I don’t know which is worse: that I feel burnt out by 27, or that I’m not afraid of never amounting to anything anymore? I’ve spent the majority of my life with a bit of a laissez-faire attitude about everything. As long as I was fed, clothed, happy (or at least content), and surrounded by people I loved, what I did didn’t really matter. I guess that’s still true, to some extent. But I’m an adult now, right? People all around me are getting married, having families, setting goals and achieving them. I know people who are buying houses. People my age own fucking property! When the hell did this start to happen?
When I was 6 years old, my best friend Nikki and I (really my only friend at that age) used to play pretend. We’d make believe we were older, wiser, and as such more interesting people who had their shit together. We’d pretend we were … wait for it … 17. Teenagers in highschool was the one thing we so desperately wanted to be. Every now and then we’d even pretend we were 20! At the time, that seemed like a lifetime away. The age of real adulthood. Now I’m 27 and all I’ve successfully learned since then is that to consider yourself a real adult in your 20’s is laughable. And what I’ve started to gather in my mid-now-entering-late-twenties (with the help of some feedback from my brilliant and kind mother) is that you never really become an adult. You always feel like you’re almost playing pretend, while trying to tackle that next major life goal. To climb that next highest proverbial mountain, whether it’s finishing a master’s degree, getting married and squeezing a kid out, or owning fucking property.
To me, owning property is the scariest thing in the world. Maybe it’s because it’s the final frontier of adulthood. That once you own a house, you’re kind of financially obligated to this life-force-sucking entity that doesn’t even shit or cry. It is, in my mind, scarier than having a child. Owning property is more frightening to me than giving birth to a living, breathing, screaming, shitting creature that is going to dominate my life for he next 18 years of its existence. Explain that fucked up shit to me, will you?
Then again, maybe my fear of owning property comes from watching my parents struggle to live together before their separation. Maybe it stems from watching them do this clumsy dance around each other in the initial days of their trial separation, attempting to keep my brother and I in the house we’d grown up in, while trying not to live together. It was an awkward time, one I vaguely remember. What I remember most about that time, however, is love. Unadulterated, unequivocal love.
You see, although my parents were splitting up, and while we lived in at least four different homes, including our own, during that tumultuous period of flux and change, things never felt bad. By any logical conclusion, that time should have been the most difficult in my young life. I sure as hell know that when they sat us down to tell us they were separating, it felt like the end of the world. But that gaping hole was very quickly filled with the most important thing in my life: love.
All of it was worthwhile, and none of it was scary, because no matter what, we had each other. I had my Mom (who, over the years, I’ve lovingly come to call Marmee), my Dad (I’ve periodically called him Pops, which has now progressed into Popsicle, and I am not sorry), and my older brother, Derek. Yeah, sure, Derek was a typical older brother in that he tormented me, but I’m old enough now that I can see how little that actually mattered, where as at the time it was fucking cataclysmic.
When my Dad finally found a new place, after the decision to fully separate (they wouldn’t divorce for a number of years after, for no other reason than convenience), Derek and I shared a bedroom. It was a small two bedroom apartment on the 7th floor, if I’m not mistaken, in the middle of three apartment buildings next to Bayview Village. A mall for the wealthy in the middle of a neighborhood for the very much not. It’s odd how often that happens.
We had two twin beds in the one room, a small closet by Derek’s feet, the window in his corner, and two nightstands on either side of us. Those nightstands and at least one of those beds are still in our father’s basement in Ottawa. It was in that room that I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time, a book that was originally bought for Derek. He couldn’t have been less interested (he still hasn’t read them), and I was bored that day with nothing to do. So my Dad told me to pick it up and see if I liked it. I did. I’d go on to spend the next 15 years trying to convince Derek that he should really give it a try. He still hasn’t. I should really stop prodding.
It was in that room I’d cry and ask him impossible questions like how did he get so many people to like him? How did he have so many friends? How should I behave so that I could fit in better? How did I get kids to stop picking on me? How could I stop feeling so alone at school?
He’d get frustrated and tell me how he couldn’t possibly answer such questions, and why would I ask him dumb things? A blend of older brother protectiveness and concern, and older brother stubbornness and frustration came out in that room in a very strange way. Both loving and dismissive, he’d tell me to just be myself, and then he’d tell me to stop bothering him.
It was in that apartment that we’d marathon Party of Five and Boston Public with our Dad on the couch after dinner. Tuesday nights were scrambled eggs, like clockwork, and Thursday nights we had Uncle Ben’s rice and chicken fingers. If there’s anything I know I’ve inherited from my father, it’s his innate ability to be a creature of unshakable habit.
In all of this, the tidbits that made me, the details that molded me into the stunningly uncertain creature typing this out right now, as I said, we had love. A kind of comfort and warm solemnity that permeated everything we did as a family, together and apart. So my parents separating never scared me, because I always knew how much we loved each other. My brother picking on me never really hurt that much, because I knew even as a kid I’d do anything for him, and he’d do the same for me. That in all of it, no matter what, we had each other and that was enough.
So I think I’m afraid to own property because it’s symbolic, to me, of no longer requiring love. I’ve lived nomadically, to a certain extent, hopping from home to home while my parents got their shit together (and honestly loving every minute of it). Staying in the same town, for the most part, but bouncing from room to room, bed to bed, roof to roof. And throughout all of that, the most comforting thing I ever had was the love of my family.
I always fantasized about the idea of owning a home, as a kid. That the home my parents lived in would one day be mine, and that our whole family would always come together for holidays. We would gather in the same place, and be together, full of love. I can remember attributing that memory to the house in Home Alone, for some reason, as well as Little Women (1994), when Jo gets Plumfield. Odd combination, I know. I’m still trying to explain how my brain works, so don’t ask. But then my parents split up, and our home was kind of this through point, a border control where we’d all pass, but we’d never stay. And that idea of the Home that Always Was kind of faded, and eventually vanished. I learned quickly at a young age how insignificant property truly was, so long as you had love. That your home would always exist in your heart, and the heart of the people who know and love you. Property was just a vessel.
So maybe that’s why I’m afraid of owning property…