Shleisel and I lasted nine months in the squalor of The Hovel. Following the Mail-Order-Bride’s instructions, we paid our rent in cash at a local dry cleaner, where a deaf clerk would write out a receipt on torn spiral notebook paper. Other than that, Simomo left us alone—we were free to make The Hovel our own. We christened it with a thrown away couch whose floral pattern was so ugly we had to cover it with a brown bedsheet/toga left there by a British guy on a Rugby scholarship. We didn’t have a table—or any place to put one—so we created a hovering table that could be lowered from the ceiling through a system of pulleys. It was the most extensively planned project of my entire college career.
Moving into The Hovel was like pulling at a loose string—the longer we stayed within those 600 square feet of endless doors and bad wiring, the more everything began to unravel. Shleisel quickly dumped her boyfriend of two years, deciding he was “too normal” and preventing her from truly embracing her life. We were consumed with this concept—blaming most of the frenzy on The Hovel itself, which had become something of a character in our lives, with its own motivations and agenda.
There was no problem in our lives that could not be fixed merely by avoiding it. When we came to realize The Hovel was infested with mice, we laid humane mousetraps full of feta and escaped to NYC. We grew bored with the monotony of undergrad and decided to up the ante by disappearing to Guatemala for a week and a half. When I began to suspect the guy I’d been sort of dating was sort of cheating on me, I didn’t confront him—I just waited for Shleisel to get home after her waitressing shift.
“Let’s drive to the ocean. It’s only 6 hours, we can be there by dawn.”
We bought air mattresses and slept on the beach, drinking from the bottle and not talking about the fact I’d gotten so deep into something I’d eventually have to leave the country to escape it.
Real problems couldn’t exist so long as The Hovel was keeping us distracted with its adorable peculiarities. When our toilets backed up, we dismissed indoor plumbing as an unnecessary extravagance and embraced an outhouse approach, utilizing the facilities at all three Walgreens within 2 miles. We gave new meaning to the whole “girls go to the bathroom together” phenomenon because it was now a matter of carpooling and gas efficiency.
There was no reason not to live like this—it was working. When winter hit, we hunkered down like survivalists. After the oven gas-leak fiasco, we opted not to use the gas furnaces throughout the house and bought $17 space heaters instead. It might have been a good idea to find someone who could help with our much-needed gasfitting issue, but you know what they say about hindsight. Using pashminas, we plugged every crack and hole to section our bedrooms off from the rest of the house. When a blizzard hit on Christmas Eve, we were buried in 4 foot snow drifts. We sat cross legged in front of our space heaters, mixing equal parts tequila and orange juice, toasting “Happy Hoveldays!” and “Have a Hovel Jolly Christmas!” We didn’t need family or tradition or gifts so long as we could open the back door and set the OJ directly into a wall of snow and ice.
For nine months, this was our life. We dabbled in self-indulgence and moral gluttony to such an extent that it was no longer enough. The Hovel was still our liberator, but we’d outgrown it and in a spur of the moment decision, we packed our things and disappeared without a word. We had to stop running from everything and find something to chase after. We thought we were clever to have hidden in plain sight, but Reality was just biding its time, tracking our moves. We closed the door on The Hovel, and there it was, waiting to pounce.
Have you ever made a (seemingly) small decision that changed your entire life? What’s the shadiest thing you’ve ever gotten away with? Do you have a favorite “escape” from reality?
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