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IR ONLINE FICTION: “How to Find an Apartment” by Lizz Birkhoff

First understand that you will not find an apartment. You will live in a cardboard box with your three roommates for a whole year and that will be fine.

Finding an apartment is not about what you want—it is about what the world is willing to give you. Discuss at length what you want and realize it will never happen. “I really want a back porch.” Tell Emily that’s a bit unrealistic, considering we can’t even find a place with a dishwasher. Rewrite your list of demands until you no longer have any sense of what you are looking for. “Did we like the one with the coin laundry?” You don’t remember.

Think about what kind of dog you would like after graduation. A French bulldog, maybe, if you live in the city, would be a good fit. But you probably also want a big dog, so maybe a mastiff. Think about all the shelter dogs in the world and how much they need love. Think about how cute purebreds are. Call it a wash. Consider the merits of living at home until you can find a full time job. Remember that your parents are nice people but they’re super boring and go to bed at ten. Forget completely about finding an apartment.

Do homework and take naps. They are luxuries of your life that you will lose unless you find an apartment. You will be homeless. What does homeless really mean? You could live at home, but does that count? Are you successful if you live at home? Doesn’t that make you a bit sad? Pathetic? Maybe you could say you’re “home-free.” Free of the burden of rent. Free of walking to class. But you love walking to class. You love having responsibility. You love growing up. You would rather live on campus. Not subject to ridicule. Subject to failure.

If you don’t have an apartment, you will have no time for homework or naps and will instead be fighting rat kings and frostbite. Remember rat kings probably aren’t real, because Dennis Duffy talks about them in “30 Rock.” Dennis is full of shit.

Remember that you are supposed to tour an apartment in 10 minutes and run to the location. See how disgusting it is. Look at the mold on the walls and smell the wood rot. Walk into rooms that look like glorified cardboard boxes with beds but no frames—just the mattresses on the ground. See a large variety of alcoholic beverages and hookah pipes. Question if this apartment would be the best fit for you, considering you don’t drink or smoke whatever goes in a hookah pipe. “You can do better than this,” your father will say. Forget about searching for an apartment again.

Order Christmas gifts. Find joy in picking out each one for an individual. Pre-order a set of makeup brushes that look like wands for your best friend. Find a book of satire at your favorite coffee place for your dad. Consider multiple gifts for each person. End up getting two posters for Devin because you know he’ll love both and they’re not that expensive. Decide and order all of them at once. Smile genuinely even though your bank account is a little sad.

Meet with your roommates and watch a movie, probably a funny one—Bridesmaids, to start with. Dance around your dorm room to Wilson Phillips at the end. Cringe as Melissa McCarthy eats the big bear sandwich. Eat Domino’s because its close. Watch a second movie—Can’t Buy Me Love. Marvel over Patrick Dempsey’s butt, untouched by time. Tell your roommates which characters you would do: Big John, because he’s shiny and dumb; Kenneth, because he’s nice and good at math; and Mr. Weebly because of that moment in the outdoor cafeteria where he holds that female teacher back. “Lizz, what about his porno stash?” It doesn’t matter, you’ll respond. Stash or no stash, he’s a cool dude. “You can do better than that.” Discuss any updates on finding an apartment—remembering that was the reason you got together in the first place. Realize there are none and drown your sorrows in Insomnia Cookies.

Find an apartment you really love. Plan a tour and prepare all the forms to sign the lease. Talk about what decorations you’ll need, who has a couch from a dead relative, and Lindsey, do you have a crockpot? Receive a call saying someone already put a deposit down. Cry deeply after drinking way too much coffee. “We can do better than that.”

Reconsider going to school. Reconsider being a professional and instead wonder if you would be any good at stripping. Look into pole dancing classes. Look at yourself in the mirror. Start working on homework again.

Binge watch “Parks and Recreation.” Sit on the couch of your parent’s house and let one episode play right after the other. Do not process what the characters are saying. Do not watch the TV—stare at it. Ignore the dog pestering you. Do not get up to eat. Do not get up to do something else. Sit and stare until your eyes fall shut.

Stress out to the point of shaking in class. Sleep will evade you. Weird dreams will put you in a bad mental place for days. Hold back tears when you think about how hurtful what he said in your dreams was. Hold back tears when you think about how no one will listen to what you have to say. Hold back tears as you fight sleep deprivation. Hold back tears as a friend tells you they think The Donald would be a fine president. Hold back tears as you stand in the shower letting the hot water pour over your head. Hold back tears as you remember how proud your father is of you. Hold back tears as you lay in bed staring at the ceiling wondering what went wrong. How can you feel at home in an apartment when you don’t feel at home in your body? You can do better than this.

Smile when someone asks how you are. Laugh when someone tells a joke. Do not let anyone know you do not mean these things.

Look online. No new apartment listings. Let one tear fall. Refresh. One more tear. Refresh. One more tear. Refresh.

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Lizz Birkhoff is a Creative Writing major at The Ohio State University. She focuses primarily in fiction and creative non-fiction, but cannot decide which one is more honest. She is graduating in May 2018 and plans to move home to begin her career as a struggling artist. Her favorite movie is Dirty Dancing and she enjoys watching more than 10 episodes of “Criminal Minds” at a time.

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