A Midwestern Room of One’s Own
by Gala Mukomolova
I don’t want to beat around the bush. I mean, I’m not sure where that term originated or what beating bushes has to do with not saying what you mean but whatever the case, I plan to be direct with you. I am writing you while calmly seated in the center of a life crisis. I know this statement has no wow factor. Especially given my stats: late 20’s, lower class, immigrant/American, queer with an MFA. I think ¾ of those have their very own personal crisis hotline.
Fact: I live in the first apartment I have ever lived in on my own. I pay $750 a month, which includes internet and (by forces of pure magic and mystery) utilities. It’s a small storefront one-bedroom, a glass house with no air circulation and bad heat retention. The shower seems to have been cobbled together from a bad home-depot tutorial and has perpetual mold, possibly urchins. There is a squirrel habitat above my living room and a bee habitat on the left side of my house. Undergrad babies wail their party songs into the early hours of morning and walk by my bedroom window drunkenly exclaiming “I’m 21, I’m literally 21.” Still, I wake to sound of garbage trucks or the beating light of the sun through my one accessible window and think: mine, all mine.
Reader, I have earned my solitude. I moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2011, beckoned by an ever-prestigious MFA program that vowed to compensate me handsomely in exchange for my verses. Ah, the dream — I lived it. Here’s what I didn’t know: how to navigate Ann Arbor’s craigslist or a map to scale. Imagine scrolling through ad after ad for roommates with the single description “we are young professionals.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Are you vegetarians? Do you have cats? A chore-wheel? Is there a compost?? I’m a lesbian, I had questions of deep import that no one could answer readily. That is, until I found S. Pros: $450 a month, queer friendly, crystal collecting, Reiki practitioner. Cons: very pregnant.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all about single women choosing to bear children on their own, but S wasn’t on her own. She had a baby daddy who showed up once a week. They would fuck or fight or he would wash our windows. Here’s what never got washed: our bathtub, stained from S’s regular herbal ablutions, the bathroom floor, and anything else that a pregnant woman could find hard to reach.
These circumstances might have been a nuisance but for one factor: one month into school, my father died. Grief dictated much of my life thereafter so I spent most of days sailing on the boat that was my bed, weeping at the ceiling. Lots of things happened: my girlfriend devastated me, S’s best friend moved into my bed in exchange for sex and breakfast, I memorized my bus schedule, S gave birth on my camping mat and I held the baby to her as the midwife pulled out the placenta and all its accouterments. You know, usual first year of MFA stuff.
Ok, maybe not usual, but at least manageable. Manageable, until the best friend decided to clean S’s room, found used heroin needles, and ran to me weeping uncontrollably. Seeing as how S was a “functional” addict who once used heroin to self-medicate, I had just been under the impression that she’d finally gotten the whim for housecleaning. I didn’t know she was shooting up. Well, it so happened she had left only hours earlier, baby in tow, with a dude who looked like he would be perfect as an extra on “Neo Nazis Who Love Heroin,” a documentary. So, of course, because of the baby I had to get involved. I don’t believe in calling cops so I called the midwife. She showed up the next day coated in the scent of marijuana, possibly tripping balls, declared it postpartum depression and cooked up the placenta that had been chilling in our vegetable crisper.
I threw out my camping mat and left town for two months. When I returned, the house was upside down. S, in my absence, had grown convinced that she and the baby had Morgellons disease — a highly fraught, possibly imaginary affliction — brought into the home on the backs of diseased mice. Within two weeks notice, I found my tiny storefront. My $750 a month, leaking walls, mold-creature bathroom, squirrel and bee habitat, hot and freezing as heck, no heroin, no baby-daddy-drama apartment. For at least two years I have lived in lonely bliss.
You might remember that I began this tale by allowing the knowledge that I am in crisis. I’m in crisis because I can no longer afford my well-earned solitude. As adjunct positions dwindle and the cost of living rises, I must concede that Ann Arbor is a place only fit for students on the gravy train of academia, “young professionals”, and settled homebodies.
I am none of those things. Yet, the thought of abandoning the one space that I’ve ever called mine and returning to a life of co-habitating with strangers fills me with dread, placenta-stained dread. I woke up today, looked at all my belonging and thought: should I throw everything out? Should I move back to Brighton Beach and live with my mother in an apartment I refer to as “the chastity belt”? It’s really been a half-Xanax a day kind of week.
But, listen, this afternoon, I got my no-coin washer to run by jostling it, I got my Wi-Fi turned on by sneaking into the (vacated) house next door and finagling our shared router, I got to watch a thunderstorm crack lightening in the sky and a friend came by to sit on my stoop for an hour. That’s Midwest living. I’m soaking it up and then I’m getting the hell out.
Gala Mukomolova is a professional poet and an amateur astrologer. Her Jewish mother is proud of her.