My back against the staircase wall, I braced one foot against the banister. I didn’t dare swipe at the tears streaming down my face. It took both hands on the mattress’ flimsy handle to keep it from sliding down the stairs. Again.
Welcome to adulthood.
Just one month earlier I had been a carefree student. I crammed for finals and ignored the unpleasant fact that I did not have a job lined up.
And then I was done. College was over. I landed back in my old bedroom in my parents’ house. Boxes of costly textbooks found their first après-school home in the garage. I would lug those books around for years, their numbers dwindling as they fell victim to the hazards of basement life. Principles of Cost Accounting would be lost to a sewer backup, Microeconomics to a family of mice.
It isn’t that I hadn’t tried to find a job. In the dark ages before the internet, we researched prospective employers at the library. I researched diligently. We had our resumes professionally printed and sent them out with cover letters, hand-typed on creamy vellum. I typed and mailed profusely. But the perfect, glamorous job did not materialize. No job materialized.
After a week at home I was starting to panic when, out the blue, one of the hopeful inquiries I let fly came back to roost. I got a call for an interview, which led to a job offer. A good job offer. It was a couple of states away, and could I start in a week?
My new employer paid for a moving van, a semi so big it had trouble backing up into our narrow driveway. I should have told them a mini-van would do.
I didn’t have much, as I had never lived on my own before. There was a chair, a lamp, a coffee table and my clothes. I had added a stereo and a set of dishes from a garage sale that week. My pitiful belongings were the only things in the van’s cavernous hold. They huddled together, as frightened as I was to be moving to a place we had never even seen.
I tried to keep a stiff upper lip as I waved goodbye to my family and drove off in the little car my parents helped me to buy.
After a week in a hotel I found an apartment on the second floor of a converted old house. I decided to splurge on a bed after a few nights on the ancient couch that came with the place. Finances being what they were, I went to the Salvation Army. They didn’t deliver. But they helped strap the box springs and mattress to the roof of my car. I knew no one in town, save for the few co-workers whose names I was still trying to get straight.
And so I found myself trying to wrestle that damn mattress up the damn, twisting staircase I had thought charming when the landlady showed me the place.
Four years of college had left me with a business degree, a pile of student loans, and an impressive wardrobe of obscenities. I tried on every one of them, hissed through gritted teeth as I paused to catch my breath. I started crying.
Sweating, swearing and crying, the mattress and I wedged between the wall and banister, it occurred to me. For the first time in my life, there was no parent or sibling, no friend, roommate or boyfriend to lean on. There was only me to finish this job, and anything else that would come along. And so I did.
I’d like to say some sort of steely resolve, or newfound strength accompanied my epiphany. It wasn’t that dramatic. I wrestled that mattress the rest of the way up the stairs because if I didn’t, that’s where I would be sleeping.
That was when I knew I was a grownup.
What was your moment of truth?