Eight years ago today, I moved into my first and only apartment. I was excited to be living alone for the first time, but I was more than a little hesitant—okay, I was downright petrified. I wasn’t escaping an unhappy home or the oppressive rule of an over-bearing parent, I was leaving behind the comfort of a home that my mom—my best friend—had created for the two of us. I had grown up in that house, at first with my mom, dad, and brother. Then my parents divorced and my dad moved out and, soon after, my brother went off to college, and it was just the two of us–my mom and I, along with Tillie and Zeus, our dog and rabbit–in our cozy, little bungalow, each room painted in wild and wonderful colors like a Mexican casita. The first few weeks, even months, in my apartment felt strange and unsettled. Every challenge I faced seemed insurmountable now that I was on my own. When the pilot light on the stove blew out I called my parents in a panic, convinced that striking a match to reignite it would set my apartment alight in a blazing inferno. (In fact, I harbored a pretty concrete fear of the oven up until three years ago when I started baking. I guess I really took that whole “Oven–hot! Don’t touch!” lesson to heart as a child.) Each leaking faucet, jarring sound, or peculiar smell felt like a personal affront to my independence, signaling that maybe I just couldn’t hack it on my own. I’m sure my parents cringed every time the phone rang. (My mom just read this and assures me they did.)
I look back on myself during that time with compassion and no small measure of amusement. It seems like a lifetime ago, now. The other week I came home from work at ten in the evening wanting nothing more than to take a hot shower, scarf down some dinner, and collapse in bed, but upon opening the front door I was met with an unidentifiable odor foul enough to wipe all thought of food from my mind. Instead, I was forced to play a thrilling game of “What’s that smell and where is it coming from?” that had me crawling all the way through my kitchen cabinets into the spider-infested Narnia that exists in the eaves beyond. I almost lost a pair of my favorite underwear on a low hanging drain pipe in the process, but when hunting weird smells it’s best to do so sans clothing so you don’t end up having to burn them later. I never did find the source of the smell, but the extra square footage back there was a nice surprise should I ever find myself in trouble with the law and in need of a place to hide. And from the smell of things, there might already be something back there to eat! (Not that I eat meat, but at least consuming something that died of natural causes is more ethical–a silver lining in this bizarre life-of-crime fantasy.) Eight years later, who would have thought there were still surprises to be found in this place?
It dawned on me later how different this response was to the one I might have had after first moving in. There was no panic, no paralyzing fear, just a nonchalant resignation that it was time to strip down to my underwear and fish a dead animal out of the crawl space. The situation hadn’t changed, but I had. I realized that the trials I’d confronted all those years ago weren’t intimidating in nature–minor home-repairs, dead animals, and the like were all tasks I had handled before and was quite capable of–they were merely a surrogate for the real fear I was facing, the fear of standing on my own.
While I may never be as handy as my parents (let’s face it, architecture is one of the handier professions), after eight years living on my own I now possess a well-earned sense of confidence and capability (and such charming habits as muttering to myself and forgetting to put on pants). I won’t pretend I’ve outgrown, or will ever outgrow, the need for the occasional panicked phone call to my parents (aren’t you glad you had kids?!), but the idea of moving half way across the country doesn’t seem so daunting to me, now. In fact, though a recent email I sent to my mom might suggest otherwise, it seems pretty damn manageable. So yeah, (poisonous insects, aside) I think I’ve got this.