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.)

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

March 28-29, 1995. Back home, finding a new home, and visiting an old home.

“Remember the rule,” Mom said.  “Don’t shout out the answer until time is up, so we can have time to think about it.”

“I know,” I replied.  In our family, this was called the Malcolm X Rule.  A few years ago, the answer to the Final Jeopardy! question was Malcolm X, and Dad shouted out the answer before Mom was even done reading the question.  To this day, if Mom is watching Jeopardy! with other people in the room, she has to remind them of the Malcolm X Rule, and on those rare occasions when I am not alone while watching Jeopardy!, I tell people the rule as well.

“Did you still want to look at that apartment guide tonight?” Mom asked.

“Sure.  I’ll go get it.  We can look at it after Jeopardy! is off.”

I climbed the stairs to my room.  It was spring break, and I was back at my parents’ house in Plumdale for the week.  Tomorrow was the only day I had plans for, and I was a little nervous about that, but it would certainly make for an interesting day.

I ran down the stairs, holding the apartment guide, taking the stairs two at a time to make sure I got back to the TV before Jeopardy! came back from the commercial, but not running too loudly because Dad was asleep.  I had no place to live for next year, and I learned too late that apartments in Jeromeville fill up quickly. Jeromeville is a fairly small city with a large university, so students dominate the rental market, and most leases run from September through August.  Apartments are listed on March 1 to rent for the following September, and people had told me that most apartments are leased within the first few weeks of this process. By the time I figured out that everyone I knew was making living arrangements for next year, everyone I knew already had a roommate, and most of them had signed leases, so I was a little panicked about that.  The Associated Students organization publishes an apartment guide every year, which is what I held in my hands now, so at least that would help narrow down where I could find an appropriately sized and priced apartment, once I know whom, if anyone, I would be living with.

“Let’s see what our contestants know about Colonial America,” Alex Trebek said on the TV.  “Here is your clue: ‘President of the Continental Congress 1775-77, he was reelected in 1785 but didn’t serve due to illness.’”  The music played as the three contestants, Mom, and I thought about who this early American was.

“I don’t know,” Mom said as the song stopped and time ran out.  “I keep thinking George Washington, but I’m probably missing something.”

“I was going to say John Hancock.  His signature was first, so maybe he was President in 1776, I was thinking.”

“I bet you’re right.”

Each of the contestants revealed their answer, and Alex told them if they were correct or not.  John Hancock was correct, and two contestants got it right. Mom started looking through the apartment guide, as if to get a feel for what our options were.

“These are expensive!” she said.  That was definitely not what I needed to hear.  Of course, Mom hadn’t been in the market to rent an apartment since the early 1970s, so I don’t know if she had a good idea of how much rent was in a normal city.  I had no idea either, so I didn’t know if apartments in Jeromeville were more expensive than apartments in a normal city.

“Look at this place,” Mom said, pointing to the listing for some ritzy-sounding apartment in West Jeromeville.  “‘Includes access to Stone Park Country Club.’ You don’t need something like that.”

“I agree.”

“So what can you tell me about any of these places?”

“Central and Downtown Jeromeville are closest to campus, so that’d be an advantage to living there, but those are mostly older areas.  There’s one part of North Jeromeville with a whole lot of apartments and two grocery stores nearby, and easy bus access to campus, and those areas look pretty nice.  I’m probably most interested in those areas; the other parts of Jeromeville are getting farther away from campus, and I don’t want to be too far away.”

Mom and I continued looking at apartments; I made a mark next to the ones I wanted to look at more closely.  “How much money do we have to work with?” I asked. “What if I don’t find a roommate? Can we afford for me to live alone?”

“Don’t worry about it.  If we can’t, then you can always look for a part time job.  Or answer a roommate wanted ad.”

“You keep saying not to worry, and I appreciate it, but I need a number.  How much money? I need to know, so I can decide which places to call first, and whether or not I’ll need to get a job or room with a stranger.”

“Hmm,” Mom said, flipping through the apartment guide again.  “I think we can do $500 a month. We’ll make it work.”

With this additional parameter, I narrowed the decision to five apartment complexes that I would call and visit as soon as I got back to Jeromeville.  I had no idea if any of these apartment complexes still had vacancies. I didn’t have a timeline on how quickly Jeromeville runs out of apartments, so I didn’t know how likely these places were to have something still available.

I also felt guilty that my parents were spending that much money on me.  Some parents don’t help their children with college at all. I could have saved a lot of money by finding a roommate earlier, like everyone else did, and even though I didn’t realize I had to do this, it felt like my fault that I didn’t.  Getting my own apartment felt like a privilege I didn’t deserve, even though Mom seemed okay with it. Maybe I would look for a job for next year. I didn’t know what kind of job I was looking for, though. And this arrangement was only for one year; I’d do a better job of finding roommates for junior year when the time came.

“So what time are you meeting Melissa tomorrow?” Mom asked, changing the subject.

“Nine.”

“At the school?”

“Yes.”

“I think it’ll be fun to see all your old teachers.  Which teachers are you going to see?”

“I don’t know.  We’re going to see Mrs. Norton and Mr. Jackson for sure.”

“That’ll be fun.”

“I hope so.”

 

The next morning, I left the house in time to get to Plumdale High School at nine o’clock in the morning, just as I had planned.  Melissa Holmes had sent me an email a week ago asking if I was going to be home for spring break. She was coming home from San Angelo University and wanted to visit Plumdale High and say hi to some of our old teachers.  UJ and SAU had the same schedule, but our spring break was a different week from Plumdale High’s, so this was a regular school day for Plumdale High.

I saw Melissa’s little red Toyota Tercel in the parking lot.  I wasn’t sure exactly where to look for her, if she expected me to go to the office or to Mrs. Norton’s room or Mr. Jackson’s room or what, but as I got closer I noticed that Melissa was still sitting in the car.  I stepped outside. It was cold and overcast, with the marine fog layer hanging low overhead; I wore my sweatshirt that said JEROMEVILLE and had the university seal on it.

“Hey, Greg,” Melissa said, walking toward me and giving me a hug.  “How’s it going? How was your break?”

“Good so far.  I haven’t really done anything.  Just hung out with family. How are you?  Are you making any new friends at school? I remember we talked about that a while ago.”

“Yeah, I’ve started meeting people from classes, and from church.  It gets kind of lonely not living in a dorm.”

“But it’s cheaper for you living with your grandmother,” I said.  “And you probably also get more quiet study time than you would in a dorm.”

“Good point.”

“So does anyone know we’re coming today?”

“I had my brother tell Mrs. Norton we were coming.  Other than that, though, no.”

Melissa and I spent a few more minutes catching up in the parking lot, then we walked toward Mrs. Norton’s classroom.  Back in 1995, school security wasn’t as big of a thing as it is now. Students didn’t wear ID cards on lanyards, and neither did teachers.  Visitors didn’t need passes, and many school campi didn’t even have fences around them. There was a chain link fence across the front of the PHS parking lot, with one of the full time campus supervisors stationed at the entrance to the parking lot, in a little booth, but that wasn’t an issue, because she knew me and she let me in.  She did ask if I had permission to be there, though; I said I was home on spring break, and that Mrs. Norton knew I was coming. That was good enough.

“Hey there!” Mrs. Norton said, in her distinct voice and accent, after we walked into her classroom.  Mrs. Norton was born and raised in Mississippi. “And Greg! You’re here too!” Mrs. Norton had been our teacher for AP Calculus last year, and she had been one of my favorite teachers at Plumdale High.  I also had her for the second semester of Algebra II as a sophomore.

“Hi,” I said.  “I hope that’s okay.  It sounds like you didn’t know I was going to be here.”

“Sure!”  Addressing the class, Mrs. Norton said, “Do y’all know Melissa and Greg?  They both graduated from here last year.” Mrs. Norton turned to us and explained, “This is Algebra II, so it’s mostly juniors, with some sophomores and a few seniors.”

“Right,” I said.

“So what are y’all majoring in?  Melissa, you’re pre-med, right?”

“Yes,” Melissa answered.  “Majoring in biology, specifically.”

“I’m technically undeclared,” I said.  “But right now I’m thinking I’m going to major in math.  I still like math, and I’m still good at math.”

“That’s great!” Mrs. Norton said.  “You’ll do great in math.”

Mrs. Norton finished the example she was working on, and when she gave the class a few minutes to work, she talked to us for a few more minutes, asking how we liked being away from home and things like that.  She eventually asked if we were going to visit anyone else while we were here, and Melissa said that we were going to see Mr. Jackson.

After the current period ended and the next one started, Melissa and I left for Mr. Jackson’s class, waiting until the end of the passing period in order to avoid the crowds trying to get to class on time.  Mr. Jackson was our teacher for AP English last year. He was tall and thin with curly gray hair, and he looked like he had been involved with theater at some point in his life. My mom told me once in the car on the way home that she thought he was gay, except that she used some much more inappropriate words in her description.  I didn’t care if he was or not, and it made me a little uncomfortable the way Mom talked about people behind their backs that way. I had to see and interact with Mr. Jackson every day of senior year with Mom’s inappropriate comment in the back of my head all the time.

“Melissa!” Mr. Jackson shouted enthusiastically as she walked into the classroom, with me right behind.  “Greg! You’re here too!” Mr. Jackson turned to his class of freshmen and added, “This is Melissa and Greg.  They graduated from Plumdale High last year. Melissa is at San Angelo University, and Greg is at… sorry, remind me?”

“Jeromeville.”

“Jeromeville!  That’s right. You’re wearing the sweatshirt and everything, I just noticed.  How do you guys like it?”

“I’m doing well in my classes,” Melissa said.  “And I live off campus, so it’s nice and quiet.”

“I’m in a dorm called the Interdisciplinary Honors Program,” I explained.  “I have some classes specifically for students in that program, so I know the people in my building better than if I had just been assigned a dorm randomly.  I’ve made some really good friends. And I’m still getting good grades. I’m thinking I’m going to major in math.”

“You were always good at math,” Mr. Jackson said.  “I could see that.”

Mr. Jackson got his class started on an assignment, and in between giving instructions to students, he continued catching up with us.  Melissa told him about how her family was doing, and mentioned that her brother was a sophomore at PHS currently and would probably have Mr. Jackson as a senior.  Mr. Jackson asked me more about the IHP, how it worked, and why I decided on math for my major.

After about fifteen minutes, we said our goodbyes to Mr. Jackson and his class and walked into the hallway.  “I need to get home,” Melissa told me. “I have something I need to get to. But it was good to see you, Greg.”

“You too!” I said.  “I think I’m going to stick around for a bit and say hi to a few other teachers.”

“You should!  Have a great day, and let me know who else you see.”

“I will.”

“Are there any students here who you still talk to?”

“Rachel Copeland is the only one who has really kept in touch at all.  I don’t know where she is right now, though.  She doesn’t know I’m here.”

“I don’t know either.  I’m sure you could ask.”

“Yeah.”

“Have a good one, Greg.  Take care.”

“You too.”

Melissa walked back toward the parking lot.  I walked to Mr. Peterson’s classroom. He taught economics to seniors all day, and he had also attended the University of Jeromeville, in the 1960s when it was much smaller.  His door was open, and I could hear him lecturing as I approached and quietly poked my head in the door.

“Jeromeville!  Go Colts!” he said upon seeing me and my sweatshirt, without missing a beat in his lecture at all.  “How’re you doing, Greg? It’s good to see you!”

“You too,” I said.  “I’m doing well. I really like my classes, and I’ve made a lot of great friends in my dorm.”

“Do you have a few minutes?  We can talk a little more after I finish this up.”

“Sure,” I said, as my eyes scanned the room and I became more aware of my surroundings.  This was a class of exclusively seniors, as I said, and many of the honor students appeared to be in this class.  I recognized over half of them, including the girl with straight light brown hair who was now waving at me and beckoning me to sit in the empty seat next to her.

“Hi, Rachel!” I whispered as I sat in this empty seat.

“You didn’t tell me you were coming here!” Rachel whispered back.

“It was kind of last minute,” I replied; I wanted to explain about Melissa inviting me, but Mr. Peterson was talking at this point, and I also didn’t want to interrupt his class.  A few minutes later, I felt something under my desk; it was Rachel, passing me a note. I quietly unfolded it and read. Come sit with us at lunch, same spot as last year, Rachel wrote.  I replied Ok and slyly passed it back to her.

I visited a little more with Mr. Peterson when he got the chance to come talk to me; we made the usual small talk about college and classes and future plans.  Now that I had committed to being on campus at least until lunch, since I had to go sit with Rachel and her friends, I had to find things to do for another period and a half.  After I was done talking to Mr. Peterson, I walked around campus and said hi to as many teachers, administrators, and staff members as I had time to see. I had a wonderful time catching up with everyone.  Mrs. Carter, the college and career counselor who helps students with applications and scholarships and the like, asked me to fix her computer, just as she had done multiple times during my senior year. My English teacher from sophomore year, Ms. Woolery, was teaching a class of freshman with reading skills below grade level, and she asked if I had a few minutes to talk a little bit about college and answer their questions.  I wasn’t at all prepared to do something like that, but I did anyway. It is always nice to feel like I have useful knowledge and experiences to share with others; additionally, Ms. Woolery’s students, many from families in which no one has ever attended college, got an opportunity to hear about college from a peer.

I figured out at some point during my visit to Plumdale High that it was Spirit Week, and today was Beach Day.  I wasn’t wearing anything beach-appropriate, but some students had Hawaiian shirts, surfing-related t-shirts, flip-flops, things like that.  There was a giant pile of sand on the grass in front of the school, which I suspected was probably going to be used for a class competition. Several school clubs had food booths at lunch; I walked in the direction of the food, since I was hungry and Rachel wasn’t yet in the spot where she asked me to meet her.  “Hey, Will,” I said, recognizing a guy from the Computer Graphics and Video Production class I took the year before. Will was a sophomore now.

“Greg!  What’s up?  I haven’t seen you all year!”

“I’m home on spring break.  My friend and I came back to visit all of our teachers.”

Will looked confused for a second.  “Oh, yeah!” he said. “You graduated!  Where are you now?”

“Jeromeville.”

“Where’s that?”

“North.  Near Capital City.”

“Oh, ok.  It was good seeing you!  Have a good one!”

I got in line for curly fries, being sold by the marching band, to raise money for a trip to Disneyland.  I thought it was funny that Will had forgotten that I had graduated last year.

“Greg?” someone said next to me in line.  I turned and saw a sophomore named Jamie Halloran; I was friends with her older sister, Jessica, who had been in my graduating class.

“Hey, Jamie,” I said.  “How are you?”

“I’m great!  Are you on your spring break?”

“Yeah.  Melissa wanted to come say hi to some teachers, and she invited me along, but she had to leave already.”

“Did you hear Jess is in Guatemala?”

“I heard,” I said.  “Volunteering at an orphanage, something like that?”

“Yeah.  Did she write you?  I gave her your address.”

“No, not yet.”  Two weeks before I left for Jeromeville, I saw Jamie at a Plumdale High football game.  I had just learned my mailing address at the time, so I gave it to Jamie and told her to give it to Jessica, but neither of them had written me yet.  I didn’t know at the time that Jessica was going to end up in Guatemala. I don’t know if Jamie or even Jessica knew at that time yet either.

“She says it’s so different from here, but she loves it!  My mom is putting together a package to send her; I’ll write her a note and remind her to write to you.”

“Thanks.”

As I walked with my curly fries to where I expected Rachel to be, I noticed that the class competition had begun; two students from each class were competing to build the tallest sandcastle in a certain time limit.  One of the sandcastle-builders for the junior class was Annie Gambrell; I paused to watch for a few minutes, hoping that Annie would notice me, but she didn’t. This was not a good time to try to talk to her, of course, since she was in the middle of making a sandcastle.  I walked back over to where Rachel had told me to meet her; she was there now, with a few of her friends whom I didn’t know as well.

“So you just woke up and decided to come visit your high school?” Rachel asked.

“Not exactly,” I explained, telling her about Melissa’s invitation and earlier departure.

“Jeromeville is on quarters, so you’ll have new classes when you go back next week, is that right?”

“Yes.  I’m taking math, physics, chemistry, and a class for the IHP called Psychology and the Law.”

“That sounds interesting.  What’s that last one about?”

“I’m not really sure, except that it’s about psychology, and the law,” I explained.  Rachel laughed. “It’s the heaviest course load I’ve had so far, but math and chemistry are pretty easy to me, and physics was always easy in high school, so I should be okay.”  (I wasn’t as okay as I thought I would be in terms of my classes, but that’s a story for later.)

“Do you need physics and chemistry for a math major?”

“Physics, yes, one year.  I was also thinking about majoring in physics, which would need chemistry; I haven’t decided for sure yet.  Chemistry, not for math, but I would if I majored in physics. Physics for science and engineering majors doesn’t start until spring quarter, so I haven’t had physics at all yet.  I’ll see how that goes before I decide for sure.”

“That makes sense,” Rachel said, nodding.  “So what does it feel like being back?”

“It’s good to see everyone.  But it’s a little weird too. It’s like, class competitions, flyers all over the place advertising the dance, those people making out behind us, all that stuff is high school stuff, and I’m not in high school anymore.”

“That makes sense.  I certainly won’t miss all that stuff when I get out of here next year.”

“Do you know where you’re going yet?  The last time we talked about it, I think you wanted to go to St. Elizabeth’s.”

“That’s still my first choice.  They should start sending out acceptance letters in about a week, they said.”

“I’ve never been there.”

“It’s such a beautiful campus.  And it’s a small school. And I’m not Catholic, but there’s something spiritual about that campus that I liked when I visited,” Rachel said.  I wasn’t sure what she meant by spiritual, her tone sounded kind of New Age-ish, but hey, whatever works.

A while later, just after the bell rang to end lunch, Rachel said, “I’m glad I got to see you today, Greg.  Will you be here the rest of the day?”

“I think I’m just going to go home.  I’ve seen everyone I wanted to say hi to, pretty much, and I’m getting tired.  But I’m glad we got to hang out.”

“Okay.  Call me any time.  And I’ll write you soon.”

“I will.”

“Bye, Greg.”  Rachel hugged me.

“Have a good day,” I said, turning around toward the parking lot.  I took a few steps, then turned back toward campus. I considered for a few seconds trying to figure out what class Annie Gambrell had, so I could say hi to her, since she was busy earlier.  I gave her my address at Homecoming, and she hadn’t written me; maybe she lost it. No, probably not; people just don’t write like they say they will. And she had a boyfriend, so I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up anyway.  Then again, maybe they broke up; it had been almost six months since I’d last seen Annie. No, I told myself, forget it. I kept walking toward the car.

I turned on the classic rock radio station as I drove home, listening to music of the 1960s and 1970s.  Fleetwood Mac. The Rolling Stones. Supertramp. High school was over. Sometimes I wished it wasn’t. I felt like I had a lot of unfinished business in high school.  I stepped pretty far out of my comfort zone during my senior year, and I made some great new friends, but then all of a sudden I graduated and lost touch with most of them, so that part of my life story never got to reach a natural conclusion.  I felt torn, wanting closure, yet also knowing that this part of my life was over, and that I was moving on. And today was the first time I started to feel like I really had moved past high school. When I was still around in the fall going to PHS football games, and when I came back for Homecoming, I felt like I still belonged at PHS.  Today, not so much.

Fittingly, this day was the last time I ever set foot on the Plumdale High campus.  I went to Mark’s graduation in 2000, but it was at the gym at Santa Lucia Community College, not at PHS.  I’ve driven past Plumdale High several times when I’ve come back home to Santa Lucia County, and I’ve taken pictures of it, but I haven’t actually gotten out of the car.  I’ve thought about going back for Homecoming at some point to see what it’s like, especially after the football field was remodeled in 2017, but it hasn’t ever been a high priority.  Also, I don’t know anyone there anymore. The school has changed, and so has the neighborhood, and so have I. Staying connected to the past is important, but not at the expense of the present.

20190615_092117.jpg
Plumdale High School, June 2019, and the little booth at the entrance to the parking lot where the campus supervisor watches everyone who enters.  The athletic fields are in the background; the school itself is to the right, off camera.  This was the best picture I could take from the car on that day.

And thanks to j-archive.com for allowing me to look up what the Final Jeopardy! clue was on March 28, 1995.  I didn’t remember off the top of my head, of course.

January 8, 1995. Let her be.

Today was one of those days where I had to turn the windshield wipers on and off multiple times.  I wish the weather would just make up its mind sometimes. It rained hard enough for a few minutes that I needed to have the wipers on all the way, then the rain tapered off into showers requiring only intermittent wipers.  Then it was dry for a few minutes, and when the wipers started making an irritating squeaky noise, I remembered to turn them off. Then, a few minutes later, it would start raining again, and I would start the whole cycle again.  Of course, the trip from Plumdale to Jeromeville involved driving over hills and across valleys, which also accounts for part of the reason the weather changed so much.

This was now my fifth time making this trip since beginning classes at UJ.  I was learning these roads enough to know where I was and what was coming next.  Highway 11 north from Plumdale north to San Tomas. That usually took about 45 minutes.  Then north on Highway 6, through East San Tomas and Irving, and over a big hill. The highway winds east through the hills, and then north through the outer suburbs of San Tomas and Bay City.  After a city called Marquez, Highway 6 passes through an industrial area on the shore of the Capital River. The river at this point is over a mile wide, and the bridge is very high, because of bluffs on either side of the river and ships passing underneath.  The bridge is narrow, just barely wide enough for three lanes in each direction, with no shoulder and a narrow concrete barrier in the middle. It was built in 1962 when traffic was much lighter.

Across the bridge is an industrial area on the outskirts of the town of North Marquez.  The highway continues north for another ten miles, with hills on the left and a marshy grassland on the right, before merging with eastbound Highway 100.  Somewhere around there, I heard a song on the radio that I had never heard before. At first I thought it sounded like Pearl Jam, but I quickly realized that the singer, although having some similar vocal mannerisms to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, clearly was not him.  This guy had more of a soulful bluesy sound, and the melody wasn’t dark and angsty like a Pearl Jam song. It was more like folksy pop-rock, but with still a little bit of an Eddie Vedder sound to the vocals. Kind of like a Pearl Jam of the South, if such a thing could exist.  “And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be,” the singer who was not Eddie Vedder sang. That line stuck out in my mind all day. I would have to find out what this Pearl Jam of the South was called.

I drove northeast through Fairview and Nueces, but took a little side trip instead of continuing straight to Jeromeville.  A sign on the east side of Nueces says “TRAFFIC ALERT AM 1610,” with flashing yellow lights on top, and for the first time I saw the flashing lights on.  I tried turning my radio to AM 1610 to hear the TRAFFIC ALERT, but there were power lines nearby, and the radio was mostly picking up static. I panicked, wanting to avoid this TRAFFIC ALERT at all costs, so I could hurry up and get back to Building C and, more importantly, pee.  I was getting to the point where I couldn’t hold it much longer, and I didn’t want to stay stuck in traffic.

Because I liked to read maps, I was pretty sure I could get back to UJ on back roads from here.  So I turned onto Pittman Road and then east on Grant Road, through nut tree orchards and cow pastures and tomato fields.  Grant Road eventually became West Fifth Street on the outskirts of Jeromeville, and I headed back to Building C the usual way from there.

What I did not realize at the time is that those TRAFFIC ALERT signs are not alerting me to any traffic in or near Jeromeville.  About 40 miles east of Jeromeville, Highway 100 begins climbing into some very high mountains, and this time of year, snow often affects driving conditions.  Each of these TRAFFIC ALERT signs is attached to a low-power radio station, the one I tried to turn on but couldn’t get clearly, and the radio stations play a recorded message about winter driving conditions in the mountains.  Carry chains in case of changing weather conditions. Chains required from such-and-such point to such-and-such point. Highway closed. Stuff like that. In the 21st century, there are electronic message boards that serve this purpose, but this technology had not yet implemented by the state Department of Transportation in 1995.  It doesn’t snow anywhere near Plumdale, and I didn’t grow up taking trips to the snow, so I had no concept that the TRAFFIC ALERT was about this and not a giant traffic jam approaching Jeromeville. I figured I would rather take about 10 minutes longer to get home than risk getting stuck in traffic.

I called Mom as soon as I got home.  “Hi, it’s me,” I said. “I’m home. It took a little longer because I took a side trip to avoid traffic–”

“You’re home?” Mom said, interrupting me.

“Yes–”

“And you’re safe?”  Mom sounded like she had been crying.

“Yes… what’s going on?”

“You weren’t in an accident on the bridge?”

“What?  Bridge? What are you talking about?”

“I was listening to the traffic report on the Bay City news station, to see if you were going to hit any traffic on your trip home, and I heard there was a really bad accident on the Marquez Bridge–”

“Really, Mom?  You hear there’s an accident, and you just assume it’s me?”

“I just knew it was you,” Mom replied, clearly in tears.  “I’ve been terrified this whole time. They said a car almost went over the bridge.  It ran into a truck. And there was a big pile-up behind it. You didn’t see or hear about any of this?”

“It must have been right behind me.  I didn’t have any traffic at all crossing the bridge.”

“I’m so glad you’re safe.  I need to call Grandma and tell her you’re ok.”

“Seriously, though.  Thousands of people cross that bridge every day.  You hear about one accident, and you just know it was me?  You don’t have a lot of faith in my driving skills.”

“I worry about you.  You know that.”

“I do.  But I also wish you would treat me as an adult.”

“I’m sorry,” Mom said.  “It’s just what I do.”

“Yeah.”

“What’s your first class?  You start tomorrow, right?”

“Math, at 8 in the morning.  Again.”

“Do you know anyone who is in your class?”

“I haven’t asked.”

“Well, I’m glad you got home safely.  Enjoy your first day of classes tomorrow.  Just think; you’ve been through one quarter of college classes already, so you know what to expect.”

“True.”

“I’ll talk to you later.  Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up the phone and went to get lunch… or, more accurately, Sunday brunch.  On Saturdays and Sundays, the dining commons was not open for breakfast, and during lunch time, they served “brunch” instead.  Students often stayed up late on Friday and Saturday nights and did not eat breakfast the following mornings; at least that was my guess as to why the schedule was different on weekends.  I didn’t see many familiar faces at brunch. For that matter, I didn’t see many faces at all. The dining commons was mostly empty. Most students were probably waiting until the last minute to return to the dorms.

I spent my afternoon being lazy.  I wrote some emails to a few girls I had been talking to online.  I read some Usenet newsgroups and got on an IRC chat for a while. I took a nap.  I played Tetris and Sim City, during which I heard footsteps and voices outside. More people were returning from the holidays.

The dining commons was open normally for dinner on Sundays, and it was much more full than it had been at brunch earlier in the day.  I chose a chicken patty sandwich and got French fries to go with it. I looked around and saw Taylor, Pete, Sarah, and Liz at a table with a few empty seats, so I sat with them.

“Hey, Greg,” Sarah said.

“How was your break?” Taylor asked.  “Did you do anything special?”

“The usual, pretty much,” I replied.  “I was with my family for Christmas. My aunt and her family were visiting.  I spent New Year’s with some friends from high school. It was good to see them.”

“I bet it was,” Liz said.

“What did you guys do?” I asked.

“I went to see my grandparents in Washington,” Pete said.  “That was a lot of time in the car, but it was fun.”

“I was back home in Ralstonville,” Sarah said.  “And my boyfriend and I broke up.”

“Aww.”  Liz looked at Sarah, her face conveying serious concern.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.  It was hard, but it needed to happen.  It’s the best for both of us. He was definitely getting in the way of my relationship with God.”

I had never heard anyone give that reason for breaking up.  What exactly did that mean? Maybe it has something to do with that Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that everyone else at this table was part of.  If Sarah said that her boyfriend was getting in the way of her relationship with God, that sounded to me like she was saying he was a bad influence on her in some way.  If that was the case, then this breakup was probably a good thing in the long run, even if it was difficult now. I did not say any of these thoughts out loud, though, because relationships and breakups weren’t anything I had ever experienced personally, so I didn’t know what I was talking about.

“So apparently there was an accident on the Marquez Bridge this morning,” I said.

“I heard about that!” Liz said.  “It was on the news. A car hit a truck and almost fell off the bridge!  Did you see it happen?”

“No.  It happened right after I drove across, apparently.  I didn’t see anything unusual on the bridge But when I got back to the dorm, I called my mom, and apparently she had heard about the accident and just assumed it was me.  It’s like she has no faith in my driving abilities; she hears of an accident in the vague area where I am, and she just knows I was in it.”

“That’s kind of sweet of her to care like that, though,” Sarah reminded me.

“But she doesn’t respect me as an adult.  She worries about me too much.”

“Yeah.  But that’s what moms do.  You shouldn’t get mad at her.  Just let her be.”

“I guess.”

Just let her be, I thought.  Like it says in that song by Pearl Jam of the South.  Yes, it was true that Mom could be a little annoying in the way that she worries about me and doesn’t let me be independent.  That was the reason I never considered applying to Mom’s alma mater, San Tomas State. I was worried that, with Mom less than an hour away, she wouldn’t give me a chance to grow up on my own.  But, as Sarah said, this was all perfectly normal behavior for a mother. Mothers, at least the good ones, worry about their children because they love their children and want them to be safe. And I knew that I should be thankful to have parents who cared enough about me to send me to the University of Jeromeville, and to help pay for what my academic scholarship didn’t cover.  Not everyone gets opportunities like that.

After a few more hours of playing around on the computer, I went to sleep, thinking about how fortunate I was to be in this position, and hoping to find a balance between getting to be independent but still having a healthy relationship with my parents.  And that song by Pearl Jam of the South was stuck in my head, with that one line repeating over and over again since I didn’t know the rest of the song very well. And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be.