So a little more than a week ago, I moved into my first house. It feels weird calling it that– for one, it’s technically half of a duplex; and for two, I don’t own it, I’m just renting. But it’s the first time I’ve paid rent, the first time I’ve had my name on a lease, and the first time I’ve lived away from home in a building that wasn’t a dorm. I have a basement, and a real kitchen, and I don’t have to wear shoes in the shower if I don’t want to (though I’m living with two guys, so I usually want to).
I moved in a month before my lease began so I could live here for the summer semester. My boyfriend is living with me. My chosen roommates move in in June.
This house is great. It was built somewhere between the 1920s and 1940s, if the architecture and bubbling/uneven floor mean anything, and it’s the definition of a fixer-upper: which means I won’t get bored after summer classes end. My Pinterest is already full of DIY, gardening, and home renovation ideas for this house. Even though I’m not living here forever, I want to leave my mark on this house– even if my most permanent “mark” is just some paint on a wall.
Before now, I’ve only ever been in Harrisonburg while the main semesters were in session– being here now is almost like being the stragglers of a mass evacuation, or something like that. Living in Harrisonburg outside of normal school time is strange. Most campus construction seems to be done during this time, so there seem to be more men in hard hats than students here. There are a lot of tour groups (some of which I’ll be leading later this summer!). All the students who are here for the summer form a new kind of bond, though; we have no one but each other, so even though we’d have no reason to interact outside of normal class time during the fall and spring, summer is different. We’re all feeling stagnant, so even though some of us are barely more than acquaintances, we have potlucks, Taco Tuesdays, make plans to go rafting, get $2 mimosas downtown, go to children’s dance recitals, and do the things that we’ll keep telling stories about, even if these suddenly-intense friendships don’t last through autumn.
Harrisonburg is new again in the summer. I have no extracurriculars, and more time to explore. I’ve discovered that the street I live on has some student housing and a frat house or two, but also a lot of JMU employees. Professors, administrators, JMUDining managers are all my neighbors. I’ve discovered that there’s some kind of festival downtown nearly every weekend– this past weekend there was a strawberry festival, next weekend there’s a beer festival, and there’s another one the weekend after that. I’ve discovered how many breweries we have (even though I can’t drink at them yet). I’ve also discovered how alive Harrisonburg still is.
People say that Harrisonburg “is dead” during the summer because the students are gone, but it’s quickly becoming apparent how wrong they are. My house is at the corner of a major intersection, and there are cars, trucks, and motorcycles growling by at all hours of the night. There are so many adults here now; employees, parents, people who never wanted to leave. I see children again; three middle schoolers biked down my street the other day and it took me by surprise. When the college students are gone, it’s almost as if the native Harrisonburgians (Harrisonburgers?) are finally comfortable outside. Or maybe they’ve been here the whole time, and I’ve just been JMU-centric and haven’t bothered to notice (but that’s a piece for a different day). More than this though, Harrisonburg in the summer is swelling with music.
Lots of the cars that pass my house are blasting music. All genres are represented; pop, rap, angst-rock, some folk (and kudos to the person who insists on blasting The Last Bison , because I can never figure out how to make amped-up folk sound good), but I hear more Latin music than anything. Harrisonburg has the highest Hispanic population in the state, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but due to my aforementioned JMU-centrism, I am. Every day, there’s bachata, salsa, meringue, mariachi, reggaeton; whether it’s from a car outside my window or playing from a handheld radio set inside a construction site, Harrisonburg is bursting with good Latin music, often followed by rapid-fire español and loud, raucous laughter. This is probably exoticist, but Latin music just feels more alive. This isn’t music you can listen to quietly while you do your homework. It’s music you have to dance to, you have to tell over, you have to smile about. I’ve been listening to Latin music with my boyfriend as long as we’ve been together, but summertime in Harrisonburg made it different to me.
I leave you with a final anecdote, the one that inspired the title of this piece: one night, I was staying up late reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? as Brian (the boyfriend) snored beside me. I’d gotten in and out of bed a few times, dropped my book, dropped my phone, and dropped my water bottle– none of which woke him up. Around 12am, a truck pulled up outside our house, blasting mariachi music. Brian sat straight up. He looked around, bleary-eyed and confused, as the truck pulled away and the mariachi music faded. I couldn’t stop laughing as I explained to him that he’s so Hispanic, he wakes right up when he hears mariachi music. We laughed. He went back to sleep. I finished my book.
Hopefully one day I’ll find the exact song that woke him up.