BY CALIN VAN PARIS
The door of the first house was red. The bold color demanded confident knocks and smiles, both of which I gave. A red door is welcoming. Buoyant. Unexpected. A sign of life—and a life was what I was after. Any somewhere would be better.
Things no one tells you: between the moral of one story and the opening line of the next, there lies a void within which the world continues brazenly on without you. Your need for a pause does nothing to cease time. People call and text between errands and appointments and chapters and TV shows, before bedtime, offering platitudes. No one can help you figure out what the fuck you’re going to do.
I found the place on Craigslist, a well-tread online space that was safe haven and funhouse in equal measure. Ads promised potential before veering unexpectedly toward dead ends, trick staircases. Literal jeering clowns. But the hope of a new start transformed the website from a jumble of coding to a holy text which I scrolled reverentially, imbibing the words of strangers with greedy need.
Sub: Peaceful Roommate Wanted (pic)
Creative female in her mid-30s looking for a quiet housemate. Full-time student, part-time worker. This 2-level, 2-bedroom duplex is cute and clean with a two bathrooms and small backyard. Already have a cat so no more pets, sorry! Close to downtown shops. No drugs, smoking, parties. Wifi and utilities are included (within reason :)).
Please make your appointments by email response.
I read the words from beneath sheets that no longer belonged to me, under an overhead bulb that I had replaced just last month, but now shone brightly over a space that I no longer called home. "This must be the place," I repeated feverishly as I skimmed the post, drafting an email in a separate browser window. After hitting send, I refreshed my inbox like the housing zealot I had become. I had to get out of there. I had to find a new here.
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Things no one tells you: When a life you thought was yours rejects you, your center of balance shifts before disappearing completely. What was it we were building? Nothing. You are no longer welcome—go forth and begin again. "That’s what life is all about: change," says my mother in a tone meant to comfort, cocking her head to one side. As if those who have never been uprooted out can fathom the shock of unwanted eradication. As if I could understand, then, that this displacement had the capacity for beauty.
The smiling brunette who opened the red door looked so fragile I was hesitant to grasp her outstretched hand. "Hi! I’m Howie. It’s actually Michelle but everyone has called me Howie since I can remember, it’s a family thing. Come on in! Sorry it’s a bit of a mess I worked late and had an early class. I’m a theater major." My eyes passed over the sparsely decorated living room, which connected to a dining room, a humble kitchen. Outside, an enclosed box of grass. "The light is great in here," I said enthusiastically, picturing myself reading at the table, on the grass.
Upstairs, my bedroom overlooked the main street. "It gets a bit noisy on Thursdays. That’s where the local college kids do their pub crawl." I nod. "I don’t drink much." She claps her hands. "Thank GOD. The last woman who lived here was a closet alcoholic. Bottles everywhere, always in her room. It was so effing awkward."
Things no one tells you: Your story is not unique. Your experience, the loneliness, the heartbreak, the search for meaning, the search for housing, is uniform. What feels to you like a ostracizing from society is actually the norm. Your constant comfort up until now, your planned existence, was the exception, not the rule.
Howie was a theater student slash pizza delivery person. I had never met either and found her pixie-like demeanor fascinating in a sad kind of way. What is the endgame for a 36-year-old who blocks one act plays at the local community college and shells out Dominoes on the side? Who was I kidding. What was my endgame? Who has an actual endgame?
"The delivery team is like my family, and the schedule gives me time to rehearse. Oh yeah—see that empty space over there?" Howie gestured towards an area of hardwood that would be the ideal location for a love seat or a television, which she did not have. "I’m thinking of installing a portable dance floor so I can practice tap at home. What do you think?"
I get in my car believing Howie’s home to be mine. She swears she’ll call within the next two days to let me know for sure, but she’s fairly certain I am the perfect fit. I breath deeply, contented. At least people like me, at least I can connect with strangers in a meaningful way. Find common ground. My phone buzzes and I see that I have a new email—another response from Craigslist. The ad promises friendly dogs, a ranch setting, a mother-daughter duo. I envision summertime gardens, familial gestures, leash-led walks through the neighborhood.
"This must be the place. This must be the place."