When the bird leaves the nest

Moving into a single room apartment can mean learning how to be alone for the first time  

This summer, I officially moved out of my parents’ house, because I’m not a child anymore ... right? 

Welcome to adulthood; turns out the whole adult-at-18 thing is a lie and I have no idea what I’m doing.

I thought I would be okay, I decided to stay in Kingston this summer. No school, no obligations, no one to answer to — this being independent thing was going be amazing. I love my parents but after spending the school year living away from them, I wasn’t ready to go back. I was ready to live alone! 

Except I wasn’t.

Since returning to Kingston after a post-exams visit to my parents, I’ve managed to screw something up every day — all by myself. 

Opening the door to my apartment for the first time in three weeks, I was greeted by the Arctic temperature in my house — the heat had been turned off, and despite the warm weather, my house was still ridiculously cold. There has to be some irony in the fact that I’m wearing flannels in my house to stay warm in June when I wore shorts in the middle of December. 

Comfort aside, living alone has been pretty sweet — I never have to worry about annoying my housemate with my music or the dishes I tend to leave in the sink. The downside of my housemate leaving is that sometimes I get a little paranoid, alone at night. 

Just last week I thought I heard someone trying to break into my house. As I hit the floor and crawled to the bathroom, the only room that has a lock in my house, I shakily dialled 9-1-1. I was about to hit the call button when I heard a decidedly inhuman scratching noise at the window. After briefly considering and discarding the possibility that aliens actually were real, I gathered up my courage and peeked out the window to find a noisy family of squirrels having a grand old time on my veranda.

Let’s have a moment of silence for all the years the squirrels managed to scare off my life. 

I’d consider myself a pretty self-sufficient person; I’ve more or less managed to feed and dress myself during the school year. I’m a whiz at stain removal, and I make excellent salad dressing.  And yet, living alone was proving to be a series of ongoing disasters. What is it about the summer that makes everything so much harder? 

Living on my own is a very new and scary idea for me — it’s really something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do. I have a very large family that is also very supportive — so much so that the line between being supported and being sheltered becomes a little fuzzy. When I came to Queen’s, I left home without having a lot of basic life skills because my parents took care of things for me. 

While I’m extremely grateful, I’m starting to wish that I had learned more of those skills when my parents offered to teach. For example, cooking lessons with Amma (that’s my mom) would have been great during the week that I went through box after box of KD — I would have saved myself from a lot of unnecessary heartburn.

But no matter how poor my diet gets over the summer, the independence of living on my own means a lot to me. I’ve be able to make decisions for myself, and though I keep screwing up, there are lessons to be learned that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. 

Just yesterday I learned how to use a plunger! I might have had to call my dad — twice — to figure it out, but I did it, and you better believe I’m proud of myself. 

Even more than learning new home repair skills, living alone has given me the confidence to depend on myself. I’m learning to trust myself to take care of any problem that comes my way. 

For example, last night, I walked home by myself after dark. I’ve never done that before, but I was forced to be brave enough to do that. This summer, I’m the only person I can rely on for the day-to-day things that need to be done. 

Living alone, I get to make my own choices, no matter how productive they are (or aren’t). Last week, I didn’t leave my bed until 3 p.m., and that was only because I was hungry. I finally have time to go out with friends because I’m not juggling school with work and extracurricular activities anymore. I learned that now is the time for me to enjoy my new social life away from home. 

One of the most important lessons I’m learning from this summer is that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I’m the type of girl who always makes plans with friends because I never enjoyed my own company before. One of the things I love most about my big family is that there is always someone to turn to for company. 

However, if there’s anything I’ve truly been forced to do this summer, it’s make peace with the fact that sometimes I can’t surround myself with other people. 

By learning how to be alone without being lonely, I’ve become a person who will be fine by herself. In Sri Lanka — where I’m from — it’s not uncommon for girls, even those who are educated and working and living their best lives — to go from theirfather’s house to their husband’s house. I always planned to make time for myself in between those places and I’m starting to realize, that time is now. 

In some ways, I’m more responsible; I always know where my keys are, and I always check that the stove is off. For all that living alone feels like, with all its disasters, I’m having a good time. If anything, I’ll walk away from this summer with some good stories and a new ability to handle some truly absurd situations — not a bad trade off. 

I’m on the cusp of adulthood right now. This summer, I have and will continue to learn a lot about my true capabilities, now that I’m making the decisions my family used to make for me. 

My family is still with me in other ways. What they’ve given me is more than their company; they’ve given me the morals and values I need to go forward into the world. They’ve given me all the tools I need to realize the expectations they have for me. It’s my own coming-of-age story, and I’m going to figure it out soon — I just hope that I do before I run out of KD. 

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