I grew up in a loud home. My siblings and I lived in a townhouse a few sizes too small for the six of us, where no hallway, bedroom, or closet was a refuge from the endless noise. My little brothers would yell to each other across the living room, my mom would play music in the kitchen while she blended, stirred and chopped, and my youngest brother would practice the drums in his room upstairs before lessons on Thursdays.
I learned to fall into a soundless sleep to a background of talking and laughter the way that city kids drifted off to honking taxi cabs.
I know that this kind of experience is not universal. Neither of my two roommates have any siblings, and so were unfazed by the quiet when we moved into our dorm. They had grown up in rooms of their own, in houses where the loudest noise was the thump of a washing machine downstairs. Before moving into college, I told them all about how insanely jealous I was of this.
“You can hear yourself think?” I teased them. “There’s no one banging pots and pans outside of your bedroom door?” (This was a favorite pastime of my brothers’ when they were especially bored. I wish I was joking.)
But, when we finally moved in, the quiet of the dorm became something else altogether. I remember the first night I fell asleep alone in our new room, listening to nothing but the AC humming.
The quiet was so deeply lonely.
Growing up in a loud, large family taught me so many things: I can tolerate hours on end of Disney Jr. without complaint, share my favorite t-shirts and dresses without a second thought, make a mean mac n’ cheese for six, and fiercely protect my own. Being a big sister taught me patience and love all at the same time, and I’m forever better for it.
But what I never did learn was how to be alone.
I’ve made so many new friends and connections since coming to college. I’ve joined the mock trial team, go to Core at RecSports three times a week and have just started mentoring middle school students from Alachua County. My days are full of activities and people, each moment bustling and busy.
In all of this, I’ve also been working hard on making time to be comfortable with being by myself. Becoming an independent adult means not needing to be glued to another person 24/7, or needing to rely on a friend to walk with you to the dining hall. I’m learning how to give myself time to relax in my dorm when I need it, or how to say “no” to an activity I know I don’t have enough time in the day for.
I’ve heard so many stories of people having difficulties with making friends and “finding their people” in college, but that wasn’t what I struggled with.
For me, it was the spaces in between.
These were the spaces where I sat in Library West with no one but my required reading for company, or ate Krishna under a tree in Plaza on a day when none of my friends were free. These are the things I do for me.
Each day, the hum of the AC in my empty dorm sounds a little less alien. Each day, I’m getting a little bit more used to having moments to be by myself. I’m not always great at it—there are some days that my three back-to-back classes feel like the most unbearably lonely thing in the world—but it’s a work in progress.
If all else fails, I can always buy some pots and pans.