I hand Joanna the check for my back rent - grateful to have finally gotten my first paycheck and be able to be a good tenant - and she hands it back. "We lost the house. You keep that. That's your security deposit."
Until this moment, though I was keenly aware of the sudden economic downturn, I have to admit that it seemed something slightly below my direct concern. Like civil insurrections in countries I'll never visit, I felt my relative comfort (a job, a car, a place to live, enough to eat) shielded me. I am stunned and slide the check back in my pocket as my brain begins to plan and discard. She goes on to explain that her husband did not get the job he was expecting and they can no longer afford the $2000 a month rent on this house. She suggests that I could keep the house and rent it out to four friends, but I don't have the kind of friends who could jump to my rescue in that way.
"How long do I have?" I ask.
"In ten days, we'll be gone," she says, not stating that I have eight days - one weekend - to find a new place and move into it before the house's true owner has a different family move in. "We tried all weekend to find a way to make this work..."
Melanie comes up from the basement, where she has just arrived for our Tuesday night date, just in time to catch the tail end of this conversation and reinvigorate it.
"Muffin, we lost the house," Joanna begins again and gives Melanie the abridged version, so she doesn't begin to cry. I don't want to listen to this any longer. I want to return to my room and search the internet for a new place to live. I feel that I don't have even a moment to lose, since so much time has been taken from me already while others knew and had the luxury of planning.
Just then, my phone buzzes. I had ordered a pizza to celebrate my first paycheck and the delivery guy lost his way. He starts yelling at me because he doesn't know his way around. "Are you sure you live there?" he accuses, but I really don't live here any longer. He doesn't understand that my mirthless laugh isn't at his expense.
While I flag the delivery guy down, Melanie sends emails to people renting rooms, making certain that they will not take issue with her presence on the weekends. With a bit more time to look at apartments and house shares, I feel I could find something ideal. I have a few weekdays after I get off from work and then the weekend to move, so I will be forced to take what I can get. I want to shove as many of my possessions into boxes as I can, even if I don't know their final destination.
Part of me wonders if I attracted this outcome, silently resenting my long commute from work, no matter how happy I was when I got home. Now I have no choice, I have to move closer to my job, even if it is farther from the woman I work to be with, the one factor in my life that is stable.
I get messages back within a few hours, people who immediately make me uncomfortable or who lied in their ads and want twice the money they stated, plus utilities. One woman gives me a call and, after establishing that I would be the tenant, baldly tells me that she refuses to rent apartments to men. I am certain there are laws against discriminatory housing based on gender, but it is better than her wasting my time with an apartment she would then refuse to let me enter because I have the wrong chromosomes. I visit another house and the owner, a divorced man, rants to me about how important his dog is - repeating the same story twice, loudly, nearly verbatim - and threatens to run a credit check on me to live in his squat spare bedroom. He refers to me as "kid" and "child" several times. I am barely in the door of my old apartment before I send him a message telling him I am not interested.
My mother sends me an ad about a studio in Fishkill, a few miles from her, that is going for $650. That is just under my price range and the ad states that it has all utilities included. When I visit, the man reminds me he isn't interested in people who are just looking with no intention to buy. I tell him I need to be out of my current apartment by the tenth, so I have intention if he has something worth seeing. He tries to immediately push me to take this studio, which looks so tiny as to induce claustrophobia. The linoleum is peeling, the window is cracked, the kitchen cabinet is missing two drawers, the tub and sink will never again be a color approaching white. On the other hand, I do think it could probably go for a bit more than he is asking given its proximity to the main street, packed with shopping and restaurants. As the apartment I was leaving was actually smaller and did not include a kitchen, it is worth consideration.
I visit one last apartment, the landlord an older man who so completely reminds me of a specific television killer that I have a hard time disabusing myself of the notion that I know him. "D'you smoke? Pets? Have pets? No?" I shake my head. "Drink? No drinking here. No. D'you smoke?" he asks again. "No smoking. Pets? Dogs and cats? No." I only enter the apartment with this weird man in tow because my mother and younger brother have come as back-up. "This is the refrigerator, this is," he touches the appliance. "This is the bathroom, this is." "This is the sink, this is." This is how he points out the various amenities on the apartment, right beneath the floor where he lives, this is. He seems to be speaking from rote, running through a rehearsed speech before his memory runs short. Were it not for the profound oddity of this man, I may not have so eagerly called back the prior landlord and told him I would be taking the studio. It may be a bit run down, but I also am less likely to wake to the landlord watching me sleep.
I'd love if it ended here and I could happily move in and reestablish my life. The apartment I chose had apparently been promised to someone else who, despite not giving the landlord any money, believed they were moving in and called to have everything put in their name. I had to tersely make the landlord affirm that he wasn't playing a game with me and that my rent check was going to be cashed. My sister-in-law, who knew people who lived in this complex, said the landlord was nice but money hungry and that I should get receipts for everything. I clutched the slip of paper he'd given me that proved I was the rightful occupant.
In a few days, I began moving boxes and, despite a group I believed to be the slighted tenant showing up one night and trying to get in while I was there (I do not care to answer the door unless I am expecting company), I was completely out of my former apartment in a week.
I finish with the last box I am moving that night and start back to my car to visit with my parents and get some air, food, and distance. As I put on the mala I remade after Emily dumped me, the beads fall off the string and clatter to the stone beneath me, many becoming lost to the night grass. Emily told me last time that this meant new experiences, but I wish life could let up a little and finish with the experiences I've started.
Soon in Xenology: Arrogance. Memories. Atlantis.