People always talk about love at first sight. That's how all the famous movies and books start out, with some dramatic meet up of flying sparks and perfect understanding in every way. Then the two lovebirds, who are both really hot, obviously, since love stories never involve ugly or even normal-looking people, end up having some outrageously expensive wedding at the end. The wedding is on some exotic beach, foreign country, or fancy ballroom, with lots of pink and white décor, since love stories never involve poor people either, and the lucky lovers have dozens of equally rich friends all just tickled pink with delight at their friends' happiness, instead of jealous or disapproving or even just bored by it all. Oh, of course the lovers are also straight, white, and there will be some epilogue flashing across the screen about them living happily ever after, if they don't just show the positive pregnancy test, because of course, no happy couple can be complete without a baby or two thrown into the picture.
Thank whatever deities are out there, none of that is anything like real life. At least, not mine.
Real life is way less dramatic in the start. No cupid hearts or gushing declarations of affection, no swooping seductive gestures. Nothing but a coincidence of equal poverty and need, which doesn't make for a very interesting story to tell.
So how is it that my very un-movie-like love story ended up having twists and peaks far more unbelievable than the usual Hollywood happy ever afters?
I can't say it was love at first sight, with Sasha and me. Hell, I don't know if I understand enough yet about love to recognize experiencing it towards anyone but Whitney, and I'm pretty sure love towards your mother feels a little bit differently than love towards your sexual and/or dating partner. But there was something there, when we met, even if it wasn't lightning bolts or arrows to the heart. Attraction, sure, but that's not all it was. I'm 19 years old and comfortable with my sex drive, I'm pretty accustomed to pure sexual attraction. It was different with Sasha, a feeling of connection between us, even though I'd never met her and she didn't remind me of anyone I knew. I didn't understand it, still don't, when I think back on our first meeting.
I knew that I wanted to know her, really know her, more than the casual relationship of a brand new acquaintance, or even in the slightly more intimate relationship of a new friend. I wanted to explore her, like she was something rare and newly discovered by me alone. But not in a creepy way, like she was some object or possession. More like she was knowledge, hidden away for me to learn, a little at a time, as I earned the right to take it in.
It sounds crazy, to talk about Sasha like that, or what it was like for me when I met her. So maybe I should stop trying to describe it and just tell you how things happened, but just know that however much I try to tell, important things have probably gotten left out. And sometimes, what isn't said matters a hell of a lot more than what was said. Sometimes, those are the things that could cost lives.
Like I said, this is no normal love story.
I guess I should have known that putting out an ad for a roommate on the internet was not the best way to guarantee normalcy in life. But I couldn't think of another way to get the money I would need to rent a place of my own. Living with Whitney was okay for the short term, but I could only stay so long in a bedroom barely big enough for a bed, dresser, and a desk no longer needed since I'd been out of high school for almost a year. Whitney didn't harass me over moving out, like some parents did, and she wasn't charging me rent, which was pretty cool of her. Still, I knew it was cramping her style to have to always go to her man of the month's place, and I didn't really like the feeling of being a grown woman, from anyone's definition, but still eating my mom's food and adding on to her bills just by existing in the same house.
Granted, I was working part time at a coffee shop (not Starbucks, I'm not that basic or corporate-complicit), and I never asked her for cash, even when I could use it. She's always been cool about not hounding me on where I'm going and who I'm with, especially now that I'm older than she was when she had me, but I wouldn't have felt comfortable bringing anyone home for the night even if she'd never explicitly said I couldn't. Given that Whitney was polite enough not to do that around me, it would seem pretty rude not to do the same for her.
Basically, I was starting to feel like a slacker.
I've never been the kind of girl who felt the need to compare myself to other people and what they were doing. Most of the time it's lies or half-truths anyway. Everyone knows people photo-shop their pics on Facebook and Instagram, they don't talk about their cheating escapades, the last time they got fired, or the eating disorders or drinking habits they slip into when no one's watching. It's not that I don't take pride in myself or want to do anything special with my life. I did graduate high school, and I've held the same job, lame as it is, for almost two years now. I jog a few times a week, enough to be mostly satisfied with my body, even if no one would put it on the cover of a fitness magazine. I'm pretty okay with who I am.
Still, laidback as Whitney is, she's always encouraged me to be independent. If she could do something on her own, she would, and she wanted me to be the same way. So staying in her house, even if she never said anything about it, was starting to make me feel on edge.
I had an all new appreciation for Whitney when I started researching rentals, though. Any place that was even remotely livable was far beyond what my minimum wage barista job was going to afford. And that was without adding in utilities, Internet, phone bills, and car insurance expenses. Not to mention things like food and gas money. How my mother managed to get by as a single mom, almost twenty years ago, seemed miraculous the more I thought about it. Without child support from my loser sperm donor or financial or even babysitting help from her parents, it was a miracle neither of us had starved or ended up living in a cardboard box.
I asked her about it, and she said she'd done a lot of things that she wasn't proud of to get by. Not sure what she meant, exactly, and I didn't ask. I wasn't sure I wanted to know, because there were a lot of things that came to mind that I knew damn well I wasn't selfless enough to put myself through. But maybe she just meant how hands off she was, as a mom. I mean, anyone whose kid calls her by her first name has to be a little different on the parent scale. I was left home alone a lot, not so much because Whitney trusted me to take care of myself, as out of necessity since she couldn't afford a babysitter or daycare.
I didn't really mind though. Whitney didn't get mad when I screwed up very often, still doesn't. I guess she figured she screwed up enough before I was even in the picture that it would be pretty hypocritical to expect more out of her kid.
"All I ask is that you learn something from mistakes, Caitlin," she said on more than one occasion. "If you can't learn from mine or someone else's, make sure you learn from your own. I trust you're smart enough to do that. That's what life's about, trust and learning. I gotta trust my own kid to handle herself."
I have, mostly. Still, with no college degree, limited credit, and even more limited finances, it was going to be hard to rent even a shack on my own. Whitney offered to pay up to $250 a month towards a place- she said it was getting her off way cheaper than if she was paying towards college tuitions. Still, the most I could afford was another $300, which even put together barely would rent me a closet.
The obvious solution was finding a roommate. Problem was, no one I knew wanted to be that solution. Most of my high school friends had either gone on to college and already had their own pads, lived with boyfriends or girlfriends, or else had ended up in jail or rehab recently enough that I wasn't about to make an offer and end up in their drama web. I asked around for friends of friends, but it seemed like everyone in my circle of acquaintances was settled somewhere for the time being.
I'd been trying really hard to avoid putting out Facebook market ads and posts, but in the end it was the only thing I could think of, short of putting a wanted ad in the paper. And since no one over the age of 70 reads those, and I don't really want a senior citizen or baby boomer as my new pal, Facebook ads it had to be. I wasn't stupid enough to post on Craig's List or Backpage, mainly because I like having all my organs still inside my body instead of in pickle juice in some very unconventional snacker's fridge. I made sure the ad was straight forward about what I wanted, not that I expected anyone to pay much attention. My brief experience with dating sites has proved the creepier people are, the less they read and comprehend. Still, I don't think I was asking too much.
"Female roommate wanted," I wrote. "18-25 years old, must be willing and able to pay $300 rent per month. Reasonable with noise, mess, and sexual partners- nothing that invites roaches, neighbor complaints, or makes me feel like you're recruited me as an unwilling extra on your private porn movie. No drugs in the rental- I'm not willing to get jailed or kicked out for your recreational activities."
That was it. The full list of my very minimal requirements in the kind of person I could stand to live with for at least a year. And yet the first few people "auditioning" to be my new roomie still managed to scale beneath that very low bar.
The first two people clearly need to go back to second grade and study the vocabulary list they didn't pay close enough attention to, because they didn't seem to comprehend the part where I had requested a roommate who was female. I don't know if they thought they were so sexy I would change my mind on that prerequisite, or if in Taylor's case, he figured having an ambiguously gendered name was close enough. But come on, I was taking a big enough gamble in living with a girl I didn't know. Putting a guy and his penis in the equation only upped the potential for disaster in a way I had no desire to risk.
The third responding person was female, finally, and she actually seemed pretty cool, definitely the sort of person I could see myself befriending. And I can't say that she had reading comprehension skills, exactly, because as it turns out, my ad wasn't quite as clear as I thought it was. I forgot to specify that I was only looking for ONE female roommate. Her two female children, both still in diapers, were not actually welcome or included in the deal.
The fourth person hit all the correct buttons of female, young, childless, and financially responsible. I was frustrated enough by then that I almost agreed within two minutes that she was the one, but thankfully I made myself have the patience to have an actual conversation with her first. Her cheesy Christian t-shirt- "Son-screen saves you from sin-burn!"- was clue number one that this might not be the ideal match-up, but I let that one go. Maybe she was cooler than her t-shirt, or at least less judgmental. But five minutes later, after I'd already been asked about the status of my personal relationship with her Lord and Savior- her Son-screen, I guess- and more than a few suspicious looks cast towards my chakra necklace- rainbow colors looked suspiciously gay, I guess-I was done. I told her I was happy for her to be my roomie, as long as she was cool with having bi-weekly meetings of my Gay Wiccan Democratic Rock Band practices in our apartment. No such band exists, not that it wouldn't be awesome, but she gave me a lecture on the fires of hell and left, and I got a good snicker out of it.
By the end of the first week since I posted the roomie ad, I was almost ready to give up and keep living at Whitney's, slacker feeling be damned. It was starting to be more aggravating than amusing to weed through the respondents. I was starting to suspect that the only people left in need of a roommate had very good reasons why no one had snatched them up.
But then Sasha Thomas called.