Once upon a time, I lived alone. I was a bold young thing who ate cereal for dinner and chose the paint colors I wanted. I was accustomed to sleeping by myself, though I daydreamed about a time when a single bed would no longer suffice. In the comfort of my own apartment, I felt safe, but one summer, I pushed the envelope with a house- and dog-sitting job in rural Western Massachusetts. Molly the Labrador retriever and I would be roommates in a log cabin in the Eastern foothills of the Berkshires for a month.
I was 25 years old, and it was my final summer vacation—the three precious months between my first and second years of graduate school—and I was determined to enjoy it. So I subleased my apartment in town and patched together a summer of house-sitting, camp counseling, and traveling. It was a near-ideal situation, but on my first night alone in the cabin, I had second thoughts. I was brave, and I was smart, but apparently, I was also afraid of the dark. Not the dark you experience in town, but the kind that creeps out of the woods to wrap a small cabin in a seemingly unnatural stillness. In truth, it’s probably the most natural thing in the world. And I desperately missed my studio apartment facing the 24-hour Dunkin Donuts.
Molly the Lab would be no match for the bears and psychopaths I imagined lurking outside my bedroom window. After a few nights of insomnia, I trained myself to sleep alone in the cabin. It took prayer, meditation, and probably some bedtime phone calls to my parents back in Minnesota. I also welcomed company and had visits from a college friend and the eccentric guy I was casually dating at the time (But since he’d once told me that he thought it would be exciting to rob a bank—a seemingly viable option for him—I wasn’t sure if I was more or less comforted by his presence).
The month in the cabin holds sweet memories for me—picking fresh blueberries in the yard, listening to a Joni Mitchell album on repeat, and indulging in baked goods from the Williamsburg General Store at the bottom of the dirt road. On hot afternoons, my guests and I would hike up the road to Chapel Brook, a little swimming hole with natural water slides. But more than anything, I think of that cabin as I place where I looked fear in the eye and said, “F*ck you. I’m stronger than you.”
I need to remember that part of me—the part that pushes back rather than backing down. The part that does difficult or scary things because I know they’ll be good for me. That part of me is a tough mother-you-know-what, and I need to embrace her.
How about you?
I Want to Know
- What are you afraid of?
- Have you ever lived alone?