There are many things I almost became. My junior year of college I found myself with 5 roommates in a nice house near campus. These other girls were living up to the tens of thousands of dollars their parents had invested in their future—they baked, cleaned, and adorned the walls with Jack Vetriano paintings and French style signs reading “Live. Love. Laugh.” Our guy friends took care of the yardwork and in return we supplied them with home cooked meals.
It was a pre-marriage vista of domestic paradise. A chore chart hung on the wall to inform us of whose turn it was to unload the dishwasher or clean out the numerous bags of shredded cheese in the refrigerator. Decorative hand towels hung in the bathroom, to be seen and not touched. Life was tidy, well thought out, and manageable.
I never really belonged there, but I was decent at pretending. For the most part I would stay in my room writing stories or streaming hours of illegal television from some Taiwanese torrent.
When Shleisel moved in I lumped her with the rest of them. She was a recent sorority dropout with blonde hair and this huge sparkly smile that clearly indicated we would not get along. But she proved me wrong and became an ally in my pursuit for nonsense, sharing my distaste for the elaborate celebration the other’s made of fulfilling their womanly duties. Both of us wanted something different, but we couldn’t put our finger on it. It was obvious that what the others were doing made sense, so it seemed our only choice was to do things that didn’t make sense. For Finals Week we’d forgo the studying everyone else was so fond of, and spend our nights watching horror movies and pumping ourselves full of sugar. It was all too easy– we were 4.0 students with smirks on our faces and a blood glucose level off the charts.
That winter a group of us were backpacking in Central Europe over the break and I convinced Shleisel to tag along, selling her on the allure of adventure and the relief it offered from our boring, humdrum situation. It was time to grab life by the horns and carpe the diem– I even suggested we use the flight from NYC to Frankfurt as an opportunity to sit down and plan our lives.
“We can call it a Life Planning Summit.”
We only made it as far as “sit down” before we forgot to “plan our lives” as we were too busy ordering the max number of miniature wine bottles from every flight attendant. We proceeded to draw a map of Africa, where I filled in the countries and capitals and felt very proud of myself. Shleisel then drew a map of the US, where I filled in Texas, California, and Florida, and felt very proud of myself again.
Several hours later, while everyone on the plane slept, I knelt in the aisle and quietly vomited into the complementary barf bag.
It was as good a life plan as any.
Though we failed to make any actual plans, we became convinced that all we needed was to breakaway from our current living situation. We weren’t like them– we were different. We may not have known what we wanted but we knew we didn’t want to follow the paths of our successful fathers and quietly suppressed mothers.
The hunt for a house began– we perused listings that boasted all manner of things we couldn’t have cared less about. Vaulted ceilings? New appliances? Bay windows?
Then we saw it: “628 ½ Ashton Way: 2 Bedrooms, Fenced Backyard.”
It sounded drab, ominous, and full of glory. There was no boasting of school districts, just an address with a fraction as though the property itself were somehow less than whole.
It was perfect for us.
We drove over to check it out, discovering that Ashton Way was in the sort of neighborhood that lacked curbs and streetlights but boasted wandering homeless people and old men who shouted at you from their porches.
“But where is it?”
I drove up and down a single street, watching the house numbers change from 628 to 629 to 630.
“Where could they be hiding half a house?”
We pulled into the half-dirt, half-carpeted driveway of 628, wondering if a wormhole might appear.
“Oh my God,” Shleisel said, “Surely not.”
At the back of 628’s sheet metal carport stood four crooked doors, all waiting to be kicked in by the police, DEA, or Immigration. Above Door #3 was a line of uneven block letters.
We stared at the door as though it might give us some instruction, then walked to the side yard, still unable to see where another house might be standing. It was completely hidden from the world, almost as though it didn’t really exist.
It was perfect for us.
We called the number on the listing and a woman with an Eastern European accent agreed to show us the interior. We were already convinced this was the place where we would finally live on our own terms and become whoever we wanted. Standing on the outside of Door #3, we were filled with hope and thrill, wholly unprepared for what we would find inside, or what it would do to us.
Are you the person you thought you would be when you were in college? Do you try and plan your life out or just let the chips fall? Have you ever had a desire to breakaway and start a completely different life?
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