I was feeling cosy and content last night, lying on the couch in my newly-remodeled living room, clicker in hand, when Annabel started going bonkers at the window. She'd been hanging out on her window seat, then she started jumping up and down, batting at the window.
Bug, I figured. She kept it up. But I couldn’t see a bug, then I noticed that there seemed to be a splotch on the window. Weird. So I dragged myself over there to look. Yep, bird poop. No way to clean it off, either. I live on the second floor. And it’s odd. Five years in this apartment and it's never happened before. So I looked out the window, and up, taking into consideration the gutters, then asked Annabel “How did that bird manage that, anyway?”
And I was suddenly having a flashback.
I had done a similar thing one spring night in 1988. I lived in a garden floor apartment in Des Plaines, Illinois. I was standing in the bedroom when I noticed some odd stains on the window. I went closer and looked at them, looked out, and up. Sheer brick wall. And I asked Charlie, my cat, who was sitting on the window sill, “How are those birds pooping on that window like that?”
The answer to my question was: Birds weren't. But I wouldn't know that for a couple of months. This was only the first odd thing that I noticed in a series of odd things that, together, add up to just about the scariest thing that's ever happened to me.
I haven’t thought about that spring, and Jose Mendoza, for many years. But I remembered him pretty clearly last night. He was in his early 30s then, not bad looking. A little guy: Only a couple inches taller than me and he had probably 30 pounds on me. He was married, three small kids. He lived two floors above me. Well, us.
This is unfortunately complicated, but it’s relevant, so I’ll explain.
I was living in my boyfriend’s apartment. But not with him, exactly. It was an odd situation, an odd time for both of us. Eric had graduated Beloit College a few years earlier, with an English degree, and had been slowly losing his mind working as a technical writer. He couldn’t take it—the ties, the office. He’d played lacrosse in college, he’d hiked the Grand Canyon, alone, for a month. He was often like a fidgety kid, he needed to move. And not only that, he wanted to be a real writer. Oh, and a cowboy, too.
What to do? You can’t really be a cowboy if you’ve grown up in Wilmette and graduated New Trier and you have lawyer parents. What you can do, however, is go to truck-driving school at night, secretly, then, once you have a job, announce to your parents that you’re going out on the road to earn some money while you see the country and gather material for the next Great American Novel. Which is exactly what he did.
And while Eric was working on his plans, I was working on mine. I was working full-time at the publications firm he was leaving. I was taking 6 to 9 hours a semester at the local community college. I was bartending in a blues club on weekends. I was furiously saving money and trying to get As in my classes because I was headed to university full-time in the fall.
We'd been together for about 18 months. And we hatched a transition plan in which we'd live together for about 6 months, until his lease was up in August, then I'd go to DeKalb and he'd do a house share somewhere in the city. The future beyond that, for us, was uncertain. We both knew that, because we both had big ideas for ourselves, and none of them were domestic. Which is probably why we worked; we got that about each other. It was an exciting and stressful time. We were both negotiating big changes and we were both crazy busy. We had trouble communicating sometimes--in the normal boy/girl way, that is, but also logistically. But it was working fine. Life was pretty great, in fact. And then, just a few weeks after the weird stains appeared on the window, my underwear started disappearing.