A Room of My Own


My sister packed her things and moved out yesterday. That left me, her former roommate, the sole occupant of a 1-bedroom co-op apartment in Brooklyn. For reasons still unbeknownst to me, she bought a big house in Charlotte, South Carolina--or is it North Carolina? well, somewhere down there--in the South, where people smile at each other, talk slow, and are not assailed by the oppressive noise of screeching subways and police sirens.

For months, since she first stated her intentions of moving, I had been acting as though she were only joking.

But when she made an offer on a house--the first one, that got rejected by the owners--I asked her, "What will you do in Charlotte?"

"There's more space, it's quiet, I need to settle down," she replied. I stared back, wild-eyed, as though she'd picked her final resting place.

At 33, my sister is a year older than me. Don't get me wrong, I can't imagine growing old in New York. But the way I am now, single and unmarried, living here makes sense. I can go out when I want to, meet cool people or see an interesting art exhibit, stay home when I don't want to deal. It has all the dance classes I could want, the subway never stops running, and there's always a bar or bodega or cafe open when you need it. I did not plan on living here this long--ten years already--but I can't imagine where else I'd go.

So while my sister was off buying a huge house with a backyard patio, I dug in my heels--finding myself quite alone at 1PM yesterday, sitting on the couch, feeling suddenly lost.

The strangest part was my reaction--tears. I had always thought I wanted to live alone. Growing up with a huge family, I shared rooms with my sisters until I was almost an adult, and had always had roommates in college and in New York, where I moved a year after graduation. There were always extra people under foot prying into my business, eating my food in the fridge, wearing my brand new clothes to a sweaty, swing dance party (true story, freshman year roommate), or feeding their pets with my silverware.

Secretly, or maybe obviously, I have wanted to strangle every one of them. Have dreamt of the day when I no longer have to share anything, but can have my own bathroom, bedroom, pots and pans. And yet I have never lived alone--with the exception of a one-month writer's residency at Hedgebrook and, after my sister kicked me out of her apartment the first year we moved to New York, a one-month sublet I stayed in while finding a more permanent living situation.

Somewhat paradoxically, I have often insinuated myself into places in which houseguests, friends, family, and strangers compromise my privacy. And in each of these cases I have tried, most successfully, to carve out a tiny, inviolable personal space. There is no limit to my ability to employ the silent treatment and naked aggression to make others uncomfortable enough to back away. In fact, I can remember, during a semester exchange at Spelman College, not talking to my roommate for three weeks (she was an irritating debutante, enough of her already).

So well practiced am I that at times in shared spaces when I wish to be warm and welcoming, I find others (mostly my sisters) surprised and/or suspicious. And so I had always thought I just wanted my own place--to decorate the way I want, invite over friends without asking first, and leave my writing notes out trusting they will be there, in the same spot, when I return.

But it was not until yesterday that I finally realized there is a difference between having personal space and having a place all to yourself. I don't like living alone. I like having company more than not, even if it means I want to strangle them sometimes. And perhaps my sister moving, leaving me alone in this apartment, in this city, has helped me to understand myself better. I realize that I did not want her to go because, subconsciously, I knew it would force me to face this single life I have created--at once freeing and stifling.

It seems somehow cooler to be disaffected and disconnected, your own person. And I am quite good at it. I have often thought of cash in a wallet as passe, or looked upon married or pregnant people as old fashioned. But it would be great to have a companion, or a family. It is an idea that sounds as comforting as it does oppressive.

And yet it would make this apartment feel so much more bearable.

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