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" Accessories After the Fact | 2008 | The Missing Piece "

08.12.08 12:39 p.m.

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about. 

-Charles Kingsley



I put my arm on my mom's shoulder and ask, "So how much time do you need?"

"For what?"

"To move out of my old bedroom so I can move back?" This had been my plan if no school hired me in time for the fall and, despite the numerous interviews I've endured, this was precisely the case. It was not a perfect plan. I am allergic to her many pets, a condition that likely led to my constantly sneezing as a teenager, but the free room and board until something real came along would almost be enough to compensate for the Benedryl haze I would have to tolerate to be able to breathe. In fact, free room and board is almost enough to adjust to the stigma of moving back to my parents' house as a twenty-seven year old man.

"I'm not moving out of my room so you can be back for two months! You can sleep on the couch in the living room."

I feel a lurch. Having this dashed because I misunderstood what she meant when she suggested I move home jars me.

I call Melanie to try to help me plan my next step, so I don't feel quite so trapped. Within a few hours, she has researched and forwarded me a dozen rooms within my price range - what I feel I can afford if I am only substitute teaching - on Craigslist. When I get back to my Anemia apartment (less than a month from eviction), I send out emails. The most appealing is one where I would get the entire bottom floor of a house. I call the woman and we chat for more than ten minutes about random friendly things, only a few of the details of the apartment. I feel good enough about this that I want to tell her I will take the room sight unseen, but possibly only to counter the utter panic I feel at the prospect of sleeping on my parents' couch.

Still, though I am almost totally sold and through the woman already addresses the apartment as mine, I visit two other prospects beforehand. With the first, the room is barely above being a closet and the price is $150 more than I'd like to pay, including none but the most basic utilities (heat and water). The only bathroom is shared. The landlady there is nice - I think we could be friends in a different setting - but she has me fill out an application just as daunting as if I were applying to work for her and insists that I would have to sign a year long lease, nonnegotiable. This seems especially odd given that, if I put my bed in this room, it would very literally be full. It is plainly a room for a college student at SUNY New Paltz with more tuition money than sense, not for an adult trying to continue to feel like one. When I visit the other potential room, the woman tells me I need to get her permission in advance if I want to have overnight guests and keep those to an absolute minimum. Her implication is that an appropriate maximum is zero. If I am paying $600 for a room (not including utilities), I get to continue maintaining living an adult life and that does not involve running my social calendar by an older woman. I did not bother doing that when I was a teenager. She insists upon a flexible enough six month lease and didn't pester me to fill out needless forms, but there nothing about the place that would justify her interfering with my private life.

When finally I get to the apartment I had wanted all along, I am thrilled. It isn't quite as grand as I pictured, but it could easily house the two prior rooms without using up all the floor space. All utilities are included for $500, even cable and wireless internet. The woman, Joanna, makes very clear I can use the kitchen as much as I wish - including eating their food and dining with them - and that I am part of the household if I chose to move in. I would have my own private entrance and the backyard looks like something out of Jurassic Park. She immediately starts talking about how she is going to buy me a mini-fridge and a carport, for when winter comes. I would be closer to friends, family, and - quite importantly - civilization.

She begins to say, "About friends and any chickies..." I brace myself for her to ruin this, to totally sour everything by thinking she has the right to restrict me from leading my life. I needed a nest for Melanie and me when she returns to New York and so far everything here is just right. Even her two huge Great Pyrenees are well behaved and quiet for dogs (or for polar bears, which they more closely resemble) and easy to allow as an eccentricity. I don't want her to say anything that is going to kill my happiness at the prospect of living here. "...just so long as they don't have too many facial piercings or misspelled tattoos, we should be fine," she finishes. I give her a hug for this.

She asks if I have any other questions, her blue eyes twinkling and blonde hair shining, looking very much like a mom. I say, "Yes, just one. When can I move in?"

This is not where it ends. She asks if I won't stay for dinner and I note that she has already set a place for me at the table, along with one for her husband and son. Over the intervening hours until I leave, Joanna unfurls her history, one that I imagine I am going to keep learning as long as I live here. She has been a pastry chef, lion trainer, and wedding planner and she now sells insurance. She was raised by an English father and Irish mother in Africa, where her father did pastoral work. She is intensely in love with her husband, a pilot whom she refers to as so brilliant he could be a savant. She has an emo son who is actually into jazz and the blues. She also both refers to me as gorgeous and states in the next breath that I look as though I am fourteen, two statements which I believe nullify one another. I will later find out that she actually thought I was a runaway and chose a ridiculous age as my cover.

I feel that things are coming together, though not as I planned. As far as I was concerned, I should be living utterly on my own in an apartment complex near my new teaching job, not renting the lovely first floor of a house and sneaking up to a stranger's kitchen to purloin apples when I get a midnight craving, but I think I can be happy here. They clearly don't need my money, the house is lovely and large, so I feel I am simply here as a paying guest. I feel instantly welcome, if a bit disarmed by the overwhelming niceness of Joanna. It isn't what I planned, but it is a hell of a concession prize. Not too big or too small, but just right.

Soon in Xenology: Vacation. Breakups. Jobs.

last watched: Waking Ned Devine
reading: Spook
listening: Highly Evolved

" Accessories After the Fact | 2008 | The Missing Piece "

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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