We negotiated the rent in the corner of the main living area. It was my first real price negotiation. Other than the ceramic picture frame I purchased as a highschooler in Tijuana with a hug to an old man. He kissed me on the cheek and made my blood freeze. I paid too much that afternoon in Mexico and wanted wholesale redemption. I wanted to know I was a girl who could stand on her own feet and do right by herself, for herself. The landlord didn’t even answer when I tossed him my first offer. He let it drop to the floor and stared at it. I panicked and flushed.
I needed this apartment. There was only one other available apartment in the area. It was double the price and didn’t allow overnight guests. Ever. It took us three and a half hours from home, forty-five minutes of which were spent driving away from the highway over mountains and through valleys, to arrive in a town where I knew no one. My best friends no longer lived down the dorm hall or shared a townhouse bedroom wall. Everyone lived states away and I already knew late-night AIM messages weren’t going to suffice. I needed overnight guests. So I needed this apartment at a price I could afford.
I crumbled under his silence. I let my desperation show through. I took a leap of faith that he wouldn’t ask me to hug him. “But I. $350 is really the only thing in my price range because I just graduated and I’m starting this program here called AmeriCorps which is like the Peace Corps but not really but I’m really volunteering and not making any money because they want us to live- well I’m just not making any money but I can pay rent and.” It came out rapid-speed, jumbled with an abrupt stop. I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know how to explain what my upcoming year would look like. Primarily because I had no idea what my upcoming year would look like. But it worked! “It seems like a really great fit for you and I’d love to have you as a tenant. How about $375?” I took it. And I didn’t even have to hug him. Although, I almost wanted to.
We drove back to CT that night after unsuccessfully navigating the small town’s roads. “I don’t get it; the road just ends. And why are most of them dirt? How do we get to the rest of the roads?” The summer air cooled after sunset and we drove around with the windows down and our sweatshirts on. We hardly saw another car until we were a few miles down I-91. The stars were plentiful, though.
I signed onto AIM when I got home. Debated writing an email about my new-found, first apartment and decided against it. It had been a silent summer between us. I knew better than to blame it on Fiji and class schedules and email access. He asked me to go and I said no. And I knew better than to blame it on that. A silent summer was better than the year before, filled with frustration, hurt, and Eminem on repeat. It had been the summer before that one when the Fievel Goes West theme song reminded me of him and he called me at 9pm, he called me at midnight.
Over the next few weeks, I bought black photo frames from Walmart to hang photos on my new walls. I claimed my brother’s couch as my new couch. I stopped at tag sales on Saturday mornings for lamps, cupcake tins, a baker’s rack. I gathered the makings for a home. A first home of my own. We made two trips before I moved in. One to clean and bring up the smaller items. I vacuumed up Charlotte and about twenty of her closest friends. I felt guilty about it, but I wasn’t planning on having any roommates, never mind of the six-legged variety. One trip to bring my bed, the couch, and the baker’s rack. We didn’t stay very long that time. I planned to return alone, for good, at the end of the week with the last of my belongings.
He returned from Fiji that week. The first time the phone rang, I spent too much time trying to decide whether to answer. He hadn’t given me a return date. I’d forgive him despite myself, and I wasn’t ready for my own betrayal. The call went into voicemail and he didn’t leave one. I answered the second time on the second ring. My voice distant, my choice of words protective. We caught up quickly without detail. It was the first time we had talked since I left the bar in tears, almost four months ago. His flight left two days after. We talked as if it didn’t happen. We talked as if it all hadn’t happened. “Are you taking your old Saab up to Vermont?” Yes, of course I was. He told me that he worried about me in an old car in a rural area. “What if it breaks down and you don’t have cell service?” I told him not to worry, I would be fine. But my stomach turned over. He knew more about rural areas than I did. I hadn’t worked out the dynamics of what no cell service meant on a day-to-day basis. I cut our conversation short. I wanted to keep the distance. It was easier. He said goodbye and then took a breath, “Hey Em, you know I love you.” It was somewhere between a question and a statement. “I love you too.” Somewhere between a question and a statement. It meant everything and it meant nothing. It would be a month before I heard from him again. Everything would be different.
I stayed up too late that night packing the rest of my things. I left early the next morning to meet the telephone and internet installation people before noon in Vermont. It was a gorgeous sunny day. I stopped for an iced coffee, cranked up the volume in my car, and sang nearly the entire three and a half hour ride to Vermont. I couldn’t wait for the next year to finally begin.
[To Be Continued...]
[Disclaimer: I always have difficulty determining how much of "the story" is mine to tell. This series on my year in Vermont is my version of the year. I am erring on the side of caution to not tell the stories of my friends who journeyed through the year with me. Names, places, details, etc have been changed or omitted for the privacy of the people I care about - and yes, I care about all of them. It's a bit of an old story, really. Most of their journeys have taken them down paths (in Vermont, out of Vermont, some having never set foot near Vermont) that make that year only a distant memory. It is for me, too. But it's such a good memory - a full, rich, important memory - that I want to share my part of the story here.]