In 2020, I lived in a total of five different places.
I went from living at my college dorm at the beginning of spring semester, to my friend’s leather futon when a crescendo of the worldwide pandemic forced schools to evacuate, to my parent’s three-bedroom in upstate NY, to my sister’s near-empty sorority house in Binghamton for the summer, and finally to my current boyfriend’s house in Pennsylvania.
The first seven months of last year were raucous, busy and loud and, at times, painfully silent. There was little in-between. New people filtered in and out of my life. Though my location changed frequently, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. Even when surrounded by the newest group of “friends,” I often felt completely alone.
I think there are two ways people choose to live life. One is day-by-day, where nothing from yesterday carries over and every new day is synonymous with starting over. The other way is with longer-term vision. I prefer to think of it as a building method. I have always been a builder. Since I was young, I preferred solid and lasting relationships. Consistency. Staying in places for longer periods of time and making them my own. I craved a sturdy foundation I could add onto over time; a home with a select few people to grow my life from.
In the aforementioned time, I was constantly uprooting myself and fleeing to the nearest battlefield where I might finally fight through the pain I’d undergone the year before—where I might find the pieces of me I’d lost. My mental health suffered. I struggled to grasp a sense of the person I was or wanted to be. A lot of this moving around had to do with me avoiding confrontation of issues I’d been facing for months: heartbreak, burnout, etc. Issues that had, in their severity, caused my preexisting mental struggles to surface in a way they never had before.
It was an intense cycle I avoided breaking. I dodged pertinent talks with the people who truly cared about me, embarking on an anthology of spontaneous “adventures” to escape my mind’s prison. I convinced myself that even the people who loved me most, like my family, didn’t want me while I was in that state. The only risk I wouldn’t take was that of disappointing them. Unbeknownst to even myself, I was headed down a dark road. I jumped at the chance to do extreme and dangerous things. To feel the thrill—to see how far I could push fate. Frankly, I didn’t care about what happened to me, what I remembered, or what tomorrow would bring. My wellbeing was last on the list of my priorities.
Sure, it wasn’t all negative. I was living in the moment. I enjoyed running boundless without ties, meeting new people, trying new things, feeling for and finding the edge. I amassed a collection of memories I wouldn’t have if not for my eager, daring and reckless energy. I made mistakes I otherwise wouldn’t have learned from. I was learning to live again, to love again, to be me again, as if I was born again.
I was seemingly drinking down the world in one voluminous gulp. It was fun and dauntless, but ultimately temporary. It was months of liminal time between the bad things and whatever was to come.
While I wouldn’t change this time of my life, I wouldn’t want to relive it. I’m a builder and always will be, and I think there’s value in being able to choose the people and places that will sustain you for long periods of time. Even when the life you’ve constructed comes crashing down, you can’t lose sight of that. While I needed to perform the experiment of living day-by-day to come to the conclusions I’m writing about here, I never thought about what I might have to come back to when I needed to be rejuvenated, grounded, held and reminded of what’s important.
I’m lucky. I realized the central piece of my identity I needed to regain to heal was the same piece I had willingly cast aside to deal with the pain; my tendency to love hard and care intensely. Beginning to care again was the most internally difficult and best thing I ever did.
It is in the darkest, most secret, and most unexpected of times when a plant grows from the seeds you’ve been sowing. I found my soulmate, learned how to recognize true friendship, reconnected with my family, and learned a healthy balance. The tasks I feared and avoided for so long were far easier than my mind previously projected. I’ve found it is almost always easier than you think to connect and even have the hard conversations with the people who love you. The people who give you a home in their heart.
I guess that’s why I build.