I moved out of my parents home the week I turned twenty. I remember my mother gave me cooking supplies, or Tupperware or something suitably domestic for my birthday. I thought it was an odd gift for a twenty-year-old. I was hoping for a television. I doubt I appreciated it. I didn't appreciate much when I was twenty.
I had been working for the last 6 months as an receptionist/office manager for a small company an hour away from my parents home. I knew early on in high school that there wouldn't be money available for me to go to school and my grades disqualified from any financial aide. Thinking back I am sure there were loans available for college, but I never even investigated them. I suppose I gave up on myself long before anyone else could. I did take a couple night-time courses at the local community college, but my priority at that time was to get out of my parents home. It was a chaotic, stressful household, and it felt somehow wrong to be living there while working full time. Mostly though, with my friends all away at school, it felt like a failure. Like standing still while everyone else was moving forward.
My best friend Melissa told me about a peripheral friend, Heather, who was looking for a roommate while she commuted into Atlanta for school. I couldn't jump at the opportunity fast enough. She gave me Heather's phone number and we talked over the phone and decided to meet in person. Shortly afterward we were searching for apartments together. While we didn't chose the cheapest apartment available in the area , ours was a close second.
Heather and I moved in with help from friends and relatives. What a quick move it must have been. The only furniture I had to my name was the twin bed and mix-matched dresser and nightstand I had in my parents home. Heather's family had given her a sofa that may have been fashionable in the seventies and a 12 inch TV-VCR combo. And I think we had a table, I can't remember. The apartment was a dump, but I honestly don't think I realized it then. We loved it, just the idea of it. A space that was ours. Heather's and mine. Melissa's mother still talks about that apartment with an air of head-shaking disbelief that we actually lived there. She was concerned for our safety. I wasn't. I was living with the nonchalant invincibility of the young.
Nothing matched in the apartment, other than the bathroom linens that we had proudly shopped for together at Target and the place was a disaster. We were both awful slobs. It flooded, it was infested with ants and the entrance steps to our building was regularly surrounded by Hispanic men drinking beer and listening to music. And despite all of this, we were proud of our home, with it's new plaid bathroom rug and our new matching Pier One bookcases. We immediately became fast friends. We made funny rules about having boys over, which I think we both broke, and recorded an answering machine message with both our voices on it. And we got two kittens, two adorable orange kittens which brought with them an infestation of fleas, tore up our carpet and sprayed everywhere. I still have those cats, minus the fleas, their claws and their manhood.
Just weeks before I moved into the apartment I, with Melissa along for moral support, bought myself a new car. A brand new car. My old car, the product of my high-school savings, was wrecked and barely running. It actually broke down in the car dealership and we couldn't drive it home. We took this desperate situation as a sign and we left the dealership with a brand new Tercel. The dealership took the desperate situation as an opportunity and I came away with a 6 year car loan. A week after I moved into my new apartment I received the insurance bill for the new car. That night, I got a second job, waiting tables nights and weekends. There, I met a boy. A cute blond boy who would a year later become my husband.
I was poor. I was young, too young even to buy a drink. And I was working more hours than anyone should. I was often in the laundry room of my apartment building at 2:00 in the morning so I would have clean underwear for the next day. Sometimes I would call Heather from from my day job and beg her to go down and put a load in for me. She always would. I ate my dinner, free soup, at the restaurant between shifts. Yet somehow, I still I squeezed in dates with the cute blond boy, time with friends, and church. I was teaching children's choir and singing in a college women's ensemble. And I was happy. Happier, by far, than I ever remember being prior to that. I had a couple dear friends who really cared about me. I was falling in love. I was using my passion to sing for God. And, with God's help, somehow I was making it on my own.
Because I was ignorant that my life should be anything different than what it was, nothing (not the ants, the stinky cats, the flood, the four hours a night sleep) put more than a temporary ding in my blissful bubble. Eventually Heather and I moved into another, safer, less disgusting, apartment. Then, I became pregnant with Allison and the bubble did pop. A new life began, Heather and I went our separate ways and I started down the pathway to the person I am now.
There are times now, when this older, more financially secure, less sleep deprived version of myself, misses the ignorance and energy of the younger me. I don't even recognize that girl in myself anymore. She was sillier, more naive. She sang louder and laughed easier. But she lacked the wisdom that comes with years. She couldn't know the way a heart can love when a part of it exists outside of itself. She didn't know that joy is fleeting and should be savored in the moment. Was it a fair trade? Most days, I think so. But occasionally, when I am feeling old, or nostalgic, or when I spend time reminiscing with Heather, I do still miss those silly girls in that wretched apartment. Crazy huh?