Updated: Aug 14, 2020
On some level, I knew I was acting rashly, that normal people don’t quit their jobs and move out of their apartments at the news of a friend that they hadn’t seen in years dying. Still, I got in my car. It was 3 o'clock in the morning when I pulled out of the garage and got on the exit for 66 west.
"Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Two levels at the end of a dead end street. Not a cul-de-sac, just a dead end. It had a porch made of wood planks painted green and a matching green bench swing hanging from the ceiling. Two bedrooms, one bathroom. The bathroom didn’t have a bathtub or a shower … or a sink if I remember correctly. It had a toilet shaped bowl with a hole that led to the drain. There was no water or flushing. To “flush” you had to fill an old, used Clorox bottle with water from the concrete utility sink in the kitchen and go back to the bathroom to pour it down the toilet. To bathe, you had to fill a big bowl with water, grab a bar of soap and a rag, and stand in the kitchen as it had the only running water in the house and wash off.
Not glamorous. These days, it probably would’ve been condemned. Maybe even then if anyone with that kind of power had checked it out.
It was my favorite place in the world. When I was a kid, I picked going to grandma’s house over anywhere else.
Grandma and I would walk to the campus of James Madison University because I liked to see the smoke stacks and the ducks. Or we would walk to the Farm Bureau and Grandma would buy me stickers. I always tried to find stickers or a key chain that had my name on it. They never did. We would walk to Midway which was a little mom and pop grocery/convenience store behind her house. We walked everywhere.
Grandma didn’t drive. I remember my grandfather’s car sitting in front of her house for years after he died. I’m not sure whatever happened to it.
That was a long time ago. Today, I’m standing in a big parking lot around where I think my grandmother’s house once stood. The Midway is gone. And the dead-end street. And the Farm Bureau.
I stood there in the empty parking lot, not really understanding why I came in the first place. What was I hoping to find? A little bit of that happiness I used to feel long ago when a sticker and a hot dog would make my day.
I looked at my old Toyota Corolla. It used to be tan about a decade ago but it was quickly losing the war against dirt and rust. I guess I shouldn’t complain. It got me here. Not sure where it will need to get me to next.
I sat down on the place where I think they paved over my grandmother’s house and leaned against one of my car’s dirty tires. The hard metal of the hubcap pressed into the back of my gray hoodie and the cold pavement seeped through my favorite pair of worn out jeans. Everything I had left in the world was packed in that old rusty car with four balding tires. I stared at my worn out chucks.
Grandma was married with four kids by the time she was my age. She was raising kids and watching everyone else’s kids for next to nothing. With the little bit of money she earned and whatever money my grandfather brought, she managed to clothe and feed not just her own children but the kids she babysat too. And, the collection plate got some of her hard earned money every Sunday without fail.
I’m fairly sure Grandma never sat in an empty parking lot wondering where she was going to go. She didn’t have that luxury. Her life was set by the time she was my age and she was too busy trying to keep up with it.
There were no answers here in this parking lot. I rubbed my eyes. The stars were getting dimmer and the sky was getting lighter. It would be morning soon and the quiet, empty parking lot I was sitting in would start to fill up with college kids parking their cars before rushing off to one class or another.
Hours ago, I had been sitting on my bed staring at the bare walls of my rented studio apartment in a high rise in Arlington, VA. I never had liked the place. It felt like living in a hotel. A bland hotel with no character. But, character cost money, especially in Arlington.
At 24 years old and out of college for nearly two years, I thought I would have more direction for my life. A relationship, a calling, something. I remember them calling my name, Tess McCabe, at Virginia Tech’s graduation and having the sudden urge to run away. Until then, the goals had been clear and set. Graduate high school and then go to college. But, what happens after you graduate college?
Not knowing what I wanted to do, I went with the flow and did what everyone else was doing and applied for jobs in and around D.C. I finally landed a job at a government consulting firm, but I didn’t quite have the ambition of a lot of my peers at work. I was going through the motions of work, not standing out for being bad or great.
I was on the metro on the way to my bland studio apartment after working at my job which I had no passion for when I got a text from my cousin. I had missed two calls from her as well. Cell service on metro was spotty in places and sometimes a text was all you could hope to send or receive.
“Hey, haven’t heard from you in a while. Hope things are going okay. I hate to tell you this over text but you aren’t answering your cell. Leigh passed away. She was in a car accident Thursday night. I know you two were close. Call me if you have a chance. Her family is working on funeral arrangements. I think they would love to see you there.”
Leigh was one of the many kids Grandma babysat when I was young. We were inseparable when I was there. She was my best friend as a kid and we liked to tell people that didn’t know better we were sisters. Though with her fire red, curly hair and my dark brown, straight as an arrow hair, I’m pretty sure no one believed us.
As we got older, we didn’t see each other as much but whenever we were together, the closeness was still there. I hadn’t seen her since the last time she came to see me at college. We were both finishing our senior year. Since then, our contact had been reduced to a couple of phone calls on birthdays and some posts on Facebook.
I don’t remember getting to my stop and squeezing off the metro with all of the other rush hour commuters trying to get home from their own jobs. I don’t remember walking the five blocks to my apartment and I don’t know how many hours I sat on my bed staring at the walls. I’d like to say I was thinking about my friend, but I honestly don’t know what I was thinking about.
At some point, I grabbed the trash bags. I started throwing clothes in bags and stacking them by the front door. I threw my business clothes in one bag and left a note for them to be donated. I started making endless trips to my old car in the underground garage, carrying bags of clothes and stacks of books. My apartment had come furnished and never had felt like a home. I didn’t have a lot of personal belongings. Still, my car trunk and backseat were crammed full by the time I was done.
I put my keys and garage access card in the night drop box at the rental office in the building lobby and walked into the garage. On the trunk of my car, I sat my laptop down and sent emails to the building rental office and my manager at work. I didn’t think either place would make too much of a fuss about my abrupt departure. My lease only had one more month left and my manager wasn’t going to have a hard time finding someone to fill my shoes. Hopefully, she would find someone with more passion for the place than I had.
On some level, I knew that I was acting rashly, that normal people don’t quit their jobs and move out of their apartments at the news of a friend that they hadn’t seen in years dying. Still, I got in my car. It was 3am when I pulled out of the garage and got on the exit for 66 west.
And, now I am here, watching the sunrise in an empty parking lot and trying to figure out what’s next.
© 2020 T.S. Robinson