May 1998 – August 1998
Over the winter of my freshman year of college, my boyfriend and his best friend moved to a farmhouse in Poplar Grove, a one stoplight town about 30 minutes outside of Rockford. The house and property were owned by his coworkers’ parents, who planned to open a children’s farm and petting zoo on the property in the future, but for the time being just wanted tenants to keep the place occupied and the pipes from freezing. My boyfriend and his best friend fit the bill, and I spent most weekends there as well, moving in for real after my first year of college wrapped up.
I haven’t spent much time in (other) farmhouses, so I’m not sure how typical a structure it was: three (or four?) bedrooms and an attic upstairs, another bedroom plus several living areas and a big kitchen on the sprawling ground floor. One and a quarter bathrooms, though we only used the full bath. A screened in porch and a very creepy basement. I had my own vaguely technicolor room upstairs that was only ever used for storage; eventually we moved to the downstairs bedroom, leaving Joe with the upstairs to himself.
This was an interesting living situation for a variety of reasons. We all had to drive at least half an hour to work – that is, when we were all employed. I had two jobs that summer, but my boyfriend lost his shortly after I moved in, and spent the 4-6 weeks of our cohabitation unemployed, living off my part-time paychecks and credit cards. I was never officially on the lease, so I paid for my housing by buying groceries and paying other bills. None of us were particularly interested in housekeeping, cooking, or anything domestic, which I suppose is fairly typical of an 18 year old girl and two 21 year old guys. We ate a lot of shitty processed food and drank a lot of beer. We had a few epic parties, and ordered a lot of pizzas from the place down the street – the closest grocery store was also about half an hour away, so this was frequently the best option.
The most notable thing about this house is that we’re fairly sure it was (is?) haunted. A number of weird things happened in the time that we lived there – things that individually might’ve been ignored, but added up to a vague creepiness. One of the first times I was there alone, an interior door swung shut and locked. A group of friends spent the night and later reported all having had the same dream about the attic space. We once drove up to the house at night and saw the attic lights on, but when we went inside, the house was empty and the lights were off. We never saw or sensed anything spectral, but these events were enough to make being home alone, especially on stormy dark nights, pretty damned creepy.
The aforementioned parties actually resulted in the end of this domestic bliss. Our landlords came out early one weekend morning to do some work on the property, and found a bunch of cars parked in the driveway, tents set up in the back yard and the remnants of a bonfire in the fire pit. We had thought we were being responsible by having friends spend the night rather than driving back into town; they, on the other hand, only saw a liability. It turned out that they thought we were in our late 20s – as was the case with their son, my boyfriend’s by then former coworker. I’m reasonably confident they would’ve evicted us on the spot if they could have – I don’t think they were interested in being landlords in the first place – but we stayed there for the duration of the summer, moving out in one quick and insane week at the end of August.
Looking back at this summer from the space of more than a decade, there are a few things that stand out. I remember my parents’ sharp disapproval when I said that I wouldn’t be moving home; I received a harsh letter from Pop, and it was made clear that I wasn’t welcome at the house, albeit temporarily. I remember eating disgusting meals of whatever we had on hand – melted cheese sandwiches with ranch dressing, anyone? – while teaching myself HTML on the bank of computers in the office off the kitchen. At some point we acquired a bunny – perhaps the first of the intended farm menagerie? – though I don’t recall that we were asked to care for it, nor that any arrangements were made for its care. It just appeared on our porch one day, and the porch was its domain for the remainder of the summer, though I have no idea who fed it or cared for it or what ultimately happened to it. I remember the first explorations of sex and sexuality, starting to understand myself as a sexual being. I remember standing on the screened in porch after my shower, drying my hair in the sunshine, enjoying the fresh air on my skin. And I remember the frustration and anxiety of not knowing where the guys would be living when our last week in the house was up, while at the same time not wanting to move apart from them and back into the dorms.