Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 12, 2022

Adjusting to my empty college house

By SABRINA ABRAMS | April 11, 2020


I sleep funny. While it has varied in severity over the course of the past eight or so years, I can’t ever remember a time where I had a normal sleep schedule. I’ve never loved the idea of being awake at 6 a.m. and incapable of sleeping when there was no one to talk to or hang out with (sleep aids such as melatonin be damned), and given the current global state of affairs, I dislike it even more. 

My family’s from New York City, so I’ll be staying in my off-campus residence in Baltimore for the ever-lengthening foreseeable future. I’m incredibly privileged to be able to stay in a well-sized and well-stocked house. However, over the past 10 days I have lived alone here on East University Parkway. Without the normal bustle of four other housemates and a litany of other people consistently passing through, I have had to face my own particular challenges. Instead of waking up to my housemates on our couch and getting to dissect our weekend nights, I come downstairs to nothing upon nothing. My present living situation has provided me with a handful of complications ranging from humorous to humiliating.

#1. I can’t cook beyond Top Ramen, but, given COVID-19, my inability to acquire CharMar breaded chicken at this period in time and no roommates to supervise me, I have decided to eventually work my way up to vaguely palatable meals — full disclosure, I eat like a child when left to my own devices. For me, this actually meant learning how to use our oven for the first time so I could make frozen Dino nuggets. When I asked a friend if the toaster oven would suffice, she assumed I meant that I wanted to actually toast the nuggets, if that gives you some sense of my cooking capabilities. 

It also meant perfecting my ability to boil water so I could make pasta and Mac and Cheese. It meant using a can opener for the first time so I could microwave soup. It meant that I successfully fried an egg today for the first time since my three failed attempts in the summer of 2018, over the very stove of the house I now live in (I accidentally dropped the egg on the carpet in the process  that time). I might make rice in my housemate’s rice cooker tonight. The world’s my oyster. Maybe soon I’ll try more ambitious recipes like four-cheese grilled cheese or roasted Brussels sprouts. 

#2. I am irrationally, deeply terrified of the dark. I’m 21, so this sounds ludicrous. Less embarrassingly, I am uncomfortable about the fact that I am presently living alone. These two attributes of my current situation have led to a deeply disconcerting experience. Being alone in the dark is something I was afraid of for all of grade school, and the stress of a global pandemic has caused me to return to the period of my life where, terrified after watching I Am Legend, I slept with the lights on in my room for three years. The anxiety of being alone in a large house, the generally heightened stress about the uncertainty of the future, coupled with the fact that the lights in our downstairs automatically turn on and off with motion sensors, mean that once it is dark outside I am confined to my room until sunrise. And the fact that I am often unable to sleep during odd hours of the night, often up at some period of time from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m., has worsened these fears.

I’m aware that my fear of the dark is not rooted in anything real. But overcoming such pathologies has been an insurmountable challenge now that I am living alone, and I feel that even as I am picking up some tactics of adulting, I am regressing in my fears to a more childlike state. While remaining socially connected, I still have to reckon with existing in this house, and I have learned quickly that there is nothing I can do about this situation except accept reality for what it is. I am learning to find value in the opportunity to improve my ever-applicable capabilities of living alone. Whether it’s basic cooking skills (I hope none of my housemates read this, but I promise I turned the oven off and cleaned my dishes) or braving long hours of the night, I ultimately hope to improve and maybe become a little less fearful at the end of the day. 

** Disclaimer: One of my housemates returned on April 1, after this article was written.

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