Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Nine

How do you go about separating your life from that of your parents? It can be a fairly complicated process. For some people the question hardly comes up at all. Perhaps they don’t lead lives very different from those of their parents; they share the same values, the same aspirations, and their lives are for the most part easy repetitions of a pattern provided in advance. This must be less common than it used to be, since the world changes more and more with each new generation. And you’re more likely to copy your parents, of course, if you admire them; when you don’t, you’ll probably go looking elsewhere for different models.

Julie was serious about moving out. She went immediately from Dr. Cervantes to a nearby place open for breakfast (the same place her mother used to go to after dropping her off as a young girl), bought a paper, ordered a cup of coffee, and began working her way through the ‘Apartments’ section of the classified ads. She wasn’t ambitious or greedy; the main thing was that she had to move out of the house she’d lived in virtually her entire life, and into a place of her own. She considered her last exchange with Dr. Cervantes a promise both to him and herself that the very next action she undertook would be for her own independence. Her decision to stop seeing Cervantes showed a great deal of insight: all that experience in his office had taught her that while talking about her parents (at her parents’ request!), she was in fact only further entangling herself with them. So her announcement that she was finished with the visits was itself a kind of proclamation of emancipation. Anything might happen, everything else might change, but she would free herself from her parents.

Since she didn’t have a job and had only a little money saved, she didn’t bother looking at anything other than studio apartments. She could certainly find a way to support that; what she didn’t know now she would figure out as she made her own way. Whatever it might take, she would do it; the only thing that really mattered was moving out. She would suffocate if she stayed at home any longer, as she had told Dr. Cervantes so many times before. After looking through ads for just five minutes she realized that even a studio apartment was out of her price range. She turned to the columns for single rooms instead and circled three that looked promising. Then she took out her cell phone and made her first call right there at the table.

The first place she went to look at was just a few miles away, a three bedroom, dilapidated clapboard a few blocks off of Eastlake Avenue, not far from the bridge that connected Lake Union to the channel which led to Lake Washington. She pressed the buzzer, failed to hear anything, and then rapped her knuckles on the door three times. A slender man in his late twenties soon opened the door and invited her in.

“Julie?”

“Yeah. Doug, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I’m here about the room?”

“You’re not sure?”

“No. I mean, yes … I mean, I’d like to look at it.”

He pushed the door open and then stood to the side to allow her to walk past him.

With one hand stroking his goatee, he led her back through the dining room to a room next to the kitchen. Once inside Julie looked from side to side and floor to ceiling. It seemed okay. The walls were a dingy white, but the plaster was pretty well intact. From the entrance she could look out into the kitchen, which was painted yellow and looked a little dingy, too. They both stood in the middle while she looked at the walls and he took turns crossing and uncrossing his arms.

“It’s small, but it’s clean. A few holes in the wall, but that’s about it. We just sprayed the house for bugs.”

“Ooo. Is that a problem? Bugs?” She realized she sounded disgusted, and then she realized that might not be a bad thing.

“Well, we keep it from turning into a problem. Prevention, really”

She stood in the middle of the room and looked around for a minute.

“Nice view,” looking out the window. A few buildings downtown were visible just to the side of the building across the street.

“Well, yeah, it gets a little noisy at around 9:00 am,” he responded, thinking that she was looking at the parking lot between the house and an apartment building next door.

“Oh yeah. I see. Well…”

“I guess I should fill in those holes,” said Doug to the walls, as if it was an apology. In a way, it was.

“How much do you need at first?”

“Up front?”

“Um … yeah, up front.”

“First and last. Don’t need a deposit.” He was still scanning the walls. “Jeez, that’s a big hole. I’ll take fifty bucks off.”

Julie did the math. “Nine hundred?”

“Yeah. I guess you could you just put a poster over it.”

“I’ll take it”

“Great.”

Well, it wasn’t, but she followed him out to the living room. A desk there served as his office. She stood next to the fireplace while he fumbled around in a metal filing cabinet. A young woman came out of the kitchen, rattling what looked like a serving spoon in a cup of something hot. She was wearing a black tee shirt, like Doug, which seemed to make them husband and wife, or something. She was slightly pale, but for the time being she still had good skin. Her hair was dark with a red sheen in the light of the bare bulb above. ‘Tweezer’ was written in cursive glitter across her smallish breasts, perhaps indicating a band. A girl band, probably, although Julie had never heard of it before. Although it might well have referred to the woman’s eyebrows, which had been pretty seriously sculpted.

“Morning.”

“Uh huh.”

“Go to school?”

“Not sure yet.”

“Work near by?”

“I’m looking now, actually. I’m thinking community college first.”

“Up the hill?”

“I spose.”

“That’d be nice. Hey, if you need a job, they need someone where I work.”

“Where’s that?”

“Video store, right up the street.”

“Close by?”

“I walk there. It’s nice. Dollar rentals for employees. They have every DVD ever made, and a lot of all the TV stuff as well.”

“That sounds great.” It did.

Doug, having finally fished out the lease agreement, brought it over for Julie to sign. After trying unsuccessfully to sign it against the wall, Tweezer stepped aside so that she could use desk. After signing the contract, she handed it back and just stood there as if awaiting further instructions.

“Well, you can just make the check out to me,” said Doug, and spelled out his last name. “By the fifth of the month from now on is fine.”

This made Julie panic. Of course they would want money right now, why hadn’t she thought of that? She had a bank card, but no checking account. What else could she have forgotten? References. Why hadn’t he asked for references? In the space of two seconds she traveled from panic to suspicion, and then without even thinking about it was able to stall without bringing any suspicion on herself.

“I’d actually just planned to look around, and I left my checkbook at home.” She waited to see if they would take such a lame excuse. “I’m really sorry. It’s just that I’ve got a lot going on right now.” She’d heard this from her mom a lot over the years, and it pained her to have to use it herself.

“Well, just drop it off later today, or as soon as you get a chance. I’ll give you a copy of the lease then.”

“Great”

She and Doug shook hands. Tweezer smiled. Things were looking up.

Julie’s next job was to go to the bank, where she had a savings account. It might seem strange that a young woman her age should be without a checking account, but she had always lived at home and her mother had always taken care of the bills she had for school, car insurance, and even the car itself. She had a debit card with which she could take out money from the savings account her father contributed to every month.

After going to the bank she sat in the car and confronted the dread she had of talking to her mother. She knew exactly the kind of reaction she would have. She wouldn’t show her anger (or at least she wouldn’t express it), but she knew it wouldn’t be very supportive. Mother had a number of stock tactics with which she could voice her disapproval, some more controlling than others. There was the look of stern disapproval, accompanied by a clenched jaw and hours of stony silence, usually broken in the end with words such as, “I understand your need to…’ There was the simple No. Julie might argue with this, but as she’d said to her mother so many times before, it was like pounding her head against a brick wall. To this her mother would reply, “So don’t pound!” and then, “How do you think I feel? ” The first reply makes all the sense in the world. What else can a parent tell a child who doesn’t like the discipline being imposed? The second had more than a touch of self-pity and did nothing to help Julie see anything more than her own point of view. The worst response, however, was a thoughtful pause emphasized by raised eyebrows and the corners of her mouth turned down, completely phony and utterly unconvincing.

Julie thought all this over in about five seconds and decided she would just sneak out. A few days later it took perhaps half a dozen trips to transfer all of her things to her new room. Since she didn’t have a dresser, she hung most of her clothes in the closet and piled the rest onto bookshelves that had been built into the corner of the room. Her biggest problem was that she didn’t have a bed. Luckily, Tweezer was around during the last of her trips. The two were able to get the rest of her things up to the room without too much difficulty. Tweezer stood in the center of the room, thumbs through her belt loops, and surveyed the room by slowly turning around in a circle.

“Nice. You gonna get some posters or something?”

“I suppose so. It needs something, doesn’t it?”

“I could get you some movie posters.”

“That’d be nice.”

“So do you have a boyfriend or something?”

“No. Not right now.” ‘But it’s high time,’ she thought to herself.

“I guess that’s personal. Don’t think it’s cause I’m the owner, or because I live with the owner. I’m just curious.”

“Not at all, I understand.” Maybe she could help her find a boyfriend.

“Say, I told my boss about you, so you should go in. You’d like it there.”

Julie was tempted to ask, “Based on what?” but held back. In spite of her questions, she liked the girl and was happy that someone was thinking of her.

“We look after our tenant. Want you to pay rent and all.”

“Well, I’ll go today.”

“You’ve gotta watch out for that owner though. He can be kind of creepy, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah.” What did she mean?

“He’s hit on a lot of girls, even though he’s married. Wife comes in all the time, too. Acts like she doesn’t know, or like nothing is wrong. Strange. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Otherwise he’s okay, all things considered. He’ll give you days off when you need them. And there’s dollar movies, don’t forget about that. Wait – do you have a TV right now?”

“I’m working on that, right after a dresser for my clothes.”

“I’ll talk to Doug, he’s got a few things from past renters in the basement, stuff they just left behind. I think he’s got a bed down there, actually.”

“Yeah, well…”

“Anyway, he’ll get you some stuff. We look after our housemates.”

Doug was in fact able to find a bed frame in good condition, an old metal piece, double sized, with a wire mesh so loose that he’d had to add a sheet of plywood to provide decent support. He also found a chest of drawers. The mattress looked awful, and she ended ordering one from a local department store.

Julie went into Videosyncracy for a job on her way back from the mattress hunt. Tom wasn’t in that particular morning, and the young man who handed and took the application did so with the bare minimum of expression. She looked around the store and realized that as far as video stores went, this one was better than anywhere else she’d been. The ceiling was perhaps twenty-five feet high, and at the back wall was an open staircase that zigzagged up to a second floor, half the size of the first. Underneath that floor she could see a small theatre, with perhaps two dozen chairs. She’d never seen so many movies in one place and wondered how many there actually were.

“Got a lot of movies here,” she said to the young man behind the counter.

“Yep,” he said, playing it cool. Julie craned her neck as she looked up at the upper level.

The young man warmed up a little. “It used to be a cardboard box factory or something. I can just imagine a supervisor coming out his office up there, leaning on the railing and looking down on the poor slobs working down below. We’re the poor slobs now, I guess. Although Tom – that’s the guy you want to talk to – he keeps his office back there.”

She saw him nodding towards a room filled with shelves behind him. “We also keep all the actual videos back there.”

“You have room for all of them?”

“Yeah. But it’s getting pretty tight.”

“Do you like working here?”

“Yeah, it’s great. Tom’s a great boss. He’s a good guy. Knows his movies.”

“Thanks for the help”

“Well, maybe I’ll see you again.”

She would have to ask Tweezer about him when she got home.

A few days later, Julie was lying on her bed and taking stock of her situation. She was slowly getting the place together; she now had sheets on the bed, although she hadn’t yet spent the night yet. She’d bought some food, although she hadn’t eaten a meal there either. She did have most of her clothes in the room, and had actually changed there once. That was something. She hadn’t said anything to her mom yet; moving out was certainly complicated. She actually hadn’t said much of importance to her mom for quite some time, and the rented room, when she thought about it, was really just the latest in a long line of events that she realized she and her mother would never see eye to eye on. So why bring it up until she had to? She didn’t have to. When would she have to? Maybe when she started working. But mom was now gone much of the time herself.

A few days later she got a message on her cell phone from the manager at the video store. Listening to the message, she remembered how grudgingly her mom had agreed to the phone, knowing how much more freedom it would provide. Lost for a moment in anger and memory, she actually had to play the message again. Knowing how forgetful she was, she wrote down his name and the time, even though it was her only appointment.

She showed up right at 1:00 and actually met him as he was entering the store. There were just a few customers there at the time, so it was convenient enough to begin with a tour of the store. She didn’t bother telling him that the clerk had said as much the other day. Was he giving her second looks as well? Maybe the clerk had said something. ‘As well he should’, she thought. She took stock of him as well. On the tall side, extremely broad shoulders, and dark brown hair. Nice eyes, nice smile; obviously comfortable in his store. This was his element, of course. He waved her towards his office behind the counter. They went through a room packed with shelves, on which were kept all videos in clear plastic cases.

“This is where we keep all the DVD’s,” he explained. “Can’t risk leaving them out on the shelves.”

“Uh huh. There’s a lot, isn’t there?”

The walls were painted bright yellow, but they didn’t quite make for the sunny appearance they were intended to. She was reminded of the artwork in office. While she sat there with her back straight, he leaned back in his chair and looked over the application as if he were seeing it for the first time, which perhaps he was.

“Nice handwriting.”

“Thanks.”

“Jedermann?”

“Yep.”

He looked at her for a moment, as if searching for something. He broke his own trance and turned his gaze back to the application. She was now quite conscious that she was being interviewed. This moment passed, and it was in fact a cheerful conversation that took place.

“The job starts at ten bucks an hour, I think you know that, and I’ll start you off at 25 hours a week. We’re flexible about the hours, and you can work out any changes you need to make with the other employees – just let me know a couple of days in advance, and when I initial the master schedule in this binder, it’ll be official.” He held up the binder as if he were in a TV commercial.

This time it was Julie with the blank stare.

“Well … job’s yours if you want it,” he clarified.

“Oh. Of course I want it …”

“Good. Then it’s official,” he said, beaming brightly.

They regarded each other for a moment.

“Well then, I’ll put you on the next schedule. Why don’t you come in tomorrow afternoon around two – it won’t be too busy then – and I’ll show you the register and how all the rest works. Not that it’s too difficult. Sound good?”

“Oh … that sounds great!”

It did. She had her place, she had her job; all she needed now was to explain it all to her mom. She thought about all the things she could tell her, ways that she thought she could reason with her during an imagined scene, but it all sounded like pleading, and (because she had pleaded so much in the past) she knew that this approach would get her nowhere. Her mom would just tell her that she needed to be in school, and when Julie explained again that she didn’t want to go to school, her mother would insist on more visits with Cervantes. And Julie hadn’t even told her she’d stopped. What she needed to do, she decided, was to just inform her of the decision that had already been made, and then let her react however she chose. She felt stronger as she imagined their meeting this way, and prepared herself for the fateful encounter. Well, it worked well enough in the imagination, but over the next few days she found reasons to put it off. Doug and Tweezer were probably wondering why she hadn’t spent the night there yet. She pondered the exchange with her mom as if she were watching it all over again on rapid rewind, and realized she’d never be able to tell her in person. She simply couldn’t do it, and in fact it was something of an accomplishment that she even managed to leave her a note.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Too tired and losing track of the characters. Who's Doug and who's Tom. Will read tomorrow.

  2. Anonymous says

    Did Tom – or Doug – need to have 'extremely broad' shoulders? Is he the same as the person with the red hair? I'm sorry to have lost track of the characters. I imagined him to have narrow shoulders.

    'Mom' grates a bit. Why not 'mother'?

  3. I'm enjoying it more second time around, and am managing to keep track of the characters.

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