Coming home and opening the front door to a house that wasn’t owned by my parents was something I had never experienced until I transferred to Florida State University. A place to call my own, well, that’s The American Dream, damn it! After my first day of syllabus reviews and ice breakers, I was ready to come home, stuff my face and pass out before my next class.
I got home and headed straight for the fridge, hoping to find edible treasure. What I found was unsalvageable leftovers. I thought back to the care package I received the week before: my mom’s steak, marinated in green peppers and grilled onions with a side of potatoes au gratin. I couldn’t believe I was catching feels over an empty stomach. I was homesick alright, but I’ll be damned if I was going to admit it.
Back in Windermere, my Jack Russell Terrier, Bella, would always sit by the dining room window looking out to the front yard. With her snout resting on the windowsill, sniffing at squirrels through the glass, she’d patiently await my arrival. Now, I opened my front door to a vast and dim living room.
With any luck, I’d experience human interaction with my next-door neighbor Paul, who was usually on his balcony smoking a cigarette or John, who was always leaving his house just as I arrived. I didn’t hold my breath; my street was static and I couldn’t cope with the silence.
I found myself making up places I had to be to avoid staying indoors. Everyday I’d drag myself home at nightfall just in time to crawl into bed, locking myself in and throwing away the key. I was living in a dungeon of lonely thoughts and so desperately needed to be rescued. I craved a good conversation with a friendly face to numb the pain of being abandoned in a surreal gray structure with chipping paint.
During my first week of school, I felt like another nameless transfer student. I imagined casually stumbling into the people to fill my Tallahassee social circle, but replacing a lifetime of friends doesn’t happen overnight. Naturally, I wanted to explore everything around me, but I needed someone to show me the ropes. From time to time I scrolled through my phone thinking of someone to invite over only to remember that all my contacts were 213 miles away.
After a few days of peace and quiet at my new place (party of one), I finally cracked. I couldn’t sleep because Lucas, my brother and a work-from-home DJ, wasn’t slaving over the same track for nine hours straight. I used to think having a recording studio in my house was a nightmare. Why was the absence of music that once kept me up at night so damn irritating now? I had the sudden urge to wander through the halls of my old house and open Lucas’ door.
I should have called it a night. Eight full hours of rest is a luxury unknown to college students. I should have jumped on the chance to claim my sleep and wake up refreshed for classes the next day. Instead, I laid in bed restless. I tried turning on my side, rolling on my back, distracting myself with the Internet and even trying to read myself to sleep.
Such a still night back home would have been a rare treat, but my skin crawled in that room. I felt like Squidward in the episode of Spongebob when he gets lost in a lifeless dimension with no one to talk him out of his insanity. This wasn’t a home; it was a prison sentence. I hadn’t expected moving out would mean trading basslines for inquietude.
After that night, I made it my personal mission to make a home away from home. I couldn’t be with my real family, so I decided a makeshift family of new friends would have to do. I started by leaving my depressing town house; I moved into a lively apartment complex, complete with a gorgeous pool, two hilarious roommates and on weekends, a resident DJ.
In my first two days, I met everyone on my floor when I had to ask for a wine key. My roommates Abby and Josie couldn’t stop laughing when I returned from my quest with red wine splattered on my white shirt. None of my neighbors had a corkscrew so I had to borrow a swiss army knife from apartment 1303 to pry the bottle open. I laughed until I cried.
When I went to bed that night, I laid down and looked out the window. I thought of Lucas and wondered if he was driving my parents crazy with his nonstop party hour. The thought made me smile. Maybe it was the wine, but I slept more soundly than I had in weeks.