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.

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.)