There was first the dorm room in Tempe because it was a three-hour flight from all I had known. After one semester, I moved to an apartment off campus where I had my first experience with roaches. They’d scurry down the sink drain when the lights came on, and I’d spray insecticide after them and then pour vodka and run hot water while drinking a beer, all to no avail.
There was the band house in Detroit where after-gig parties turned into morning walks with bags and boxes of bottles for the ten cent deposit, which was a significant part of my income. I got lucky after a few of those parties, was briefly engaged, briefly happy before she called it off for being unhappy, not with me, per se, but with life. She handed me the ring with its tiny, cloudy diamond—which I was still paying off at $20 per month—and drove away to parents, to the place she still called home.
There was another off campus apartment, this time in Columbus, this time with a high school friend who engaged but wasn’t sure if it was going to work. It did though. It held, and he moved into a marriage and a home on the north end of town so I then used part of my school loan to buy an amplifier and a speaker and a keyboard and stored them in the empty bedroom. I used them in two new bands and was living the dream until they both broke up shortly after graduation.
There was my van, the band van, which I stuffed with an amplifier and a speaker and a keyboard, and other things, for a five-day trek to Seattle. My acoustic guitar rode shotgun and hummed a little with each bump in the road. In back, there was space between the seats for sleeping—I’d made sure of that—a cooler for beer and sandwiches, a few notebooks to scribble in. Each morning, I woke to something new out the window, initially flat farmland, then high grassy plains, then mountains.
There was the couch of another high school friend when I finally made it to Seattle. He smiled when I knocked on his door, took me out for coffee, then beers. It was meant to be temporary, of course, while I searched for a place of my own. There was also the brief hope of more music and bands and maybe even grad school, but all that relented after just three weeks as I gave in to the desire to keep going, to keep heading further west, so I sold the van and everything it contained and bought a plane ticket.
There was the roach-laden apartment in Seoul where my girlfriend and I would spray insecticide into crevices between the wall and the ceiling and suck the critters into the vacuum—which we’d also sprayed—when they came charging out in attack or panic. We weren’t sure which, but it didn’t matter because we won. We toasted with soju and then beer and thought the place our own. It was temporary though. Wins over roaches always are.
There were four more shared apartments in Seoul, shared with the same woman and different roaches, shared where unhappiness became our signature on the lease as flower pots were smashed into my head, shared where there was no cheating but where accusations were the norm of what little conversation there was, “You know what’s wrong with you is that…”, shared because I had no van to sell for a plane ticket, but unshared, finally, when the only escape was a secret flight from a last paycheck, unpaid rent, and no goodbye. I heard later she moved back home.
There was a rented house on six isolated acres of Camano Island north of Seattle where I would stand alone outside looking up at the stars wondering which house would be next, which apartment in which city, which direction on I-5 or I-90 my car would take next. I saw the International Space Station zoom across the sky on one of those nights. It was just a dot travelling west to east and was gone in a few moments. My picture of it was a blur, but it reminded me of another dot, one pale and blue, also zooming, orbiting, one that was also home to creatures who couldn’t sit still for all the places they wanted to be.
Dave O'Leary is a writer and musician living in Seattle. He's had two novels published (The Music Book, Booktrope, 2014 and Horse Bite, Infinitum, 2011) and has had work featured in Slate.com, the Monarch Review, and the Portland Book Review. Both of his novels featured poetry mixed in with the prose, and now he is at work on his first full-length collection of poetry. Find him on Twitter: @dolearyauthor