Just a one

Sometimes days seem to have themes. I always sense that noticing these themes is the first step to writing about them – Ross McElwee does this beautifully in films like The Six O’Clock News and Sherman’s March. But that’s where I freeze – shaping these disparate elements into a cohesive and fluid narrative.

Yesterday was a day about singleness, soloing, singularity. It started with work. I picked up a second job – about 15 hours/week – to pay for rent. Much to my surprise, I was entrusted with opening and closing on my second day of work. Sunday is a solo day at the store; slow business means that the company only needs one employee working.

Nonetheless, my boss stopped by for a few hours to make sure everything was running smoothly. Somehow she ended up with a dreamy look on her face, eyes seeing something in her mind’s eye. “I’ve been divorced for about 30 years now – God, isn’t that a scary amount of time?” she remarked. “I’ve fallen in love, dated some perfectly nice people. But they end up being so boring!” She wrinkled her nose. “I’m happy though. I’d like a man in my life, but I have friends, my children, my grandchildren. I’m happy being alone.”

After work, I drove back to my apartment to pack up my car. I was the last to move out; six bags of trash and a dozen trips to my car later, it was time to go. I wandered through the empty rooms, remembering every funny, awful, surprising thing that happened – late night brownie baking with Wishy, bemoaning Charlottesville’s unpredictable weather with Maureen, cooking hundreds of meals in the kitchen, figuring out date function costumes with Billy. The apartment was echoey without everyone else; finally, I left, the door locked behind me, and I turned in my key. My one and only year at Lambeth was finally done. My moment of transition, that in-between ambiguous state, had passed, and I felt myself stepping firmly into the next stage.

When I walked out to the parking lot for the last time, I noticed a woman leaning into the dumpster. Carsick? I wondered. But as I approached, I saw more people – a group of women – and in the car next to them, a man waiting in the driver’s seat of a running car, looking nervous. The women were dumpster divers, picking through the trash abandoned by U.Va. students. We had spotted them a few days earlier as well. The woman closest to me had long gray hair; another wore a matching shirt and shorts patterned with loud pink daisies. They showed each other finds before tucking them into paper shopping bags.

A twinge of guilt flickered through my gut. The six trash bags I had just thrown away were stuffed with salvageable goods that my roommates had left behind. I had no use for the items and my car was stuffed with food, dishes, bedding, clothes, and more, so I threw them out along with all the paper towels and expired condiments. On the drive back home, listening to the rattling of my possessions, I pictured the one suitcase I plan to pack for Scotland. If I can live out of one suitcase for four months, why do I need so much? If I can afford to throw out piles of tupperware because I just have too much, isn’t there something I should be reconsidering?

The drive home was long, dark, and frankly bizarre; I ended up getting lost despite having done this same drive dozens of times. I ended up far past Leesburg, and my GPS took me on a road I used to drive when I was Loudoun Valley High’s School Board representative. I hadn’t eaten anything since 2 pm; my hunger and tiredness played into my sense of deja vu. So many things had changed since the last time I sped down this road, heading home; but it was the same, single, fixed place, no matter how different it felt after years of accumulated experiences.

And thinking back on high school, I remembered a running joke that started during senior year and has continued to this day. Susan’s mom made lentils for dinner one night. Susan took her plate to where her mom was serving, and some strange impulse came over her. “Just a one, please,” she said. “Just a one. One lentil.”

Needless to say, her mother was baffled, but we continue to laugh about it. “Just a one” has become our phrase of minimalism, singular experiences, and sometimes missed opportunities. “Just a one. Not too many.” It seemed to tie everything together – the one year, the one suitcase, the unexpected retracing of a high school path.

Today didn’t really have a theme, unless you count unpacking and laundry. But days like that are okay too.

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