This follows on from Twenty-Two, and before that, Twenty-One, and before that, Twenty, and before that, Nineteen, and before that, Seventeen & Eighteen, and before that, Sixteen, and before that, Fourteen & Fifteen, and before that, Twelve & Thirteen, and before that, Eleven, and before that, Seven Through Ten, and before that, Zero Through Six.
2003, aged twenty-three: On my twenty-third birthday, we have lived in Charleston for nine weeks, occupying one half of a basement flat in a big stone house on Charlotte Street. This is the first place we have lived together, Sean and I, without other people, and though the rooms are tiny, the ceilings low, and the outlets placed, curiously, halfway up the walls, we love it because it's ours. The bathroom linoleum is checkered black and white, the most glamorous thing I've ever seen.
When we arrive in Charleston in our Penske truck, I have five hundred dollars in the bank. What I want to do is write and I want to get paid for it, so with a determination I force myself to wear like a borrowed shirt, I claw my way to the place I want to be. I cobble together a shaky freelance career---seventy-five dollars here, ten cents a word there---and I am meticulous with my money, religiously writing down whatever I buy. My days pass in a blur of addition and subtraction. One afternoon it snows when I'm walking to an interview; the flakes are like dust motes, almost imperceptible, but I grin like a loon in the empty street.
Sean is gone a lot, working nights and weekends, training Navy recruits in nuclear engineering. I make a friend, Melissa, in the bath accessories aisle at TJ Maxx. She is nine years older but we are alike in so many ways: writers, list-makers, chlidren of parents from afar. Years later, on my wedding day, Melissa will stand next to me in a tiny seaside chapel in California and read aloud Psalm 29 as the afternoon sun streams in through the high stained glass windows, but here, now, at the cash register in TJ Maxx, we just scribble our numbers on old receipts and I walk back, hopefully, to my car.
I take a tutoring job for which I am wholly unqualified. Through some combination of charm and courage, I talk the owner into paying me fifteen dollars an hour, and on my first day I am confronted with long division, a particular horror I haven't encountered in years. John William, my fourth grade charge, is suitably fooled by my peripheral knowledge but I leave the tutoring studio with a math book under my arm: homework for the evening. Cross-legged at the coffee table, I study it anxiously and am relieved to find that long division is much like riding a bike; the knowledge comes back when it needs to. In the weeks that follow, John William and I are amused by each other, cautiously and deferentially. My British accent makes John William giggle. I glggle when John William calls me "Ma'am."
My family is living in Singapore and Sean and I fly out in May to see them. It is our first long flight together, and we miss our connection from Charleston to Detroit, which means we miss the entire flight altogether. We slink back to our apartment in our flying clothes, suitcases heavy behind us, and head back to the airport the next morning to try again. When we arrive in Singapore, the airport is bright and crowded at midnight, the promise of my parents just steps away on the other side. I walk faster towards them, spurred by a surging relief. For ten days, I don't have to think about what we'll have for dinner. What a glorious feeling, I realize, to know that someone else will be in charge.