The second installment in my guest writer posts is from new writer Maria Schreiber. She writes about the adventures and challenges of moving to a new city.

Fixing a Hole

by Maria Schreiber

After putting in my time in the big city, I moved half-way across the country to a much smaller one. I always knew my time in the city was temporary — a necessary experience for my career, personal development, yadda, yadda, yadda. Really, just a box to check off. When my lease renewal came up the last time, I began scouting for a new destination. I had lived in a handful of big cities and suburbs, even in the middle of the desert. But never anything like this town where cashiers ask how your day is – and mean it.

I found an apartment above a coffee shop right in the middle of downtown. That way, I could still hear the lives of other people at most hours of the day. My sense of freedom flourished; it was all the space. Not only was my apartment twice the size for half the rent, I could also see sky between the buildings.

Not from my windows, though.

The apartment I settled on was everything I needed: location, layout, size, price. It just didn’t have the one thing I said I wouldn’t compromise on: lots of natural light. Instead of wide-open sky, the view was of the alley out back, only a mild improvement from the previous brick wall. But the alley had a spot for my newly purchased used car, which I gazed at lovingly from the window, like a schoolgirl with a crush.

So endearing at first, the train whistles began to grate when they woke me up in the middle of the night. The lights in my high ceilings flickered and went out. I didn’t replace them because I didn’t have a ladder. One or more of the baristas in the coffee shop below was far too fond of November Rain. It droned at my feet and in my head while I fixed myself dinner. They played it over and over again most nights after the shop had closed and even sometimes before it opened.

The first frosty morning marked the end of the waning honeymoon. After a night of interrupted sleep due to unusually frequent trains, I woke up late and grumpy to the blast of the dreaded nineties ballad. In the dimly lit room, I pulled on some clothes, tied up my hair, and stubbed my toe before limping out the door.

The steps down to the alley were slick and snowy, but I had learned how to maneuver them. I was caught off guard, though, when I slipped into the tight space between the alley wall and my car.

A large pool of frozen vomit right under the driver side door stopped me in my tracks. 

The alley where I parked was often tagged with the piss of college students and drunks who stumbled out of the bars on the adjacent square. But this puddle was something entirely different, singularly plentiful and vile. 

The perp had apparently eaten spaghetti and meatballs, washed down with a large quantity of red wine. The whole thing was coated in a thin layer of frost as if laminated for posterity. Despite the cold, the bile and soured wine assaulted my nostrils. I briefly considered trying to climb in from the passenger side but decided against it. Successfully reaching over and flipping open the driver-side door, I jumped in without touching the mess. Hours later, when I pulled into the spot, I noticed in disappointment that the pool was still there.

Before the winter ended, the spaghetti froze and melted many times. Though generally careful, there were a handful of times I stepped squarely in it when lost in my thoughts. The once-articulated strands began to ooze into an indistinguishable mush. The smell became increasingly pungent. And yet, I still refused to clean it up.  

Even when the initiative came to me, I realized I wouldn’t know how to start. There was no outdoor water spigot, and I didn’t own a bucket or shovel of any kind.

The city has a way of extending adolescence.

Most folks are renters. Owning a place means having to take care of it and acquiring the tools to do so. By the time my thoughts turned to procuring a bucket, shovel, and maybe a ladder for my lights while I was at it, I had banished the whole thing from my head.

I didn’t make this mess, why should I have to clean it up?  

I knew I was being juvenile. Would the drunk who had spewed it return to the scene of the crime? Would it all gradually evaporate away? The management company hired cleaners to vacuum the hallways, but no one shoveled the snow on the outside stairs or walkway. Even if they did, no one would think to inspect the spaces between the cars and the brick wall.

The puddle of vomit was the pinhole that allowed the discontentments with my new life to come in full force. I missed the never-ending choices for good ramen, the twenty-four-hour public transportation, the absurdity of hundred-story buildings, and all the different kinds of people living and working in them. In short, I allowed myself to miss all the things I knew I would but was too distracted to do so at first.

When the daylight hours began to lengthen, I became increasingly capable of looking at what I had gained alongside the lack. The space came from giving up or losing things that had previously filled it. Possibly too many things. 

One bright early spring morning, I looked out my window and noticed that the last of the ice was gone. A heavy Thanksgiving snowstorm had laid an inches-thick layer that, despite occasional days of melt, never completely thawed because the alley was entirely in shadow. The constancy of the sunlight and a week-long forecast of warm days led me to accept what I had to do.

I walked to the hardware store a few blocks away and bought a discounted snow shovel and a red plastic bucket. After depositing them on the steps, I trudged to the car to move it around the block. As I slipped into the space, my eyes didn’t quite believe it:

The vomit was gone, only a slight stain marking where it once had been.

After a moment of pause, I took the shovel and bucket and found a place for them inside.

Maria moved to Colorado after her a recent stint in New York City.  She works at a tech start-up and her interests are pretty basic. They include reading, cooking, eating, being outdoors, and her cat.