You know the old saying. Well, you probably know some version of it anyway. The idiom’s origins date back to a 1940 Thomas Wolfe novel and the sentiment has been widely debated by literary snobs. And Bon Jovi. Clearly you can throw millennials into that mix as well. Who the hell are you to tell us we can’t go home?
I spent Labor Day weekend back in PA. I was starting to miss my dog so much that I felt an unpleasant twinge whenever I thought about him. So I drove 200 miles from Rockville, MD (population 64,000) back to Nazareth, PA (population 5,700) to do absolutely nothing but read Harry Potter by day and lie in my sister’s bed watching Stranger Things (my second round, her first) with her at night.
I purposely put off going home for a while. I wanted to wait at least a month, to settle into my new life, to avoid this all feeling temporary. It happened so quickly, I need it to feel real. Everyone at work who hears about the total whirlwind my life was in July—how I permanently moved down less than 24 hours before I started the job, how I uprooted my life and came from out of state to join the cause—asks me if I’m homesick. The answer is always no. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)
And in going back and staying in my old room out of a tiny suitcase, going through the motions of yet another boring weekend home with no plans and nothing to do, I realized just how stagnant my life had become over the past three years. How very long overdue this life change has been. How the one emotion that struck me when I arrived back at my apartment (my apartment) Monday afternoon was relief that the worst is finally behind me.
This new chapter has been such a long time coming.
Now, I can’t generalize and say that most college grads saddled with $20-80,000 in loan debt haven’t managed to get their life on track at an “acceptable” age. Some did. My best friend graduated from the same school in the same year that I did and was married within six months, had her Master’s by the following summer, and now lives abroad with her adorable military family in Germany. (Check out their adventures!) Jennifer Martinez, making you feel like a sub-par human since 2010! Just kidding. I love you. But as soon as you had a kid, you sort of became a mystical alien.
In my experience and in those of my friends, my bestie’s the exception. A handful still live with their parents. Those who managed to get out had help from a significant other. (What are those?) Or got very lucky with their job search earlier than expected. I had no such luck. Third time’s the charm, as that other old saying goes, and this one better stick. (It will.)
The first time I lived “on my own” (with three roommates), it was the best time of my life. I moved into Evergreen Commons with my college pals (EC❤243!) and had an absolute blast my junior and senior year. I can’t even downplay it. I had so much fun. It made those final two years at LHU simply unforgettable. After graduation, returning home was so. hard. To go from utter independence to feeling like a high schooler again was the harshest of reality slaps. I was flat-out fucking miserable in no time at all.
Post-grad/unemployment depression is a very real thing and don’t let anyone roll their eyes and try to tell you it’s not. In the time between my first and second “on my own” phases, I used to cry. For no reason. Randomly. And if you know me, I typically just don’t do that. But I would come home from working at the baseball stadium or the mall and just sit in my car in the driveway at 11 p.m. and bawl. I cried the night of my 24th birthday, I remember that distinctly. I got inside my own head, as I tend to do sometimes, thinking, another year lost. Another year I’m still stuck here. Stuck doing nothing. Then I went inside and discovered that my sister and her friends had filled my entire bedroom with balloons and promptly cried again.
Second time I lived “on my own,” I moved in with my grandparents. I took a freelance job for an online newspaper in the same NJ town I grew up in—my first official journalism job! The pay was absolute shit, so much so that I had to get a part-time side gig managing a fro-yo shop, but I was building a massive portfolio of clips. At the same time, I was now close to my old (and new!) Jersey friends, hitting clubs on Friday nights and truly enjoying a busy social life for the first time since school. I was hardly ever home and had no one to answer to—I had my own key and came and went as I pleased. I picked up groceries and ate on my own schedule, drove all around Monmouth County reporting during the day, worked the closing shift at the shop at night, and spent weekends stumbling in anywhere between 3 and 6 a.m. and sleeping off hangovers until well past noon. It was bliss.
But all good things must come to an end. (Who even comes up with half these stupid sayings?) Hurricane Sandy took my fro-yo job and a few months later, I left the freelance gig for a more stable income as a part-time staff writer, and, well, you know how that ended.
2013 was a very dark year for me, particularly in the spring/summer months. I was 25 and my quarter-life crisis hit me like a ton of bricks. I was unemployed. Again. Having been determined to make my next move into a Jersey or NYC apartment, I was loath to leave my grandparents’ house. (I lived there rent-free, bless their hearts.) But I hit dead end after dead end in my job search and sank slowly into a very, very deep funk. There was one hell of a storm cloud hanging over my head and it affected every waking moment of my life. It drove wedges into all my friendships. If that wasn’t bonafide depression, I don’t know what is. I scared myself. My sleep schedule was completely fucked. I stayed up obscenely late just watching TV and developing a severe Pinterest addiction. If I tried to go to bed early, I tossed and turned for hours, so eventually I just stopped trying. As time went on, I was still awake as the sun was coming up and I could hear my grandpa getting ready to go the gym. I’d finally doze off around 7 a.m. intending to wake up around noon at the latest, but pretty soon I stopped setting an alarm because I just didn’t care. My nanny would come in to check on me sometimes and I had to pretend that I was taking a nap at 3 p.m. because I had a headache when really, I just hadn’t woken up yet. I stopped eating. One day I rolled over, feeling like I’d been plowed down by an 18-wheeler, thinking it had to only be 11 or so? Maybe noon? It was 5:20 p.m.
I went home because I had to, financially and mentally. My car broke down on the way back from a college reunion weekend and I had to fork over half my savings to fix it. My checking account was pathetically low, like college low, when you check it and you have maybe juuust enough for food to last until your next paycheck but you still buy a fifth of rum for Friday night. I was destitute and desperate to feel human again.
So almost a year to the day after moving out, I moved back in with my parents. Again. Who says you can’t go home, huh?
I hit the job hunt so hard after that, it hit back. After a month-long stretch of nothing, I landed six interviews in one week. I got hired at the same company that had given me my first internship, this time with their newspaper division. I was a part-time publishing assistant for a small-town publication. A month later, I got bumped up to full-time. I had benefits. Benefits. (And just in time, too—thanks, Obama!) A year later, I was made editor. But more on that later.
So Thomas Wolfe can suck it. There is no rule book for this stage of the game. I don’t know how many times I commiserated with friends over cocktails, whether they were in journalism or not, that surely this monstrously laughable excuse for existence eventually gets better.
It does. And if it doesn’t, I hope you’re as lucky as I was to have incredibly gracious parents willing to let you come back … perhaps more than once.