I'm staying at my parents' house while they're on vacation in Seattle this week. I grew up here, so there's not much unfamiliar to me except the layout of the new kitchen. (It only took me 13 minutes to locate the sandwich baggies.)
The house is large but not cavernous, warm, with a big buttery sofa and a 54-inch TV. It should be the most comfortable place in the world to me. But...it's not. Spending a week here feels like staying in a hotel: It's well-appointed, it has everything I need...but none of it is my stuff.
I've been living alone in various one-bedroom apartments for more than five years now. My place has my shampoo, my water pressure, my lighting, my towels, my toilet, my clothes, my milk, my favorite cereals, my favorite bowl. And all of it is just a few paces away. Arm's reach, really. I am at home there. Maybe too comfortable. When does a single person become so embedded in her routine that she can no longer let another person in? I'm out of sorts with a houseguest sleeping on my couch! How will I ever be able to co-habitate with a significant other? The funny thing is, motherhood -- the thing that terrifies me most -- is probably the only thing that will force me out of my neuroses (or force my neuroses out of me). I mean, you can't throw your kids out of the house for staining the sofa or leaving a ziploc bag half open.
But I digress.
I'm a little thrown by my discomfort in what I've always considered "my house." The space is not conducive to multi-tasking: If I'm peeing in the powder room and suddenly remember that I need to plug my computer into the charger upstairs, I have to walk so far from task A to task B that I get sidetracked halfway through -- say, I spot the empty cat bowl and veer off to fill it -- and task B (and C and D and E) is forgotten until that moment right before I fall asleep, when it's too late to do anything but stay up another 30 minutes fretting about it. In my apartment, the toilet and the computer are less than two dozen paces apart. Not much room for distraction there.
In my parents' house, the towels smell musty like the linen closet and the kitchen counters have crumbs that aren't mine. The toilets are too low. The spoons don't feel the same in my mouth when I eat my breakfast cereal. There are bugs here that wander in from the woods behind the house. I hate bugs, that's why I live on the 10th floor. And as for sleep...the mattress, the night light and the temperature are all unfamiliar, and that makes my sleeping self quite tense. I went one night -- ONE NIGHT -- without my mouth guard, and I ground my teeth so hard I chipped a molar.
But then, breaking my routine for a few days is like splashing cold water on my face. It really wakes me up. Reminds me to keep trying new stuff -- maybe I should keep a box of Cap'n Crunch in my own pantry. Or get cable TV. Or hang out with my sister more. When I go home on Friday night I will look at my apartment with new eyes, notice the scuff on the wall and the paint cans in the corner I've trained myself not to see. Maybe I'll tackle that home improvement to-do list and clean the place up a bit. I don't want to get too comfortable in my own life.