Cora and I are sitting here at the IHOP in Columbia Heights on Irving Street NW, Washington, DC. It’s Saturday, 3:00 AM, two and a half weeks after I lost my job. We’ve had a great night – dinner at this chic ramen place down on H Street NE that’s owned by one of the members of Animal Collective. Cora’s been trying to get me to this place for over three months now, but it’s always full. They don’t take reservations, and the last time we tried to get in, it was a three hour wait. We wouldn’t have eaten that night until after ten o’clock. Instead, we went to another one of the burgeoning restaurants on the H Street scene. It was good, but we really wanted to check out this ramen place. The first time I ever had quality ramen was when I was still living in Brooklyn. It blew my mind. Tonight, we went down to H Street as soon as I got out of work, which was even a little bit early. Dinner was fantastic, everything we expected it to be. Afterwards, we watched an episode of Project Runway back at her place. Then, we eventually wound up here at IHOP…
“So I finally started working on my memoir project again,” I tell her between bites off my Spicy Ranch Chicken Sandwich®.
“That’s great,” she says, “What about all the problems you were having with it?”
“Well, it’s kind of funny. You know, I woke up super early the other day, and suddenly it struck me – I can end the chapter I’m working on with me losing my job. Just because the forward going story changes doesn’t mean I can’t keep telling it.”
“So where are you now?”
“Well, I’m only about six years back, when I got back to New York the first time for grad school.” I pause, “But I was thinking about starting the next chapter with that discussion you and I had on Monday. I feel like it’s appropriate because it shines a lot of light on our characters and our relationship. It should deepen the reader’s understanding of us…”
Cora stops eating. She gazes across the restaurant at the nothing that exists there. I’d said too much. We’d been having a great night together, and I’d just reminded her of our present moment’s greatest fear. But it’s not right for me to write about our relationship without her permission. I need her approval to continue this project.
Without picking up her fork, she says, “You know, Gabriel, I used to really look forward to reading the parts with me in them, but I don’t think I want to read any more of that book.”
I understand exactly where she’s coming from. I don’t want to write any more of this book. I’m scared about what’s going to happen next. I’ve already revealed more about my past than I ever intended, and as far as the future goes… right now, it’s too unknown.
This past Monday, I admitted to Cora I’d applied to some jobs outside DC, in Boston and New York to be precise. We’d already discussed that possibility. My rent on this basement studio apartment with no oven or stove is $1,000 a month, and that’s a good deal for where I live, an amazing deal for a block from the Metro. My loans, which are in deferment right now, will total $1,000 a month once I start working again. So I shouldn’t really work for less than $60,000 a year if I even want to stay here. I don’t own a car. My COBRA insurance policy is running me $500 a month. I need to look into what I can get on the DC healthcare exchanges. I should be able to shave a bit off my expenses with that. But I only have two months of severance, and my unemployment pays out a measly $378 per week. That’s the maximum Virginia can give, and if you do the math, it barely covers my rent and health insurance. Groceries, travel and entertainment expenses would have to go by the wayside. I have no savings. It evaporated when I started contributing to my retirement account while I was still working. My $1,000 credit limit is maxed out. My investments total $10,000, and $5,000 of that is in a 401(k) right now. I’m waiting to transfer it to an IRA, but it still can’t be touched until I retire. I’m 37 years old. So that money needs to keep building for another 30 years. I don’t have any kids. At the moment, it looks like I could be on my own as an old man. I’m no longer counting on ever making a living as a novelist. If I don’t find work in the next month or so, I’ll have to move back in with my mom in Richmond just to cut expenses and save what little bit of cash I do have left.
Cora said she understood all that, and she supported the decisions I had to make as a result. She said I’d taught her how to be so flexible by supporting whatever would happen with us once law school finally started for her, which it did the other week. But when the real possibility of me leaving DC arose, she panicked. I don’t blame her. We’ve got a good thing going here.
She offered to let me move in with her if I have to. “But I think that might be really hard on your ego,” she’d added, which it would be. Cora lives in a studio as well. Neither one of us would have any privacy. But pride and privacy aren’t my biggest fears. I had a girlfriend move in with me once upon a time under similar circumstances at about the same point in our relationship. We couldn’t make it work. Financial hardship is the absolute worst reason for two lovers to become roommates. It’s not a choice. It’s a trap. Once you live together, there’s no turning back. Moving out causes one person to wonder what the hell went so wrong. Then, the resentments start to build.
Cora and I finish our IHOP meals in relative quiet, casting furtive smiles at one another. She only eats half her omelet. On the walk back to my place, beneath the dark trees dotting Irving Street, I put my arm around her shoulder. It’s just now starting to get cold. She’s wearing her leather jacket again. Fall is finally in the air. Cora leans in closer to me. We turn to each other and embrace. “I’m so scared,” she whispers. “I’m so in love with you.”