About a year ago, I told you all that I was living in a shed.
THINGS ARE TERRIBLE! I said. ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE. I find pleasure in nothing — only dramatic and ill-considered metaphors I am likely to cringe at in twelve months’ time. AND HERE WE ARE!! A full three-hundred-and-something-something days after…… cringin’ hard.
I mean, in my mind that is progress. Of some sort. I always think it must be progress if you look back on stuff from a year ago and want to burn it, whatever it is, because that shows you have developed and maybe hopefully possibly in a positive way. What is the point otherwise?? Though I won’t lie to you: I still like a good (bad) metaphor, and dramatics-wise there has been very little change.
BEAR WITH ME.
It was dumb because I wasn’t even living in a shed. I was living back at my mom’s house, about to move into a little flat. An actual flat, a non-imaginary flat, an APARTMENT, if you will, but I won’t. It was cold and I had packed all of my stuff and put it into cardboard and bags for life and then it got bundled onto a big lorry with sofas and kitchen tables and I had “ALL MY POSSESSIONS IN BOXES” bouncing around my head for the day even though I hadn’t listened to Atom and His Package since 2007. My brother carried a million books up flights of stairs like a champ. Somebody mentioned Marie Kondo. I asked everyone in attendance if they said it like in-vun-tree or in-ven-tor-ee. They weren’t really fussed. We went to Subway for lunch. The day was strange and sad but it was also movement, which felt like something. A lot of people sent their best.
Are you supposed to tip removal teams? I wasn’t sure, but I was so grateful to Michael and co. for giving me reassuring looks and for not accidentally smashing any part of my carefully-curated Disney collection that I decided it was surely a given. They said “We are going for beers after work and now the beers are on you. Thank you and good luck in your flat. Would you consider leaving us a Google review?” and I said yes I would, a glowing one. Then they congratulated me on choosing a home with such good natural light and I said it was a conscious decision because gloomy rooms make me feel listless, a bit like the Beast when Belle leaves, and they told me that sometimes they walk into a sunless house like that and they think: rather you than me, pal.
When everyone had gone I looked around my new home and tried to think: rather me than anyone, pal. This is good this is good this is good this is good and this is also what you asked for, so chin up and calm down.
For the first few nights I sat hunched on the edge of the sofa like a nervous guest. Three-weeks-minus-the-internet, so I watched my Friends DVDs and laughed deliberately and gratefully at jokes I had heard a thousand times before. PAPER! SNOW! A GHOST! I know that Friends is not to everyone’s liking but I also know that, at least in my mind, it is the TV version of comfort food. Monica is an oven-baked jacket potato on a wintery evening. Rachel is beans on toast at 9pm when you really can’t be arsed. Friends is stodge, and when it is dark outside and your living room smells like Sebastian and Emily, the couple who sat in it before you, sometimes stodge is what you need (said Sophie, ticking a box marked 2019 METAPHORS).
I pretended I hadn’t seen my data limit warning. I made sure other people still existed when the curtains were closed. I saw them tweeting when I was supposed to be asleep and I thought: carry on, this is so soothing. I started eating meals at the table because I decided that a tray is a treat if it’s unusual but a stupid solo sad face if it’s often. I realised that I REALLY DO take an abnormally long time to get ready for bed but marked it as an endearing quirk and carried on making up dances to ’80s pop songs while I was brushing my teeth. (IT’S A NICE DAY TO………….. START AGAIN.) I slept at 2am and then at 8pm. I liked not having to choose. I finally watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset but couldn’t get into Before Midnight and knew for sure that this was a reflection on me and not the film. I worked out that if I could hear my elderly neighbour singing her Les Mis medley then she could probably hear me crying in the bath. I stopped crying in the bath and started taking showers instead.
Unless you count a short stint in a studio flat at university (WHICH I DON’T, because the walls were so thin it’d felt like I was sharing with my Kasabian-loving neighbour anyway), I had never lived alone before. It was jarring, and then it was so-exciting-I-am-going-to-scream, and then it was lonely, and then it was okay-I-guess-some-of-the-time, and then it was quite-nice-actually, and now it has been a year. I have seen seasons here, all four of them. It has snowed and scorched and I have worn three layers under a dressing gown and sat on the carpet in my underwear thinking of ice. It is a luxury in a million ways — there is something tingly about walking into a space and knowing that it is yours and yours alone, made up of lots of things you consider to be good. It is a treat that no-one else can snack on; do whatever you want with it. Within reason, anyway. My landlord Anthony advises no candles, no pets, no clothes left to dry on the radiators lest you start a fire, but knock yourself out the rest of the time. GO TO TOWN. OR DON’T. STAY HOME, BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT HERE.
Sometimes — not often — the space gets a little too much. At 6pm on a Wednesday night you will cook dinner and suddenly be struck, hard, that it is just you. There is no-one there to say “HOW WAS TODAY?” or “TELL ME MORE ABOUT BECKY’S BREAK-UP, IS SHE OKAY??” No real-life-person on the sofa to care that you saw a rabbit on your lunch break, or to rush to the rescue when you slip over in the shower and cry. Your shin will feature a dark rectangular bruise for two weeks and nobody will ask about it because nobody knows about it. Has it gone yet? No, look. You will feel sorry for all of the poor capillaries that did nothing wrong and wonder what is going on under your skin as you heal. You won’t include Netflix in your Monday morning recap, because watching Netflix with whoever-you-live-with has the potential to be relayed as lazy weekend fun but doing it alone with a large bar of Dairy Milk just sounds a bit like nothing. When you live with someone else, nothing is nothing. Everything is a plan.
But when you live on your own, everything is growth. You learn how to cure boredom; how to pull yourself back from sad Thursday evenings that would’ve floored you two years ago; how to be a better host; how to make decent social plans during the week instead of scuttling home to watch American sitcoms in the dark; how to assemble flatpack furniture that swears it requires two people; IT DOESN’T; how to sleep soundly despite knowing that if a murderer comes to call at 2am then there is no-one around to fight him off while you escape. Every day can be a little drip-drip-drip of progress, everything can be a secret project that you work on when no-one else is around.
Some nights, before I go to sleep, I make a list. There is a notebook on my bedside table with Aladdin on the front of it and a turquoise feather bookmark attached to it and at least once a week I pick it up and write at least three things from the day that I did well or am proud of. ACHIEVEMENTS. SOMETHINGS. Some of them are small and some are bigger, like: I learned how to make aubergine lasagne, or I realised everything is uncertain at the moment but whatever the outcome it will all be okay because I was fine before this and I will be fine afterwards too.
They are not things I would tweet about. They are not ~exciting announcements!!!~ and they are also not things that might surface naturally when I bump into someone from school in Tesco and they ask “so, what’s new?” while their baby stares at me. But they count. They count they count, and a lot of the time I feel like the most important achievements and somethings are these smaller, quieter ones we might not feel warrant sharing — the ones we keep chip-chip-chipping away at in the background while only those closest to us observe. I am living here alone, I am alone and I feel more myself because suddenly I have time to work out who that could be. I keep forgetting that this is all growth — it is scary as shit, but it is movement.