Shleisel and I stood outside of Door #3, waiting for the woman with the accent to arrive and show us the mysterious dwelling that would become our home. A bright blue PT Cruiser pulled into the half-carpeted driveway and two women in ridiculous stilettos flounced out from either side.
“I am Simomo and this is my sister,” the first woman said, “We are Lithuania. I marry husband and he bring me here.”
I realize now that her name was probably not Simomo but I was too distracted by excitement for the terrible choice I was about to make.
We crossed the length of the carport, sidestepping bags of trash and disregarding the mysterious stains that littered both floor and wall. When Simomo finally got the door open, I gasped because it was like looking down into a long tunnel. There were no windows, other than one that looked out into a plywood box that had been added on as a detached laundry room.
“We will put you blinds on this window for private from neighbors,” Simomo said reassuringly.
“Oh, that’s okay it’s just the laundry room–“
“No, no, you share laundry with 628.”
I suppose it made sense that we would share a laundry room with the neighbors, considering the entire house was built in their backyard, behind their carport.
Though there were no windows, I could already see four doors within that single room. One led to the laundry and two led into a small half bath– just in case you wanted to stand at the toilet and open two doors at the same time. The fourth led to a small enclosure about two feet wide and eight feet long. At the end of the enclosure was another door, leading back into the same half bath. We would come to call this “The Hallway to Nowhere” as it became the final destination for things that no longer needed to exist, like the broken vacuum, a sordid twin mattress, and countless boxes full of empty liquor bottles.
Past the entryway and The Hallway To Nowhere was the kitchen. It was about the same size as the half bath and we liked it that way. We were liberating ourselves– we had no need for a kitchen and it would take us 2 ½ months to use the oven for the first time and learn that all it did was fill the entire house with gas. After this, the oven became the designated storage place for unused textbooks.
The sink was so neglected that I posted a sign above it reading “For Decorative Purposes Only” and the fridge became the eternal resting place of pizza boxes and traffic fines I received after blowing through tollbooths. The microwave reigned supreme over all the other appliances, though we had to first unplug Shleisel’s TV and accept that all the lights in the house were about to go out.
We brought Sars by to take a look at our new home before she moved to China, and she quickly summed it up.
“This is what people are talking about when they use the word Hovel.”
It was shaped like an “L” and the further you went in, the less sense it made. The ceilings were so low that our shortest friend could still lay her palms flat against them and I had to duck to miss a few low-hanging beams. It was almost impossible to count the overwhelming number of doors so our first night there we ran around with a piece of chalk, numbering all 17 of them. It was only then that we realized there was no door to separate Shleisel’s bedroom from the kitchen. Instead, we hung a red curtain and drew chalked question marks on either side of it.
To get to my bedroom and all of its wood-paneled window-unit glory I had to either cut through the backyard or sneak in through Shleisel’s curtained bedroom. It was like a magical treehouse/Soviet fallout shelter.
We doted on The Hovel like proud mothers. It represented the chaos we had worked so hard to embrace, and it even surprised us with a little gift on moving day. We’d both taken a month to travel after signing the lease—I was in Turkey and Shleisel was at the beach. When we came back, there was something new sprayed across the carport wall in dripping red paint.
“What does S-one-O-B mean?”
The “L” in “SLOB” had dripped a bit before it dried, turning it into a huge #1.
“How do they know we are messy people?”
Even after Google informed us this was slang, we were seized with warm fuzzies, gushing like brides over the gang graffiti adorning our threshold.
Every night we fell asleep to the humming of window units and woke to the sound of exasperated voices yelling at children from the daycare on the other side of our leaning fence. I’d shake off whatever had helped me sleep the night before– Ambien, wine, whiskey, or a combination of all three– and I’d stumble through Shleisel’s room, past her curtain, through the kitchen, beyond a living room full of books and out Door #3.
This flimsy bit of painted wood was all that separated us from the world, and it did a better job than we ever anticipated. Just as The Hovel was safely hidden from any who looked for it, so too were we hidden from any reality that spoke of consequences or practicality. We became indomitable, free to embrace escapism and conquer our problems merely by avoiding them. We were untouchable and invincible and slowly falling apart.
Where’s the shadiest place you’ve ever lived? Do you try and escape from your problems or face them head on? What most symbolizes the concept of “freedom” for you?
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