In the introduction to her novel The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros talks about how she “dreamed about having a silent home, just to herself, the way other women dreamed of their weddings.” I am a sucker for a good book introduction. Looking towards a fall in which I would move into an apartment by myself for the first time, I was struck by those words. I had never dwelt upon the sheer independence of living in a house by one’s self.
I siphoned newfound strength from Cisneros, one of my authorial heroes. In her introduction, she relishes the opportunity to fill her home with whatever she wants, dragged home from the flea market. The counter in my kitchen has a pastel-painted teddy bear cookie jar. The couches in my living room are scattered with books that I am partly finished with. The other day, I purchased a decades-old map of Alaska to hang on my wall. The clutter that I have learned to keep within the confines of my own bedroom can now stretch its stiffened legs into every room of my apartment. The chaos of objects that gives me life will no longer cause my housemates discomfort.
I badly need to purchase some lamps. Just like Cisneros, I huddle in the darkening living room in the evenings, surrounded by a single string of Christmas lights, and pretend that I am not afraid. There is a fear that comes from living alone. When the darkness sets in each night, I feel like I did when I was six and my babysitter would close my bedroom door at night. I was too afraid to tell her that my parents always left it open. And when it was open, there was easy access to help. A sealed bedroom door left me completely vulnerable to the fears that simmer in the shadows beneath twin beds.
Perhaps what I really need to invest in is a nightlight. Preferably dinosaur shaped.
My apartment is a segment of a historical house just down from Main Street. I imagine some wealthy town official once lived here with his family and that my living room was the foyer they greeted guests in.
The real magic lies in my front window. It’s huge, segmented off into asymmetrical panes, and gives me a beautiful glimpse of the tree outside. Anne of Green Gables would feel faint by the scope of imagination it allows. I am already looking forward to watching the leaves subside into an array of autumnal paint swatches from behind the safety of the ancient storm window.
One of my favorite parts of the day is pulling back the blinds to look at my newfound friend. I really ought to name the tree to allow for sufficient bonding. And if I didn’t pull back the blinds, no one would. A frightening amount of responsibility, truly.
According to my careful research, 30% of Americans live in a house by themselves. It can be lonely. I know most of you were thinking that. It’s so different from the constant moving and talking and singing of the house that I grew up in. It doesn’t fit the narrative of family households that I was raised in. I am not sure I have ever watched a TV show where someone lives alone. But maybe I did spent a bit too much time watching reruns of Full House.
But I want to celebrate this narrative just like Sandra Cisneros. It is one of independence, where you can decide what scent of soap you like best. It is one of facing your fears and calling the city clerk to figure out how to get your trash picked up. It is one of small joys, where you pass the time by deciding which blinds will let in the best sunlight. It is one of loneliness, where friends driving up on a Friday night with apple cider feels like a miracle.
This is the time to embrace the independent streak of some of my heroes. This era of living alone is dedicated to Sandra Cisneros, Lorelai Gilmore, and Anne Shirley. It is dedicated to my pale green kitchen table and my new plunger.
Susannah Boersma graduated from Calvin University in May of 2020. She studied secondary English education. She lives in Grand Rapids and works at Carson City-Crystal High School as an English teacher.