I just booked a night in a B & B on University Avenue in Columbia, Missouri, on the same block where I once lived 32 years ago. Thanks to a lovely man who invited me to represent the great state of Kansas at an event in the Missouri state capitol (Jefferson City, just south of Columbia), I have good reason to revisit the first place where I lived on my own, failing often as a newly-minted “adult.”
I moved to Columbia in January of 1979 to transfer to MU after just about finishing my associate’s degree at the marvelous and innovative Brookdale Community College in NJ. My friend Kathy, who went to Manalapan High School and Brookdale with me, was already at MU (where I planned to go), having scouted out the territory. When she came home for winter break, she called and said, “Come out here with me.” That, plus the hell of my living situation a the time, propelled me west, on a series of flights with Kathy that took 17 hours because of a blizzard. We arrived at Kathy’s place — a big house with 8 women living in it on University Ave. — with our 17 pieces of luggage by bus from St. Louis in the middle of the night.
After an obligatory semester in the dorms, I moved into that house which, because of all the frats and sororities around us, we told people was called Feel-My-Thigh. We were eight women, mostly party gals, peppered with a graduate student from Iraq who didn’t exactly suffer us gladly, and the outrageously loving Gayle, our dear friend who died from complications related to cancer in our senior year. The house had six bedrooms, one of which I shared with a gawky blond woman who talked with a twang and had a boyfriend named John. We heard her call that name repeatedly and breathlessly from the dining room, under my bedroom, whenever John visited.
We also had a lot of parties: a Halloween party when half of us dressed as nuns, the Sid Vicious Memorial party, etc.. Boyfriends came and went, friends wove through the living room to the kitchen, rent was due at always the worst time, and there were frequently arguments about who needed to do the dishes or stop eating someone else’s food (guilty on all counts!).
This house is where I first completely supported myself, struggling to pay the bills (my rent was $90/month — it would have been $10 more for a single room, but I didn’t have the $10) through a progression of overlapping jobs. I worked at Dairy Queen (nothing like making Peanut Buster Parfaits while hung over), a mom-and-pop grocery, a movie theater where the owner was embezzling and hitting on all us girls, and even the graveyard shift at the campus newspaper (my job was to shuffle the assembled newspapers coming down the conveyer belt to make them look neat). I bounced checks, got stood up, fought with friends, made up again, cried over issues with my dad, stayed up all night, learned to make many dishes with the potato, ate a whole lot of cheap mac and cheese, discovered burritos and the secret world of men from some of my more experienced roommates.
Now I’ll go back, having hardly visited Columbia at all although it’s just three hours away (when in Kansas, you always travel west whenever possible because that’s the gestalt of being a Kansan). I’ll find our old house and take a lot of pictures, see what’s still around downtown or on campus, try to get a slice of pizza at Shakespeare’s (where Kathy — or was it me? — once accidentally dropped a whole pizza after exclaiming, “Ah, dinner!”) and wander like I used to wander when I was 19, scared and thrilled out of my mind, and ready for the rest of my life.
P.S. Both Kathy and I fell in love with the Midwest. I’m still here, and Kathy says, “I’m so grateful to my Mizzou and Midwest experience for peeling me off my comfort zone and expanding my horizons.: