Why I Live with My Mother

As it turns out, you can go home again

| May/June 2002

When I graduated college I was determined not to move back in with my parents. Born in 1976, I’m a baby Gen Xer. I watched from the safety of high school as those leading the generational pack were deposited into a jobless marketplace and went back to mom and dad’s house in droves. The culture of ironic slack ensued. Like a younger sibling, I aspired to dress and talk like Janeane Garofalo’s consummate no-bullshit cool girl in Reality Bites. But the truth was that I had no desire to end up like Winona Ryder, a valedictorian who was seriously considering taking a job at the Gap.

I snarled with contempt when I talked about those poor kids who "lived at home." (As in, "You’re going out with the guy from the bookstore? He lives at home!" The absurdity of this expression—to say nothing of the cruelty with which I flung it around—wouldn’t dawn on me until much later.) It was a point of pride for me: I was going to pay rent on my own apartment with the wages from my first real job. I wanted to decorate as offensively as I pleased, smoke cigarettes with abandon, or have overnight male visitors if such a situation were to present itself. (It didn’t, much.)

I wanted my own place.

A few months into my job search I began to understand, deep inside, that The New Yorker was not going to seek me out for a staff writer position. Much soul-searching and Smiths-listening took place. Then I accepted a perfectly decent staff writing job at a local university. My best friend, Kristen, and I snagged a little two-bedroom in downtown Philadelphia, a posh neighborhood that thankfully included a few dumpy blocks in our price range.

The place featured an abnormally long, narrow hallway that squashed average-sized visitors as they entered and eventually spat them out into our living room, which we’d transformed into a pop culture shrine. We hung an irony-laden Spice Girls poster in the bathroom; at 10 by 14 inches, it took up all the available wall space. The kitchen was so small we had to take turns standing in it.

Kristen and I lovingly referred to our building as "the tenement slum." True to form, the other residents seemed to have hundreds of crying babies, loud music, loud, disturbing-sounding sex, and perennially overflowing garbage bags in the hall. Yeah, it was gross. But it was ours. And we decided we had the best deal on the block: The residents of the adorable colonials across the way paid astronomical rents for a view of our squat little apartment complex, while for a greatly reduced price we could imagine ourselves a part of their chic existence just by leaning out the window! For nearly a year the two of us lived it up in that apartment, raptly following stupid TV, trying halfheartedly to start a zine, stalking every boy in the building under the age of 30, and stumbling home in the wee hours from the hole-in-the-wall around the corner.

THEN MY DAD died, and my new life came to a screeching halt. Well, not so fast—he’d been ill for years, and once the end was undeniably near I started moving back home, bit by bit.

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