I have never lived alone. Ever. I mean EVER. Isn’t that crazy? I went right from my parents’ house to college, where I moved in with my roommate, a stunning, silken-haired goofy goddess whom I believed would never be my friend because she was too beautiful. Turns out we fell madly in love and made a home in the Terrace 5 dorm; above her bed, Patti Lupone as Evita, above mine, a shirtless Jim Morrison looking high and brooding and sexy. Quotes and photos cluttering our bulletin boards, clothes and books cluttering the floor, we would blast Rusted Root once a month and clean top to bottom. Late-night dance parties and pizza in our big room with our two other best friends, who lived in singles. And for me there was not even a vague desire to have alone time. Space of my own. Solitary confinement. Nope. I was in heaven.
From the dorms to our apartment, two years later, the four of us giddily moved. The place where we discovered labeling the food that we put in the fridge, and not doing dishes (much to the neater roommates’ chagrin), and that splitting bills and cleaning the bathroom and cooking dinner and how much time to we spend at home can all be challenging on a friendship. There was a Monet print over the marble fireplace, and a tacky black couch with big pink flowers . . . and plants. Plants are key. We all knew this to be true. And there I was again, not feeling like I needed any time to myself that wasn’t already built in. We all had busy lives: classes, dating, rehearsals, work, trips out of town, family . . . we hardly saw each other, really. And when we did, we would snuggle on each other’s beds and talk about the idiotic boys who made us laugh and roll our eyes and weep with a breaking heart because we knew there would never be another boy to love us as much, as deeply, as real. We would squirrel away clothes from each other’s closets, and leave notes inside bedroom doorways: “Miss you. Have a good day. XOXO.” “Love you.” “You are magical. I’m here for you.”
Then the unthinkable happened. A scant three months in our dreamy little play-home, and there was a knock on our door very early one autumn morning. On the porch stood my parents, my boyfriend, and, behind them, my mom’s best friend with her husband. They came up to my room where I was still wound up in my blankets, face smashed into the pillow, sleeping hard and fast, my body subconsciously anticipating the alarm’s inevitable screech to wake me for class. That’s the day I found out my sister, my older sister and protector and best friend and, and, and . . . well, she was dead. She had been murdered.
How can one even hear that? How do you process that? You don’t. Barely awake. My girls all around me, on my bed, holding me. While I convulsed. While I screamed. While I shook and wailed. And can I even imagine having been alone? No. Those girls saved me. The people in my room that early morning saved me.
And that is the morning I wonder about. It is the place of divergence. It is the morning of “what if.”
From then, I don’t think I could be alone. This of course, is debatable, but from where I stand—looking back, my hindsight through the wrong end of the binoculars, so that everything is tiny and distorted and very, very blurry—well, being alone was not an option. I would withdraw into my head and needed gentle tugging to get me out. I drifted in and out of classes, and rehearsals, and performances, and life. I needed anchors. And I had them. It solidified my relationship with the man I eventually married. It bound me to my girls with a love so fierce that I called them my sisters with every molecule of me.
Then. Later. But not so much later. The move from roommates to partnership in a home with my future husband is the step that I wonder about now . . . what would have been? I moved from that home of sisterhood into a home of adulthood. Of we’re-about-to-get-married-please-put-all-my-shit-in-your-studio. Combining. Mashing together two lives. Urgency can be a dangerous thing. A sense that others need your happiness as much as you do is also a dangerous thing. I have absolutely no regrets about this time in my life. It was exciting. It was full of love and adventure and hardship and need. It was bursting with youth. And yet here was the time to live alone—the time just after college, before family, a magical time of exploration. What do I want to be when I grow up? No. What do I want to be RIGHT NOW? Who am I today? That “today” so many years ago was tangled and knotted around another human being. A person who, when the world exploded, was at my side gathering the tiny bits from the floors and ceilings and walls and helping me fit them back together. There were bits that we never found, though. And some tiny fragments that, when we put them back together, weren’t quite in the right place. We didn’t know. We did our best. With love and respect and tenderness, we just did our best.
Today-today. The real today. The one I’m sitting in, at my (my!) kitchen table, in front of my (again!) window. This today, 13 years later I am in my first solitary space. I share it with my son, of course. That is far, far from solitary. But solitary in that it is mine: my responsibility, my haven. Mine. And it is also a reflection of who. Who got stirred up and became cloudy with me-ness when my marriage was ending? Oh, hey, there! Haven’t seen you in a while! I recognize you. I think I do. It’s been so long. The clouds are incorporating into the mix now. The Home I am in is a part of the swirl of Me.
No more Jim Morrison posters. Too bad. Instead, photos of my sister. One over my left shoulder as I sit, with her sticking her tongue out as she takes something out of a kitchen drawer. Standing on the black-and-white tile of her kitchen. In that apartment that was only hers. My tea gets cold as I sit here. It’s ok. I can always boil more. I can leave my cup in the sink. I’ll wash it later. I know I will.