Nick and I found a new place just a few blocks from where we’d been living. It was a rent-to-own situation and we absolutely loved the house. We settled in with Kitty and Puppy. I started my job at UND and Nick got a job as a night auditor at one of the Hotels in town. I drove to Minot the first chance I had; I wanted to see my friends. Joe took me outside to smoke and told me about a movie he’d seen recently, maybe his favorite movie ever:
These two guys grew up together. When they were adults, one of the friends married a woman and started a family. But then he died. So the best friend moves in with the wife to help her with the kids. Then the widow and the best friend fall in love and they live happily ever after. I scoffed, tossed my smoke across the street. I said, “Yeah, that’s never gonna happen.”
Joe was pissed; he was totally not hitting on me at all. I asked him the name of the movie. He didn’t remember it. Mm hm.
When the weather got bad and I was afraid to drive, Janet and Justin would drive the three hours to come get me and take me back to their house in Minot for the weekend. Some friends are forever friends. Nick and I were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with Joyce and Jerome. We packed the car and put Puppy in the car and got to the edge of town before turning around and heading back home. Neither of us felt up to Joyce’s illnesses, misrememberings, and disregard for the feelings of others.
In nice weather, I’d go back and sit in Sean’s back yard with him, smoking and talking. He still seemed to be doing ok. They had a nice house, two sweet little girls, a job he liked, a dog Amy loved. He helped me remember things. We talked about Tonia, and how neither of us knew how bad she’d gotten. We talked about how much we hated how Joyce insisted on calling AJ our sister, erasing Tonia. Sean said Joyce kept telling his girls about being haunted by Tonia, as well as the rest of her usual schtick, and he and Amy had decided to keep the girls away from her.
Meanwhile Joyce would call me on the phone and talk and talk and talk. I usually just set the phone on the desk beside me and went on with my designing and other things for work while she chattered on about AJ and AJ’s dog Diablo, and Jerome and his dog Paige. After she’d refused to keep Monica’s dog for one month, she now had two dogs living in her house. Joyce also told me Dan was divorced and where he was living. When I asked why I’d care about that, she told me she knew he was my one true love and maybe I could get him back. I was too grief stricken to try to fight with her.
Farrah married Jesse. They held the ceremony on the MSU Summer Theatre stage. The reception was like a Campus Players reunion. Farrah made and hand-beaded her wedding dress; it was so beautiful. I was her personal attendant; much better than being a bridesmaid. Noah and Kristen got married and I got to see Adam again. Then Adam and Noah’s sister got married and I got to see Adam again.
I liked most of my coworkers. Kathleen was secretly funny and smoked and drank in her office. Mary was astonishingly smart and equally disorganized. Loren quickly became my best friend. Brad developed a crush on every new woman we hired on as faculty. But Gaye…Gaye came unprepared to the first production meeting of the show she was directing and then told Kathleen it was me who was unprepared. I told Kathleen that was a fucking lie. Gaye came to apologize to me for the ‘misunderstanding’ and told me she understood how I felt about Bram’s death because her girlfriend had broken up with her over the summer.
Not remotely the same.
Gaye and I never got over our bad first interactions.
I set up the costume shop, rearranged it so I could reach everything, and hired assistants. After the first show of my first year, Daphne became my permanent Costume Shop Manager and remains the best shop manager I’ve ever had. I set up a coffee station in the shop and Rachel started bringing bags of day-old goods from the bakery she worked at. They were left at the coffee station and everyone knew they could always come down to our shop for a snack and a cup of coffee. Daphne started ordering pizza on Fridays and ‘Pizza Fridays’ were another way to bring our students together. My shyness and depression kept me from helping with recruitment, but our costume shop was going all out to help with retention.
We decided to offer a Musical Theatre BFA so we hired a musical theatre director, Cherry, and a choreographer, Ali. Both were new positions and given tenure-track lines. We had a person from the music department, Anne, who was our vocal instructor, but Cherry couldn’t get along with her so we were allowed to hire our own voice teacher, Kip. He only stayed a year, though–long enough for Cherry to suggest I give up my office to him. Where would my office be? Nowhere. I didn’t need one, according to her, since I was always in the costume shop.
Screw that. I cleaned out what I thought was a storage room that turned out to be an office from the 1940s that still had the original tiles and other accouterments. Loren helped me get a vintage desk from surplus, as well as some wooden file cabinets and barrister bookcases. I made retro curtains and I had the nicest office in the building. Take away my office, will you?
I needed another class to bring my schedule to 3/3. I was hoping for an intro class, but Kathleen wanted to start a stage management class and so I was chosen to start that. From there, I was put in charge of the Stage Management program that arose, even though I’d never taken a stage management class in my life and had only ever stage managed one show. I asked if there was money to send me to a workshop or a summer program and was told to try to find a professional stage manager who would teach me for free. Yeah, right.
I asked if I could at least assistant stage manage one of our own shows and let one of our students teach me, but it was decided the optics weren’t good. In spite of my feeling that I was teaching a class and heading a program I had no business teaching or heading, it became part of my contract. When I protested, Cherry told me the students loved me. Yay! But totally beside the point. She told me I could sign the contract as is or risk losing my job. So I blundered along, trying to teach myself. I now own just about every Stage Management textbook there is.
Nick and I loved our house. It was close enough to the university to walk or ride my bike to work. We had a small but pretty front yard and a largish back yard, two garages, trees to keep us cool in the summer. The basement was fully finished so Nick could have his own living quarters down there. Upstairs, a large living room and an equally large kitchen. It seems strange to be in love with a house, but we were. And our neighbors were nice, too.
We made the smallest upstairs bedroom into a smoking room for me so I could smoke inside without making the house reek of cigarettes. It was really nice to not have to go out into the freezing North Dakota winter to smoke.
I went to Minot to visit my friends a few times, but no matter how much advance notice I’d give that I was coming, people couldn’t seem to make plans. It became something of a heartbreaking chore to go home, so I didn’t go very often. That meant that I didn’t get to see Sean very much at all and we lost touch again. But it also meant I didn’t have to listen to Joyce carry on about her illnesses and AJ. Joyce was somehow convincing doctors to give her unnecessary medications and surgeries. She was on psych meds but not seeing a therapist. She liked to brag about all the psych meds she, Jerome, and AJ were on.
Jerome had PTSD from his time in Vietnam and it eventually got so bad he had to retire. Joyce found reasons to retire soon after. One time when I was in Minot, AJ called me to ask if I’d go out with them to talk about Tonia. Absolutely. Whatever I could do for Tonia’s kids. AJ was going to school at NDSU, since UND and the aerospace school hadn’t panned out. AJ and their girlfriend had come to town together and were staying at Joyce’s. AJ made the girlfriend stay behind and took me out to a place where another girl was waiting for them.
AJ and the girl then proceeded to ignore me. I was livid. AJ had used me to ditch their girlfriend for another girl and used Tonia as a way to get me to go along. I had to call one of Monica’s friends to come get me. Joyce didn’t see the problem. I quit visiting.
On facebook, Karen was giving away Bram’s art. She asked if anyone wanted a framed piece of Bram’s art for Christmas. I asked her if Bram’s kids were going to get any of thist. She sent us each one sheet of warm up sketches. I think I’m not supposed to know what warm up sketches are because I’m not an artist. I’ve since seen the pieces of art she gave to everyone else: matted, framed, actual paintings and drawings that Bram had intended to be displayed. K got one. I didn’t.
Ronnie told me to forget it because Ronnie is also an artist and he’d taken classes with Karen and come away unimpressed. I told him I didn’t care if she was an artist or not, bad or good or mediocre. I just felt that Bram’s kids deserved more than rolled up warm up drawings torn out of sketch pads. I guess I should’ve given her the cursed funeral book after all.
Back on the west coast, Monica had dumped the bad boyfriend long ago and brought her new guy to Minot to meet me and Nick. I loved Randin immediately. He’s smart and kind and really really wants to learn everything he can about other people. I could tell that he was the boyfriend I’d wished for: someone who respected Monica and how outspoken and fearless she is, who was strong enough to not be overshadowed by her and who loved her unconditionally. He also loved Monica’s Puppy, which sealed the deal.
Right after Monica and Randin and Puppy returned to California, Sue and Trish came to visit me for the weekend! It was amazing; like we’d never been apart. We talked and talked and talked all weekend, still best friends after all these years. Trish was remarried and an architect and told us stories about unreasonable clients. Her kids were married now, too. Sue and Paul are still together. They raised three beautiful girls and the baby Sue had given up for adoption had found Sue. They all loved the ‘new’ sister and it was a happy ending all around.. Sue worked as a cake decorator and told us stories about unreasonable clients. I told stories about unreasonable directors.
The weekend was far too short, but we promised we’d get together again as soon as we could. Monica and Nick finally guilted me into quitting smoking. I bought an e-cigarette and weaned myself off the nicotine and then weaned myself off the behavior. I sure do miss smoking and I sneak smokes every now and then. Nick and Monica said they’d lost one parent and they didn’t want to lose me. I couldn’t argue with that, so I’m now a reluctant ex-smoker.