Saturday, March 06, 2004

It was January, and I was 19. The day had finally come and I just wanted to explode with nervousness. I put the last box into the trunk of my car, a little disappointed that 19 years of life amounted to only these few things. I threw my pillows and my tattered old comforter in the back seat and I was done. I hugged my mother, got in the car and drove away. 15 minutes away was the glorious beacon of freedom : my first apartment.

The sky was grey and it had been drizzling all morning. Just a light, misty rain, but enough to make the hefting of boxes up the stairs a little tricky. I walked in and the guys were already there. They had been moving their dressers and bedframes all morning. I clutched my box of miscellany and headed to my room. It was nearly empty, except the bedframe and damp mattress. The smell of fresh paint was overwhelming. I told myself that it was the paint fumes, but I was scared. I opened the window and breathed in the fresh air. The smell of the wet pavement filled my nostrils and I fought back tears.

Slowly I made my way back and forth, up and down the stairs. All of my belongings filling the room. The boys were still making trips to get the refrigerator, the microwave, their mattresses. I sat on the floor and cut open the tape on the first box. All of the things that it had seemed so important to take now had no logical place. What would I do with these old love letters? These scraps of cloth? These half-sewn projects? These airline ticket stubs? I closed the box and slid it to the back of the closet. After an hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, all the boxes ended up in the same place.

When K finally arrived, I helped him manuever our bed into the room. It was wet from the rain, so we propped it against the wall. He was beaming with pride : his first apartment. I feigned happiness and wondered how long it would last. The love was surely gone, we both knew it. Our living together was pure escapist fantasy. He was now surrounded by his friends and his girlfriend 24 hours a day. No more deciding where to go on a Saturday night. No more worrying about where people were, or when they would arrive. We were now all under one roof. Convenience had come to fruition and he couldn't be more pleased. I didn't care where I was, as long as I wasn't there. The home where I had lived like a stranger for the past 8 years. The home that was more of a dormitory for the outsider who didn't belong. People laughed when I referred to myself as the foreign exchange student. Silly Mia, you and your jokes. They couldn't have understood how alien I felt. But now I was here. Someplace new, someplace filled with opportunity. A place where my voice was heard. A place amongst friends. And I was scared beyond comprehension.

That night, everyone we knew came over. They took a tour of the place, commented on the lovely size. Scoffed at the ridiculous rent. Envied the freedom that we had purchased for $250 each a month. They procured drugs and booze and filled themselves with both. There were probaby 25 of us in that living room. Sitting on the floor, staring up at the vaulted ceilings. I don't think that anyone but me even noticed the complete lack of furniture. The only thing in the living room besides the pile of muddy shoes and wet jackets was a small TV with fuzzy reception. I smiled and joked and laughed and carried on with the rest of them, ever the actress playing her part. The hours passed on and on... until the sun slowly peeked up over the adjacent building. No one had left. A few people were starting to stretch out on the carpet. Jackets made makeshift blankets and pillows. Girlfriends curled up in the arms of boyfriends. I buried my face in my own pillow, fighting back the tears. K put his arm around me and told me it would be all right. Things would be fine. I knew he was lying. Things had never been all right. Things had never been fine. It was only a matter of time before all of this dissolved, just like everything before. But I savored the moment. The new carpet. The fresh paint. The soft sounds of friends sleeping beside me. The pattering of the rain outside. I breathed it all in as deeply as I could. I held my breath for as long as I could. Until I succumbed and was forced to exhale... several months later, but the story was the same.

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