50 years: twenties

by Rachel Creager Ireland

Part 3 in my series to prove that my birthday this week will be my fiftieth, by presenting a memory from each year. First decade, second decade.

21. My first apartment was in downtown Galesburg, Illinois. It was a beautiful apartment with wood floors, and quaint little windows looking out into the hallway and between rooms. The building had a wide, flat roof, and there were birds that flew around over the roof at dusk. I never saw them, only heard their call, that sounded like “braak, braak.” In my mind, I thought of them as the brack birds. Many years later I learned their real name, nighthawk, probably Chordeiles minor.

22. I graduated from college in 1989. I had no idea what to do, but my parents’ house needed a fresh coat of paint, so I did it, and called it my job. Being in the town where I’d grown up had a strange way of making me feel like a kid again. I wandered around the yard, carrying paint cans and ladders and saying to myself, “I’m twenty-two,” to remind myself of my age. Not seventeen, or fourteen, or ten. “I’m twenty-two.”

23. That winter I was in Madison, Wisconsin. That was where I learned to dress for cold weather. Once there was a blizzard, but my roommate Dennis McGreevy and I very much wanted to see a band that was playing about a mile away from our apartment. The venue was a little bar which I think was called the Willy Bear. Buses weren’t running, so we put on all our clothes, double socks and three or four shirts and a couple sweaters, a wrap around my neck and a woolen shawl around my shoulders and over my face, and more. We walked to the bar through blowing snow that drifted up to our knees. There was hardly anyone else there, so we took off our excess layers and made a pile of clothes that was as tall as my hips. The band played for a dozen people, maybe, and we had a great time and danced so hard we were soaking with sweat by the time they finished. Then we put all our clothes back on, piece by piece, and went back out into the blizzard to walk home.

24. I moved back to Galesburg and ended up in an apartment on Allens Ave. The owners’ daughter lived below me, with her boyfriend and three small children. They were horrid, hateful parents, who didn’t hesitate to call their children “stupid,” or “fuckin’ asshole.” One time they went outside and the kids locked them out. The parents pounded on the door and cussed at their children to open it, while upstairs I was secretly cheering for the kids.

25. By this time I was living in Eugene, Oregon, with an anarchist who was a raging control freak. Don’t knock it, his ideology was probably the only thing that kept him from locking me up in a basement. He was a brilliant gaslighter and loved to pick verbal fights. Once we traveled with a group of people to San Francisco for a conference, which I think was organized by Food Not Bombs. When I got there, I found out that the women had organized an all-day event at a different location, and they talked most of the women into going to their event instead. It was an introduction to Model Mugging, which was a self-defense class in which the male instructors wore body armor and a helmet that looks like a beekeeper’s hood. The women had to defend ourselves in role-playing scenes by kicking the men in the crotch as hard as we could, and poking at the netting that protected their eyes. The men back at the conference were mad at us for leaving them, but that class changed my life. My nightmares of being victimized changed to nightmares in which I fiercely fought my attackers. Then I left the gaslighting anarchist. Walking away from him was the biggest achievement of my life up to then.

26. I knew some people in Chicago, and they invited me to come there when I needed a place to be. My friend Jonathan Joe told me that his girlfriend Amy Carlson was looking for an apartment and could use a roommate, so we got an apartment together with her sister Lori. Amy and I did a lot of intensive partying. Bars close at 2:00AM in Chicago, except for the ones that don’t, which are called four o’clock bars. (Not related to the flower, Mirabilis nyctaginea.) One of the four o’clock bars was the Blue Note, which was on a residential street that didn’t have buses late at night. Amy and I would leave the Blue Note at closing time, walking and eyeing the dark streets for a cab or bus. More than once the sun rose on us as we walked the full two miles home.

27. Amy got an exciting job in New York and moved away. Abbey Ripstra moved in, then, later, Mary Vukovic. Abbey was an artist I knew from Knox. Mary had a septum ring and tattoos. I though she was super cool. Mary introduced me to the music of Mazzy Star, Leonard Cohen, and Beck.

28. I only worked part time while I went to massage therapy school, so I was usually broke. But I was dating an amazingly cool bass player who waited tables, so he always had cash. Sometimes I would sheepishly ask if I could borrow five dollars for bus fare to get to school and back, and he would open his wallet and hand me a twenty.

29. The bass player and I had been living together for a while when we adopted two kittens who were left at Empty Bottle, where he worked. By the next day they were exploring the apartment, while I delightedly followed them, laughing and exclaiming with amazement, “I love you!”

30. I moved back to Kansas because I wanted someone to be closer to my aging parents. Their house was big and eerily quiet. Sometimes I would stare at the ceiling and see lines of yellow energy zigzagging around up there. If I got out my violin and played for a while, the energy would shift to purple, which I preferred.