More stories from hell house

After a week with very limited access to wifi and substantial hours at work, I’m happy to have the opportunity to post again. At 7:00 am on Tuesday morning, I learned in a text from Laura that hell house had finally regained electricity. I had spent the last two nights at my sorority house, an oasis of clean carpets and working outlets. Twenty minutes later, I was woken up again by voices. I pulled on the clothes I had been wearing for the past two days and crept into the hallway.

“Hello?” I called. A man and woman taping a sheet of paper to another bedroom door turned around to face me.

“Are you Megan?” the man asked, reaching out to shake my hand.

“No,” I replied. “I just slept here because my house -”

“Do you know where the mattress for this room is?”

I didn’t. It turned out that a summer program was due to move into Kappa Delta for the next few weeks, and exhausted, weighed down by my sheets and toiletries, I staggered out just in time.

Having electricity has improved life at the hell house significantly, demoting it from a hell house to a troubled tenement. Surprises keep popping up, like the used condoms Laura discovered in the living room or the stranger who tried to steal a bicycle tethered to the front porch. My favorite discovery occurred this morning, when I noticed that what I mistook for chipped paint was actually half of an ice cream sandwich stuck to the nightstand I’ve been using.

cookie

I texted this picture to Camille, whose response gracefully summarized my surprise: “…I have no words,” she typed back. Apologies for the dizzying blurriness of my recent cell phone photos; now that I have a bedroom, I’ll be able to unpack and locate my camera.

The box spring that had previously concealed the used tampon Hannah discovered has finally been removed, but it was no small feat. Billy drove down to Charlottesville for one last dinner before his month-long backpacking trip through Europe and was a good sport about helping me haul the box spring out to the heap of trash the previous tenants had left us with. Unfortunately, the box spring became firmly wedged into the staircase, trapping him upstairs and leaving my housemate Camille and I to rack our brains for friends who might have power tools, or at least a good old fashioned ax or saw.

After several unsuccessful phone calls, Camille struck upon a solid plan. “Let’s call the fire department,” she said, boldly dialing the Charlottesville fire department. I paced nervously as she called, listening to Billy’s footsteps from the floor above. “No, this is not an emergency. We need some help, though.”

Fifteen minutes later, a fire truck pulled up in front of the house and three amused firefighters jumped out. We pointed them in the right direction and paced the front yard as they hacked the box spring apart with an electric saw, one firefighter holding a flashlight as twilight settled over the powerless house.

“Now, we just have one question,” one of the men began, smothering a grin, as the other firefighters hauled the tattered remains of the box spring into the front yard. “How did that even get up there in the first place?”

“The house was built around it,” Billy suggested.

It’s the only explanation.

After persuading Billy to move the filthy, splinter-dispensing box spring that trapped him upstairs, I repaid his efforts with sushi and miso soup.

After persuading Billy to move the filthy, splinter-dispensing box spring that trapped him upstairs, I repaid his efforts with sushi and miso soup.

Still, some of the surprises have been positive. The previous tenants left us with fifteen boxes of herbal tea, and when a girl moved out of the room adjoining mine, I was stunned to find a clean room with hardwood floors behind what had been a locked door. Last night, I slept in a bed that isn’t on the floor and that someone else won’t move into after a few nights.

The room is long and narrow, but this bed-sized alcove and tiny window brightened my outlook considerably.

The room is long and narrow, but this bed-sized alcove and tiny window brightened my outlook considerably.

With the power back on, I was finally able to make a trip to Kroger, where I stocked up on vegetables for my first non-restaurant meal all week - quinoa, fresh corn, broccoli, mushrooms, onion, and garlic, all seasoned with basil and red pepper flakes.

With the power back on, I was finally able to make a trip to Kroger, where I stocked up on vegetables for my first non-restaurant meal all week – quinoa, fresh corn, broccoli, mushrooms, onion, and garlic, all seasoned with basil and red pepper flakes.

It seems cliche to say that it’s the little things we take for granted that make all the difference, so instead I’ll offer this obvious realization: Acting like an adult is really hard. After working for eight hours today, I really don’t want to go home and clean, just like I didn’t really want to go to the grocery store yesterday. It’s strange realizing that this is more or less what the rest of my life is going to feel like. But it is empowering to know that as un-fun as it has been so far, I can file away these experiences for future reference.

Meanwhile, moving into a dirty and inconvenient house isn’t the worst thing going on in the world. In the past few days, I’ve received news of devastating events affecting several people I love. The only way to honor their pain is to realize that the world moves around me in terrible ways and to appreciate the fact that today, I am one of the lucky ones.

Stories from hell house

I have a shirt that I reserve for tough times, like the week last semester when I had six papers due. It looks like this:

everything is horrible

I bought it at a thrift store last summer for $3 and surprisingly, it fits me perfectly. I’m a Beck fan as well, so I can’t imagine why anyone would give it up. If things are horrible, I can just wear the shirt, and then people can see that I’m a fan of cool music like Beck’s and I feel slightly better. Even horrible things can’t change the fact that I like my music collection.

After what felt like five minutes at home, I found myself back on the road to Charlottesville. My summer sublet had opened up, and I was ready to trade a dull summer in Leesburg for a busy and rewarding summer in the world class city of Charlottesville. I pulled into the small gravel parking lot next to the house just as the sun was setting and wandered through the sprawling brick house.

I’ve legitimately never seen a house so coated in grime. I spent my first night scrubbing the baseboards with Chlorox wipes and repeatedly vacuuming the filthy carpet in my room. I peeled an inch-thick layer of dirt from the filter in the air conditioning unit. While cleaning, I found:

  • 1 used tampon applicator;
  • 5+ large tumbleweeds made of human hair;
  • 1 pack of large red pills;
  • 3 dead house plants;
  • 1 empty Honey Nut Cheerios box;
  • 1 dusty bottle of “Purple Power Cleaner” (obviously ineffective);
  • 1 urine-smelling box spring;
  • and a dozen crusty stains that I don’t want to identify.

Sick Boy’s bedroom in Trainspotting is an immaculate paradise by comparison. Before I could take a shower the next morning, I reached into several inches of murky water to extract a submerged layer of human hair that was blocking the drain. The toilet in the upstairs bathroom wobbles precariously any time it is touched, and everything is suspiciously sticky. Actually, the whole house reminds me more of the worst toilet in Scotland.

Check out how clean that floor is; even junkies in a movie take better care of their house than the previous tenants did. (Image from: http://jonny-lee-miller-appreciation.tumblr.com/page/67)

Check out how clean that floor is! (Image from: http://jonny-lee-miller-appreciation.tumblr.com/page/67)

Okay…that’s an exaggeration. Still, at least Sick Boy didn’t leave trash piled in his room, and at least he vomited in a bucket during his detox (assuming that some of the stains are bodily fluids).

My head pounding after a sleepless (read: bedless) night, I returned home from work last night to find that dusk had settled in the house and that I was powerless to drive it out. Yes – the previous tenants had either cut off the power or neglected to pay the bill, leaving us with no electricity. An unopened bill from Dominion addressed to the previous tenants sits smugly in our mailbox. With food spoiling in the refrigerator and mold colonizing the bathrooms, the house is well on its way to resembling the junkies’ limbo. We also found (and disposed of) a potted marijuana plant in the backyard, so there’s that.

Without power, I haven’t been able to use the steam cleaner that my friend Hannah leant me, and I’m too fanatical about cleanliness to allow my possessions to touch the carpet unprotected. For now, I’m living out of plastic bags, storing most of my stuff in my car, and sleeping on my friend Laura’s floor. Her room is across the hall from mine and luckily has hardwood flooring that she spent a long day sanitizing. It’s the only safe zone in the house.

With no power, no internet, and no idea whether or not the heaps of trash will be collected, my future in this house remains uncertain. I have high hopes that conditions will improve once the year-long residents move in on Tuesday, and until then roughing it has some perks. Last night, Laura and I lit a candle and traded stories about boys we’ve dated and friends from home. Our eyes adjusted to the darkness as shadows played across the walls. Laura has balanced my neurotic horror by remaining easy-going throughout the experience. “How romantic!” she joked about the candlelit room. I’m hemorrhaging money at restaurants due to our dead refrigerator, but at least I’m living in a city with a thriving food culture and hundreds of great places to eat.

Our lack of internet also drove me to the public library across the street, where I tapped out this blog post until the library closed. I did manage to pick up a library card application on my way out; the librarian said I’d need to show proof of residence in Charlottesville. As overjoyed as I am that my name is not on the hell house’s lease, I do want a library card; I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

"When do you all close?" I asked a librarian passing by. She glanced at the clock and replied, "In three minutes."

“When do you all close?” I asked a librarian passing by. She glanced at the clock and replied, “In three minutes.”

“It’s a full moon, you know,” my co-worker has insistently reminded us the past few days. “Everything really just get crazy whenever there’s a full moon. I’m telling you, you have to watch out.” I’m starting to think that she might be right.

Once more, with feeling

About a week ago, I posted a piece about a day that seemed to offer a strangely cohesive theme of solitude, singularity. But I cheated you. I left out something important.

That long and surprising solo day happened to be Mothers’ Day, and for the first time in my life, it occurred to me that somewhere, my biological mother was probably not celebrating.

This picture was taken at my grandparents' house - Thanksgiving 2011. I was home for the first time since matriculating to U. Va.

This picture was taken at my grandparents’ house – Thanksgiving 2011. I was home for the first time since matriculating to U. Va.

I only have one mother: Gina Delgado. Elementary school teacher from New Jersey, makes the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted, can train any dog, blessed with limitless patience. She has been my tooth fairy, my Easter Bunny, my Santa Claus. She has taken care of me when I was sick, dealt with my middle school angst (even forgiving my brief emo phase). Gripping the armrest and pressing her foot against an imaginary brake on the passenger’s side, she taught me how to drive in my high school parking lot, right next to the football field where she watched me graduate as salutatorian of my class.

lasagna

Lasagna is typically the first meal I want when I return from school. Tonight, it was my last meal at home before I return to Charlottesville for the summer.

Gina Delgado is my mother.

But on the west coast of the United States, there’s another woman. Let’s call her Jen. She watched her body change drastically over nine months, enduring a break up, her parents’ divorce, a move that uprooted her and transplanted her halfway across the country, and also the 10th grade in just one year. Any one of those things could have pushed a person to the edge, but Jen stubbornly kept me in her womb, protecting me from abortion and ingestible chemicals that could have wrecked my fragile dividing cells. And after all of that, plus two days that she was legally granted for deliberation after my birth, Jen gave me to my mother, Gina, and willingly receded into a stack of adoption papers filed in my father’s desk drawer.

Through the eery wonders of Facebook, I’ve managed to find Jen. She doesn’t know it yet; I haven’t contacted her; but I could. Luckily for me, her Facebook is highly permeable. Facebook’s many creepy privacy lapses allow me to observe, safe behind my computer screen, as she checks in at antique shops and posts statuses about food. In one particularly thrilling picture, she is posed in front of a restaurant that specializes in chicken and waffles – my favorite comfort food – and her hair is styled just like mine, bangs framing the brow, cheek bones, and round blue eyes we share. My voyeurism is maybe odd, and most likely would be disturbing to Jen, but I think anyone estranged from a blood relation probably shares my deep curiosity.

At dinner with my parents on Saturday night, Billy ordered a Green Flash – the beer brewed by a man who (from what I’ve gathered from Facebook photos) seems to be Jen’s significant other. Across the table from him, my mother asked about his recent graduation. Unwittingly delivered by a waitress, the lonely bottle of beer jarred what was otherwise a moment of family unity. But sitting there, chewing my scallops, I felt a moment of peaceful detachment. Somehow, the irreconcilable facets of my life – the real living family that surrounds me and the biological ghost family whose genetic heritage I carry – had come together. Briefly, insubstantially, inconclusively – but there.

What I’m (hopefully) reading this summer

Sometime during the 9th grade, reading for pleasure became difficult for me. I think it’s fair to say that I was hitting my resume-building stride during that year, starting a club with a friend and working on my unwittingly ballsy History Fair project about Richard Nixon (that’s a story for another day). Since then, I’ve struggled to find my way back to the time when I would race through arithmetic and grammar so that I could get back to reading stories that enthralled and excited me. By the time I finished elementary school, I had read almost all of the fiction novels in the library, but each school year I’ve become less inclined to add to the thousand or so pages my professors assign per week.

Nonetheless, after a week or so of Netflix (read: Buffy the Vampire Slayer), I feel ready to unplug and delve into some good books. I am a compulsive buyer of used books, so addicted to building my library that I once hid a stack of books in my car to conceal my spending. With so many unread books on my shelves, I decided to choose titles that would give my summer a cohesive theme. It’s a short stack, but considering that I’ll be starting my 45 hour, 7 day work week soon, I wanted to set a goal I actually believe I can accomplish.

So, here are my picks. My dual themes are travel and writing; I’m interested in what these authors have to say and eager to learn what I should look for in my own travels and writing about them.

photo-4

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig. This book is part of a three-book collection recommended by my friend and former teacher, Michael DeLalla. Michael is a professional guitarist whose gigs have taken him all over the world, and the guitar workshop he taught each summer changed my life. I discovered the joy of playing music with other people and met some of my best friends, including Billy, there. Zen is one of three books Michael recommends that everyone read. Curiously, Barnes & Noble shelves it in the religion section. I took an incredibly interesting class on Tibetan Buddhism at U.Va., and although it by no means gave me expertise on the subject, I’m interested to see whether this text emphasizes nothingness, simplicity, and fantastic mental feats the way The Tibetan Book of the Dead and The Life of Shabkar did. The back cover of Zen sounds somewhat Disneyfied to me (“”a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions…the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward!”) so I’m hoping for something a little more reserved and modest.
  • See Under: Love by David Grossman. I’m currently halfway through this one; one of my professors assigned parts of it for class, so I’ve returned to finish it up. Grossman is an Israeli journalist/novelist whose creativity is actually unreal. The book is about a lot of things, but its frame is essentially the story of a young boy named Momik who grows up to become a writer struggling to deal with the aftermath of the Holocaust, which his parents refuse to discuss with him. It’s about imagination’s power to transform and create and the messy human relationships that form the underpinning of momentous events. This summary misses so much; the book is full of wonderful and surprising images and ideas, like this passage:

The next moment we were no longer alone. The air was all aquiver. My hand began to tremble as though it had a life of its own. My fingers pulled and pressed together. I looked at them in astonishment: they started to pull, but there was nothing there. They didn’t stop moving. They groped. They prodded the air to make it flow toward them in a certain pattern, they propelled it wisely, stubbornly, churned it into a thicker substance, and suddenly there was moisture on my fingertips, and I understood that I was drawing the story out of nothingness, the sensations and words and flattened images, embryonic creatures, still wet, blinking in the light with remnants of nourishing placenta of memory, trying to stand up on their wobbly legs, and tottering like day-old deer, till they were strong enough to stand before me with a measure of confidence….

  • The Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks. This book was a high school graduation gift from my friend and mentor, Paige. Paige happens to be friends with Tony Horwitz and Geraldine Brooks, two married writers who are jokingly referred to as “the Pulitzers” by friends like Paige. Tony Horwitz is basically my hero; I decided I wanted to become a writer while reading Confederates in the Attic, my first exposure to creative, journalistic, history-based nonfiction. It’s a pretty specific blend but encapsulates everything I care about. Last summer, I read Baghdad Without a Map, Horwitz’s account of the time he spent in the Middle East after Geraldine’s job took them there. The Nine Parts of Desire is Brooks’ counterpart to that story – the Middle East from the perspective of a female Australian journalist. The parts of this book I’ve read so far provide an interesting look at the role of translators and translation, something other writers often gloss over.
Tony Horwitz visited Charlottesville while promoting his most recent book. He laughed, a little bitterly, when I told him that I wanted to become a writer like him. "Good luck!" he said, referring to journalism's collapse.

Tony Horwitz visited Charlottesville while promoting his most recent book. He laughed, a little bitterly, when I told him that I wanted to become a writer like him. “Good luck!” he said, referring to journalism’s collapse.

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. I was the kind of first grader who hauled Harry Potter books out to recess, so I was surprised and humbled when The Sound and the Fury completely eluded my comprehension when I attempted to tackle it in the 11th grade. Now, with some experience reading Faulkner in a college class, I feel ready to take on Faulkner once again. I actually really need to catch up on him, as I recently proposed my interdisciplinary Modern Studies thesis on his work. Choosing Faulkner as the subject of my thesis makes a lot of sense; he was writer-in-residence at U.Va., so we have a huge archive of resources, and Stephen Railton is one of the leading Faulkner scholars around. I’m interested in the broken family in Modern literature, so Faulkner’s saga of the Compton family fits my interest nicely. I hope to have read the majority of Faulkner’s catalogue by the time I begin work on my thesis, so I’m starting now.
  • Dubliners by James Joyce. I owned Ulysses for years, nervously keeping it on my nightstand beneath my clock radio, before I was forced to read it in a class last fall. Despite my fear of the text’s massive size and reputation for being difficult reading, I was blown away by Joyce’s work. My professor said in lecture that it would make our pulses race, our hearts pound. “Yeah right,” I thought. “Maybe if you’re a literature professor!” But something happened to me when I read Ulysses; there’s some exciting energy packed into that text, and if it makes me a total nerd to say so, that’s fine. I’ll be so incredibly close to Dublin that I’m definitely planning to make at least one visit during my time abroad. I found an incredible literary itinerary on Dublin’s tourism website, but I need to catch up on reading if I want to make the most of it.
  • Telling True Stories ed. Mark Kramer and Wendy Call. This is a book of essays that I’ve picked up and put down many times in the past few years. It’s another book given to me by Paige upon my graduation, and it’s wonderful and extremely terrible in the best kind of way. The book is composed of essays from journalists and nonfiction authors, who select a story from their portfolios and then analyze its making. I love the way this book teaches writing; it’s engaging and inspiring. What drives me absolutely crazy is that with each new essay, I want to drop everything and race out to buy the book that the authors describes. Last time I put Telling True Stories down, it was to read Newjack, a fantastic book by Ted Conover, who contributed an essay about it to Telling True Stories. It’s a rabbit hole, but it’s a wonderful one.
  • Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. I don’t have much to say about this one other than that I’m interested to see how Steinbeck characterizes his poodle, Charley, as well as America. My American Studies classes at U.Va. emphasize the point that the America encountered by white male writers like Steinbeck does not encapsulate the experiences of minority communities and vast excluded populations; still, there’s an undeniable allure about Steinbeck, who some consider the ultimate American writer, setting out to “discover America.” How can one “discover” a place so vast and varied? If Steinbeck figured it out, I want to know so that I can put that knowledge to use in Europe. I view the idea of this book with skepticism, but honestly I want to love it, and if that makes me shortsighted so be it. We’ll see.
  • Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat Moon. This is another of the books Michael recommended. (The third is On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and I’ve already read it.) Blue Highways is named for the fact that on old maps, main routes were depicted in red and backroads were coded in blue. William Least Heat Moon focuses on traveling through the forgotten towns, off the beaten path, in search of some kind of understanding of America. I want to know how he mapped his route – was it by accident, chance, or did he have a plan? How do you choose where to go among options that you probably know little or nothing about? How far ahead can you plan that type of trip? All of these questions are obviously relevant to my own trip planning.

And in case anyone was wondering, the print in the background of the picture above is the one Andrew Bird signed for me at his Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden concert last July. It was sheer luck, but after years of listening to Bird’s music, it was a great moment for me. I guess this is bragging, but that’s okay sometimes I think – let’s think of it as show and tell instead.

Andrew Bird was frailer and more exhausted than I expected him to be, but it's understandable considering his punishing tour schedule. He was quiet and kind to me, as I'm sure he didn't feel like signing a poster but offered anyway.

Andrew Bird was frailer and more exhausted than I expected him to be, but it’s understandable considering his punishing tour schedule. He was quiet and kind to me, as I’m sure he didn’t feel like signing a poster but offered anyway.

The past 550+ miles

In the past week, I’ve driven more miles more quickly that I probably every have in my life. My friends love my 2001 Honda Accord for its passenger’s seat, which somehow seems to recline into a psychologist’s couch just when life is getting crazy. Between avoiding eavesdropping siblings during high school (theirs, not mine – I’m an only child) and avoiding roommates in college, my car has always been the one reliable, private, insulated space for conversation.

Driving alone has always provided solace as well. I have the often embarrassing habit of talking to myself when I’m trying to work through some thought or keep track of what’s on my to do list. This has attracted some judgmental stares; contrary to popular belief, people actually can usually tell whether or not you’re on speakerphone. I sing a lot too, often hitting some terrible notes as I try to teach myself how to harmonize. Regardless, the mechanical rhythm of manual transition is tactile, reassuring. The specific feel of my car turning and encountering bumps in the road differs from everyone else’s. I’ve come and gone from U. Va. so many times in the past year, driving home for work or breaks, and my car has been the constant home throughout all of the transitions.

I’ve been on summer break for less than a week, and here’s the breakdown of my travels so far:

  1. Charlottesville to Leesburg, 109 miles:
    After many trips to my car, I was ready to walk down the stairs one last time.

    After many trips to my car, I was ready to walk down the stairs one last time.

    After my finals ended, after I worked at my new job for two days, after I packed up my things, after I cleared the last of the trash out of my apartment, and after I turned in my keys, I finally began my drive home. My car was comfortably full of clothes, food, and breakables – like after a solid lunch rather than stuffed from a Thanksgiving feast. The drive was even longer than 109 miles because I somehow missed a turn and ended up on business 29 instead of the bypass, which was weird considering how often I’ve made the trip. I ended up on an isolated back road, yelling at my MapQuest app in a hunger-induced rage when it almost caused me to miss a turn. (“I’m counting on you! You’re all I have!”) The bizarre twist of events left me unfortunately grouchy, so my homecoming was more snarky than sentimental, which I’m sure my parents didn’t appreciate but it is what it is. Next time will be better.

  2. Leesburg to George Mason University, 38.2 miles: A few months before Billy’s graduation, I messaged a few of his friends to ask what music things they like. Music is kind of a black hole; there are so many recording and instrument accessories on the market that you could literally spend all of your money and not even make a dent in the list of equipment you feel you could benefit from – it’s something you have to invest in over time, gradually accumulating useful things that improve recordings. I speak from observation rather than experience, hence my need to ask people who actually record what a good gift could be. Someone suggested an interface to go with Billy’s recording software, so on Tuesday I drove out to Guitar Center in Fairfax to pick it up. Guitar Center was surprisingly depressing: A squat concrete building, windowless, and full of confused-looking parents carrying keyboard stands and scratching their heads in front of amps. After picking up Billy’s gift, I circled through Fairfax until I eventually found George Mason University. Fairfax is a disaster, a perfect storm of traffic, strip malls, and high speed limits – everything that is bad about NoVa – so finding GMU was stressful. Once there, I met up with my friend Brooke, a Floridian who moved to my high school during senior year and who helped me survive AP Statistics. She also got me my first waitressing job; I was a terrible waitress but I enjoyed seeing how a restaurant functions. Brooke is sarcastic, insightful, beautiful, and formerly nerdy; my favorite story from her middle school days involves her running home from the bus stop, fumbling with a saxophone case that was a big as she was in the style of Lisa Simpson. Today, she uses her powers of observation for storytelling and Facebook stalking. She took me on a tour of GMU, which is basically a bubble in the middle of Fairfax featuring a goose pond, a dining hall, dorms, and academic buildings. Brooke introduced me to her friends, funnel cake fries, and Gossip Girl, and then I headed home, retracing the 38.2 miles again.
  3. Leesburg to Purcellville, 15.2 miles: I grew up in Purcellville, a quiet town that was once connected to Washington, D.C., only by the railroad. Purcellville is growing rapidly: a bank has sprouted in the empty lot where I parked my car in the 11th grade and they just got a Sweet Frog. For most people, coming home from college means reconnecting with the landscape they used to inhabit; since I moved to Leesburg literally the day before my high school graduation, Purcellville has been the nostalgic landscape I left behind even though it’s no longer my home. The first thing I want to do when I’m back from school is head to the Purcellville Family Restaurant for a Greasy Diner Breakfast (GDB).
    Combo #2 with all bacon and terribly acidic coffee - my favorite GDB.

    Combo #2 with all bacon and terribly acidic coffee – my favorite GDB. That’s Campbell in the corner, enjoying some biscuits and gravy.

    The food is cheap, the portions are large, and they have the best pancakes and corned beef hash I’ve ever tasted. I met up with Campbell, my lively high school friend who now attends James Madison University. Per usual, we bemoaned weight gained and money lost, caught each other up on the details of our lives, and eventually migrated back to Cam’s house to play with her cat and tan (read: burn) in the sun. On my way out of town, I surprised myself by stopping at my high school. I generally don’t visit my high school, but my teacher/mentor-turned-friend Paige teaches newspaper there, and I hadn’t seen her all year. Paige’s age will always be a mystery to me; she’s an energetic Brown graduate whose career took her through grant writing, two masters programs, and countless surprising adventures. Her support and guidance led me to admit first to myself, and then to others, that I wanted to pursue a writing career. We rounded up the rest of the editorial team and spent the evening eating Greek food at a local deli and talking about classes and books.

    L-R: Me, Mike, Haley, Dani, and Paige shared incredible creative energy during my senior year of high school. Together, we wrote, edited, and experimented with graphic design to create the school's magazine.

    L-R: Me, Mike, Haley, Dani, and Paige shared incredible creative energy during my senior year of high school. Together, we wrote, edited, and experimented with graphic design to create the school’s magazine.

  4. Leesburg to Lexington, 167 miles:
    In the first moments after his cadetship ended, Billy felt the weight of his college career suddenly lifted. Meanwhile, I was dazed by the early morning and many cameras simultaneously capturing the moment.

    In the first moments after his cadetship ended, Billy felt the weight of his college career suddenly lifted. Meanwhile, I was dazed by the early morning and many cameras simultaneously capturing the moment.

    The Mysterious Production of Eggs floated through my Accord’s speakers as the 7:00 a.m. sun beat down on Virginia’s rolling hills. I was on the way to watch my dear friend Billy finally graduate from Virginia Military Institute after four painstaking years. I met Billy the summer before my freshman year of high school at a guitar camp. During his first two years at VMI, we spent evenings typing Facebook messages back and forth, flashes of intrigue in cyberspace that eventually became cautious coffee dates and then, when I matriculated to U.Va., a steadier relationship. As a friend and later as a girlfriend, I’ve been lucky enough to be with Billy throughout the whole VMI experience. As I sat with his family in the stands, I marveled at the changes we’d experienced since those early conversations and felt every emotion that I’d encountered in the last four years rise up inside me like so many ocean waves – rise, wash over, recede again. Happiness won out over all of them.

  5. Lexington to Leesburg, 167 miles: Rain splattered on my windshield as I switched between first and neutral in traffic, snacking on peanut M&Ms and Coke Zero, and just like that, I was on my way home again – no longer dating a college student but an alumnus. So far, it hasn’t seemed too different. I believe things will feel new and strange when he doesn’t have a school to return to in the fall, but everything will seem strange anyway since I’ll be in Scotland. So it goes.

    Since his childhood, Billy has always kept a piano nearby, an outlet for the music that fills his mind at all times. Hence, piano cake.

    Since his childhood, Billy has always kept a piano nearby, an outlet for the music that fills his mind at all times. Hence, piano cake.

  6. Leesburg, 8.6 miles: The distance between my house and Billy’s. It’s a drive I’ve made hundreds of times in the past two years, almost daily in the summer – sometimes rushing to be home in time for dinner, sometimes lost in thought or in a song. I’ve encountered deer and rabbits, ghost-like police cars lurking with radar guns poised, phone calls, 7-11s, and more in between our two houses. It’s a cycle, a routine commute, with good destinations on either end.

This is just one sliver of the 190,000+ miles on my car – some from my dad’s commutes to work before I inherited it, some from my various travels. This summer promises miles and miles of driving and so many more conversations.