I lived in a basement apartment on Blair Street, just down the hill from Collegetown. It was only half underground, with windows and a porch that overlooked the corner of Blair and Cook Streets. This basement apartment was the setting for many self-created crises and bad scenes, but also some good parties and late night recording sessions. My friends and I called the apartment “The Bunker,” a safe place to hide from the drudgery and realities of writing and teaching and our other responsibilities as decent human beings.
The floor was a snake pit of cables. We had all the instruments: a Fender Telecaster and a Deluxe Reverb amplifier, a Squier P-Bass, a Pearl travel drum kit on the raised kitchenette floor. We banged out music and recorded covers and original songs on a digital 8-track recorder. Sometimes we managed to sound good, although the evidence of this competence is sparse. Friends would drop by to ostensibly work on tracks, but we’d usually manage to have a drink and a smoke, and little actual work got done.
What I remember of May 10th, 2007 is a feeling of transience and uncertainty. I had finished my MFA at Cornell, and I still had a year left of my lectureship, but my cohort and I could see the end of our time in Ithaca. I’d applied to fellowships and had fallen flat on my face, as I would a year later. I was desperate for a gig teaching comp, desperate to pay the rent for the Bunker and the bills for the credit cards I was living on (and would spend the better part of a decade paying off). On May 10th, 2007, final grades for the semester were submitted to the English office, student emails demanding changes to them were arriving and ignored, and my friends and I were preparing to drift off to our corners of the world for the summer. I would see some of my friends when we returned in the fall, but others I would never see again. We’d successfully delayed our entry into the great terrifying world, but it was knocking at the door of the Bunker.
A new professor on campus used to hang out with us lecturers. Sometimes he would bring a six-pack of Yeungling to my porch, and we would listen to the Stones and the Beatles and we would watch the undergrads pass by on Blair Street. He was going through a painful divorce, and he hated being stuck in this town upstate. This professor had written a book that had received a good amount of acclaim, and in our long afternoons on the porch it became clear that success had failed to solve the significant problems of his life. You will yearn for these days, this professor would say. I do not. 2007 was the beginning of an unpleasant process of reorienting my expectations and dreams, a massive correction, and I’m glad I’m on the other side of it.
I live in San Francisco with my wife and son. We live in our own place two floors above the basement. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a drink, and long time since I’ve smoked anything. Every morning I wake up to my son calling out to me from his crib, my wife getting ready for another day in clinic. Sometimes when I’m watching my son in the afternoon, I’ll pick up my acoustic guitar and strum out a few chords of a half-remembered song from those days in the Bunker. My son will reach out for the strings and strum his own rhythm. The path here ridicules the elaborate plans and illusions I had when I was 26 years old. Today I live not for my ambitions, but to be the person who deserves this happy life.
Jon Hickey was born in Mankato, MN. He received a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an MFA from Cornell University. He was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University from 2009-2011. His short stories have appeared in The Madison Review, Meridian, and Virginia Quarterly Review. He currently lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.
Jon recommends checking out all the good work the American Indian College Fund does in supporting Native students in higher education. Visit collegefund.org