The Slums Of West County Essay, Research Paper
It was our first day of freedom. On April 10, 1998, my best friend Laren and I were anxiously ready to move out on our own. We had been planning this for months, while sitting at Denny’s for a few hours at a time. We were trying to figure out how much we would each pay in rent, bills, and food. Where we might live and what kind of rules we might have to keep us from killing each other (as roommates are prone to do) were other issues we resolved. So, now the two sheltered West County girls were going to have a taste of life on their own? but not too far away from Mom and Dad, just in case something went awry. The big, beautiful homes we lived in no longer felt big enough for us, or rather, maybe they felt too big for us.
We had picked an apartment complex that was only about five or ten minutes away from our parents and our jobs. Now we had the task of moving 20 years of accumulated boxes to an empty, different room. A room that was half the size of our own bedrooms we lived in now. We had been spoiled little girls and we were just starting to realize it. Two bedrooms and two baths seemed like it would eliminate many problems that roommates often have over sharing a bathroom or bedroom. We had a small kitchen, a decent sized family room with a cable hookup, and a living room connecting the other two. Upon seeing the model apartment the management had decorated, we thought our place would be well worth the money. Neither of us thought we could make such a heinous mistake. After all, we were still located in West County? or were we?
At 7:30 on that moving day morning, I felt anxious to get started. My stomach was screaming complaints at me for being so inconsiderate as to only feed it a breakfast of coffee and nicotine. I knew I had three hours until my friends would be here with the U-Haul, but my nerves were jumping already. I put down my coffee mug in the sink, made a sprint for the stairs, and ended up in my bedroom doorway to find my stepfather already unscrewing the bed frame. With one lung on its way up my throat, I leaned my whole body up against the doorjamb to take a breath.
“Heyyy? I was gonna do that!” I grinned at my stepdad. Neither he nor I could tell a screwdriver from a wrench. Well, maybe I had a better chance at guessing.
“Yeah, well, it looks like you still have a lot more stuff to worry about. How about disconnecting that old dork box and putting it in your car? It wouldn’t survive the moving truck with your friends, I know that for sure.” He grimaced, clenching his teeth while he yanked on the bed frame with all his might. What a phrase. “All his might,” referring to my stepdad, means as much as a chipmunk lifting weights.
I set about grabbing hold of all the plugs in the wall that connected my computer to the outside world and wiggling each free. Since he was taking care of the bed frame, I set my monitor in the middle of my soft, thick comforter and wrapped it like the ancient, overweight infant it was. Carrying it downstairs to my car was a whole different story. I unwrapped the monitor and picked it up by its base, my weak forearms straining to balance it on my knee while I got a better grip. Turning myself around to head for the doorway, I was almost knocked off balance by my younger brother, Steve.
“Hey, wanna grab the rest of my computer and bring it down to my car? I’m putting it in the back seat with some blankets wedged between them and the front seats.” I raised my eyebrows at my brother who looked as if “Mr. Sandman” decided to take revenge on him. Maybe he wasn’t quite awake enough to respond because all I got was a blank stare and very slow, cautious movement.
“Huh? Oh yeah? sure? shoes?” he mumbled. He shuffled out of the room; eyes cracked open just enough to? WHAM! Okay, never mind. I busted out laughing at the same time I saw him covering his forehead with his hand. Curly black hair puffed out around his pale, ivory face with deep-set brown eyes. Ripped Umbros and my faded Pearl Jam tee shirt completed the goofy look that my brother’s lanky figure had always worn so well.
Things were finally starting to move along. I was frantically throwing last minute items into half-full cardboard boxes. I would sort it out when I got into the apartment? my apartment. In the middle of a trip down the stairs, the doorbell rang. I skipped the last few steps, dropped the box, and opened the door to find my best friend Laren and a group of my scraggly friends standing behind her. It was already 10:30am! The group stood motionless, heads bobbing, with the same decaffeinated look on their faces my brother had had.
Laren’s burgundy and purple hair was pulled back into a ponytail with the shorter strands escaping. Her baggy T-shirt and pants were cute; very little of her fashionable Adidas shoes ever got dirt on them because the cuffs on her pants dragged on the ground. One of her best features were her ocean-deep blue eyes framed by long, dark lashes. She had a great figure, but no one would ever really know because it was hidden behind clothes that never quite fit right. She and I had been friends for five years. I was probably the only one at my school who knew that she had not always dressed this way. In fact, when she came to my school from Kirkwood, she dressed much like I did: normal T-shirts and normal size jeans, nothing too fashionable to set me apart from the rest of the kids.
“Heyyyy girlfriend!!! Take a picture, Cameron. This is our first day of freedom. It’s a Kodak moment.” She yelled, grabbing me for a fierce hug, a grin lighting her face. She handed the disposable camera to a guy who looked like he could barely find his own hands at this early hour. Cameron’s hair was long and unkempt, but he did have a face most girls adored.
“Are you ready, Laura? The U-Haul should be about five minutes away. David’s driving it. Did your mom make some coffee yet? I need some.” She rambled on and on. I knew the drill. I’m the one who had set up everything and just asked Laren if it was okay with her. She is not exactly a details person.
A few of my sleepy friends filed in behind her, their eyes perked when they heard their drug of choice: caffeine. It was going to be a gorgeous day, the midmorning sun already warming the air and glistening off the trees. The shadows felt chilly on my front porch, but we would be moving so quick, I’d probably sweat, anyway.
Before I knew it, my room was bare. Only moss-green carpet and flowered wallpaper remained, leaving my window seats so dusty and empty, I felt compelled to sit on them for a last glance down my neighborhood hill. I had waited and watched for years from this view. Whether it was to make sure I’d be off the phone before my parents came home from work or watching for a midnight stranger to come pick me up for a date, this was the best feature of my room. I was almost crying, but I could not pinpoint why. I was getting my chance for freedom.
We moved along to Laren’s house with the same routine: endless trips up and down stairs, rotating the smoke breaks between boxes of furniture and boxes, pictures being taken of this special day. Again, we were done with her house and we were ready for the third and final leg of our journey. Let me say this. If my bones had not been so weary from lifting three times my weight in furniture, I would have done a victory dance.
As the truck was parking, Laren and I jumped out of my car with renewed energy. Signing the lease and getting the keys were small obstacles we were anxious to hurdle. I thought the landlady must have been amused with our enthusiasm because she only flipped through the pages of the lease, telling us it was leasing jargon that even she didn’t understand. She disappeared down a hallway and returned with two small silver keys! Laren and I beamed at each other. We linked arms, thanked the lady, and strode out of the building. Our friends were sitting on the bed of the truck, chain-smoking their hearts out, waiting all too patiently to start the moving again. Laren and I dashed inside and up the stairs with unlimited stamina (and felt it later that night), opened the door to our new apartment and found it? well, not exactly clean.
The carpet had been stained with urine, matted together with sticky liquids never cleaned up, and burned in multiple places by cigarettes. She and I flipped on lights (thanks to me, the electricity had been turned on that morning) in each room, yelling out the disgusting flaws we found within the apartment.
“Laren, come look at this! Someone left cigarettes burning on the kitchen sink and in the bathrooms!” I yelled, a pitiful whine starting to creep into my voice. I was so stunned and disappointed, I didn’t know what to do.
“Yeah well, come look at what my walls look like. It appears the maintenance crew tried to paint over some poorly repaired wall. If this wall caves in on me in my sleep, I’m going to sue their asses!” She grumbled, not leaving any subtle hints of happiness to the imagination. Our friends were trailing behind us, picking up on more clues to the disintegration of the apartment that we hadn’t discovered. Laren and I turned to each other, our eyes glum and downcast. We silently agreed to make the best of it for the next year. This wasn’t worth our hard-earned money, but it also wasn’t worth throwing away months of planning to fight a lease that we had just signed. We slept soundly that night, having learned one lesson in life out of many millions more? don’t judge a book by its cover.