I’ve always loved living alone, but the first time was the most satisfying. Finally tasting freedom, making my own decisions, keeping my own schedule, bathing for as long as I wanted. I called in orders to Martini’s for calzones and salads just before they closed at midnight, and I’d stay up late watching Purple Rain while I ate. I walked to the climbing gym down the street where I scaled the walls with blank determination and ease; I spent hours pacing back and forth, back and forth in front of Recycled Records in hopes of catching a glimpse of my crush; I walked in the snow to Harvey’s where, if my friend Bryers was there, he would lie for me and vouch for my age with his friend who ran the door.
I did all of these things because there was no one to answer to, and I could, and sometimes felt like I should. As time went on, however, I preferred to simply stay home.
I loved the dusty blue color of my hardwood floors, I loved walking on them from room to room – all mine – the sense of quiet and peace coming over me like a small exhilarating thing I’d never known before. I felt like an animal whose cage door had been opened and after a few tentative, nervous steps near the door, I had finally come out completely and was having my first ever big, glorious stretch.
On nights when Bryers drank too much he would show up on my back porch, covered in snow from the walk. I’d let him sleep on the tiny vintage loveseat in my cold sun room, or with me in my single bed, both of which were far too cramped for him. His snoring and my elbows made for a grumpy couple of friends on the mornings that followed. Still, I’d make him some home fries and pour him a glass of juice before sending him on his way.
I liked having friends visit – it reinforced the feeling that I was in charge of my own decisions. But having my space entirely to myself was still my happiest time. I say happiest, when I mean darkest, without witnesses. I could go way down deep and not worry about having to smile or joke for anyone else, I could just wallow, float, breathe. I could think negatively and hate everything and no one ever had to know.
Eventually, my downstairs neighbor moved out and I worked it so Bryers could move in. He had recently gone through a break-up with one of my closest friends, so he understood wanting to be alone to brood. He understood my tendencies to not want to go out. He also kept trying to sneak a little sunlight in when I wasn’t paying attention.
We would go to breakfast together, at Klein’s Bagels or whatever diner was currently on the corner of Lovell and Burdick, next to the State Theater. I always had a hard time ordering and he would laugh at me for making the waitresses wait. “Would you like cheese on your eggs?” “Ummm…I…like…cheese….” It was always more of a question: I don’t know, should I get cheese? You tell me. Bryers would gently mock me: “I like cheese…?” and it would make me quietly snort a little laugh. That’s all I would give.
These mornings also grew increasingly rare. I worked nights closing at the coffee shop, getting home around 2:30am, and would sleep in as late as I possibly could before getting up to go work at the book store. The only exception to this pattern was if Bryers came up to see if I wanted breakfast. More and more often I cracked the door and said no. I’d hear him tromping back down the stairs and out the door, and I’d sink back into sleep. He knew that if I wanted to sleep, I was to be allowed sleep. We had a quiet understanding. He took care of me in that way, and made sure I never knew it.
Our landlord had a graying ponytail and a frustrating habit of stopping by unannounced to ‘check in’. He gave me the creeps and I’d told him on many a pajama-clad morning that I worked nights so to please not wake me up for no goddam reason, but he’d ignored this request and kept showing up. The rent was cheap and I’d convinced him to lower it even more due to some obnoxious neighbors, but still – on the morning I heard a non-Bryers knock, I knew who it was, and I flew into a rage. Or, the closest thing I could muster of a rage at 7am.
With sleep pulling at my eyes, I gripped the door trim and asked through clenched teeth, “What…is..it?” “Oh, I just came to check in, see if everything’s okay….” He stood just below me, at breast level, on the steps that led up to my door. I kept the door as tightly closed against my face as I could. “It’s fine. Everything is fine. I work nights! OhmygodI’veTOLDyouIworknights! Please don’t just stop by here! I’m so tired!” I fought back tears. He put up his palms and said “whoa, whoa, no need to yell, I was just checking, jesus,” and then, “I’ll come back later.” “NO! Don’t. Come. Back. Later!” I seethed. “Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine. If you want to come by please CALL me first. If something goes wrong I will CALL you!” He backed away down the stairs, flapping his hand as if to dismiss me. As if I was the one in the wrong.
I heard the front door close, and then boots on my stairs. Bryers let himself in and sat down on the edge of my bed. He poked his head under my covers where I was mashing my face into my pillow, quietly yelling. He said “let’s go get a bagel, Panda.”
On the walk downtown we alternated between silence and his quiet encouragements of my wild tirades. “Who the fuck does he think he is?! Who just stops by like that?” “Mmhm.” “All the fucking time?! MotherFUCK I hate that guy!” “Yeah. I could tell.” Bryers didn’t like being woken in the mornings any more than I did, but he was quicker to recover. He knew it would take me a while to let the anger dissipate into something manageable.
We ordered and sat down in silence, frowning, hair still matted from our pillows. I thought of all the times we’d done this same thing: walking into Klein’s, sullenly ordering bagels, orange juice and coffee, not bothering to banter with the staff who we knew from work or the bars.
“These people must think we’re a couple,” I finally said. He smiled a little and nodded, looking around. “We do come here together a lot.” I went on, “they must think we’re one of those really unhappy couples who ran out of things to talk about a long time ago, so now we just go out in public and eat our bagels in silence.”
“Yep, he sighed. “Miserable silence.”
We laughed and, for just a minute, the sun came out.