The Young Apartment Girlfriend

Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

“The noiseless wheels of my car
rush with a crackling sound over
dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling,” (WIlliams 3.1-3).

Standing in the dog-food aisle of Walmart, I think about driving into the Missouri River. Not seriously, just as a concept. My hands are caffeine-shaking as they hover over the bagged and boxed treats, under caustic fluorescent light. I didn’t know it was possible for the muscles in my chest to hurt this intensely, but they can, because they are. I can feel these discreet muscles pulled over my breast bone, and they are sore when I hunch my shoulders inward, falling in: An anatomy under low-grade but very prolonged stress. I grab various dog treats in red bags from my peripheral and clutch them in the crooks of my arms as my peripheral vision blurs and I power walk out of the aisle. 

Behind the steering wheel at the far end of the dark parking lot I wrinkle my nose thinking about these cases of mothers who drove themselves and their kids into large bodies of water. I don’t want to do something like that, but for the first time in my life, I seriously understand the impulse. I empathize with feeling so overwhelmed and not being able to fully comprehend the sources of stress, not being able to completely understand their origins or legitimacy or whether they even exist or if you are just ultimately more incompetent than others when navigating the daily sequence of adult-life boredoms. 

Behind the steering wheel I rapidly peel various processed, dyed, high-carbo-cal snacks from their thin plastic and shove them into my mouth without any enjoyment, eyes glazing over, wrappers thrown on the passenger seat, falling into the center cupholders and the floor, feeling wafers and powdered sugar and caramel coat my tongue and my inner cheeks. This is all unconscious,  I’m uncomfortably filling my stomach, then suddenly, my stomach is uncomfortably full. It is a great disconnect between subject and her actions and the object. I want to scream but I am a cramped fist. Key in the ignition, off to home.

“Then again she comes to the curb

to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands

shy, uncorseted, tucking in

stray ends of hair, and I compare her

to a fallen leaf,” (Williams 2.1-4).

Internet dog training literature takes up 100% more time in my day than it did when we moved here, more time than it ever has.

I have been working from home since we moved here, both allowing and forcing me to quit my second weekend job at the market. Yes, now I work from home, clean the apartment, wipe the ambiguous liquids from the shelves of the fridge, clean stray hairs and urine drops from the rim of the toilet in my free time because someone must.

“Do you want to get a dog? We should get a dog. You’re so lonely here during the day.”

We adopt a beautiful tricolor mutt from a local shelter who was recently forfeited because his family could no longer handle the financial responsibility. He is super playful and friendly and cannot stand to be alone. He barks a high-pitched, frantic bark if we try to leave him alone in the apartment, scratching at the door to try to reach us, find us. It takes him a long time to calm down as we assure him we will not be leaving him alone, shaking and panting and whining, ears back.

One early morning, I attempt to leave him alone for five minutes so I can swap a load of laundry in the building basement. In his frantic attempts to reach me, he turns the lock on the door, locking me out. I then have to call my boyfriend at work so he can come home and let me in. All the while, the panicking dog stands behind three inches of door feeling so scared,unable to fix the situation. My neighbors are pissed. I gaze down the hallway and feel their angry breath behind their doors. It is seven a.m. and my dog is panic-barking nonstop and for the moment there is nothing I can do, I am literally living some Kafkaesque nightmare.

I tell my boyfriend in a wry and self-deprecating tone that I finally understand, in some way, those mothers who drive themselves and their children into rivers. He furrows his brow and looks quite uncomfortable, “Heyyyyy now, how can I help?”

I tell a friend, in a wry tone, that I finally understand those mothers who drive themselves and their children into rivers, off bridges–and I don’t even have real kids yet, I’m just managing a small household and taking care of an anxious dog! Their mouth drops, they pause and say, “Are you okay, sweetheart?”

My mother calls from the east coast and I tell her, in a wry but tired tone, that I finally understand those mothers who drive themselves and their children into rivers. She roars with laughter, bouncing into my ear from the other end of the line. She knows; she knows. Then she says in her tender tone, “You need to be taking care of yourself, Munchie. But you can always come home, if you need to.”

Sometimes I am on my back and I can feel the outer edges of my life inches above my hips, my chest, my lips, my brow ridge; too close to really make out, size up, but I can definitely feel their heat.

“At ten a.m. the young housewife

moves about in negligee behind

the wooden walls of her husband’s house.

I pass solitary in my car,” (Williams 1.1-4).

I could carefully scrawl, “You have nothing to be sad about,” in loopy cursive on the bathroom mirror and then spray eco multipurpose household cleaner over it and paper-towel it off, realizing the self-indulgent melodrama.

I start a beginner-level obedience class with my dog in which we are told to put a choker collar on them and pop it tight when they disobey the commands. I feel that this training is necessary, but it also breaks my heart and makes me want to cry and give my tender dog pets.

There is a spray of glass on the front steps of the apartment building. At first I think someone shattered a beer bottle magnificently. I imagine someone raising it over their head, with their arm wound back, and cracking the bottle down as hard as they can. After stepping back from the steps I see that there is a hole through the window on the second story and a thick glass tumbler, unbroken, lying in the grass. Did someone throw a glass tumbler through the second-story window?

The glass remains all day and I gently maneuver my dog around it each time I take him out for a walk. At dusk I put my dog in his crate with a toy stuffed with peanut butter. He watches me as I walk away, but does not start barking. I grab my keys and my broom, walk out to the front steps, and sweep the shards into a little pile out of the direct walking path. A couple in the basement apartment is arguing loudly as I sweep: “She never fucking liked you! Never fucking liked you!” My boyfriend has been in St. Louis all week doing job training and will be starting an even better job on Monday, and he will be home soon. 

I walk back down the hallway, can hear my dog’s frantic barking from down the hallway. What was that poem from undergrad where I learned by rhyme and meter and the lack-of? At the time I loved the turns of language, the imagery, the sneer, but now the thought of it again made me wrinkle my nose. I now empathized with the poet’s subject rather than the poet’s speaker in a way I couldn’t have understood before. What a tidy little narrative, the poet created. Did he ever wonder about his subject’s? A quick internet search reveals “The Young Housewife” by William Carlos Williams.