I had failed the driving test twice and was now waiting for my third and last try.
Michelle didn’t mind driving, but I minded. It was my car, and I couldn’t go out by myself without breaking the law. She was younger but acted like my big sister. I offered to sell her the car as I was leaving for good, and only my books would travel with me.
We became very careful shoppers as we moved through aisles slowly, comparing brands, adding and subtracting. It was a chore to stick to a pre-determined menu, but it was the only way to stay on budget. We became clever bargain hunters. One whole chicken became dinner on Sunday, tacos on Monday, soup on Tuesday.
We bought day old bread, and house brands. Soups, casseroles and pasta meals kept us full. We learned that leftovers made great lunches, and that eggs filled in anytime we ran out of meat. We ate eggs in omelets, frittatas, soufflés, rolled in tortillas, sandwiched in breads.
By the end of the first month we grew restless and annoyed by small things.
Our first big argument was about toilet paper. We were constantly running out of toilet paper. Well, it was about lots of things, but we only expressed our frustration about toilet paper.
We had two bathrooms, a full one with a bath and shower, and a half one, with a toilet and a sink. Vivian had already pulled out of the food budgeting, buying her own things, milk, cereal, ice cream. She stated firmly that she didn’t spend weekends at the apartment, and should pay less for paper goods. Pretty soon, the girls all began to keep tabs on who used what.
By the end of the second month Tony had moved out; I had the room to myself and had to absorb her portion of the rent. I worried about what else could go wrong. I was going to miss Tony, not just for her contribution to the finances of the place, but because she made friends easily, especially around the complex. It had been her idea to throw an open house party to meet neighbors.
She had a knack for making everyone feel welcome. Out of the blue, she’d start a conversation with someone at the pool, and the next day new people would show up looking for her.
All the fun we were going to have when we lived on our own never materialized. We spent nights working on school projects; weekends shopping and cleaning. We took breaks by walking to the donut shop down the street, or playing ping pong on the patio.
The car was parked permanently, waiting for a windfall to get it fixed. We were back to taking the bus everywhere. We were counting days till June, when each of us could return to the known comforts of home life. I had learned all I could learn about the American way of life.