On most planets, seeing a rat stroll across one's living room carpet would have been the fabled straw that broke the camel's back, but on my planet, it was more of a portent that my 13 years of living on my own in Chicago was most likely (I was going to leave myself some wiggle room, dammit) coming to an embarrassing, sort of gross end.
I moved out of my parents' suburban Chicago home in October 1993, mere months after turning 21. I decided that living with my best friend in the thick of the North Side of Chicago was far more interesting to me than finishing college on my parents' dime. I had a decent desk job that paid really well for simply being a part-timer, so off I went into the wilds of Boystown and Wrigleyville to fulfill my dream of living in the city.
Thirteen years later, wallowing in a cesspool of credit card debt, behind on my rent and, as noted above, seeing rats in my almost $1,000/month apartment, it was apparent that I needed to suck it up and return to the suburbs from whence I came or I was going to come home one day and find my possessions on the curb.
Some would call it Kismet that my parents were having some financial struggles of their own and could use someone to help out with expenses -- I called it a steaming pile of personal failure.
Logically, I knew this was the best for me, and it would be helpful for my elderly parents, and that I was being proactive in trying to stop and repair the hemorrhaging of my money and destruction of my credit history. Emotionally, I was destroyed.
I have a well-paying grown-up job, I have been living on my own for 13 years, I'm good at this living on my own thing! I can't live my life, my glorious hip life out in the suburbs, with people asking me questions or being loud and old and needy.
Then I realized that I was mourning a life that I didn't actually have. I wasn't spending my weekends in a coffee shop writing whimsical screenplays or going to see the hip/hot/happening bands at Metro or having endless urban adventures. I was going to work, coming home, watching TV, dorking around online, sweating over my lack of money, going to bed.
I wasn't Carrie Bradshaw -- hoo boy, not in the least. I was just Jane C. Nolan, broke as hell and lucky enough to have a safety net.
The transition from living a life with zero roomies to having two roomies hasn't been all home-cooked meals and a pantry with seemingly bottomless cookies. I have learned that having old people for parents results in the expending of a tremendous amount of energy. I won't go so far as to equate it to having toddlers, but I have found myself barking orders at them to stop doing assorted things, be it bickering during dinner over misheard statements (why yes, of course they're both a bit hard of hearing) or taking physical risks (my old man has health issues and going up on a ladder is NO LONGER GOING TO HAPPEN SO PLEASE STOP SAYING YOU'RE GOING TO CLEAN THE GUTTERS IN THE SPRING, FATHER).
I don't have a curfew or anything like that, but it's still a little odd to be staring down the barrel at 40 and telling my parents where I'm going and when I imagine I will be back. It's mostly to be polite, but there's still the teenage girl lurking inside me that remembers the first time she stayed out until three a.m. and came home to find her father standing in the kitchen and all he said was “We'll discuss this in the morning” and she was so terrified she cried herself to sleep.
While I was relieved that I would finally be able to get my head above water financially speaking (and NOT HAVING A RAT AS A ROOMMATE), I saw it as a killing blow to my having any potential suitors. Mind you, I had never HAD any suitors in my 34 years, but I was certain living with parents sealed my doom.
Living with a parent is often touted as a gigantic dealbreaker in assorted magazines and advice columns, and my having to scurry back to Mommy and Daddy because I couldn't manage my money? No way would I ever see a man naked within my lifetime unless it was by accident or in a film.
But in a twist befitting a romcom that will never get made because its main character would be a fat woman in her mid-30s, moving back in with my parents provided me with the opportunity to go to New Jersey in 2007 and meet a fellow...who lived in New frickin' Zealand.
Before The Move, I could only dream of hauling my cookies 16,000 miles to romance said fellow. In February 2008, I found myself flying a jillion hours to see the most beautiful country on the planet and lay the groundwork for a real-live relationship that is awesome. And my parents will be getting another roomie in the new year (fingers crossed and the U.S. Government doesn't crotch-block me)!
It's going on six years since I scurried back to the house I grew up in. I've paid off my debts, got myself a festive relationship, and bought my first brand-new car since the early 90s. I want to say that yes, I will move out eventually, but when your mom begs you not to leave her and your dad has a stroke*, it's a little harder to say “Yeah, the clock is ticking, old people, so suck it up.”
Luckily, I'm graced with a fiance that isn't terrified at the prospect of living with the seniors, so for the moment, we're just going to play it by ear. There are bottomless cookies, after all.
*Dad is doing just fine and improving each day. In a stroke (hurr hurr) of senior genius, he had said stroke the day before my fiance came for a visit this past August. Good timing, Popsy!