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At Home, Desirous of Inner Space


By Bonnie Tsui

I often wish that I still had my own room at home. There's something unequivocally splendid, even necessary, about having one's own space to think, unclouded by the marching and intruding presence of others. Since recently moving into a humming extended household consisting of various aunts and cousins in numbers double the size of my own immediate family, I have come to lament not having my own private room.

College has taken my cousins, my brother and myself away from home, perhaps permanently, in that "home" won't ever really be that place where we come back to day after day; rather, each return is marked by holiday after holiday. My aunt and my mother are single moms, and in this day and age, nostalgia aside, practicality doesn't allow for them to have two empty nests so close in proximity. What this means for me, besides having to fight for my food at the dinner table, is the loss of the little room in which I grew up, taking for granted the teeny box that held my secrets.

How I used to whine about my brother Andy having the bigger room, the TV, the stereo! What I would give now to have that little cubicle back! In my first year here I learned about sharing a space, and home was refuge from all the rabble and ruckus of student life. Perhaps the most important part of having a room of your own is being able to close the door behind you.

To be able to sleep late in the mornings, the still sanctity of my sleep-stale air protected by a closed door of my own! Instead, the slamming of other doors intrudes on the space shared with my mother, a disturbingly light sleeper and early waker. The bathroom is Grand Central Station at peak hours, and smaller than one of its ticket booths.

I am hard-pressed to have the willpower to sit down in a quiet room to write or read, knowing full well that the quiet is a fragile illusion wont to be broken by any family member steamrolling through, wanting the use of a television or a telephone and creating a ridiculous amount of noise in the process. The effort becomes moot, the book rendered unreadable by the voices demanding dinner, someone to set the table, my undivided attention.

There are countless interruptions, even in the physical absence of people. The Telephone: the sceptre that lurks, both welcome and threatening, ushering presences into my home over long distances. I unfortunately have not the inner strength to ignore this purring plea for my attention. My mother, my brother, my boyfriend. Telemarketers. Almost all of whom I want to talk to-just not now.

One day I found myself alone at home. The mothers were gone for the weekend, the cousins all shipped to work for the day. "What will I do with this blissfully quintessential Sunday afternoon?" I asked myself. Exercise at my leisure, take a shower, read the newspaper over a steaming plate of eggs? Perhaps visit a friend who I had been meaning to see, but somehow returning as quickly as politeness would allow to my temporary Isle of Solitude.

I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a deliciously refreshing package of frozen fruit bars, and I decided that I would not share. In all seriousness, I became the Queen of Selfishness, ferociously defending my kingdom from the ugly hordes of Other People.

I appreciate the company. Really, I do. Having people around serves up a special kind of comfort for the sometimes lonely soul who gets caught in the self-involved activities that we all do. But it makes it all the more easy for me to use them as an excuse to avoid the run I had intended to go on, the story I wanted to write, the book I wanted to read. The presence of people has the unfortunate drawback of being a convenient distraction away from myself.

There is much to be said for a day spent alone, without interruption except by one's own demons and spells. Solitude provides its own comforts, a space to work through joys and difficulties both, a place to simply be. I praise Virginia Woolf for alerting me so wisely to the room of my own, and I miss it verily.

When the afternoon hummed to a close, I had eaten only one raspberry-kiwi frozen fruit bar. I had had enough time only to decide that I like the peach variety better, as I adore the "real fruit chunks." I had read only one chapter of Bastard Out of Carolina, and the protagonist hadn't even finished sketching out her family history. The impending return of my cousins from work buzzed around my head like an increasingly angered insect, steadily rising in decibel. But the pleasures alone-ness had brought to me over that short afternoon, ephemeral as they may have been, had been a soothing balm for my raw and irritated nerves. To be able to select a room in which to recline while listening to the cheep of birds carried with it the lovely lilt of liberation.

The threat of Other People is real. And unavoidable, unless one adopts the J.D. Salinger method of hermetically-sealed containment. But most people probably prefer a bit of relational activity in their lives. So if one exists in this world, Other People will come: by plane, train, or automobile, via e-mail, snail mail, or personal courier, over the telephone line if that's what it takes. And as I return to the College for this, the fall of my junior year, the press of the real world and my responsibilities to others therein is felt ever more keenly.

Even putting a very temporary pause on a fastforward existence helps to recharge the most worn-out battery. Sometimes it is braver and more fruitful to be alone, especially when it takes some doing to make that scenario possible. Slow down, take a breath, avoid artificial lighting. But remember to unplug the phone.

Bonnie Tsui '99 of Winthrop House is now living luxuriously in the DeWolfe St. apartments.

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