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  • it was the fourteenth apartment we looked at that we could afford, the fourteenth apartment in a shitty part of town. the cheap white paint peeled off the walls and the small studio smelled entirely of stale cigarette smoke, as if the smoke never dissolved, but communed between the walls for all this time. the woman showing the apartment looked at us, bored and stifling yawns between an unenthusiastic tour. we could hear the neighbor’s television blare some four o’clock programming.

    we gave her the “thank you, we’re still looking but we will be in touch” that we gave the thirteen others that came before her.

    allison and i walked in silence to the car. i started the car and we braced ourselves for the cold air that would rush out of the vents, rubbing our gloved hands together. with rosy cheeks, she looked at me and said, “i don’t want to live in any of these places.” allison was not a snob. years of financial hardship had taught her that she couldn’t be picky, but she knew that she could not live in a place that reeked of marlboro reds and informed us of our neighbors’ preferred basic cable programs.


    I met allison three years ago in a biology class for liberal arts majors. i sat behind her, spending the lectures watching her doodle. she would draw pictures of skeletons and cemeteries and abandoned houses and she fascinated me. i was twenty-four, barely a sophomore in college and aimlessly searching for any inkling of what iwantedwith my life. allison introduced herself to me suddenly one tuesday after class. i took her for coffee and i knew that i was in love with her right away.

    you never realize the implications of being in love with somebody until you are sitting in your shitty car with them, looking at studio apartments in the bad part of town.


    “i love you,” i told her suddenly.

    she looked at me, her green eyes uninterpretable. “greg, i think i should go home.” allison was from ohio, her parents deceased. her voice broke. “i think i should go live with cynthia and the kids, and i wouldn’t have to pay rent and i could finish school and-“

    “i don’t understand.”

    she begins to sob, black makeup staining her cheeks. “i just- i just can’t do this anymore. we can’t live like this. we will never be happy living like this.”

    allison had lost her job a few months before and we were living off my menial income. she stayed with me in an apartment with my roommate, but the lease was up and the roommate was moving out of state. we had no choice but to find our own apartment; i had no choice but to support both of us on barely $1000 a month.

    “you’ll find a job soon. you don’t have to go,” i said quietly. “i can get another job, please.”

    “you can’t work two jobs and go to school,” she insisted. “and you can’t be a line cook forever.” she was right.

    i began to think about every mistake i had made over the past five years that would have changed our situation. i thought about the failed classes and the rejected job applications and the time i didn’t take myself seriously enough to accept an offer to be an assistant manager. “i’m sorry,” i told her. “this is all my fault and i’m sorry.”

    she reaches across the car and puts her arms around my neck. “i don’t want to go. i just don’t want to do this to you anymore.”


    some years later, i received an e-mail from allison. i was working as a sales manager at a car lot, finally able to afford a mortgage payment. she was in town for the week on business, and wanted to meet for lunch.

    we met in a trendy downtown cafe, a few blocks from her hotel. i recognized her immediately and i felt my heart palpitate: she was beautiful, stunning, even. as we ate lunch, she told me about her job as a cartoonist for a small publication in chicago. i picked at my food nervously and told her how i always admired her doodles in biology class; she laughed and told me that if it wasn’t for me, she never would have had the courage to show anyone her work. as she laughed, she swept her bangs to the other side of her face, and i noticed a tattoo on her wrist: an old abandoned house like the ones she would draw in biology all those years ago. she noticed me focusing on it and covered it with her hand, blushing slightly. “i got it after i left,” she said. “i got it so i would always have a guaranteed roof.”


    i often think of allison and the brief time we shared, recklessly in love despite our means. i have had other women in my life, but none come close to the passion i felt for her in my younger and more vulnerable years. i play out scenarios in my head of us meeting later in life, falling in love during a different time where we could have a life together, a guaranteed roof.
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