Dec. 28One day after Hans arrived on my back stoop, one day after my mom’s family Christmas, I move into my apartment. A reasonably-sized efficiency in an 1889 Victorian home. I’m on the second floor, on the right, past the curves in the staircase. The floors, unheated and un-insulated, are cold. My refrigerator shudders to life as I plug it in, and I anxiously watch my brother, uncle, boyfriend, mother, boy cousin, girl cousin and girl cousin’s significant other carry boxes and furniture, a mattress and a desk chair into my room. My uncle nods, his bottom lip protruding his farmer’s way of approval. It is small, but worthy. It has two window seats, a kitchen window that overlooks the stained glass above the staircase. It has high ceilings, crown molding. Original doors and tile. Closets. Hidden compartments. Ornamental radiators. It has character. Feeling. History. I am humbled that my family—so many of those whom I love—drove three hours to help me. I can only mutter my thanks, and I am driven to tears at their thoughtfulness. My uncle and cousin—true men—shake off my gratitude, but my brother welcomes my hugs. I thank my mother for it all, thank her for everything. After everyone has gone—after my brother has driven home, after everyone else has piled into the “semi” that brought me and my things to Boone—I cry. I squeeze Hans and nestle my face into his chest. It is overwhelming. I am on my own, enveloped in a sort of simultaneous freedom and commitment that reminds me of a Johnny Flynn song, a folksy tune of gratitude.
Dec. 29My first day. I am overdressed. I learn. I listen. I nod my shake. I try to make jokes. I am utterly clueless and ask a thousand questions. When I am released from my “training” a few hours early, I know, already, that I do not want to do this for the rest of my life. I know, already, that this is not something I want to pursue.
Dec. 31Hans and I sit at the bar, a local dive, and scan the T.V. for major networks. It is seven minutes until 11:00, seven minutes until the ball drops in New York and a fourth of the country celebrates the new year. There is a drink in front of me, one that satisfies my “something sweet and not so alcohol-y” request. It is half blue, half purple, a mix of energy and false hope. Hans drinks his beer, one poured by a bartender suspicious of our strangeness. The regulars—the ones who drunkenly talk about wrestling, single-parenting—yell for more. “Magnum!” the call the bartender. “Another round!” A man in his twenties, I presume, and a drug-addict, I suspect, disappears and reappears, his on-again, off-again presence a mystery until I realize that he lives just across the street. “It’s a party, man!” He loudly slurs when he stumbles in again, a strobe light in his hand. Hans and I laugh, giggle at the antics. “This is awesome,” we say to each other. “Free entertainment!” A half-hour to midnight in Iowa. I jump when an older man bangs on the window of the bar just feet away from us. Hans laughs while I look away, shaking my head. Hans buys another beer, tries to hand Magnum his debit card. “This isn’t a club,” Magnum answers dryly, and I smile. He’s dry, wry, witty, imposing, patriarchal. Exactly what the owner of a dive bar in this town should be. Fifteen minutes to midnight. “I love you.” “I love you, too.” We look into each other’s eyes and continue to smile. I sip my drink, stir the contents into a swirl of purple and ice. Eight minutes to twelve, and Hans visits the restroom in the back of lengthy bar. I fear that one of the drunk men will harass me, the young, “lonely” girl. Six minutes, and we’re staring at each other again. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. We’re sharing a kiss. “It’s New Year’s, man!” I hear, as the others notice the T.V. I see another couple swapping slobber, and hang my head in embarrassment. I leave a $5 bill under my coaster for a tip, grab my coat. We quickly shuffle through the drizzle and wind back to the apartment, where we uncork a bottle of wine. Rejoicing in its bounty but frowning in my lack of wine glasses, we pour the sweet fruit drink into plastic cups. Blue plastic cups purchased from a discount store when I first went away to college. I smile and giggle, buzzing with warmth and alcohol. Blue. Plastic. Cups. This is memorable. We toast to ourselves, to 2012, to a new year and a new life in a new apartment.
Jan. 4I’m already overwhelmed. Hans is still here, but he leaves tomorrow. He leaves, and I stay. Here, I will stay. Alone. I don’t want to be alone. I want to snuggle and watch movies and stay in bed all day. I cry. I cry more. There is so much crying. I kick boxes, scream at items, snap at Hans and irrationally throw fits. I’m tired, upset, overwhelmed. I’m not happy, and I dread saying goodbye to Hans. I am disappointed that he is going back to Indiana. Disappointed that he is unsure of the future. Disappointed that he thinks me a liar. Disappointed that he changed his mind. “You told me, you me when I was falling asleep. What made you change your mind? Why did you say those things … it just gets my hopes and imagination up. Why do you accuse me of changing my mind when you do the same?” I keep crying. Great heaving sobs. Anything bothers me. Everything bothers me. The crooked floors annoy me. The cold makes me cringe. My lack of kitchen space induces fits. I yell. I argue. I fight. I cry. Again. In the kitchen, in my closet, on the bed, in the bathroom. I stand, sobbing. “I don’t know where anything goes,” I keep repeating. “I don’t know where to put anything.” “I don’t want to do this.” “I can’t do this.” “I don’t want to do this.” I panic. I stop breathing. I’m poor, just like my mother. I’m poor, just like my father. I’m no better than my parents; I will be no better than my parents. I’m stuck in the same city, back in the same place that I so desperately avoided six years ago. I’m not engaged. I’m not … anything. It’s all so disappointing and overwhelming. Overwhelming, because I have been so abruptly shoved into it. Frustrating because it is so hard. So very hard… and I don’t do well with hard. I set my own levels of achievement, so it is difficult to master the extreme levels of another—one who puts faith in numbers and not in the amount of training.
Jan. 18I’ve learned that I dislike Sangria; that my closet door will open on its own; that this apartment is very, very cold; that my uneven floor is, at some point, three inches higher than other points; that I will always dance from rug to rug to avoid the freezing tile in the bathroom; that I creak up the stairs past midnight each night; that the only thing that seems comforting at 1:30 in the morning is a pair of fleece “Christmas tree pants” and a package of Oreos.
Jan. 28I realize that I am afraid of the unknown.
Feb. 2I’m still tired, I’m still overwhelmed. There are still things—things about my job, my apartment, my relationship, my everything—that upset me. I’d like to say that I’m more rational now, more mellow, but I know that is just an excuse for the internalizing I’m doing. In truth, I’m okay. I’m surviving. I’m just not happy … mostly because I am alone. I dread the lonely hours in the newsroom, the hours in journalism’s pessimistic aura. I dread my return, dread my empty, dark apartment and my empty, cold bed. Dread the moment I crawl into my sheets, because all I think about is how much I just want to nestle in next to someone who isn’t there. Who can’t be there. And, in order to fall asleep, in order to drift away from worries and stresses and fears and concerns, I imagine. I think of decorations and frills, families and guests and pictures and laughing and dancing. And a dress. And I know it is isn’t real, but that—and all of the consequential events I also imagine—are what I fall asleep to. That dreaming—unlike all of the things I do during my waking hours—makes me happy. It makes me happy, it makes me sleep, it keeps me from stressful dreams. Even if I have to wait, even if it isn’t real.