, but open to the living area downstairs.  A small dining table was next to the entrance to the kitchen, where I had my bookshelf in my apartment.  I was not sure which of the furniture and pictures on the wall were Marie’s and which belonged to Dan, who had the apartment the rest of the year.

Marie went into the kitchen and emerged with two plates.  Each plate had a chicken breast on top of rice with vegetables mixed in, and other vegetables on the side.  “Sit down,” she said gesturing toward the table.  “I’ll get you some water.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I waited for Marie to sit back down before I started eating, and after she did, I took a bite.  “This is really good.”

“Thank you!  Would you like the recipe?  I can write it down before you leave.”

“Sure,” I said.  “Honestly, though, I’m not very good at cooking.  I don’t know if or when I’ll make it.”

“That’s no problem.  It’s there if you need it.”

“True.”

“So how is your class going?  What are you learning about?”

“The programming language C,” I explained.  “It’s set up differently from the other programming I’ve done, but it’s ultimately a lot more powerful.”

“Interesting,” Marie replied.  “I told you before, I don’t know any of that stuff.  Why didn’t you major in computer science if you’re into that?  There’s a lot of good jobs out there for computer people.”

“Because most of my computer knowledge is out of date, so most of the people in my classes would be coming in with more knowledge of the basics than I have.  Also, I didn’t want my hobby to become work.”

“That makes a lot of sense.”

“I taught myself BASIC on a Commodore 64 when I was nine,” I explained, “but that’s useless already in today’s world.  Technology moves so fast.”

“That’s true,” Marie said.  “How old did you say you were?”

“I’m 19.  I’ll be 20 in August.”

“That’s right.  You said you were a sophomore.”

“Yeah.”

Marie paused, then said, “How old do you think I am?”

Uh-oh.  I did not like being put on the spot like this.  “I’m not good at guessing people’s ages,” I said.

“I’m just wondering, because people say I look younger than I really am.”

That made it even more difficult, because she looked a little big older than me.  Was she actually a lot older than me?  “25,” I guessed hesitantly.  Marie pointed upward.  “Older than 25?” I asked.  Marie nodded, and I guessed, “27.”  She pointed upward again.  She really did not look older than 27.  “30?” I guessed, apprehensively.

“Yes.  I’m 30.”

“Whoever says you look younger, they’re right.”

“Thanks,” Marie said, smiling.  “So what are you doing this weekend?”

“Probably just studying,” I replied.

“I’m thinking I want to go see a movie this weekend.  You want to come with me?  Maybe Saturday afternoon?”

I was not expecting this; instead of Yes or No, the first thing to come out of my mouth was, “What movie?”

“Have you seen Independence Day yet?  I’m seeing ads for it everywhere.  It looks interesting, for sure.”

“I haven’t, but I want to.  That sounds good.”

“Great!”

I stayed in Marie’s apartment for about an hour and a half that night, just talking about life.  She looked up the movie times at some point, so we could make plans for Saturday.  After I left, I sat in my apartment, trying to make sense of what was going on.  Marie was kind of acting like she was interested in me.  At least this is what I assumed it was like when a girl was into me; since no girl had ever been into me as far as I knew, I was not quite sure.  But she was thirty years old.  Surely she was not interested in a young kid like me.  She was just friendly.


On Saturday afternoon, I climbed the stairs to Marie’s apartment about half an hour before the movie started and knocked on the door.  “Hey!” she said when she opened the door.  “You ready to go?”

“Sure.  Want me to drive, or are you?”

“How about you drive, and I’ll pay for the tickets.  Does that work?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’s my car down there, the red Bronco.”

“Nice,” she said.  As we headed down Andrews Road and turned onto Coventry Boulevard, she asked, “So do you ever take this thing off road?”

“I don’t,” I said.  “Well, this was our family car for five or six years before I moved here.  We used to visit my great-grandma in Bidwell a few times a year, and she lived at the end of a dirt road about a mile long.  Sometimes we’d use the four-wheel drive on that road.  But that’s about it.”

“You should go off-roading!  It’s so much fun!”

“Maybe someday.”

I turned right on G Street, just past Community Park, and headed south toward downtown.  The movie theater in Jeromeville was on the corner of G and First Streets, six blocks from the old part of campus.  I had not seen many movies in the last couple years, at least not during their first run in theaters; I had only been to this movie theater twice before.  It was in a gray building with a two-story parking garage above it.  I maneuvered my large vehicle through the narrow ramp leading up to the parking garage, barely wide enough for a car going up to pass a car going down.

“Can you fit in here?” Marie asked.

“I’ve done it before,” I said.  “Hopefully an even bigger car doesn’t come down at the same time.”

Marie laughed.  “Then we’d be in trouble.”

The stairs leading down from the parking garage were on the outside of the building, not a typical scary parking garage stairwell.  We walked to the box office, where Marie said, “Two tickets for Independence Day, please.”

“Are you sure you want to pay for both tickets?” I asked.

“Sure!  I asked you.  And it’s afternoon matinee prices.”

“Seven dollars, please,” the cashier said.  Marie gave the cashier the money, and he gave us our tickets, which the person at the entrance promptly tore in half a minute later.  We sat near the middle of the theater; seats were already starting to fill up.

“Do you like these kinds of movies?” Marie asked.

I had to think about this.  “I guess I don’t really have one specific kind of movie that I like best,” I said.  “Some movies I just like, and some I don’t.”

After sitting through several minutes of previews, the movie began with giant alien spaceships coming to Earth early one July.  The aliens positioned themselves over major cities, destroying them all simultaneously with massive energy beams.  A Marine played by Will Smith led attacks on the alien spaceships, which failed.  Jeff Goldblum’s scientist character eventually found a way to deactivate the force fields protecting the aliens, and Bill Pullman’s President of the United States character gave a rousing speech.  He said that July 4 is Independence Day in the United States, but now it would be the day that the whole world fought back against the aliens.  People watching the movies cheered on the fighter pilots on the screen.

After the movie ended, I turned to Marie and said, “I’m excited.  That was a nice feel-good movie.”

“It was!”  She grabbed her purse, then said, “So what do you want to do now?  Want to get something to eat?  Lyon’s is right across the street.”

“That sounds good.”

As we stepped outside, I had to squint, since my eyes had become accustomed to the dark theater.  We crossed the street and walked into the restaurant.  Lyon’s was a chain of restaurants serving American diner food.  When I was very young, I remember a few times going to breakfast with my dad at Lyon’s in Gabilan.  I usually got waffles.

“What are you getting?” Marie asked as we each looked through the menus.

“Probably a cheeseburger.”

“I’m going to get this chicken salad.  It looks good.”

“Sounds good,” I said.  I did not admit that I was not a big fan of salads.

“So what did you think of the movie?”

“It was a lot of fun.  But I’m kind of suspicious that the alien spaceships would be compatible with a human computer virus.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.  You’re the computer guy.”

“A computer virus is just a program that does something destructive,” I explained.  “If the computer can’t understand the instructions, the virus can’t do anything destructive.  If you took a virus for a PC and ran it on a Mac, nothing would happen; it would just look like gibberish to the Mac operating system.  The movie writers apparently don’t know how computer viruses work.”

“That makes sense.”

The food arrived a few minutes later.  I tried to break up a lull in the conversation by asking, “So how long will you be in Jeromeville?  Are you just here until your friend gets back?”

“Yeah.  He comes back in the middle of September.”

“And he has the same apartment for next year?”

“Yeah.  Do you?”

“No.  I’m moving into a bigger apartment with roommates, at Sagebrush Apartments on Maple Drive.”

“Oh, ok.  So, around the corner from Las Casas?  Past the shopping center?”

“Right.  What about you.  Where are you going next?”

“I’m gonna take some time off for a while.  I’m going to travel, see some of the National Parks in the Southwest and the Rockies.  I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was little, and I’ve never been to Zion, so I’m definitely going to those two.  I haven’t really figured out where else.”

“That sounds fun!  I’ve never been to either of those places.  Where is Zion?”

“Utah.”

“Yeah.  We didn’t really travel much growing up.”

“Really?  You gotta get out there and see the world!”

“I will someday.”

“What’s the farthest away you’ve been?”

“Vancouver,” I said.  “My family took a long road trip to the Expo ‘86 World’s Fair when I was nine.  We went to Spokane first, to see Dad’s mother, then we all went to Vancouver in a rented RV.  That was my only time out of the country.”

“That sounds fun!”

“Oh!  And I’m going to Illinois in December.  That’ll be the farthest away I’ve ever been.  It’s for a Christian student and young adult convention, to learn about mission trips and service opportunities.”

“Are you looking to do that?  Be a missionary someday?”

“I’m not sure.  But I have friends who do things like that in the summer, and I want to learn more about what they’re doing, and stuff like that.”

Marie and I finished our meals, talking more about my faith journey and her options for life after she finished her trips to the Grand Canyon and Zion.  It must be fascinating to live that way, to wander the country working short-term jobs, never putting down roots.  I did not see that kind of lifestyle as my future.  I hoped someday I would settle down with a wife and children.  But there was nothing wrong with Marie’s way of life, if it worked for her.


My favorite part of the Jeromeville Bulletin local newspaper was the daily column written by Bill Dunnigan.  He often poked fun at the City Council and other prominent local figures.  One member of the City Council was an aging hippie named Jill Popovich, who had ideas like making long straight avenues curved so drivers would slow down.  Ms. Popovich was vocally against paving a muddy alley downtown that became a breeding ground for mosquitoes in the winter, because dirt alleys enhance the small-town character of Jeromeville, and she was a major proponent of adding a tunnel for frogs to a new overpass that opened that summer.  Bill Dunnigan often joked that she was an alien.  A few days after I saw the movie with Marie, Bill Dunnigan wrote, “If the City Council thinks that Jeromeville is so important, why didn’t the aliens in the movie Independence Day attack Jeromeville?  They probably feared the wrath of Jill.”

I ran into Marie around the apartment several more times between then and the end of August, when I moved out.  She was always friendly, and I always enjoyed talking to her.  In late September, in the new apartment, I got a postcard from Zion National Park.  It said:


Greg —

I’m enjoying my travels very much!  It is so beautiful here.  Utah looks so different from California.  So good to be out in nature again.  I’ve been on so many great hikes here!  I leave for the Grand Canyon tomorrow morning.  I hope you’re doing well, and that you like your new roommates.  Have a great school year!  –Marie


That was the last I ever heard from Marie.  To this day, I still do not know if she liked me or if she was just being friendly.  She was nice, but I just would not have felt ready to be in a relationship with someone a decade older than me.  We probably would not have worked out anyway, because of that.  Marie was part of my life for a season, but also for a reason: I got lonely sometimes that summer, and I needed a friend.  

May 1996. Looking for a place to live.

“So let’s talk about next year,” Brian said after we made small talk.  “I definitely want my own room.”

“Me too,” Josh replied.  This meeting with my roommates for next year was my first time meeting Josh.  He was stocky and a little on the short side, with light brown hair and pointy facial features.

“So I guess we’re sharing a bedroom, unless we can find a really cheap four-bedroom place,” Shawn said to me.

“I can do that,” I said.  I hoped the disappointment was not evident in my voice.  I did not particularly want to share a bedroom, but I was not going to make a fuss over it.  “Are we definitely looking for a house, not an apartment?  Is an apartment out of the question?”

“A house would be nice,” Brian replied, “but if we can’t find a house, an apartment would be better than nothing.”

“What else do we need to look for?” I asked.  “Anything else we need to get?  Like, do we want to make sure the place has a dishwasher?  Anything like that?”

“I think most places will have a dishwasher,” Josh said.

“I just said that because my little studio apartment I have now doesn’t have a dishwasher,” I explained.

“Really?” Josh asked.

“Actually, we have a dishwasher,” Brian said.  “His name is Shawn.”

“Come on,” Shawn replied.  “I’m not going to clean up after all of you.”

“I’m just kidding.  But Shawn always does a good job of keeping the kitchen clean.”

“Good to know,” I said.

We spent the next half hour or so discussing our budget, our schedules, and anything else we could think of related to being roommates, or just getting to know each other in general.  I was not sure how old Josh was, but I was guessing that I was the youngest one in our household.  Shawn and Brian were both 22 and graduating this year; Shawn, a mathematics major like me, would be in the teacher training program at UJ, and Brian would be on staff with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship part time while he applied to medical school.  Josh worked the night shift at an assisted living facility, and took classes, so he would have an unusual schedule, but he was a heavy sleeper.

“I think Greg is probably going to have to be the contact person for looking at houses and signing the lease and stuff,” Shawn said.  “I don’t mean to dump all the work on you, Greg, but the rest of us have a lot going on, and you’re the only one who will be here this summer.”

“Makes sense,” I said.


I left Shawn and Brian’s house that night with a sense of mission.  I had a job to do.  The next day, I looked at classified ads in both the campus newspaper and the local newspaper.  I called phone numbers to ask about houses for rent.  I left messages, most of which were never returned, and I made appointments to look at houses, on the rare occasion I got someone to answer the phone or actually call back.  Within a couple of days, I had appointments to look at four houses.

The first two appointments were on the same day, an hour apart.  I pulled up to the first house, just a block north of campus near the North Area dormitories.  Living within walking distance of the campus boundary would be convenient, for sure.  The house was painted a pale yellow color; it was in an older neighborhood and showing its age, although nothing appeared to be obviously wrong with it.  This house was a little bit above our price range, but I figured it was worth a look, particularly because it was so close to campus.  If we got it, maybe I could talk the others into paying a little bit more.  A middle-aged man stood on the porch, holding a folder.  I nervously got out of the car and approached him.

“Are you Greg?” the man asked me.

“Yes.”

“I’m Ed.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Come on in,” Steve said.  “Let’s take a look at the house.”  I followed Ed into the living room, where a guy with unkempt hair sat on the couch watching TV, ignoring the open textbook on his lap.  “This is Joe, one of the current tenants.”

“Sup,” Joe said in my general direction.

“Hi,” I replied.

I followed Ed around the house.  The living room seemed reasonably sized, and I noticed that the kitchen had a dishwasher.  Ed mentioned that one of the bedrooms was pretty large with a bathroom attached, but that the current tenant did not want people seeing it.

“And the third bedroom is a converted garage,” Ed said as we entered the room, stepping down because the floor was slightly lower.  It was much larger than the other bedroom that he had shown me.  Shawn and I could comfortably share either of the two large bedrooms.

“The biggest selling point of this house, though, is that it’s so close to campus,” Ed explained. “You might be able to find a bigger house for this price in east Jeromeville, but then you’ll have a long trip to school every day.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“So are you still interested?” Ed asked.

“Definitely.”

“Now, just to be honest, a few other people have looked at the house, so I can’t promise you’ll get it.  But fill this out, and I’ll get back to you in a few days.”

“Thank you,” I said.

The next house was only a quarter mile away, and by the time I was done looking at Ed’s house, it was almost time for my other appointment.  The landlord whom I had spoken with was a woman named Barbara, and she said to meet her outside the house.  This house looked a little more well kept up from the outside, but it was slightly smaller by total square feet.  An older gray-haired woman sat on the porch; I walked up and asked, “Are you Barbara?”

“Yes,” she said.  “You must be Greg.”

“Yes.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“Someone else is coming now to look at the house too, just so you know,” Barbara said.  I had no idea if it was normal to show the house to two competing prospective tenants at the time time, but I found this discouraging and also a little bit rude.  Barbara asked me about what I was studying, and about the others who would be living with me, as she waited for the other prospective tenant to show up.  Three girls drove up a few minutes later and introduced themselves to Barbara.

“This is Greg,” Barbara said to the girls.  “He’s looking at the house too.”

“Hi,” one of them said unenthusiastically.  I greeted her back.

“This is the living room,” Barbara said as we walked into the house.

“I love the color of the paint!” one of the girls said.

“Thank you!” Barbara replied.  I looked for the dishwasher in the kitchen as we walked through it, and then Barbara opened the door and showed us the backyard.

“Those flowers are really cute,” the girl who liked the paint said.

I could tell that I was not going to get this house.  The girls seemed to know all the right things to say to Barbara.  I continued going through the motions and following Barbara and the girls through the house, even though it seemed pointless.

The next week was more of the same.  Between classes and homework, I found time to look at four other houses.  Each of the landlords had mentioned that other people had already looked at the house.  One of them pointed out that it was a brand new listing that had just gone on the market today, but by the time I got there, still someone else had looked at it already.  Ed never called me back, Barbara never called me back, and neither did any of the others.  I called Shawn and explained the situation.

“That sucks,” Shawn said.

“Do you think I should start looking at apartments instead?” I asked.  “I don’t know if we’d have any more luck there, but at least we’d have a place to live.”

“That’s true.  I mean, a house would be nice, it’d be great to have our own washing machine, but if all you can find is an apartment with a laundry room, it’s not that big of a deal.”

“I guess.  Should I tell the other guys what’s going on?”

“I’ll tell them.  You just keep looking, and let us know what you find.”

“I will.”


The juxtaposition of a large and growing university next to a small city hostile to growth made rentals difficult to find in Jeromeville, especially now, two months after apartments went up for lease for the fall.  The day after Shawn gave me the approval to start looking at apartments, I walked to the office for Las Casas, my current apartment complex, and asked if any of the three-bedroom apartments were still available for fall.

“No, sorry, we don’t have any left,” the woman at the desk said.  “But the company that owns us, we own 15 different complexes all around Jeromeville, and some of them have three-bedroom apartments.  You can try calling them and see what is left.”  She handed me a brochure.

“Thanks,” I replied, walking back toward my apartment.  This brochure appeared to contain no new information that was not already in the Apartment Guide that Associated Students published every year.

I dedicated the following Saturday to finding a place to live.  I looked through the Apartment Guide and made a mark next to every complex that had three-bedroom apartments.  Since Jeromeville was a university town with many people in shared living situations, three-bedroom apartments were more common here than they were in most cities.  Still, though, many apartment complexes, particularly the older ones close to campus, only had one- and two-bedroom apartments.  Pine Grove Apartments, which had been my second choice a year ago, had the only three-bedroom apartments right next to campus.  I called Pine Grove and was promptly informed that they were completely full for fall.  No surprise there.

The area where I currently lived was part of a roughly L-shaped row of apartment complexes along Alvarez Avenue and Maple Drive, about three-quarters of a mile east to west and half a mile north to south.  I made some phone calls and found three three-bedroom apartments in our price range available in this neighborhood.

I first went across the street to a place called Fleur-de-Lis Apartments.  Apartment complexes always have such weird names, often seemingly having little to do with the surroundings.  I told the person at the desk that I had called earlier about the three bedroom apartment, and a man with a clipboard came to show me what the apartment looked like, explaining that the one he was showing was not the actual unit that would be available for fall.  He called the tenants who had agreed to let him show their three-bedroom apartment; no one answered, so he left a message telling him that we were coming.

He unlocked the door, and we walked inside.  The living and dining areas were a bit smaller than those of any of the houses I had seen.  I saw a dishwasher in the kitchen.  He showed me one of the small bedrooms first; they seemed adequately sized.

“And this is the master bedroom,” he said, opening another door.  “We have the largest master bedrooms of any three-bedroom apartment in Jeromeville.  Some people arrange their furniture so there is a separation between the two halves of the room, so it’s almost like having two bedrooms.”

“That is nice,” I said.  “And there’s an attached bathroom?”

“Yes,” he replied.  “Do you think you’re interested?”

“My roommates trusted me with the decision,” I explained, “but I have two other apartments I’m looking at today, and I like to take time to think about big decisions.”

“Don’t take too long to decide,” the man said.

“I know.  The apartment could be gone by then.  I’ll get back to you by tomorrow at the latest.”

After he gave me all of the necessary paperwork and brochures, I went to Alvarez Grove Apartments, a quarter-mile east on Alvarez Avenue.  I went through the same procedure of telling the man at the desk that I had called about the three-bedroom apartment, and he showed me a three-bedroom apartment which the current tenants had agreed to let him show.  The living area was about the same size as the one at Fleur-de-Lis, and there was a dishwasher.  A hallway extended to the right of the living area; he showed me the bathroom, just off this hallway, and one of the three bedrooms.

“What about the other bedrooms?” I asked.

“They’re all the same.”

“Same size and everything?”

“Yes.”

I took his brochure and politely acted like living at Alvarez Grove was still an option, but at this point I knew that I was not interested in this apartment.  With me and Shawn having to share a bedroom, we definitely needed one of the bedrooms to be larger than the others.  This apartment also only had one bathroom, which was workable but not ideal.  It was the least expensive of the three apartments I was looking at, only $900 per month (which was inexpensive given what the market in Jeromeville was like), but I did not like the idea of sharing a small bedroom.

The last apartment I looked at that day was in a complex called Sagebrush Apartments, in the narrow strip of land between Maple Drive and Highway 117.  The woman from the office unlocked a three-bedroom apartment, reminding me that this was identical to the unit for rent but not the exact unit, and let me in.  I waved hello to a tenant who was home.

This apartment had two uncommon features immediately visible: a wood burning stove with a tall chimney leading to the roof, and a stairway, to the left of the entrance.  The bedrooms were upstairs, in the style of apartment that I have heard some people refer to as a “townhouse.”  The living room was to the right of the entrance, with the dining area straight in front of me, and the kitchen to the right of the dining room, with a bar between the kitchen and living room.  The woman from the apartment office led me around the dining room and kitchen.  “There’s a half-bathroom back there,” she said, pointing to the right of the dining room behind the kitchen.  “Now let me show you upstairs.”

I followed her up the stairs, which were a little narrow but appropriate for a compact living space like this one.  At the top of the stairs was a small loft-like area; I turned around and looked down on the living room, with the black metal chimney of the wood-burning stove in front of me.  “Is that a patio?” I said, looking out the window facing the front of the apartment.

“Yes,” she replied.  “You can get to it from the entrance.”

She showed me the two small bedrooms next, on the back side of the apartment, and the large bedroom in front, above the kitchen and living room.  It was smaller than the one at Fleur-de-Lis, but still adequately sized for two people to share.  She also showed me the inside of the full bathroom upstairs.

“Are you still interested in the apartment?” she asked.  I told her the same thing I had said at Fleur-de-Lis, that I had options to think over and I would get back to her later tonight or tomorrow.  By now, business hours were probably almost over, so if I called back first thing in the morning, hopefully the apartment would not be gone by then.

After I got home, I needed to unwind, so I went for a bike ride, thinking about all of this.  When I got home, I showered, ate dinner, and did math homework.  Later, I looked over the brochures from Sagebrush and Fleur-de-Lis again.  Both apartments looked similarly sized, and both of them would work just fine as far as I was concerned. Shawn, Brian, and Josh seemed to trust my judgment.  We agreed on a budget of $1000 per month when we met to talk about the living situation, and the Fleur-de-Lis apartment rented for exactly that.  Rent at Sagebrush, however, was only $925, and I liked something about the two-story layout.  I knew that I was still going to wait until morning to make the call, but at this point, unless I discovered something earth-shattering, I would be saving my roommates $75 per month and calling Sagebrush in the morning.  I looked over the brochures again.  I read the passage in the Bible from last night’s talk at Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and prayed about it.

And in the morning, I called Sagebrush.  The apartment was still available, so I told them I was ready to commit.

Later that afternoon, after I had signed paperwork, I called Shawn.  I was nervous.  What if the other guys did not like Sagebrush?  What if I just made a costly mistake?  “Hello?” Shawn said on the other side of the phone.

“Shawn?”

“Yes.”

“This is Greg.  I got an apartment.”

“That’s great!  Where is it?”

“Sagebrush.  It’s on Maple Drive, north of Safeway.  It’s $925 a month.  It’s two stories, with the bedrooms upstairs and the living room and kitchen downstairs.”

“That sounds perfect!  I’ll tell the others.  Thanks for all your help with this.”

“You’re welcome.  Thanks for letting me live with you guys.”

I took a deep breath and lay down for a nap, finally feeling relief about my plans for next year for the first time in two months.  I had great roommates, and I had a place to live.  Next year was going to be awesome.  I would have to get used to sharing a bedroom, that was certainly not an ideal situation, but it was better than being homeless or sharing a bedroom with a total stranger.  Living with other Christian men would hopefully present opportunities to grow both socially and spiritually.  I just wish we did not have to wait until September 1 to move in.  I did not realize at the time that I had overlooked something, but it ended up all working out.

April 9, 1996. Friends all over campus and a new plan.

Two years ago, when my university applications were being processed, I got invited to something called the Interdisciplinary Honors Program at the University of Jeromeville.  This was a program for around seventy high-achieving freshmen; among other things, we all lived in the same building, and we had to take one class every quarter specifically for IHP students, which counted toward general education requirements.  I was particularly attracted to the idea of being part of a relatively small group of students.  Jeromeville was a huge university, with around 25,000 students on a main campus that took up a square mile, adjacent to several more square miles of farmland used for research.  I found my high school of 1400 already far too big to know everyone, so a school this big seemed intimidating.  Being part of a small group of students who knew each other seemed attractive to me, and this was part of the reason I chose Jeromeville over Central Tech and Bidwell State.

Despite those numbers, however, UJ was starting to feel much smaller now that I had been around for a while.  I encountered people I knew more and more often around campus and around town.  In addition to my friends from the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, I had friends from classes, church, Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, the Math Club, people I knew through mutual friends, and people who I just saw around enough that I started to recognize them and say hi for no other reason.

As I got on the bus that morning, I wondered if I would see Tiffany Rollins.  Tiffany was a civil engineering major, and we had been in a few of the same mathematics and physics classes in the past.  We had finished all of the classes that her major had in common with my mathematics major, though, so we would probably be seeing less of each other as time went on, but last week I saw her on the bus both Tuesday and Thursday morning.  She lived in an apartment complex just down Alvarez Avenue from mine, at the bus stop just before my stop.  I boarded the bus, showed my ID card to the driver, and spotted Tiffany sitting near the back of the bus.

“Hey, Greg,” Tiffany said as I approached her and sat next to her.

“Hey,” I replied.  “How are you?”

“Not bad.  One of my classes is really hard already.  I was up late last night studying.”

“Yeah.  Mine aren’t too bad yet.  I’m just starting to stress over not knowing where I’m going to live next year.”

“You aren’t keeping your studio apartment?”

“I didn’t renew.  I was hoping to find friends to live with.  I almost had a plan, but it fell through.”

“I hope you find something!”

“Me too.  I’ve been asking around.”

“I can let you know if anyone I know is looking for a guy.”

“That would be nice,” I said, although I was really hoping not to have to do that.  I wanted to live with people I knew who would be fun to be around, not some strangers who happened to know Tiffany.  Granted, those strangers could end up becoming friends, but they could also end up being my worst nightmare.

I was still thinking about this all through weight training class.  Yesterday, when I got home from campus, I had a note in my mailbox at the apartment saying that I had a package to pick up.  When I went into the office to get my package, the woman at the desk had asked me how I was doing, and I explained that I was worried about not having a place to live for next year.

“I have a note here from the other front desk person that someone came in here earlier looking for a roommate,” she said.  She wrote “Alex Davidson” and a phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to me.  “I guess Alex renewed his lease but his roommate is moving out, so maybe you should give Alex a call.”

I gave some kind of noncommittal answer and returned to my apartment.  I would not be giving Alex a call.  Because Jeromeville was a small world and I knew a lot of people, I was familiar with the name Alex Davidson.  The front desk person had not spoken to Alex directly, so she did not realize that Alex was a girl.  I did not know her well, but she was in my Chemistry 2B class a year ago; I remembered seeing her write her name on something, and her name stood out to me because most people named Alex I knew were male.  I did not feel comfortable with a female roommate.  It would just feel weird, and also I ran with circles that would question the nature of the relationship of a single male and a single female living together.  Sure, Heather Escamilla from church lived with her boyfriend, but I also knew people that had the same judgmental attitude toward that arrangement.  I did not find Alex Davidson particularly attractive, though, so if somehow we did end up living together, we probably would not develop any kind of awkward sexual tension.

After weight training class, I walked across campus toward the Memorial Union.  I had been coughing and sniffling off and on for the last few weeks, not enough to feel sick and stay home from classes but enough to notice.  As I approached the Memorial Union, I saw a quiet short-haired girl sitting quietly on a bench reading.  It was Skeeter, a friend from the IHP who lived upstairs from me last year.  Just as I was about to say hi, I coughed, and Skeeter heard me and looked up.  “Hey, Greg,” she said.

“Hi.  How’s it going?”

“It’s funny.  I recognized your cough.”

“Wait, what?”

“I heard a cough, and I thought, ‘That sounds like Greg.’”

“Really,” I said.  “I didn’t know I had a distinct-sounding cough.”

“I’ve never thought about it before.  It’s really weird.”

“Yeah.  I would not have thought of that,”  I said.  Have a good rest of the day!”

“You too!”

Last night, I went grocery shopping, and I had to use my credit card to pay because I did not have enough cash and I forgot to bring my checkbook.  My bank had an ATM on the far side of the Memorial Union building, so I went there next.  After I withdrew cash, I turned toward the east entrance of the building near the campus store.  A guy at a table was enticing students to sign up for credit cards with free gifts.  I recognized Autumn, a freshman girl who went to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, filling out an application on a clipboard.  I met Autumn a few months ago when I did a car rally with JCF; she got put in my group, and we failed miserably that night.

“Hey, Autumn,” I said.

Autumn looked up at me.  “Greg!” she said.  “How are you?”

“I’m good,” she said.  She finished filling out the application and handed it to the guy.  He gave her a baseball cap.  “Do you like my hat?” Autumn asked me.

“Yeah,” I said.  The cap was black, with the logo of one of the credit card companies that this man represented subtly stitched into the side.  No other writing or decoration was on the cap.

Autumn put on the cap, with her hair coming out of the hole in the back just above the strap to adjust the size; she tied her hair into a ponytail.  “I’ve never had a hat like this!” she said.  “I’m excited!”

“It looks good,” I said.  “I like it.”

“Free gifts!” the guy running the table called out to people walking by.  “This guy got two free gifts yesterday!” he said, pointing at me.

“You signed up for two credit cards yesterday?” Autumn asked.  “What free gifts did you get?

“The pen and the mug,” I said.  After I filled out those two applications yesterday, I wondered why I had done it.  I was never the type to spend money I did not own, so I did not need a credit card, although it would have been useful for an emergency, or for making large purchases without carrying around cash or a checkbook.  I had a credit card through my bank, the same one I had used at the grocery store last night, but it had a very small limit.  I had signed up for two more yesterday, but I stopped when the man with the applications, the same one who was here today, put a third application in my face.  The new cards would have much higher credit limits than the one from my bank.  In a fit of simplifying and downsizing, I canceled one of the cards about five years later, but I still have the other one, a Discover Card, today, and I use it as my primary credit card.  Also, I still pay it off every month; I know too much math to carry a balance and burden myself with impossibly high interest rates.

“So how are things?” I asked Autumn when she finished the credit card applications.

“Good,” she said.  “I like my schedule this quarter.  How about you?”

“I’m doing okay.  I’m kind of stressing over not having plans for where to live next year.”

“What are your roommates this year doing?” Autumn asked.

“I live alone.  I don’t want to live alone again.  I want to live with people.  Having roommates seems fun.  And it’s a lot less expensive.”

“Yeah.  Have you asked around JCF?”

“Yeah, but I haven’t heard anything for sure.  Pete Green and Charlie Watson were looking for a third person, but Mike Knepper got that spot before I told them for sure.”

“Bummer,” Autumn replied.  “Well, if I hear of any guys looking for a roommate, I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate it.  Do you know where you’re living next year?”

“Yeah.  I’ll be in south Jeromeville with Leah and two other girls she knows.”

“That’ll be nice.”

“I need to go, but it was good running into you.  I’ll see you Friday at JCF?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Bye!”

I walked into the Memorial Union building, going all the way across it to the Coffee House on the other side.  I was done for the day, weight training was my only class on Tuesdays, but I usually stayed on campus until around lunch time, to get work done.  This was a busy time of day, when finding a place to sit in the Coffee House could be difficult.  But today, I just kept running into people I knew everywhere I went, and this would provide me with a place to sit.  I saw a dark-haired girl named Lizzie sitting by herself at a table of four, putting a notebook away in her backpack.

“Hi,” I said.  “May I sit with you?”

“Hey!” Lizzie replied.  “How are you?”

I met Lizzie in the fall through a mutual friend, a math major my year named Jack who had gone to the same high school as Lizzie.  She had a class in the same classroom as our class an hour before, and Jack would always say hi to Lizzie as she was leaving class.  She became a familiar enough face that I had started saying hi to her around campus.

“I’m good,” I said.  “I’m done for the day, I only have one class on Tuesdays, but I’m going to hang out here and work on stuff for a while.”

“That sounds good.  I actually was just getting up to leave.  But you can have my table.”

“Thanks.  Have a good rest of the day!”

“I will!”

I got out my textbook for Linear Algebra Applications with the intent of working on homework, but that did not happen right away.  I had a feeling I was not going to like this class.  The professor for this class seemed a little odd.  In addition to so far just repeating things out of the book instead of actually teaching, she had told us that the entire grade would be based on unannounced quizzes.  No midterm, no final, and homework was not graded.  Something about that did not seem right, although I felt pretty confident about how I did on the first such quiz yesterday.

I then made the classic overthinker move of replaying all of this morning’s conversations in my head.  I noticed that I had not mentioned my roommate search to Skeeter or Lizzie.  I did not know Lizzie well, and I did not know anything about the guys she would know, so if my goal was not to live with strangers, I would have had no reason to tell her about that.  And, although Skeeter’s nonconformity was part of why we were friends last year in Building C, I doubted that I would want to live with the kind of crowd she ran with.  Granted, one of her roommates this year was Danielle, who had been a close friend since our first week in Building C, but Danielle had told me some stories about Skeeter as a roommate that made me wary of associating too much with her crowd.

The rest of my day went smoothly without any surprises.  I came home in the early afternoon, took a nap, and wasted time on the computer chatting on IRC and reading Usenet groups.  I went to Bible study that night, and Lillian, one of the leaders, asked at the end if people wanted to share prayer requests.

“I still haven’t found roommates or a place to live yet,” I said.

“We can pray for that,” Lillian replied.  “Anyone else?”

The others shared their prayer requests: difficult classes, an upcoming summer mission trip to Mexico, a sick friend, a friend going through a difficult time.  We went around in a circle, each person praying for the prayer request of whomever was on the left.  After that, the group would normally end, and people would either leave or stick around for a while and socialize.  This week, while people were socializing, the other leader, Shawn, approached me.  “Hey, Greg?” he said.  “I might have an answer to your prayer.”

“Yes?”

“I’m graduating, but I’m staying in Jeromeville next year for the teacher training program.  I didn’t make housing plans either, because I was waiting for some of my roommates to decide what they were doing next year.  My roommate Brian applied to medical school, but he didn’t get in anywhere, and there is only one place he hasn’t heard from yet.  He’s heard that school usually sends acceptances early, so he thinks he probably didn’t get in.  He’s now planning to stay in Jeromeville next year, applying again and working part time on staff with JCF.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And Abby has a boyfriend who is moving to Jeromeville.  You know Abby Bartlett?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, her boyfriend, his name is Josh McGraw, and he commutes to Jeromeville from his parents’ house in Oak Heights.  He wants to move to Jeromeville and not have that long drive.  I want to save money, but Josh and Brian want their own rooms, so we were thinking if we got a three-bedroom place with a master bedroom, then I could share the big room with someone.  Are you interested?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Keep me posted.”

“Definitely!  We will!  It’s hard to get all four of us able to meet in the same place at the same time, Josh has a really weird schedule, but I’ll try to get a meeting set up in the next week or two so we can work out the details.”

“Sounds good.  Thanks!”

“I was going to ask you about this tonight, I remember you asking for prayer about that last week, but I didn’t get a chance yet.  Then you prayed about it again.  It’s cool how God works like that.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “It is.”

“Just so you know, there’s still an outside chance that Brian will get accepted to that one med school, so if that happens we might have to find someone at the last minute.”

“Right.  That’s okay.”

Sharing a bedroom did not feel like an ideal situation, but most people had to endure doing that with a complete stranger during freshman year, and I had had the good fortune to avoid that.  I thought I could handle it, though, especially with someone I already knew.  Shawn seemed like a decent guy.  I did not know Brian well, but he seemed very involved with JCF socially, and if he was going to be paid to work with the group next year, living with him sounded like a promising opportunity to make more social connections within JCF.  Josh was a bit of a wild card, I had never met him, and although his girlfriend Abby seemed nice, I did not know her well.  At this point, though, I would just have to take what I could get, and this situation seemed good enough.

I drove home a little later feeling much more at peace.  I still did not have a place to live, but I had roommates, and to me that meant that the hardest part was over.  This new plan was taking shape. I was no longer alone in my search for housing.  I was not the most social or popular student in my circles of friends.  I have a history of being a bit of an outcast and a loner.  But I was starting to open up, to make friends from many different walks of life, and that finally appeared to open a door to a new home for next year that would be much more fun than this lonely studio apartment.

March 13-15, 1996. I need time to think about big decisions.

I do not do well with cold weather.  Of course, compared to the rest of the United States, winter in Jeromeville is mild; the coldest winter days still have high temperatures close to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature only rarely drops below freezing at night.  But even in those mild winters, some of my extremities stay cold when the rest of my body is under multiple layers of clothing, and I have such dry skin that my hands start cracking and bleeding spontaneously.

Every winter, a brief reprieve arrives in late February or early March, which I call Fake Spring.  The weather turns beautiful, with a week or two of sunny, warm, dry days.  The many flowering trees on the University of Jeromeville campus burst into bloom, and the rest of the trees grow bright green leaves.  The weather had been so nice for the last couple weeks that I had been eating the lunch I packed while sitting outside on the Quad instead of inside the Coffee House as I usually did.   After my Abstract Mathematics class got out, I walked across the street from Wellington Hall to the Quad, searching for a place to sit.  I had walked more than halfway across the Quad when I saw my friends Taylor, Pete, and Charlie sitting on the grass; I walked up to them, waving, and Taylor waved back first.

“Hey, Greg,” he said.  “What’s up?”

“Not much,” I replied.  “Can I sit here?”

“Sure.”  Taylor and Charlie scooted apart to give me room to sit, and I sat between them.

“So where is this apartment you found for next year?” Taylor asked.

“B Street,” Pete replied.  “Right across from Bakers Square.”

“It’s a really old-looking building with six apartments,” Charlie added.  “But it’s perfect.  Just a couple blocks from campus.  We’re still looking for a third person, though.”

Finding an apartment in Jeromeville could be a daunting and stressful task.  Most property owners and apartment management companies in Jeromeville used the same lease with the same terms.  Jeromeville was a university town, and the terms of this lease were ostensibly intended to be convenient for the university students who make up the overwhelming majority of renters.  Almost all apartments in Jeromeville would go up for lease in March for a 12-month term beginning the following September.  Last year, I kept to myself most of the time while my friends were making living plans for this year, and by the time I figured out that I needed to do something, everyone I knew had plans already.  I managed to find a small studio apartment still available in April; I spent a bit more on rent than I would have ideally liked, but I made it work, with help from Mom and Dad.

I had seen enough Roommate Wanted ads around campus year-round to know that, if I was not picky, I would at least be able to find a place to live for next year.  But I really wanted to room with friends, hoping that that might give me more of a social life.  Eddie Baker from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship lived with seven other guys in a four-bedroom house.  More people from JCF lived near Eddie: Haley Channing and her roommates lived down the street, and Shawn Yang, my Bible study leader, lived around the corner with some other upperclassmen.  I had only been to their houses a combined total of maybe five times, but living with friends seemed so much better than living alone.  It was like that TV show Friends that so many of those people loved, except that unlike the TV characters, all these friends were nice people who did not make me want to punch them in the face every time they opened their mouths.  I had never actually watched Friends, but that was the impression I got from commercials.  And, although I would never say this out loud, the thought of living right down the street from Haley was definitely appealing to me too.  She was cute.

“I might be interested,” I said to Pete and Charlie.  “I don’t have a place yet for next year.”

“Sure!” Pete replied.  “Can you let us know in the next couple days?”

“I will.”  Living with Pete and Charlie would not be the same as having a huge community like Eddie and Haley and Shawn, but it would be better than living alone.  And being so close to campus would be nice as well.  I asked a few more questions about the apartment, mostly how much the rent was; I would be paying quite a bit less to share this place than I was currently for my studio apartment.

“So what’s everyone’s finals schedule look like?” Taylor asked.

“I have two in a row at the earliest two possible time slots, on the first day,” Charlie said.

“Yikes,” Pete replied.

“Still not as bad as when I had four midterms on the same day,” I said.

“I know.  That was crazy!”

“Four?” Charlie asked, incredulously.

“Yeah.  I had all my midterms on the same day.  One of the professors let me take it the day before, but I still had to take them all within twenty-four hours.”

“That’s rough.”

“My finals are pretty spread out this time,” I said.

“I have a paper due on the last day of class,” Taylor said.  “And another final that’s going to be a timed essay.”

“That’s rough,” Matt said.

I noticed out of the corner of my eye a large group of people walking down the concrete path that bisected the Quad, headed toward the library.  Someone leading the group was explaining the surroundings to the group; it appeared to be a group touring the campus, probably prospective students, just as I had done two years ago.  Something seemed familiar about the tour guide’s voice; as my brain was trying to process this, Charlie said, “Look.  It’s Haley.”

I looked up.  Haley was walking backward, leading the tour group; the familiar voice I had heard was hers.  She wore a white shirt under denim overalls.  I never knew Haley was a campus tour guide; she certainly appeared comfortable in her position, like she knew what she was doing.  “Haley!” Charlie called out, waving; the rest of us waved too.  She saw us and waved back.

“You know what would be fun?” Charlie said.  “We should go join Haley’s tour and ask silly questions.”

“Yeah!”  I replied.  “Let’s do it.”

“You wanna?”

“Sure.”

Charlie and I got up and walked to the back of the group Haley was leading across the Quad, stopping at the southwest corner.  “And this large building behind me is Shelley Library,” Haley explained.  “A few departments have their own libraries, but most of the campus collection of books and periodicals is here.  The library also features many study spaces, including an after-hours quiet room that is open 24 hours a day.  Does anyone have any questions before we continue?”

I looked at Charlie, and he raised his hand, pointing toward the oddly-shaped Social Sciences Building across the Quad from us.  “That building over there that looks like the Death Star,” he said.  “Does it actually contain a green laser that destroys planets?”

I raised my hand next and began speaking without waiting to be called on, right after Charlie finished.  “Do cows ever stampede across the campus, and if so, how hard is it to avoid stepping in poop afterward?”

Haley laughed.  “These are my friends, Greg and Charlie,” she explained to the group.  “They’re just being silly.  If you come to the University of Jeromeville, you’ll meet fun, friendly people like Greg and Charlie.”

“Yeah, you will,” I said.  “And you guys are lucky.  You got the best tour guide ever.”

“Thanks,” Haley replied.

“Have a good one,” Charlie said, waving at Haley.  “Enjoy the rest of your tour.”

“You too!  See you guys later.”

“Bye, Haley,” I said.  We turned around and walked back toward where we had been sitting with Pete and Taylor.

“So what classes do you have the rest of the day?” Charlie asked.

“English and physics,” I said.  “And one tutoring group.  What about you?”

“I’m done.  All my classes on Wednesday are in the morning.”

“That must be nice.  I’ve never had a good schedule like that.  I’ve always had classes early in the morning, and I’ve always had classes Friday afternoon.”

“That’s a bummer.”

When we arrived back to where we had been sitting, Pete said, “You guys are crazy.”

“I know,” I replied, nodding.

“What time is it?” Taylor asked.

“12:50,” I answered, looking at my watch.

“I better get going to class.”

“Me too.  But it was good seeing you guys.”

“You too,” Taylor replied

“Have a great day,” Charlie said.

“I will,” I said.  “You too.”


I finished my English paper on Thursday night.  On Friday, the sky was gray and threatening and stayed that way all day.  It did not actually rain, although it looked like it was going to.  Fake Spring had departed as suddenly as it had come.  I decided not to take chances on my bike; I took the bus to school that morning, and I drove to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that evening, paying to park on campus.

I have never done well with big decisions.  Anything involving spending a large sum of money or a long-term commitment, I needed time to think about.  I could not make such decisions impulsively.  Usually it was not a matter of needing time to do research, or perform a cost-benefit analysis.  Sometimes this was part of it, but often I would just need time for thoughts about the decision to form, to know whether or not it felt right.  And I had a bad habit of second-guessing myself on big decisions.

Pete and Charlie needed a third person to join them in their new apartment for next year, and I needed a place to live.  I had known Pete and Charlie since the day we started at UJ, and I trusted them not to be the weird and creepy roommates that were the makings of people’s roommate horror stories.  I had no reason to keep hesitating, and after having this in the back of my mind for the last couple days, I felt ready to commit.  I would tell them tonight.

By the time I arrived at the JCF large group meeting, the music was starting.  I did not have time to talk to anyone.  I found an empty seat near the front of the room and began singing.  Cheryl, one of the JCF staff members, was doing the talk tonight.  I tried to concentrate on her talk, and on the words of the song, but I could not get out of my mind the fact that I had to talk to Pete and Charlie about next year.  That upcoming conversation weighed heavily on my mind the whole night.

After the last song and the closing prayer, I stood up nervously.  I always got like this whenever I had something important or difficult to tell someone.  I looked around the room for Pete or Charlie, and I saw them in the back of the room, talking with Taylor and Mike Knepper.  I nervously walked toward them, waiting for a chance to jump into the conversation.

“So we’re going to sign the lease tomorrow afternoon,” Pete explained.

“Sounds good,” Mike replied.  “I’ll be there.”

Oh, no.  This was not what was supposed to happen.  No one told me that I had competition, or that there would be a consequence for waiting more than two days to make a decision.  I spoke up anyway, although at this point I was pretty sure I knew the answer to my question.  “Pete?” I asked.  “Are you guys still looking for another roommate?”

“I think we just found one,” he answered.

“Oh, okay,” I said.  I stood there silently for another minute or so as the others talked, then I went back toward where I was sitting before.  I missed my chance.  I wished Pete and Charlie had told me the other day that I had a deadline.  I probably would have been more decisive, since I had been thinking all along that I would tell them yes, that I wanted to live with them.  But now they gave the remaining spot to Mike Knepper instead.  And that meant I had to start stressing about finding a place to live.  I sat down where I had been sitting earlier, staring at the wall in front of me as the worship band put their instruments away.  A few minutes later, I saw Haley walking toward me out of the corner of my eye.  I looked at her and waved, halfheartedly smiling.

“Hey, Greg,” Haley said.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “Mostly.  Pete and Charlie needed a third person to live with them next year, and I told them I might be interested.  I was just about to tell Pete tonight that I wanted the spot, only to find out that Mike Knepper took my spot.”

“Oooh.  That’s rough.”

“I don’t think they betrayed me on purpose.  I never committed to anything.  I just feel like they should have asked me first if someone else was interested.  We just didn’t communicate.”

“Makes sense.”

“It’s kind of my fault.  I should have committed earlier.  I hesitate and second-guess myself, and I miss out.”

“Yeah.  I know what you mean.”

“But I just can’t bring myself to make a big decision that’ll involve a year-long commitment on a whim like that.  I need time to think about it and let the decision set in my mind.”

“And that’s important.  Having the right roommates is a big deal.  One of our roommates, the one you probably don’t know, she got into a big argument with Kristina the other day.  And it was over something little.”

“Yeah.  Hopefully you guys will work that out.”

“Hey, if I happen to hear that any of the guys need another roommate for next year, I’ll let you know.  Okay?”

“That would be awesome.  Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome!  Hey, that was funny what you and Charlie did, jumping into my tour.”

“Thanks,” I said, laughing.

“Yeah.  It caught me off guard, but I needed a good laugh.”  Haley smiled, her blue eyes looking right at me, and I smiled back.  “How’s school?  Getting ready for finals?”

“Yeah.  My finals are spread out this time.”

“That’s good.  Mine are all at the end of the week.  That gives me time to study, but I can’t get any of them out of the way.”

“Good luck on those.”

“You too.  Hey, have you seen Kristina?  I need to ask her something.”

I looked around the room; I did not see Kristina.  “I don’t know where she is,” I replied.

“That’s ok.  But I need to go look for her.  You have a good weekend, okay, Greg?”

“I will.  You too.”

Haley got up to look for Kristina, and I stood up and walked around, saying hi to other people and talking about school and finals.  I honestly did not think that Pete and Charlie pulled the metaphorical rug out from under me intentionally.  They needed to find a roommate, and since I was not ready, they found someone.  But, as I had told Haley, I felt that it would have been nice if they had checked with me, since I had expressed interest.

With all of these people around, I should be able to find someone else who needed a roommate.  Bible study was not meeting this coming week because of finals, but I would mention it when we got back after spring break.  Maybe I would even ask my friends, or send an email, to let me know if they heard of anyone.  I had already told my current apartment management that I would not be renewing my lease next year, hoping that I would be able to find a place where I did not have to live alone, so the option of staying where I was no longer existed.  But there would be something out there for me.  The key, as I said before, was a willingness to not be picky.

Although I had the sense that I had no reason to feel hopeless, my missed opportunity to live with Pete and Charlie in the apartment on B Street next year hung over my head all weekend.  I was frustrated with myself for being so indecisive.  When I was applying to universities two years ago, most of them had fixed application deadlines in November and December, and when I received acceptance letters in the early spring, I had around two months to make my decision.  Of course, in this fast-paced world, everyone wanted their results immediately, and sometimes I would need to know what I wanted and go for it.  I wondered if I was missing out on any other opportunities by not acting decisively…

P.S… this week marked two years since the first episode of this blog. Happy blogiversary to me!

September 9, 1995. The night I did something crazy and spontaneous.

In my life so far, I have had a long history of not being popular with the ladies. No one taught me anything about dating and relationships growing up, and my teen years were a string of awkward failed crushes. Rachelle Benedetti, whom I never understood why I liked her in the first place. Kim Jensen, an outgoing popular cheerleader in a few of my classes, but she dated older football players, not guys like me. Melissa Holmes, a good friend who did not like me back that way. Jennifer Henson, a popular girl who started treating me like a good friend when we were seniors, but then moved away without saying goodbye. Annie Gambrell, a younger girl I met through a class project we did together, but she had a boyfriend. And last year there was Megan McCauley, my first older friend in college; she was really nice, but I felt intimidated just by the fact that she was a year older, and currently I did not know how to interpret the fact that she had not emailed me back for the last three weeks.

After waking up and doing absolutely nothing productive for several hours, I walked to the mailboxes. Maybe I had a letter from a girl, I thought. And I did have a letter from a girl. I actually had gotten a letter from a girl yesterday, the first letter I received since moving into this apartment a week ago. It was from Sarah Winters, who lived downstairs from me in the dorm last year. I opened the mailbox and saw another letter from a girl… except today, the girl in question was my grandma. It was always nice to hear from her, but I wanted to interact with girls my age.

From the mailboxes, I could see the pool. A girl was lying face down on a pool chair. She had brown hair, put up in a bun, and perfectly shaped legs. She appeared to be wearing nothing but black bikini bottoms. I looked closer and noticed that she was wearing a bikini top, but she had untied it in the back, presumably to avoid having a tan line. The strings hung down over the side of the pool chair, exposing the side of a fairly large and round breast.

After staring for about thirty seconds, I walked back to my apartment, trying to think of a way I could look at the sexy girl by the pool and maybe get her to notice me. Back inside, I read Grandma’s letter, but I was only half paying attention because my mind was formulating a plan.

I picked up the book I had been reading, part 4 of Stephen King’s The Green Mile, and took it outside with me. The pool was open to everyone; why couldn’t I sit and read by the pool? I found an empty pool chair, on the other side of the pool from the girl, and began reading. Stephen King originally wrote this book as a serial, in six parts each around 100 pages long, published about a month apart. Mom had gotten me parts 1 through 5 for my birthday last month, before part 6 had been published. I would get part 6 at the campus bookstore when I finished part 5, or order it in advance if it had not been released yet.

It was a hot day, and after about ten minutes, I was sweating uncomfortably. Do people really sit by the pool like this? That can’t be right, I thought. I noticed a spot a few feet from me that was in the shadow of a nearby tree. I moved the chair into the shadow; it made noise as I moved it. I looked at the girl, hoping that what I was doing looked natural and ordinary and that the noise would not attract attention. She did not react, and I sat back down and continued reading.

After about another ten minutes, the girl reattached the string in the back of her bikini top. She put on shorts and a tank top over her bikini, slid her feet into flip-flops, gathered her belongings, and began walking toward me. I looked back down at my book, trying not to stare, then looked up as she walked past me. I smiled at her. “Hi,” I said.

“You know you’re lying in the shade,” she replied.

“Yeah,” I said as the weight of her words sank into my brain. She was right. Normal people do not lie in the shade. I was pretty sure I blew it with this girl, and just made myself look like a pervert, or at best a weirdo.

After the girl was gone, I took my book back to my apartment, leaving the pool chair in the shade.  I was too embarrassed to move it back and make any more noise that might get me noticed. I lay on the bed, dejected and discouraged. I was bored. Moving back to Jeromeville early was not as exciting as it had been in my head all summer, mostly because most of my friends had not moved back yet. Since I had just gotten a letter from Sarah, I knew that she would be moving back on September 17, a week from tomorrow, but then leaving right away on a retreat with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship until Friday the 22nd. Several of my friends were involved with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, so I suspected most of them would be back on the 22nd as well.  The first day of class was Thursday the 28th.

I continued reading The Green Mile lying on my bed. When I finished part 4, I put a frozen pot pie in the oven and spent the rest of the night wasting time on the computer. I wrote emails, I played SimCity 2000, I checked my Usenet groups, and I got on IRC chat, in that order. I had been spending a lot of time on IRC lately, and I had even met two girls my age who lived nearby: Colleen, who attended University of the Bay, and Allison, who was a student right here at University of Jeromeville. Around quarter to nine, I saw Allison enter the channel I was already in, and I messaged her.

gjd76: hey
darksparkles: hi
gjd76: what’s up
darksparkles: not much
gjd76: me either. i’m bored. i got a letter from my grandma, that was the highlight of my day
darksparkles: aww how sweet

I decided not to tell her about making a fool of myself in front of the girl at the pool. No one needed to know about that.

gjd76: i moved back to jeromeville early because i was bored at my parents’ house. now i’m bored here, but at least i’m on my own
darksparkles: i know what you mean. my roommate isn’t moving in until right before fall quarter starts. so i have the place to myself until then. i like it though
gjd76: that’s good
darksparkles: i’m a little scared to have a roommate again. i hated my roommate in the dorm last year
gjd76: ugh, roommate drama
darksparkles: but she moved out at the end of winter quarter and i had the room to myself the rest of the year
gjd76: they can do that? and just leave the room empty?
darksparkles: i guess
gjd76: how do you know your roommate from this year?
darksparkles: she lived down the hall from me. she was one of the few people in my building that i talked to, although we weren’t really close friends
gjd76: aww… hopefully living together works out
darksparkles: i hope so too

An outlandishly spontaneous idea popped into my head.  In real life, if I want to say something that makes me nervous, in which I am apprehensive about the other person’s possible reaction, I usually blurt it out loudly, so as not to hesitate or second-guess myself. I typed the next sentence very quickly and pressed Enter, the typing equivalent of blurting something out. It was a crazy idea, but boredom and loneliness can occasionally drive me to desperation.

gjd76: you want to meet in person?
darksparkles: huh? you mean like now?
gjd76: yeah. we can stay outside or in public if you’re worried about being alone with some guy from the internet
darksparkles: sure, there’s a picnic table by the pool in my apartment complex, i’ll meet you there
gjd76: where is that? we both live in north jeromeville, right?
darksparkles: yeah, redwood grove apartments on alvarez, there’s only one way into the parking lot, and the pool is right there, you’ll see it. you know where that is?
gjd76: yes i do. i’ll be there in about 10 minutes. i’m wearing jeans and a green shirt
darksparkles: i’m wearing a black shirt and jeans with holes in them
gjd76: ok, see you in a few minutes

Allison had told me the last time we talked that she lived in north Jeromeville. I did not realize until now that she was only a quarter mile away. I could have gotten there much faster than the 10 minutes I told her, but before I left I brushed my teeth and used the bathroom, and I changed out of my shorts into the jeans I told her I was wearing.  It was not warm enough this late at night to be outside in shorts for a long time. I also scribbled a note on a sheet of paper and placed it on my desk:


9/9/95 9:28pm

In case I don’t come back alive, and the police need leads, I’m going to meet a girl from the Internet named Allison. We’re meeting by the pool at Redwood Square apartments; she told me she lives there. I don’t know her last name, but her IRC name is darksparkles and her account ID is stu050637@mail.jeromeville.edu


 

It was a nice night outside, not too warm but not cold either. My short-sleeve shirt and jeans felt physically comfortable as I started to feel nervous about this situation which I had suddenly put myself in. I had only talked to Allison two other times. I had a rough description of what she looked like, and I had the impression that she was quiet and kept to herself a lot, but other than that I had no idea who to expect. I was pretty sure from our previous conversations that we had never had a class together, and we would not have run into each other at the dining hall since she lived in a different dorm area with its own dining facilities.

I walked into the parking lot of the Redwood Grove Apartments. I could see the pool about a hundred feet back from the sidewalk, and as I approached the pool more closely, I noticed a girl sitting at a table inside the pool area. She turned her head and saw me, and she got up and opened the gate.

“Allison?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “Greg?”

“Yes. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, smiling halfway and leading me back to the table where she had been sitting. She was shorter than me, about five foot five, and thin. Her black shirt had the name of something I had never heard of, maybe a band, maybe a brand of clothing, I did not know. It was a unisex shirt, fitting loosely on her body. Her skin was pale, and her hair appeared to be dyed black, although I could not tell for sure with the lack of natural light and the only illumination coming from a few outdoor light posts. I got the impression that she did not smile much in general, so the awkward half-smile with which she had greeted me was probably the best she could do.

“So what’s up?” she asked, speaking quietly.

“I’ve never done this before.”

“Done what?”

“Met someone off the Internet.”

“Oh. I did once last year.”

“Oh yeah? Was it also someone from Jeromeville?”

“No. He flew out here from Oklahoma.”

“Really.”

“Yeah. He said he really liked me and wanted to be with me. But when he got here, he wasn’t really the nice guy he acted like online. He was kind of a jerk.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Yeah. He made me give him a blow job the first night he was here. I didn’t want to.”

“That’s messed up,” I said. I was not expecting such a graphic description.

“He tasted nasty,” Allison continued. I just nodded, not really sure how to reply to that.  “So you’ve just been sitting around all day since you moved back here?”

“Mostly. I’ve been riding around on my bike, and reading a lot too.”

“You like riding your bike?”

“Yeah. I’m not really competitive or athletic or anything. I just like exploring.”

“I don’t even have a bike,” Allison explained. I thought that was unusual, with Jeromeville being a Bicycle Friendly City and having one of the highest rates of bicycle ownership in the United States. “I take the bus to campus.”

“I’ll probably do that on rainy days. You said you’re taking a class this summer session?”

“Yeah. An English class. One more week.”

“How is it so far?”

“It’s easy.”

“That’s good.” After a few seconds of silence, I asked, “So how has your weekend been?”

“Good. I didn’t really do much.”

“Me either,” I replied.

We made small talk for a while. She told me about this underground band she liked and something she had to read for class. I told her about the bookstore job and what my summer back home in Plumdale had been like. She told me that she liked to draw and paint, and I told her about Skeeter’s watercolor set and the paintings we made in the common room in the dorm last year.

After a while, Allison said, “I should probably go back inside. It’s getting late.”

“Okay,” I replied. “Thanks for hanging out. It was nice meeting you.”

“Yeah. You too.”

“I’ll talk to you soon?”

“Sure. Good night.”

“Good night,” I answered. I walked out of the gate, back toward the street. I had a feeling that I left a bad impression on Allison, and that we probably would not be seeing much of each other in the future. However, this did not feel like a blown opportunity, like sitting by the pool earlier today had been. Allison just was not my type. We were not interested in the same things, and with us both being so quiet, neither of us was able to get the other to open up much. I often pictured my ideal girlfriend being more talkative and outgoing than me, for that reason.

I got home a few minutes later; I had been gone for about an hour. I turned on the computer and thought about getting back on IRC chat, but something about that felt wrong, particularly if I were to see Allison online again so soon after seeing her in person. Instead, I played SimCity 2000, and went to bed around midnight.

I did talk to Allison a few more times on IRC. I did not want to be rude and stop talking to her altogether just because I did not think she was my type. But we never saw each other in person again, and I stopped seeing her on IRC around the time fall quarter started. As I drifted off to sleep that night, I kept replaying in my mind everything that had happened tonight. I felt sad that things had not gone better with Allison, but I had probably done nothing wrong. Maybe it was more of a feeling of disappointment, in the sense that I had wished Allison had been different and that we would have clicked better. But there was nothing I could do about that. It was perfectly normal for a guy and a girl not to click. At least I tried.

 

September 2-3, 1995.  Moving back to Jeromeville for sophomore year.

I had made this trip enough times in the last couple years that it had become familiar by now.  I left Plumdale on a Saturday morning heading north on Highway 11, my 1989 Ford Bronco full of boxes and bags.  I passed through many different landscapes on the two and a half hour drive.  Plumdale’s hills dotted with live oaks, covered by golden-brown grass that sprung up during the spring rains and had long since died in the dry sun of late summer.  A long stretch of flat farmland surrounding El Ajo and Morgantown.  The sprawling suburbs of San Tomas, where I turned onto northbound Highway 6.  Another stretch of brown hills.  Thirty miles of hilly suburbs that all run into each other: Sullivan, Danielsburg, Los Nogales, Pleasant Creek, Marquez, and others.  The Marquez Bridge.  Ten miles of marshy grassland.  Fairview, where Highway 6 ends, merging into eastbound Highway 100.  Another long stretch of flat farmland broken up by the city of Nueces.  And, finally, the exit for northbound Highway 117, with the University of Jeromeville water tower visible in the distance.

I instinctively merged to the right lane, getting ready to take the first exit, Davis Drive.  I caught myself just in time and drifted one lane back to the left.  Davis Drive was not my exit anymore, because I did not live in Building C anymore.  I passed Davis Drive, I passed Fifth Street, and I took the next exit, Coventry Boulevard.  I turned right on Coventry, left on Andrews Road, and into the back parking lot of Las Casas Apartments on the corner of Andrews and Alvarez Avenue.

Mom and Dad were on their way with the rest of my stuff in Dad’s pickup truck.  I left Plumdale a few minutes before they did, and we made no attempt to stay together.  Trying to stay in a caravan is not worth it, especially when everyone involved knows where to go.  Mom is good with directions, and she had been to the apartment before; she should be able to find it.

I realized that I did not have a key to the apartment.  Nowadays, if this happened, I would just be able to send Mom a text and say that I was going to the apartment office, but texting did not exist in 1995 and none of us had cell phones.  I just had to hope that Mom would be smart and wait for me.  By the time I got back from the office with the key, Mom and Dad were just arriving.

“I just got the key,” I said as Mom got out of the truck.

“Good,” Mom said.

“Well?  Let’s see inside,” Dad added.

I opened the door and walked into Apartment 124.  It was a studio apartment, with one large combined living room and bedroom.  On the right was a closet with three sliding doors.  The closet stuck out into the living space, leaving a small nook in the front of the room to my right.  “That would be a perfect place to put the chair,” Mom said, pointing to the nook.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “And the TV can go over here.” I pointed to my left, across from the nook, in the direction my eyes would point when I would sit in the chair.

The door to the bathroom was in the back on the right, and a small kitchen opened into the room in the back to the left.  Mom walked into the kitchen and looked around.  “No dishwasher,” she said after about a minute.

“I didn’t even think about that,” I replied.  “But I lived for 19 years without a dishwasher, so it’s no big deal.  And you’ve lived for even longer than that.”

“True.”

There was a dishwasher in our house in Plumdale, but it did not work for my entire life.  I never knew why.  We stored things in it.  It was not until sometime in the middle of elementary school when it occurred to me that the cabinet with the weird racks and pull down door was called “the dishwasher” because its actual intended purpose was to wash dishes.

“Are we ready to get started?” Dad asked.

“Sure,” I replied.

I began carrying boxes toward the general vicinity of where each box belonged.  Toiletries went to the bathroom.  Clothes went to the closet.  I left books against the wall between the kitchen and bathroom; that would be a good place for a bookcase.  As Mom carried a box of plates and bowls toward the kitchen, I noticed that Dad had finished removing the straps holding the furniture to the truck bed.  As he maneuvered the mattress out of the truck, he asked me, “Can you grab the other end?”

“Yeah,” I said.  This was a brand new mattress, and it was heavy.  Dad and I carefully maneuvered it between Dad’s pickup truck and the Bronco and almost tripped when I failed to notice the curb at the edge of the parking lot.

“You got it?” Dad asked.

“Yeah,” I replied.

Dad and I carried the mattress through the front door, where it bumped against the top of the entryway and I bumped into it.  “Ow!” I shouted.

“Lower,” Dad said.

I squatted down and carefully attempted to keep my balance while pushing the mattress through the doorway.  As I was stepping over the threshold of the door, Dad turned, and the mattress turned with him, pinning me against the side of the doorway.

“Ow!” I said again.

“Where do you keep the dishes?” Mom asked from the kitchen.

“I don’t know!” I shouted.  “I’ve only lived here for ten minutes!  And I can’t move right now!”

“Huh?  You can’t move?”

I made some unintelligible noises as Dad moved the mattress away from me.  I dropped it; at this point it was in the apartment and could be pushed.  Mom stood there looking at me.  “Where do you keep the dishes?” she repeated.

“I told you, I don’t know yet!” I shouted.

“You don’t have to yell at me,” Mom said indignantly.

“I was getting slapped in the face and pinned to the wall by a heavy mattress.  I’m sorry, but where to put the dishes is not exactly my priority at the moment.”

“Well… I couldn’t see that.”

“That’s what happens when you’re moving furniture.  But I’m sorry I yelled.”

“Are you hurt?”

“Not really.”

I hated carrying furniture.  It felt like sensory overload to me.  I was trying to make sure I did not drop or break whatever I was carrying, and that I did not hurt myself, and I had to work hard to tune out distractions like Mom.  Carrying large pieces of furniture was exhausting both physically and mentally.

In hindsight, this day of unpacking took less time than any of my future moves, because I had not yet accumulated as much stuff as I would in the future.  But it still felt exhausting.  By early afternoon, the cars were empty, although the inside of the apartment was full of unpacked boxes and the furniture was not all in its proper place.

“Is it time to take a break for lunch?” Mom asked.

“Sounds good to me,” Dad said.

“Where do you want to go for lunch?  Are we going to go to our usual McDonald’s?”

“Sure,” I said.

 

We got back from McDonalds about an hour later.  McDonald’s was on the other side of Jeromeville, about a ten minute drive each way.  I did not yet have much experience with local restaurants.  I knew Murder Burger from that one time last year, but that was almost as far away, and I liked McDonald’s.

As we headed west on Coventry Boulevard back toward the apartment, Mom said, “We’re also going to take you grocery shopping before we leave.  Our treat.”

“Right now?”

Mom paused for a second.  “Sure, if you want.”

“Sounds good.”

“Where are we going?”

I could see the intersection for Andrews Road approaching.  “U-turn here,” I said.  “Then make an immediate right.  Lucky, right over there.” I pointed in the general direction of the Lucky grocery store, across the street from where we were at the moment.

We spent well over a hundred dollars at the store that day.  We went up and down every aisle, and I placed in the cart everything I saw that I would probably eat.  Bananas.  Mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup.  Bread.  Sandwich meat.  Saltine crackers.  Cereal.  Milk.  I had an empty refrigerator; I needed everything.

“Do you like these?” Mom said in the middle of the frozen food aisle, gesturing toward a frozen chicken pot pie.  “That’s something easy you can make for dinner, at least for now until you try cooking more things.”

“Sure,” I said grabbing a few chicken pot pies.  I eyed the shelf of Hungry-Man frozen dinners next to them and said, “What about these?”

“Yeah, those too.”  I got one of turkey and mashed potatoes and one of fried chicken and put them in the cart.  I ate way too many Hungry-Man dinners that year, and after I moved out of that apartment into another apartment with roommates, I don’t think I ever ate a Hungry-Man dinner again.

After we got home, I set up the computer while Dad built the new bookcase, which we brought to Jeromeville still in a box.  When he finished, I put the bookcase against the wall between the doorways to the kitchen and bathroom, as I had planned to earlier.  Mom and Dad and I visited for a while as Dad was putting the bookcase together.  Mom asked a lot of questions about school and my friends from last year; I did not know the answers to all of them.

A while later, in the late afternoon, Mom said, “Well, if you have everything under control here, it’s probably time for us to go.  I think you can probably finish unpacking.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Thank you again for everything.”

“Here,” Mom continued, writing a check and giving it to me.  “In case you need anything more.”

“Thank you.”

“Enjoy the new apartment,” Dad said quietly.  “Dad loves you.”

“You too,” I said.  “Drive safely.”

 

After Mom and Dad left, the first thing I did was connect to IRC chat and go to the room where I always used to chat last year.  I scanned the list of people in the room and recognized someone, a girl from Georgia named Mindy Jo (that name sounded very Southern to me) whom I had kept in touch with off and on by email but had not actually chatted with since moving out of Building C in June.  I messaged her.

gjd76: hi
MindyJoA: greg! you’re back!
gjd76: yes! i moved in to my new apartment this afternoon
MindyJoA: yay how is it?
gjd76: i like it so far.  mom and dad took me shopping
MindyJoA: that was nice of them.  you said you live by yourself?
gjd76: yeah
MindyJoA: have your friends moved back yet?
gjd76: i don’t know. i don’t think so.  i still have another three weeks until school starts.
MindyJoA: why’d you move back so early?  last year when i moved home for the summer i didn’t go back to school until the night before my first class
gjd76: because it’s boring back home.
MindyJoA: yeah, that makes sense

I stayed up until past midnight talking to Mindy Jo and a few other people in the room, and catching up on the Pink Floyd Usenet group, which had died down in general since it had been three months since new music was released and there were no more Publius Enigma posts.  The bed was right next to the computer table in the large main room, and while it took me a while to fall asleep, as it often does in a new place, I slept fairly well after that.

 

“Greg!” Sister Mary Rose said when she saw me walking into the Newman Center the next morning for Mass.  “Welcome back!”

“Thanks.  It’s good to be back.”

“School doesn’t start for another few weeks, right?  Are you in summer session?”

“No, I was just bored at my parents’ house, so I moved here as soon as my lease started.”

“Was your summer good, even if it was boring?”

“Yeah.” I told her about the bookstore, watching roller hockey games, and Catherine and Renee’s Voices of Austria show, until she had to go get Mass started.

I looked around during Mass and noticed that, while I recognized some faces in the congregation, most of the people here whom I actually knew well were not here.  I was hoping they might be.  I knew Danielle was not moving back to Jeromeville this early, and I suspected many other students had not moved back yet as well.

After church was over, I stood watching people leave.  Normally now was the time I would go talk to people I knew, but with most of the people I knew not in attendance today, I decided after a minute to just go home.  When I got home, I made a sandwich with the groceries Mom and Dad had bought last night while I answered a few emails.

Later that afternoon, I went for a bike ride.  I had been waiting a long time for this.  My bike had been pretty much sitting in the garage the whole time I had been home.  Plumdale is hilly, with many curvy roads where people drive fast, the polar opposite of Jeromeville as far as ease of cycling is concerned.

I rode south down Andrews Road across Coventry Boulevard.  The weather was sunny and hot, around ninety degrees.  By the time I crossed Fifth Street onto campus, about a mile south of my apartment, I was sweating, but it felt good.  I continued south past the Rec Pavilion, and I stopped at a red light at Davis Drive next to the recreation pool, which Dad had nicknamed Thong Bikini Hill.  I turned, trying to look at the sprinkling of sunbathers on the hill, but staring felt inappropriate, and I did not have a good view from where I was.  When the light turned green, I continued south, past the dairy, all the way to the oak grove at the west end of the Arboretum.  The campus looked quieter and more deserted than usual; I figured this was probably normal for summer.  The campus had also looked more deserted than normal when I was here in July with my cousins, and most campus activity would be in the older part of campus to the east anyway.

My route that day was very familiar.  I rode east through the Arboretum and emerged downtown on B Street.  I headed north on B Street to Community Park, to the pedestrian and bicycle overpass over Coventry Boulevard, and into the Greenbelts.  I had been here a few times before last spring, but after being away for almost three months, it felt new all over again.

About a mile north of the pedestrian overpass, I passed the pond and crossed Andrews Road, which curved to run east-west through this neighborhood.  I continued down a residential street; I discovered last spring that this street connected to another greenbelt and bike trail running along the northernmost edge of Jeromeville.  I stopped to drink from a water fountain next to a small playground that intersected another bike heading south.  I looked north, through the chain link fence that ran along the edge of the trail.  A drainage ditch ran parallel to the bike trail, with fields spreading as far as the eye could see on the other side.  The neighboring city of Woodville was about eight miles to the north, and Bidwell, where my dad was born and some of his relatives still lived, was about ninety miles in the same direction.  I wondered what else was out there in the North Valley.  I had seen roads and towns on maps, but I was not very familiar with any of them up close.

The trail continued next to the drainage ditch for a while, until it turned southward through a park tucked between two neighborhoods.  This park had a playground and basketball court at the north end, closest to the ditch, then a long grassy area and a sculpture that looked like dominoes at the other end.  Public works of art were strange sometimes, and Jeromeville had no shortage of them, being a university town.  These dominoes appeared to be permanently frozen while falling, although not in the usual configuration of falling dominoes.  The thought of falling dominoes got me thinking about how one small decision could affect so much, just like how pushing one domino could lead to many others toppling.  What if I had decided to go to Central Tech or Bidwell State instead of Jeromeville?  What if I had not accepted the invitation to the Interdisciplinary Honors Program last year, and had not made that group of friends in the dorm?  What if I had decided to run away and quit school that night that I got so upset?  What if I had paid more attention and found a roommate for this year, or decided to answer an advertisement and room with a stranger, instead of getting a little studio apartment?  My whole life could be different.

 A little way past the dominoes, I turned off the trail onto a path which I knew led directly to the Las Casas Apartments.  I locked my bike and headed straight for the shower.  I had been outside in hot weather for 45 minutes, and I was sweaty.  I showered in mostly cold water, then I got dressed.  I turned on the stereo, now on top of the new bookcase next to the kitchen, and played the Hootie & the Blowfish CD as I put a Hungry-Man fried chicken dinner in the microwave.

All was starting to feel more right with the world.  I may not have understood exactly why my dominoes fell in the direction they did, but they did, and now I was back in Jeromeville where I could start moving my life forward again.  I grew quite a bit freshman year, and I was ready to build on that growth, and maybe push over a few more metaphorical dominoes in the process.

dominoes

(Author’s note: this post was edited eight months after I wrote it because, I realized through shoddy recordkeeping, that I had used the same song twice, so I had to change the song in one of the two posts in question.)

July 18, 1995. The day we went to Jeromeville with Rick and Miranda.

One of the major annual events in Santa Lucia County was the Gabilan Rodeo, a legacy of the cattle ranching in the area’s past, which had mostly given way over the years to various fruit and vegetable crops.  I was never a big fan of rodeo, but my mom’s sister had married into a family that was very involved with the Gabilan Rodeo.  So, for me, the arrival of the rodeo every July meant getting to see my cousins Rick and Miranda.  They were in between me and my brother Mark in age; Rick would soon begin his last year of high school, and Miranda was just starting high school.

Last week, Mom had been thinking of things we could do when Rick and Miranda were here.  She asked me if I wanted to take a day trip to Jeromeville, so that Rick and Miranda could see where I was going to school.  I enthusiastically approved of that idea. So, on the morning of the day before the rodeo started, Mom had been driving north for the last two and a half hours, I was in the passenger seat, and Rick, Miranda, and Mark were in the back.  Mark had been listening to music on headphones, and Rick had been showing off a fancy money clip that his dad had gotten him recently. Dad stayed home; he had to work.

“Greg?” Mom said as we approached the exit for Highway 117.  “Tell me where to go. Do I take 117?”

“Where are we going to park the car?”

“I don’t know.  You’re the one who lives here.”

“Are we going to start from the MU?   Or from where I lived last year?”

“Let’s do that.  Start from your dorm.”

“Turn here, then,” I said just in time for Mom to move over a lane and exit on Highway 117 north.  I guided Mom to the Davis Drive exit, and then to the parking lot next to the South Residential Area.

“Where do I go?” she asked.

“There’s a little yellow machine where you can buy a parking permit.”

“Do I do that?”

“Yes, Mom.  That’s how parking at places like this work.  You buy a parking permit, you put it on your windshield, and then you park.  The permit tells the parking police that you paid.”

“I know that!” Mom shouted as she bought a parking permit from the machine.

“Then why did you ask?”

“I don’t know!”

“Sometimes you don’t make sense,” I said, suddenly feeling tense over the way that something simple like parking the car had to become a major ordeal.

“Well, sorry.”

We stepped out of the car.  “It’s hot!” Mark exclaimed, the first thing he had said in quite some time.

“Yeah,” I said.  “That’s what it’s like here in the summer.”

We walked north on Dairy Road toward the South Residential Area, across the street from the dairy, which was exceptionally aromatic today.  I stopped in front of Building C. Pointing to my window on the second floor, I said, This is where I lived last year.  And that was my room.”

“Nice,” Miranda said.

“It was a tiny room,” Mom said.

“Yeah, it was, but I was by myself, so it was all right,” I added.

“You got your own room?” Rick asked.  “No roommate?”

“Yeah.  It just happened.  I didn’t ask for it.  There were only six single rooms in the whole building.”

I pointed out the dining commons as we continued across the South Residential Area.  We continued walking as I pointed out campus buildings and narrated anything interesting I had to say about them.  We walked past the engineering buildings and the buildings where my chemistry and physics classes were. Heading toward the Quad, I pointed out Wellington Hall, where many of my classes had been held, and Kerry Hall, the location of the mathematics department offices.  We passed the tall cork oaks lining the Quad, where I pointed out the Coffee House and the Memorial Union and the campus store. We walked around the corner at the campus store, where I pointed out the gray, oddly-angled building on the other side of the street.

“They call that building the Death Star,” I said, “because of all the steep concrete and metal canyons.  One time, a bunch of us from my building played Sardines there at night.”

“What’s Sardines?” Mom asked.

“Isn’t it kind of like hide-and-seek?” Miranda asked.

“Yes,” I explained, ”except when you find the person hiding, you hide with him and cram in there like sardines.  Taylor was hiding, and I wandered around this crazy building for over an hour looking for him. I hardly saw anyone the whole time.   I thought everyone else was probably wondering what took me so long. And then when I finally found Taylor, I was the first one there.”

“Oh my gosh,” Mom said.  “No one else had found him?  After an hour?”

“I know.”

“College sounds fun,” Miranda said.

We continued walking toward A Street, which divides the campus from downtown.  I pointed out the field where I had learned to play Ultimate Frisbee and the small, unimpressive football stadium.  “I can see where all the parties are,” Rick said.

“Huh?” I asked.

“All those frat houses.”  Rick pointed across the street from the football stadium.

“Oh, yeah.  And there are a bunch more around the corner on Fifth Street.”

“Do you ever go to fraternity parties?” Miranda asked.

“No,” I replied.  “I don’t hang out with that crowd.”

“Rick!” Mom said.  “Put that away! Someone’ll steal it.”

“They’re not gonna steal it!” Rick argued, playing with his money clip and the large wad of cash it held.  I decided to stay out of this argument.

We turned around and walked south on A Street.  I led the group back toward the Quad, past the brown buildings with shingle exteriors which were the oldest buildings on campus.  I pointed out the library as we headed around the corner back to Davis Drive.

“What in the heck is that?” Rick exclaimed loudly.

“What?” I asked.

“That!” Rick pointed to a large metal pipe, suspended about a foot above a concrete slab in the ground.  The pipe curved a few times, ending in a section pointing about ten feet upward, like a chimney. On one of the pieces of metal attaching the pipe to the ground, ominous letters proclaimed YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE.

you've been here before (yoinked)

“It’s art,” I said.

“What the heck kind of art is that?  It looks like scrap metal!”

“You know how it is.  Anything can be art. It’s a university.  There’s weird stuff here.”

We got back to the car about ten minutes later and drove all the way across town to McDonald’s.  Mark was a very picky eater, and I had not explored the Jeromeville culinary scene (other than the dining commons) enough to recommend anything, so we went with something familiar.  After we finished eating, I stepped outside to find a pay phone. I stared at the phone for a minute, trying to compose in my head what I would say. I took a deep breath, knowing that I was being ridiculous and that there was no reason for me to be nervous.  It was not like I was going to get rejected or anything.  I was calling a guy. I quickly dialed the number.

“Hello?” a familiar voice said on the other end of the line.

“Taylor?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“This is Greg.”

“Hey, man!  You’re here?”

“Yeah.  Is this a good time to stop by?”

“Sure!  I’m just hanging out, and Jonathan is studying.”

“655 Andrews Road?” I said, repeating the address I had written down.

“Yep!  That’s it!”

“I’ll be there in probably around 15 minutes.”

“Sounds good!  See you then!”

“Bye!”

After we all got back in the car, Mom asked, “Where are we going?  I directed her toward the house where Taylor and Jonathan were living, going a different way than we went before, crossing over Highway 100 and working our way to Fifth Street.  “And who are you going to visit?” Mom asked.

“Taylor Santiago, from the IHP last year.  The one who hid in the Death Star building.  And Jonathan, who was also in the program, is living there too.  I didn’t really know him as well.”

“Which one is Taylor?  Is he the Filipino boy who waved to us from the balcony that time we came to visit?”

“Yes.  That’s him.”

“Weren’t you going to try to visit someone else today too?”

Megan McCauley.  But she emailed me back late last night and said she was busy today.  She had a midterm this morning, and then she was going to do something with her family tonight.”

“Does her family live in Jeromeville?”

“Oak Heights.  Just past Capital City.  About half an hour away.”

“Which one is she?  Didn’t you say she did something funny with her hair last year?”

Cut it off and dyed it green.”

“You have too many friends,” Mom said.  “I can’t keep track of all these people.”

“I don’t know.”

“No, that’s a good thing.  Remember how in high school you always felt like you wanted to have more friends and a social life?”

“I guess.”  Mom was right, but it felt embarrassing to talk about this with her, especially in front of Mark, Rick, and Miranda.

As we approached Taylor’s house, Mom asked, “So we’ll leave you alone to hang out with Taylor, and we’ll be back in an hour.  Did you say there was a park somewhere around here where we can go sit and walk around?”

“Yeah.”  I gave Mom directions to get to Maple Drive Park, about a quarter mile away.  As the rest of my family drove off, I walked up to Taylor’s door and knocked. I waited nervously on the porch, even though I knew Taylor well and had nothing to be afraid of.

“Hey, man!” Taylor said.  “Come on in!”

I walked into the living room and looked around.  I sat on the couch. Jonathan was sitting in a recliner with a textbook, which he put aside to say hi to me.  Taylor sat on the other side of the couch where I sat. “So whose house is this?” I asked.

“A guy I know from church.  He’s away working at a summer camp.”

“That’s cool.  How are your classes going?”

“Pretty good.  I just got a midterm back.  I didn’t do as badly as I thought.”

“That’s good.”

“How’s your summer?  How’s life back in Plumdale?”

“Pretty boring, honestly.  I’m working at an old lady bookstore.  My mom knows someone who works there, so I didn’t have to go out and find the job or anything, but business is kind of slow.”

“When you say old lady bookstore, do you mean they sell books for old ladies?”

“Oh, no.  It’s just a bookstore.  But the owner is an older woman who listens to classical music, and not a lot of people our age come to the store.”

“That makes sense.  Are you hanging out with your friends a lot?”

“Not really,” I said.  “Plumdale is so spread out, I don’t really have neighbors, and most of my school friends aren’t near me.  I’ve really only seen two of them. Some of them didn’t come home for the summer. I’ve been going to San Tomas Mountain Lions roller hockey games, though.  That’s been fun. I went to two with my family and one with a friend.”

“I haven’t been to one of those yet.  My sister and a bunch of her friends went to one.  She said they kept showing her on the camera and made her Fan of the Game.”

“I saw that!” I exclaimed.  “I was at that game!”

“Really?  That’s funny!”

“Jonathan?  What about you?” I asked.  “How’s your summer going?”

“Good,” he said.  “Just studying. Trying to get some more classes in.”

“You came here with your family, right?” Taylor asked.  “Where are they now?”

“They didn’t want to get in the way while I was visiting you guys.  They wanted to go find a park and hang out for a while. So I pointed them toward Maple Drive Park.  They’ll be back to pick me up at 2:30.”

“That’s cool.  Are they having fun?  You said someone else was here too?”

“My cousins Rick and Miranda.  They’re visiting this whole week.”

“Where do they live?”

“In the middle of nowhere.  A little town about four hours north of here.  But both of their sets of grandparents live in Gabilan, so I get to see them a few times a year.”

“That’s cool.”

Taylor and I spent the rest of the time talking about his classes, our plans for next year, things he had been doing with Jeromeville friends during the week and friends back home over the weekend, and friends from our dorm whom we had heard from over the summer.  Jonathan talked a little as well, but eventually went to study in his bedroom.  Taylor told me that Bok and her family went on a camping trip to the Pacific Northwest, and Caroline was visiting her relatives in Australia. (Both girls would send me postcards from their trips eventually.)

At 2:30, I looked outside the front window and saw the rest of my family sitting in the car waiting for me.  “I need to go,” I said. “My ride’s here.”

“It was good seeing you,” Taylor replied, standing up and walking to the front door, which he opened for me.  “Let me know when you move back up for the fall. Or if you’re up here again.”

“Definitely.  I’ll see you then.”  I raised my voice and called toward the back of the house, “Bye, Jonathan!”

“Bye, Greg!” Jonathan’s muffled voice called out from his room.  “Good seeing you!”

“You too!”

After I got back in the car, Mom asked, “How are Taylor and the other guy?”

“Jonathan.  They’re doing well.  Just studying. And Taylor goes home on weekends.”

“Where’s he from?”

“El Arcángel.  North of Bay City.”

“Oh, okay.  So what are we doing next?  Looking at your new apartment for next year?”

“Sure.  Head that way,” I said, pointing north and continuing to direct my mother to Las Casas Apartments.  When we got there, we got out and began walking around.

“This is where you’re gonna live next year, Greg?” Miranda asked

“Yeah,” I said.  “Apartment 124. Right over there.”

Miranda looked where I was pointing.  “This looks nice.”

“I like it.”

“Can we walk around a little?” Mom asked.

“Sure,” I said, I turned the corner of the building where my apartment was.  I pointed out the path that led to the Greenbelts. “That’s a great place to take a walk or go for a bike ride,” I said.  “Like a trail connecting a long park area.”

“That’s cool,” Miranda said.  I pointed out the swimming pool and the laundry room.  Miranda seemed the most interested; Rick was playing with his money clip again, and Mark was quietly listening to music with headphones.

After walking around for a while and returning to where we parked, Mom said, “Well, we’ve done everything we were going to do here.  Is there anything else we’re doing here? Or is it time to go back home?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  I could not think of anything else we were going to do, and I knew we still had a long drive ahead.  But I enjoyed being in Jeromeville again, even if only for a day, and I was kind of sad to see the trip coming to a close. “I guess.”

We stopped for gas and got back on the freeway.  About ten minutes later, we were approaching Nueces, the next town to the west, when Rick exclaimed, “I lost my money clip!”

“Oh no,” I said.

“I told you not to keep getting it out,” Mom said, sounding slightly exasperated.

“So what are we going to do?” I asked.

“Do you know where you lost it?” Mom asked Rick as she exited and pulled over.

“I remember seeing it at Las Casas Apartments,” I said.  “So either he lost it there, or at the gas station, or in the car.

“It’s not in the car,” Rick insisted.  “I’ve been looking.”

“Do you want to go back and look at the apartment and the gas station?”

“Well, yeah, if we can.  Duh.”

Mom turned back onto Highway 100 east, the way we came.  She took 117 north to the Coventry Boulevard exit and remembered on her own how to get back to Las Casas.  We parked in the same part of the parking lot where we were before and began looking around. I could tell that Rick was upset, and that Mom was annoyed.

After walking around for about two minutes, I saw a glint of metal in the parking lot.  I walked closer and saw a $20 bill with other bills folded behind it, held together by a metal clip.  “Rick!” I called. “Isn’t this it?”

Rick came running over.  “Yes!” he shouted. “Found it!”

“Good,” Mom said.  “Mark! Miranda! We found it!”

“Can we go home now?” Mark asked, sounding like he would rather be anywhere else than here.

On the drive home, Rick played for us a CD of his new favorite comedian, someone named Jeff Foxworthy who made jokes about the South and rednecks.  I thought he was somewhat amusing. Mom told me later that she thought Jeff Foxworthy was stupid.

After having been in the car so much that day, I felt a little relieved to be home, knowing that I would be sleeping in my own bed that night.  But I also felt disappointed. It was disappointing that I did not get to see Megan. But, more generally, today I had had a taste of what it was like to be back in Jeromeville, and I was ready for more.  My life in Plumdale really was going nowhere. I was more ready than ever to return to Jeromeville. I had been there for a year (YOU’VE BEEN THERE BEFORE, I thought, like that weird sculpture), and I would be back someday.  My friends were there. I had new people to meet there. And I felt so much more free there, not having to wonder if my family would question my every move. This boring time in Plumdale working at Books & More would pass, and six weeks from now I would be free to continue living my new life in Jeromeville.


Author’s note:  I apologize to whomever took the photograph of YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE.  I stole it from a Jeromeville local wiki site.  As soon as the COVID-19 lockdown is over, I’ll go to Jeromeville and take this picture myself and replace this with my own picture.

Thanks to Mom and Taylor for helping me out with a few details relevant to this day.

This episode kind of feels like one of those TV shows where they keep showing clips from previous episodes.  I told tons of stories about the previous year in Jeromeville and linked to all of them, for the benefit of new readers who might have missed those.

And, I doubt that she will ever see this, but from one writer to another, happy 104th birthday today to Beverly Cleary.  I often forget about her when I think of my favorite authors, since she writes children’s books and I haven’t read anything of hers since elementary school.  But I loved the Ramona books and the Henry Huggins books as a kid, and somewhere back at my parents’ house in Plumdale I have an autographed first edition copy of Ramona Forever.  From what I have read about her as an adult, and what I remember of her books, she really did a great job of capturing what life is like for an ordinary child, and as someone who doesn’t always relate well to popular works of fiction, that’s important to me.  And besides all that, just living for so long is pretty awesome in itself.

— Greg

April 4-6, 1995. Two big steps.

I walked back from the dining commons after dinner.  The sun was low, about to set, placing most of the South Residential Area in shadow from the surrounding trees and the buildings themselves.  The sky was clear and dimly blue, and despite the shadows around me, the fact that the sun had not set yet at seven o’clock felt like a bit of hope after this wet and cloudy winter.  A few more rain storms would probably show up before the end of the school year, but summer would return eventually.

When I got back to my room, the telephone was ringing.  I answered it.

“What happened?” Mom asked.  “The phone was ringing for a long time.”

“I just got back from dinner and checking the mail.”

“Did you get any mail?”

“No.  But I did get a postcard from Jessica in Guatemala yesterday.”

“That’s exciting.  How’s she doing down there?”

“It’s a postcard; she couldn’t write a whole lot.  She said she’s been volunteering at an orphanage.”

“I wonder what made her decide to do that instead of going to college?  She got accepted to Santa Teresa and Valle Luna, didn’t she?”

“I don’t know.  It’s her life. She can volunteer at an orphanage in Guatemala instead of going to college if she wants to.”

This postcard would actually be the last time I would hear from Jessica during my college days, although sometimes Mom and her gossipy friend Mary Bordeaux would have lunch, and Mom would tell me something Mary told her about Jessica.  I got back in touch with Jessica in 2000 after a chance encounter of sorts. Jessica and her husband and children live just outside of Gabilan now, not far from where we grew up, at least most of the time. Her adult life has been just as full of free-spirited adventures as her post-high school years were, though.  In 2006, they all returned to that same orphanage in Guatemala for several months and adopted a child from there to bring back to their home.

“I have some mail to send you,” Mom said.  “I’ll send that next week sometime. You got your sample ballot.”

“What sample ballot?”

“I don’t know,” Mom said, pausing, apparently to look at the sample ballot.  “It’s a primary election for county supervisors. And, um, Measure Q.”

“I have no idea about any of that.  I don’t feel comfortable voting.”

“You don’t have to vote.  It’s okay.”

“Yeah, but I hate the idea of not voting.  Maybe it’s time to change my voter registration from Santa Lucia County to Arroyo Verde County.  I know more about what’s going on up here. And I don’t like the Congressman from here. Back when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh, he used to talk about him, so if I register to vote here, I can vote against that guy.”

“Where do you go to do that?  The post office, I think?”

“I don’t know either, but that sounds right.  I think I’ve seen voter registration forms at the post office.”

“Have you had a chance to look at any of those apartments yet?”

“I’m going to do that tomorrow.  I’m going to start with Las Casas and Pine Grove Apartments.  Those are the two top choices. I have a few other maybes in case they don’t have any left.”

“Sounds like a plan.  See, it’ll work out.”

“I don’t know yet, though.  I called both of them yesterday, and they had vacancies, but maybe they were all taken today.”

“Stop worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.”

“I’m trying.”

Mom continued talking for another several minutes, telling me about Mark’s baseball practice and someone at her work whom I didn’t know.  I was only half paying attention, with the rest of my mind on my upcoming apartment search. I was afraid of the unknown, that’s what it really came down to.  I had never experienced looking for an apartment before, and I didn’t want to go through an endless parade of setbacks.

My last class on Wednesday was Psychology and the Law, the class I was taking for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program this quarter.  As soon as class was over, I dropped off my backpack in my room and went to my car. I had some adult responsibilities to take care of.

I drove past Thong Bikini Hill, still closed for the season, and left campus heading north on Andrews Road.  I turned left on West Fifth and right on Maple Drive. This neighborhood north of the campus proper between Maple Drive and Highway 117 contained mostly apartment complexes built in the 1960s.  Some of them were privately owned, and some of them had been taken over by the university and operated as suite-style dorms. Two university dining commons were also in this quasi-off-campus housing area.

I parked on the street next to the Pine Grove Apartments, the largest of the privately owned apartment complexes in this neighborhood.  I followed a sign to the leasing office and walked in. A dark-haired woman of about thirty years old, wearing a name tag that said “Linda,” sat at a desk going through papers in a file.  Behind her, on a white wall, were framed photographs of the grounds of the apartment complex.

“May I help you?” Linda asked.

“I called yesterday asking about a one-bedroom apartment for the next school year.  Is it still available?”

“Yes, it is.  We have two left.  Would you like to look at one?”

“Yes, please,” I said.

“The unit I’m going to show you isn’t the actual apartment; neither of the available units is vacant right now.  I have permission from the resident to show the apartment, and both of the available units have the same floor plan.  I’ll show you the location of the two available units after I show you the inside.”

“Okay.”

I followed Linda to a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor near the rental office.  The front door opened into the small but adequate living room, with a kitchen to the left.  A short hallway led behind the kitchen to the bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom was about the size of my bedroom back home in Plumdale, a bit bigger than my dorm room.  Nothing really stood out; this is what I imagined apartment hunting to be like, so far. The apartment appeared to be inhabited by one resident who was much neater than I would have expected a college student to be.  This made sense, though, because the leasing office probably would not want to show prospective new residents an apartment full of party animals littered with beer cans and pizza boxes.

“Now, as I said, this is not the unit currently available,” Linda explained after she had shown me the inside of the apartment.  “Are you okay with living on the second floor and climbing stairs? Both available units are on the second floor.”

“Sure,” I said.

Linda and I walked out of the apartment and past the pool.  “You’re a student at UJ?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’ll be living by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“I think you’ll like it here.  We’re close to campus. And many of our tenants stay here at Pine Grove until they graduate.  That’s one of the units available, number 217.” By now we had passed the pool and continued to the back side of a poolside building.  Linda pointed at apartment 217. Then she pointed to the next building past this one and said, “The other available unit is in that building.  Number 228.” We walked back toward the leasing office; Linda made note of the laundry room on the way. “The available units aren’t as close to the laundry room as the one I showed you, but no unit in Pine Grove is really far from the laundry room.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We walked back into the leasing office.  “So what do you think? Are you ready to sign the papers?”

I wasn’t.  I don’t like to make major decisions in a hurry.  I always second-guess myself. Even after committing to something, I often wonder if I made the wrong decision.  “I have one other place I’m looking at later. Can I let you know by tomorrow?”

“Sure, but we can’t hold the apartment for you.”

“I understand.”

“Just remember that we are the closest complex of this size to campus.  You won’t find all of these amenities anywhere closer.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Take this with you,” Linda said, pushing a brochure toward me with floor plans, a list of the amenities offered, and everything else I ever needed to know about Pine Grove Apartments.

“Thanks,” I said, looking through the brochure.

“Thank you for your interest in Pine Grove.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“I’ll let you know.”

I left Pine Grove Apartments feeling pretty good.  This was definitely doable. And I didn’t necessarily even need to wait until tomorrow; if I went to see Las Casas and hated it, I could always call Pine Grove back later this afternoon.  I hated making these decisions, though. Linda’s job was to sell the community to prospective tenants, and people working in sales always make things look better than they really are. Maybe everyone in Jeromeville knows that Pine Grove is the worst place in town to live, and I don’t know it because I never hear these things.  Or maybe they all say that about Las Casas. I don’t know.

I drove north on Maple Drive for about a mile.  Maple Drive was a much quieter street than Andrews Road. Both were residential streets running roughly parallel to each other, but Andrews Road was more heavily traveled.  As I approached the traffic light at Coventry Boulevard, I noticed the name of the street just before Coventry: Acacia Drive. Pete and Taylor and Charlie had signed a lease to live in an apartment on Acacia Drive, and I thought Danielle said she and one of her roommates from the four-person suite in Building C would be living in that same apartment complex on Acacia Drive as well.

On the other side of Coventry Boulevard, Maple Drive passed through a relatively new neighborhood with multiple large apartment complexes built in the 1980s.  A shopping center with a Safeway grocery store was on the left. I turned right on Alvarez Avenue almost as far as Andrews Road. The Las Casas Apartments were now on my left; I parked on the street and walked to the Las Casas leasing office.

I crossed a small parking lot and climbed three steps to a wood patio.  The patio extended all the way to the pool ahead of me, with the leasing office on the left.  I walked inside. On my right was a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the pool area, and I could see a gym behind the office.  An older woman with short hair sat behind the desk.

“Hi.  May I help you?”

“I called yesterday asking about a studio apartment for next school year.  Is that still available?”

“Just a regular studio, or the studio with the loft?”

I hadn’t thought about this.  The studio with the loft sounded more expensive.  “Just the regular one,” I said.

“We have one regular studio and two loft studios left for next year.  We have a loft studio available right now that I can show you, so you can see what it looks like.  The regular studio looks the same, except without the loft.”

“That sounds good.”

“I’m Ann, by the way.  What’s your name?”

“Greg.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ann said, shaking my hand.  I shook back. She gave me the brochure for the apartment complex and told me to look at it, which I did.

When I was done looking at the brochure, Ann asked if I was ready to see the apartment.  She led me around the pool to the left, and past the laundry room and mailboxes, which she pointed out.  We walked to the back of the complex, where a long straight building faced a parking lot. We climbed upstairs to apartment number 220.  Ann unlocked the door and let me in.

“So here we have the living area,” she said.  “It’s a studio apartment, so there isn’t a separate bedroom.”

“I know,” I replied.

“The bathroom is back there on the right, and the kitchen is back there on the left.”

The room was about the size of a large living room; it was plenty of room for me to fit a bed, a desk, a TV, a bookshelf, and a chair or two.  That was really all I needed living by myself. I walked back to the kitchen, which was small but big enough for me, and to the bathroom, which had a good size linen closet inside.  Next to the bathroom, against the wall to the right, a narrow set of stairs led upward, with a closet underneath the stairs.

“That’s the loft up there?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ann replied.  “Go on up.”

The apartment had a high vaulted ceiling sloping upward to the back of the apartment, which joined the back of another apartment on the other side of the building.  The only window was next to the front door, because that was the only wall facing outside. The ceiling was high enough that the loft felt like another small room on top of the kitchen and bathroom, and the loft had another small closet attached.  “Most of our tenants put their beds up here,” Ann explained.

“And the studio without the loft looks just like the downstairs part, without the loft?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And how much is rent?”  I knew the rent on the regular studio was $475, but I wasn’t sure what the rent with the loft would be.

“The rent for this unit is $625,” Ann said.  “And the one without the loft, $475.”

There goes that idea, I thought.  I couldn’t afford a loft. I felt guilty enough about having my parents spend $475 on my rent every month.  The one-bedroom apartment at Pine Grove was $500 per month, which was my upper limit. It was bigger and much closer to campus, however, which made it reasonable that it would be more expensive.  But Pine Grove was also older, and I didn’t know anyone who would be living anywhere near Pine Grove.

Ann made small talk as we walked back to the leasing office, past a variety of trees and grassy areas between the buildings in the complex.  I had been planning on taking a night to sleep on the decision, but with only one $475 unit remaining, I might need to make a decision more quickly.

“Where is the available studio without the loft?” I asked as we walked back into the office.  “Which part of the complex?”

“I think it’s number 124.  Let me check.” Ann pulled a file out of a file cabinet and read through it.  “Yes, number 124. It’s downstairs and just a few apartments over from 220, where we just were.  Facing the back parking lot, just like the one we saw.”

I still felt bad about making my parents spend so much money on me just because I was late in finding a roommate and making plans for next year.  Las Casas, however, was less expensive than Pine Grove. It was farther from campus, but both neighborhoods were as was the case there were many student-oriented apartments in the neighborhood.  Las Casas was close to The Acacia Apartments, where Pete, Taylor, Charlie, and Danielle would be living, and also close to Hampton Place, where Liz, Caroline, Ramon, and Jason would be living. I wouldn’t have a hallway to walk up and down to see who was home, but I could walk over to those friends’ apartments instead.  Even though I didn’t like rushing into a major decision, I knew that my mind really was made up by now, so I took a deep breath and spoke before I had a chance to second-guess myself.

“I’ll take it,” I said.  “The one without the loft.  Apartment 124.”

“Great!”  Ann replied.  “Welcome to Las Casas!  Let me get you our New Resident Packet.”

I spent some time after that reading and signing papers.  I would have to write her a check for a deposit, although that was not a major concern because Mom had made sure I had enough money to cover the deposit when I was ready to sign a lease somewhere.  I would also have more papers to sign next week after Las Casas did all the paperwork on their end.

By the time I finished, it was past five o’clock, and I felt a great weight had been lifted now that I had a plan for next year.  I even had an address for next year. 701 Alvarez Avenue #124. I liked the sound of that. I had meant to do something else this afternoon as I was about town taking care of my adult business, but I thought it was probably too late in the day.  It could wait until tomorrow.

After I was done with classes the following day, Thursday afternoon, I ventured off campus again, but this time I went the other way on Fifth Street, toward downtown.  I drove east for about two miles, past the football stadium, past downtown, and eventually to a traffic light at a street called Power Line Road. Just past this, I turned into the parking lot for the Post Office.

I located the voter registration forms and began filling one out.  I used 221 C-Thomas Hall as my address, even though I would only be in that dorm room for another two months.  I couldn’t register to vote at my new address until I moved in on September 1. When I got to the part of the form listing political parties, I looked around to make sure no one could see me, then I covered the form with my left hand as I checked Republican with my right.  I learned pretty quickly during my first month at UJ that many people around here have a very negative view of Republicans. During the end of high school, I had gone through a phase where I was a big fan of the conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh. He was at the height of his popularity at the time.  I decided when I came to UJ that I wouldn’t get involved in any political groups, and I also stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, because I didn’t want someone else doing my political decision making for me. However, had I done more research on the political climate in Jeromeville, I probably would not have decided to come here.  I wasn’t exactly surprised, though, that a college town like Jeromeville would have a pronounced liberal slant. And, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t let the political climate in Jeromeville keep me from attending school here, because Jeromeville definitely grew on me over the years.

I dropped the form in the mailbox and headed back home.  Instead of going straight down Fifth Street, I turned left on F Street, right on First Street, and left on Old Jeromeville Road, reentering campus from the other direction instead.  No reason, I just felt like it.

When I entered Building C, I noticed Taylor and Pete in the common room, sitting on a couch talking.  They had textbooks and notebooks with them, but they did not appear to be doing any studying. “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said as I walked past.

“Hi, guys,” I said, walking toward them.

“How’s your week going?  I feel like I’ve hardly seen you the last few days.”

“I’ve been writing,” I said.  This was during the time I was writing the first draft of The Commencement, and I had spent most of my free time this week in my room writing.  I was really absorbed in this project. “I’ve also been busy with other stuff.  I signed a lease yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah?  For an apartment for next year?”

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?” Pete asked.

“Las Casas.  Corner of Andrews and Alvarez.”

“That’s near us,” Taylor said.

“You’re at The Acacia, right?” I asked.

“Yeah.  And Danielle and Theresa are at The Acacia too.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Did you find a roommate, or are you living by yourself?” Pete asked.

“By myself.  In a studio apartment.  It’s plenty of room for just me.”

“That’s cool,” Taylor said.  “You’ll have to come see our place after we move in.”

“Definitely.”

“You done with class for the day?”

“Yeah.”

“Us too.”

“I really need to go upstairs and use the bathroom,” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable at my full bladder.  “But I’ll see you guys at dinner, maybe?”

“Yeah.  And enjoy writing.”

I went upstairs, and after using the bathroom, I turned on the radio and the computer.  The radio was set to the classic rock station. On the computer, I checked my email; I had a message from Kim, one of my Internet friends.  She was a freshman at Florida State University. I opened it and began reading.


Hi Greg!  How are you?  Thanks for explaining how your schedule works.  I wasn’t sure why you had new classes in April. I don’t know any schools around here that do that.

Last night was so much fun!  My roommate and I went to this party.  I thought it was going to be a little too wild for me, but everyone there was so nice, and we danced with these guys a lot… they were so funny!

Did you ever find a place to live for next year?  I hope you find a roommate! One of my older friends here was telling me that he needed a place to live, so he and his friend got this really nice looking apartment, but after they moved in they discovered that everything was falling apart and needed to be fixed.  Also, their neighbors played really loud music and smoked pot all the time… I hope you don’t end up somewhere like that!

I need to get to class… have a great day!

~~ Kim


I clicked Reply and began typing.


Sounds like you had a fun night with your friends last night.  I don’t really go to wild parties like that. I think I told you my dorm is an honors program, so most of us aren’t really partiers.

I found a place to live.  Yesterday I signed a lease on an apartment.  I didn’t find a roommate, and I didn’t want to live with a stranger, so I’ll be living by myself in a small studio apartment; it’s a little pricey, but my parents said it would be ok.  It’s about a mile north of campus, in a neighborhood with a lot of fairly nice student type apartments. It’s right on a bus line that runs to campus every half hour. Also, some of my friends from the dorm will be living fairly close.

How were your classes?

-gjd


In 1995, I was using email client software called Eudora.  Eudora worked by dialing the campus Internet access phone number using a 14.4-kilobaud modem connected to my telephone line.  Eudora would stay connected just long enough to send emails I had typed, and to download anything new in my inbox. These new emails would be saved on my computer’s hard drive, so that after the messages had been received, Eudora could disconnect from the computer, and my telephone line would be free again.  I clicked Send/Receive, and as I listened to the whistles and buzzes of the modem sending my message across the continent from Jeromeville to Tallahassee, my mind began to wander. What if my experience at Las Casas was like that of Kim’s friend at his apartment? What if the neighbor upstairs in Apartment 224 was loud or smelly?  What if I had made a big mistake?

No, I told myself.  I can’t keep thinking like this, wondering if everything I did was a big mistake.  I had an apartment. I would be living by myself again, so I wouldn’t have the stress of learning to live with roommates.  And I would have friends living nearby, just as I did this year. They would be a little farther away, about a 5 to 10 minute walk instead of just down the hall, but they were still pretty close.  It was a great situation, and it was going to be a great year. Worst case scenario, if I ended up hating Las Casas, I would only have to endure it for a year, and then I could live somewhere else junior year.  There was nothing to gain by worrying and second guessing myself at this point.

The band Boston was playing on the radio.  Boston, a rock band originating in the city of the same name, had a string of hits in the late 1970s.  They were played often on classic rock radio stations of the 1990s, and they still are today. When I first discovered classic rock in high school, I always thought Boston was kind of catchy.  And I discovered, on a family road trip when Mom told me to find something on the radio, that Dad hates Boston. (To this day, I have never told my dad that I always kind of liked Boston, or that after many trips browsing used music stores in the 2000s and 2010s, I now have all three of the albums that their major hits came from).

I was 18 years old.  It was okay for me to like different things than my parents, because I was an adult.  I was growing up. I was developing a unique taste in music, and I was obtaining an education, preparing myself for some yet undetermined future career.  And now, in addition to that, I had taken another two big steps toward adulthood this week. I had signed a lease on an apartment all on my own, and I had registered to vote at my new home, in a different county than the one where my parents lived.  I still had a lot of growing to do. I would do a lot more growing in my remaining years in Jeromeville, and I am still growing today. But the events of today felt like a major step in the right direction.

apartment 124