You graduate from college in New York. You go insane. You decide to press pause on graduate school and throw yourself full throttle into the wild world of the Manhattan job and real estate markets. If you’re lucky (I know I’m lucky, very lucky), you have a grandmother who lives in North Jersey, on a convenient bus route to Port Authority, and everyone decides you should crash there while looking for a place and a job. It’s better than if your parents lived in North Jersey, because then they’d insist you live with them forever and cleverly sabotage your attempts to get a place in Manhattan with your friends. But no one expects you to live with your grandma forever, just for a month, maybe, or until she finally gives up her big old house for a smaller one or until one of the recently-born great-grandchildren grows up and needs a guest room at Grandma’s.
You move in haphazardly – your suitcases are scattered around New York, at friends’ apartments you were crashing at, delaying the inevitable. (One had an empty room for sublet, but it was in a basement and no cell service and they’re a bunch of dirty hipsters.) God, taking suitcases on NJ Transit buses is a pain and the people who ride NJT out of Manhattan in the middle of the day on weekdays are crazy. A father and (adult) daughter who speak in abruptly final sentences, call each other “sweetie”, and are way too into Harry Potter – they went to see that HP exhibit in Midtown, obviously – keep trying to talk to you while you’re in the middle of a 20-page description of a freaking doorway in The Name of the Rose. They offer you a ride somewhere when you get off the bus at the same Park & Ride but, no, you see your grandma’s handicapped plates (ankle problems) and you hop in.
The house is full of pictures. You have an entire shelf in the cabinet devoted to a shrine to your face. Here is you when you were tiny and your hair was three times the size of your head. Here is you with Tigger. Here is your Aunt Diane, who passed away before you were born. Here is your Communion photo, here is your dad’s Communion photo, here is your grandfather’s Communion photo. Here is your grandmother’s wedding photo, here is your aunt’s wedding photo, here is your cousin’s wedding photo. You wonder if your grandma will ever have a picture from your wedding to put up.
The refrigerator is full of faces of relatives you don’t know who sent your grandma cards with pictures on them. Sending cards with pictures on them is a big thing that families do, you gather, and you wonder if you’ll ever do something so domestic. Now that you think about it, your mother does it too, after she got remarried, though those pictures were never as elaborately organized as some of these North Jersey Italian Christmas card photos seem. Your grandmother explains to you who sent every picture and how they’re related, but how the heck can anyone follow that? Someone needs to publish a family tree cheat sheet you can carry around so you can follow Grandma’s conversations.
You begin, gradually, to get drawn into Old People Events. Are you going to be in the city tomorrow night? Grandma asks, and if not, will you go out with her and her friends to dinner? You hesitate, no, no plans, but you don’t want to intrude, and obviously that’s the wrong answer because now you are definitely going out to dinner with them. Your dad texts you saying you’re a saint. You remind yourself that this is only temporary, that you’re lucky to have a grandma so close, lucky to have a chance to spend time with her, and that old people can be unexpectedly interesting.
You find yourself accidentally wondering completely inappropriate things – did Grandma and Grandpa have a good sex life when he was still alive? Has she ever had sex with anyone besides him? Does she have a secret kinky side? – and then feeling horrified at yourself, trying to stop thinking, only thinking about it more, and now OH MY GOD, I’M THINKING ABOUT IT AGAIN, MAKE IT STOP. You think, maybe when you’re old and having wild kinky sex all the time, you’ll remember your younger self’s horror at the possibility of Grandma-sex and laugh.
The local news is always on. (How is it always on? Is 24-hour local news a thing?) Your grandma always falls asleep watching it. A teenager is always in a coma after being hit by a drunk driver. The stock market is always down. There are always new findings about negative health effects of things you use every day. The house is always clean, she does the toilets every day. Kids are always too busy to spend time with their parents. Your dad never tells your grandma anything about his job or his life, she says, and you think that’s too bad, but what do you ever tell your dad? You miss your grandpa; when he was alive, baseball was always on.
You’ve finished all your real books and now you’re kindle-ing whatever books you can, Project Gutenberg books, books on BDSM, the entire Dune series. You’re not a student anymore, you can read whatever you like and never be held accountable for it. But you’re not a student anymore, so reading now might be a waste of time better spent sending in job applications. You think about applying for MFA Writing programs but you feel too inadequate. You think about how all great writers probably had to live with grandmas at some point, but you realize that most not-great-writers probably had to too.
You have a meeting with a landlord on Friday and you don’t want to consider the possibility that this apartment will fall through. Your dad’s agreed to cosign and you remind yourself again that you’re lucky, lucky, lucky. You quit whining into your new-fangled typing machine, pull on your pants and your smile, and go entertain your lonely old grandma.