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When (my ex) Dave and I moved into our first apartment together, it was November of 1997. He was working in a silly job for a silly company, trying to figure out what his actual "career" would be. Similarly, I was working at something like my fifth job since finishing college a few months prior. I had bounced from corporate job to corporate job like a grasshopper, mortified at the mundane and soul-crushing nature of "work" as an entry-level drone. We weren't making very much money, but our rent was reasonable, and allowed us a little wiggle room.
Such as when I "wiggled" in the order of quitting my job. Again. The latest job had been simply unbearably stupid, and the CEO of the tiny company was crazy and horrible. It had become somewhat evident that Mr. Crazy hated the current marketing person, and had hired me to replace her...just as soon as she got me up to speed. Thus, the marketing person was not exactly motivated to get me trained up, as you might imagine, and she sabotaged my first "project." This resulted in the CEO calling me into his office to yell at me. I explained, as well as I could, that I hadn't even been hired at the company yet when the project started, and seeing as this was my first job out of college and I was totally dependent on the other girl to teach me anything, it was kind of unreasonable to expect me to have caught her mistake in time to fix it. He didn't care, and told me he was very disappointed in me and that I'd better not let it happen again.
I couldn't not quit. Though this left us with a month before Christmas and me with no job.
Our apartment was rather sparsely furnished because we didn't have money to be throwing around on things like "new furniture" even before I stopped contributing a paycheck. We were using Dave's college futon as our bed, and the rest of the apartment was appointed with various pieces from our respective parents' houses. Our TV sat in an entertainment unit that had been taken apart and put together so many times that none of the doors closed completely or aligned with each other. The "wood grain" of the unit was actually laminated and peeling off in several places. Our sofa was a rickety old red velvet number we picked up at a garage sale for $40. The only new things we had were a couple of lamps I bought at Pottery Barn -- red beaded lamps which I still own and still use -- and a table and chairs set I bought at Caldor, a Wal-Mart-like chain store in the New York area that went out of business in the early 90s.
Given the apartment's stark white walls and unadorned, box-like nature, it was a little sad. But under the circumstances, I'd decided that "November" qualified as "the holidays" and I may as well spend the little we could afford on cheap holiday decorations to brighten the place up.
And you know? I did a smashing job. I used wrapping paper and ribbon to cover varying-sized pieces of cardboard, which I then stuck to an entire wall. I hung white Christmas lights all over, and added tinsel and greenery to the entertainment unit. A few well-placed candles tied it all together.
It was very cozy, and gave the place some warm lighting and textures and it felt nice.
(I will add that the apartment was made even more cozy because we didn't have any control whatsoever over the thermostat. The heat was controlled from the basement by the handyman, and the building was five floors tall. Apparently, in order to heat the fifth floor adequately, you had to crank the heat up from below. So the first and second floor were virtual furnaces, the third floor simply toasty, fourth floor comfortable, and fifth floor warm enough most of the time. We were on the second floor. Which meant that "turning down the heat" equated to opening a window or two in the dead of winter. Or ALL of the windows if you dared turn on the oven to cook something. Luckily, this didn't happen very often.)
For the first couple weeks we were also without cable, so I just popped in the Christmas Vacation DVD and ran it on a loop. (I know that movie very, very, very well.)
I don't know what I did with myself those first few weeks. I drove Dave to work and then puttered around, I suppose. Visited my parents' house some. Christmas shopped, I'm sure. Went to cafes to write. I do remember sitting in the cafe at Borders in Stamford, reading a Martha Stewart book about how to make your own Christmas decorations. I found one style of silvery garland that I thought was beautiful and would cover a lot of decorating ground, and then went on a fruitless hunt for a specific "gauge" of "wire" that exists nowhere in the state of Connecticut. (It was at this time that my love-hate relationship with Martha was established.)
The point of all this is that I was fairly occupied and happy and content to busy myself with holiday-related tasks, right up until the holidays ended.
And then Dave went back to work. And I was alone in our apartment with no job, no money, no place to go, not much to do. Most days I'd just let Dave take the car because I had nowhere to go with it. I had zero interest in "exploring" my surroundings, since I'd grown up in the area. All my friends from high school had moved away, and my friends from college were few and far between. I bet if I had moved to a totally unfamiliar area, I would have found a thousand activities to involve myself with, groups to join, etc. But as a local, I had no such proclivities. It was all kind of boring.
Other than actively search for a new job, I have no idea what I did with my days. I looked at wedding magazines (we were engaged but not married and, frankly, had no idea how we'd pay for a wedding). We didn't even have an internet connection yet. Cable had been installed, but daytime tv left a lot to be desired, and most days I just let The Game Show Network play in the background.
If I'm being honest, some days I would write down the questions they asked on The Newlywed Game to ask Dave when he got home. We got very good at them.
So there I was. A 22-year-old me with wrapping-paper walls and tinsel-ed up entertainment unit watching Wheel Of Fortune reruns by pine-scented candlelight in the middle of January.
I wasn't unhappy, exactly...I just...I wasn't quite living the dream, either. Because at that juncture in my life, I had no idea what the dream, my dream, was. My immediate goals were to find a job I didn't hate, for my husband and I to make more money, to get to the next stage. But so that what? So that I could watch The Game Show Network on a nicer television? So that I could take care of my parents? My sisters? To what end? I knew I was missing something. I was missing out on something, too, but I didn't know what that was, either. I was on a path but I felt totally lost.
Do people just graduate college and suddenly, *poof*, they're adults? There had to be a stage between keg parties and searching for the right wire gauge. I just had no idea how to find it. It was invisible to me.
At some point that year, I remember one night in particular. I seem to recall it being a Friday or Saturday (as in "Woohoo! Weekend! Party!), and Dave's paycheck was scheduled to be direct deposited at midnight. But we had run out of money. Just, totally, completely run out of cash and we didn't have credit cards we could use. We had absolutely no food in the house, and absolutely no idea how we would make some appear. We discussed our options. Our situation wasn't dire: if we'd needed to, we could have gone to either of our parents' houses for dinner or for $20. That wasn't the point. The point was, we were two college graduates with some business savvy and experience and employment and it was a weekend night and we were young and wanted to have fun...yet we were scraping the sofa for loose change and strategizing a run to the store for ramen noodles.
Once we put all our change together, we decided instead to do something ridiculous. Forget noodles! There was a donut shop practically next door to our apartment. If we were really grown-ups, that meant we had all the authority we needed to be completely childish whenever we wanted. Thus, we decided to get a dozen donuts for dinner.
My wild early twenties, folks.
By the end of January I had landed a new job. I am pretty sure I got the phone call offering me the position the day after the whole "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" thing happened. I had watched that debacle live (according to the internet, on January 28, 1998), following an interview for a different job I didn't get. I remember thinking Haha, I guess my problems could be worse. But then also thinking, "I wonder how one gets an internship at the White House anyway. Isn't she my age? God these jobs are stupid."
(I believe that interview was for a copyediting position, which I was rejected for on the spot because they made me take a copyediting test, and while I did exceedingly well, I made one glaring error: I didn't realize that "jewelry" had been spelled incorrectly as "jewelery." The woman basically told me that while most people don't catch all the mistakes I did, missing a spelling error is pretty much unforgivable. I would have defended myself, but I just tried to spell "unforgivable" with an e.)
February had been my Christmas-decoration limit anyway, so once I got the job I celebrated by taking all the decorations down. I figured I could tolerate my charm-less apartment better if I weren't in it most of the day.
I stayed at my next job for a full two-and-a-half months.