Other than my college dormitory rooms, I never lived alone. And I went from my parent’s home, a house shared with three sisters, to the university residence halls to sharing an apartment with a friend post-college.Two years after I graduated, I moved in with Bryan, my boyfriend at the time. I was only 23 years old. We got engaged a year later and married the year after that.
When I was planning to move in with Bryan, my friend Tammy said something that stuck with me for decades.
“If you move in with Bryan now and then get married, you’ll never have the chance to live by yourself,” she said. “And that’s okay, but if you want to live alone for a while, do it now because you won’t have the opportunity to do it later.”
Moving in with Bryan is exactly what I wanted, and I was eager for my life to begin. And while I certainly had a life — with friends, working and supporting myself with a job as a public relations assistant at a public broadcasting station — I imagined my “real life” would begin when coupledom occurred. So, we signed the lease on a two-bedroom apartment and co-mingled our belongings. I had no regrets then, and I don’t have them now. That being said, I think there’s a reason Tammy’s words stayed with me all this time.
Over the course of 20 years, Bryan and I shared an apartment and owned three homes together. Until we separated two years ago, I never physically lived by myself. Yes, I still had my daughter, Sophie, living with me. But when she started spending days and nights at his house, I was truly by myself and physically alone for the first time in my life.
After my divorce was finalized in early 2020, I was eager to find a new space of my own — a home that Sophie and I could grow in and that would give me a fresh start. Two miles from my old house, I found a small blue-painted cottage house. The seller was a divorced, single mom of a teenage daughter. She had a passion for peaceful vibes, homeopathy and natural energy. The minute I stepped in the entryway, I knew I found my home.
This two-story house was like no other place I’d ever lived, but exactly like every place I pictured myself being. It was built in the 1920s, with wood floors, plaster walls and arched entryways. It had a breakfast nook, a picture window and stained glass in the living room, and two bathrooms (a necessary amenity for living with a messy teenager).
The backyard, which has become a favorite spot in the house, had an intimate quality about it. Even though it was winter, I could see the greenery and cherry blossoms that had yet to bloom on the tree in the middle of the yard. I pictured the porch swing that I wanted for myself for my entire life, but never had. And I later learned the spot where I put my table and chairs — the place I sat for hours with a book and coffee on spring and summer weekend mornings — had a perfect view of the full moon.
The owner accepted my offer. I bought my first house, all on my own.
When I signed my closing escrow documents in March (just days before we were forced into COVID-19 quarantine), I took Sophie with me because I wanted her to see her mother signing loan papers and buying her own home. She was bored and sat on her phone the entire time; but I have to believe that she’ll remember that experience one day.
After the final paper was signed and I was given the keys, I pulled out a keychain I bought myself months before. I wanted a new keychain for my new life. It’s inscribed with the words, “She built a life she loved.” I attached the key and Sophie and I went to look at our new home.
Nothing can prepare you for moving into your first new home during a pandemic, and living alone; not simply by choice, but because you are forced to do so. There would be no housewarming party, and my sister and her children were not able to visit for upwards of six months. Suddenly, I was in a new home and felt completely alone, literally and figuratively. I was experiencing a new form of physical isolation as I was suddenly away from my friends and all the people who gave me so much support, love and companionship, especially during the most trying year of my life.
I went through a rough few months at the beginning of quarantine. On April 1, I pulled out my wall calendar to fill in the dates as I did on the first of each month. I stared at the blank calendar and realized I had nothing to write, as there were no plans. That blank calendar echoed back the empty space I felt inside myself and my home. The Prozac I went on the summer before to help me get through my divorce had to be increased because I found myself struggling to get out of bed some mornings. I was supposed to be happy in my new home — a space of my own — but all I felt was loneliness.
My therapist made the comment in a session that, had I known a global pandemic would hit and we’d be forced to quarantine alone for so many months, perhaps I would have chosen not to get divorced, to avoid that loneliness. It was when she suggested that alternate reality that I realized my feelings of being alone were not new to me at all. I had been living very much mentally alone for a large portion of the time I was married. Had I waited, I would have simply been living the life I lived for all those years. Only it would have been worse, as there would have been no distractions. No friends coming to visit. No place to hide from the inevitable truths being brought to the surface in the forced silence.
Eventually those feelings of loneliness subsided and I was able to enjoy the time in my new space; the place that was truly my own for the first time in my life.
We often lament that we need more time in life. The pandemic gave me the gift of time and the space to get to know myself in a completely new way.
I realized what I was capable of as a single person and homeowner. It was up to me to troubleshoot home maintenance issues such as when my air conditioner needed a repair, or the day the house alarm randomly went haywire during a snowstorm that left 12 inches of powder on the ground. It was only me and my brown boxer dog, Cody, in the house on that freezing morning when the alarm did not stop screaming. I called the alarm company and pleaded with the operator, through tears, to help me shut the noise off. They could do nothing; this problem was completely mine to solve. And so through the ear-piercing noise of the full house alarm, I searched the kitchen and basement for the alarm box key, shut off the house power, opened the alarm panel and disconnected the wires. My hands shook the rest of the day and my dog wouldn’t leave my side; but I fixed the house problem that not even the alarm company could.
When I decided it was time to donate the sofa my ex-husband and I bought together — our first major furniture purchase—I paid for a new one with nobody’s approval but me. I felt confident in a new way and I wanted my daughter to see that strength and know she can also own a home and do for herself one day, if she chooses that path.
Not long after I moved into my new home, on a cool spring morning, I poured a steaming cup of Starbucks Pike Place medium roast coffee into my mug and added a splash of cream. I placed Courtney Marie Andrews’ “Honest Life” album on my record player and listened to the soothing sound of her voice fill my living room. I sat down on the sofa, with my mug of coffee and book, and stretched my legs under a brown blanket. My dogs took their place next to me; Sophie was still asleep in her bedroom. I looked around at a room that had a few photos on the fireplace mantle, and various items on display from my former life mixed with my new one. I stared out the picture window and watched the leaves rustling on the Crimson King Maple Tree in my front lawn.
I thought to myself … This space is mine and I am home.