This follows on from 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.
"...and what I remember best is that / the door to your room was / the door to mine."
--I Remember, Anne Sexton
2001, aged twenty-one: I arrive in Virginia at the beginning of the summer, moving into the tiny, shabby house on Marlow Avenue that Sean shares with three roommates, one gregarious, one shy, one never home. His room has slanted ceilings and there's nowhere to unpack my stuff; I set up all my toiletries on the top of his dresser and he doesn't tell me for a month and a half how much this annoys him.
It rains solidly for the first week, a sticky, humid rain, and I half-heartedly scan the job listings in the newspaper and wonder what I'm doing here and why I've come. Sean is out to sea with the Navy for long swathes of time; I walk to the grocery store, buy avocados, make a sandwich, and watch television alone in the living room, perched on a lawn chair in the corner because no-one ever bothered to buy a couch. Summer in Virginia is brutal, and while the house has an air conditioner, the boys are too cheap to turn it on; several afternoons while they are out to sea, I am so hot and miserable that I don't know what to do with myself. I call my mother, who recalls with wistfulness her first sticky Michigan summers, newly-transplanted, not much older than I am now. "Stand in a cold shower with a beer," she says. I stand in a cold shower with a beer.
A few weeks in, I get up the nerve to walk into a bar on the beach and ask if they're taking applications. The next night, I have a job. The bar is called Greenies and the uniform is a black tank top with "Greenies" written in green across the chest. On Friday nights, the other waitresses and I wear the shorter version of this tank top, the one that exposes our midriffs, and because I am twenty-one and brave and confident and because I am subsisting on little more than avocado sandwiches and beer, I wear this midriff-exposing shirt without hesitation. I make an awful lot in tips.
The second week in August, Sean and I pack up all his belongings and load them into a Budget van, and set off at dusk to see America. We take turns driving all night: Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky. I drive us into Louisville just as the sun is starting to come up: the rest of the world is sleeping and I feel like the last person alive. I dimly recall brushing my teeth at a gas station in Indiana, then I'm asleep again, my head against the hot glass of the window while Sean takes over at the wheel, my dreams punctuated with the relentless riffs of the punk songs he's singing along to at the very top of his voice. We stop in Kansas, in Colorado, in Wyoming, in Utah, in Nevada. I win eleven bucks in Reno and Sean loses thirty. We camp overnight on the shores of Pyramid Lake, the only people for miles around, and I think if I ever end up marrying this man, this is where I'd like him to propose, but then again, I haven't ever been to Rome yet. We stop in San Francisco, fall in love. We stay a few days and then drive through the night down to San Diego, our final destination. We sleep the entire day away in a motel then cap it with midnight-foraged burritos and a pint of ice cream from the grocery store. We move his belongings into storage, return the Budget truck, rent a seventeen-dollar car, explore.
Eventually, we fly back to Virginia; the summer is coming to a close. It's almost September and with September comes Sean's deployment, my flight home, and then a few days later the tragedies of 9-11, although we don't know about that one yet. Late one night, sitting cross-legged in the dark on the side of the road, Sean asks if I'll come to San Diego and move in with him once I'm finished with my final year of university in London. I say yes without hesitation. I've always known I would.