BLOOD ON THE WINDOW: COLLEGE FLASHBACK
My sister Elizabeth’s birthday was May 9th. She’s in Edinburgh getting her PhD now, but somehow her birthday brought up a memory from about 15 or 16 years ago. At the time, she and I shared an apartment in a complex called Fox Hollow in Gainesville, Florida. We were both going to the University of Florida and trying to conserve funds.
Fox Hollow was a dismal place—our upstairs neighbors were always arguing and stomping around--and our lot as starving college students was somewhat dismal, too. I had a temporary OPS job on the campus working as a writer for an insane vampy boss who scared the shit out of me, and Elizabeth was working somewhere on the university, too. But it wasn’t enough money, so we were always scratching around for the rent. We did have student loans, but the student loan people were like some kind of secret police. They'd haul us in for questioning and delay our money for months. One time they even audited me, making me provide the contracts for the short stories I'd sold, most of them for $20 to $50. ("But you're a published writer," the dumb-ass behind the glass would say. "You must be making money." "I'm publishing in Shithole Quarterly and Trucker's Crack Journal," I'd reply. "You don't make money publishing there.")
To help us survive food-wise, we used to make this insane pasta dish. It was either long noodles or little pieces of pasta in a white cheese sauce we simmered in a pan first, and which almost always congealed or burned and then became all loopy and salt-water-taffy-ish when applied to the pasta. Then we’d add mushrooms, broccoli, and squash to it and heat it all up in one huge pot. Then that pot would last us a few days. We’d kinda just eat off of this big congealed ball of white pasta. It literally might last a week (although we didn’t eat just it exclusively the whole week—that would have been too gross).
The apartment was also kind of sad because it housed three dogs and four cats at one point. We were a little too sympathetic to strays. I remember that we used to try to pretend the three dogs were actually two or one, because they were all Samoyed mixes, and we didn’t want to pay the fee for having three dogs, and weren’t even sure three dogs were allowed. (Although one of them, named Puppy, turned out to not be the full-breed Samoyed I’d been promised but, somehow, a cocker spaniel/Samoyed mix. Elizabeth got no end of enjoyment out of me insisting that “eventually he’ll get bigger.” He never did. He did, however, eat spoons and forks, with no ill effects, for whatever that's worth.)
So it was a crowded, small apartment with a lot of animal smells in it. And one day we’re standing there by the kitchen window eating from our ball of hardy white pasta—the Death Star of pasta dishes—when we hear a commotion upstairs and suddenly blood starts streaming down the outside of our window. We just kind of stood there, holding our forks of impaled pasta with our mouths open, watching the blood come down in a wave. In our crappy little apartment full of animals. I'd never seen anything like it. Was the world coming to an end?
And I turned to Elizabeth and said, “There’s got to be a better life out there somewhere.” I can’t remember if we thought that was funny at the time or if it was too grim to be funny.
Turned out that our neighbors had had a fight on their balcony above us and the blood was from somebody’s head wound. We didn’t bother to go outside and check on them. After all, they’d bled all over our window. The bastards.
It’s kind of funny now that we’re all grown up and pursuing successful careers. Although whenever I see that kind of pasta in the store, I think about that apartment and the blood on the window.