I look up at the popcorn ceiling from my place on the floor. I’d planned to scrape that off in short order. And replace the fake-wood laminate counters. And rip up the carpet that smelled like cigarette smoke on good days and cat urine on bad days. But in the end, I’d settled for just tearing off the fruit-bowl wallpaper and painting the walls in several shades of yellow (75% off three already-opened cans at Home Depot) before moving in.
One of Sam’s buddies had agreed to help me move and we’d made trips back and forth from the U-Haul to the house while neighbors sat on their porches watching the goings on, sipping from beer cans. As we’d been struggling to fit the couch through the door, a car had skirted around the U-Haul, through the sparse grass, and pulled into the space next to mine. A comfortably round, black-haired woman had gotten out and trotted up to me.
“Let me help you with that!”
“Oh, thanks!” I’d said as she grabbed one corner and I shifted to the other.
“Ok, let’s try tilting it,” Matt had grunted, and we’d finagle it into a new position.
“The property manager told me that I’d be getting a new neighbor soon. I’m Martina. I live in the unit next door.”
“Nora,” I’d huffed, giving a little shove to get the padded arm through the door.
“I’m so glad to be rid of that miserable asshole. The guy who was here before you- he was so mean! Yelling at my kids if they put a toenail on his side of the yard. Good riddance!” Martina has a soothing accent and I’d heard her shout something in Spanish to a fussing voice coming from her car.
A final shove and we were through the door. The boys had looked up from where they’d sat in the corner of the room, glued to their tablet.
“You have boys! That’s great! I have four boys also. Do you want me to take yours over to my place while you finish unloading?”
“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you…” I’d straightened after setting my end of the couch down along the wall.
“It’s no trouble. My boys would love to have some playmates.”
“Ok!” She’d turned to the twins. “Boys, you like superheroes?”
The boys heads had nodded in perfect unison.
“You want to come play with our superhero toys?”
Another synchronized nod and they were up and out the door with her close behind.
That was a month-and-a-half ago and Martina has fast become my best (and only) friend. I haven’t told her that I’m the owner of the building because that would make it weird. And I don’t want weird. For Pete’s sake, Jacob and Isaac think they are basically adopted brothers to Jose, Jorge, Javi and baby Jesus. I need people like that in my life right now.
And Martina comes through for me again by knocking on the door and opening it without me having to say a word. “Made too many tamales. Can you take them off my hands?”
“Martina,” I sigh from the floor, head still in my hands, “It’s like you can read my mind. Will you marry me?”
“Sorry, querida. Miguel may be home only six out of every twenty-four hours, but that doesn’t make him any less of husband. And he doesn’t like to share.”
I smile and rise to my feet, stiff like an old woman. I’m thirty-two years old. How is this already happening to me? I take the tamales and shove one in my mouth before mumbling, “I can’t believe I’ve been here a month and this is as far as I’ve gotten.” I wave my hand around the room.
“It takes time. I think it was Dr. Phil who said that you could expect it to take a year before you feel settled in a new place.”
“Really? Dr. Phil?”
“Listen, if I was going to take a second husband it would be Dr. Phil. That guy gets it.”
“I can’t believe you said that after just turning down my offer!”
“I said ‘if’!” She pokes me in shoulder. “How about you, eh? Maybe you could use one man in your life, chica.”
“Martina, look around. I’m a week behind at work and my house looks like an abandoned storage unit. I can’t even seem to get anything on the table for meals that doesn’t involve peanut butter and jelly. Like I even have room for anything else in my life right now.”
“I think I know what your problem is. You want everything to be perfect. So you end up putting things off because you can’t do them perfectly and then you end up with an everlasting mess like this.”
I sigh and take another bite. “Maybe you’re right. These are amazing, by the way.”
“Bueno.” She studies me for a few seconds. “This is what we’re going to do. I’m going to put my kids down early and you’re going to do the same. Then I’m coming here and we are going to move every box to it’s appropriate room. Then we are going to get your kitchen completely set up so at least you can return to eating like a normal person. Comprenta?”
“Got it. Thanks, Martina.”
“And when that is done, I dare you to get out of the house and meet somebody.”
I groan, “Martina…”
“I’m serious, mi amor! You’re young. Choosing to stay alone sounds like a great way to fast-track the aging process.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being alone.”
She rolls her eyes. “And there’s nothing wrong with getting old. You’re missing my point. Maybe it’s a language thing.”
“Just say it in Spanish then.”
“Si, you’ll probably have about the same comprehension if you hear it in Spanish.” She leans forward and kisses me on the head, clucking like a mother hen. “Just think about it. I know this is a small town, but you don’t have to make it even smaller by refusing to leave your house.”
“Thanks for reminding me! I have to run to the store!”
She shakes her head, a smile on her head that says you’re impossible and heads out the door.
I call after her, “Just so you know, my proposal stands!”
Without turning, she flips me off over her shoulder and says, “Find your own!”
I stuff the rest of the tamale in my mouth breathe deeply while I chew. If I don’t want to waste Martina’s time, I’d better make sure I have everything I need before our post-bedtime sorting blitz. I slide open the back door and call to the boys, “Who wants tamales while we go to Home Depot?”