Photo of Jalynn and her brothers in the orange painted living room circa 2010.
Photo of Jalynn and her brothers in the orange painted living room circa 2010.

After my first semester of college, I knew one thing: I wanted to live alone.

Unlike intimacy, puberty, and cutting my own toenails, sharing space was not something compulsory, nor alchemic to my glow up. Dragging myself through the burning coals of somebody else’s elseness made me no diamond, no soror. Rather it made me ornery and out late into the night to avoid the other’s bedtime rituals.

And had I mentioned to anyone, I had mentioned to myself, my particular disdain for certain body odors. Musks were out. Egg smells were out. Haven’t showered in 2 days, out. And it seemed, my roommate at the time– a big-eyed blond sniffly band geek from Asheboro, North Carolina– wore each smell like a crown. Not to mention her boyfriend, who you can only imagine, reader, smelled like the boy version of an 18 year old band geek. 

There are many versions of this story,– how I got to North Carolina; the full ride letter I received in July while at church camp in Northern Minnesota; how I registered for the last freshmen orientation in August; how quickly I packed up my whole life and moved, with no liquid cash, knowing no one, to Chapel Hill for four years– but none as interesting as how I left Kernan. 

Known primarily for the hospital at the end of its drive, Kernan sits gently at the border between west county and west city. Baltimore, like no other place, holds these dualities of inner and outer with the robust closeness of a child to its mother’s bosom. I could walk to the city from my house, but the county claimed me through and educationally through. I could blissfully enjoy Leakin Park with my friends, but in true county naivety– with no knowledge of its history of body dumping. I could even, like Adnan and Hae Min, spend hours after school at Woodlawn Library, and think only of how if I got kicked out how much shame that would bring my mother because she worked there.

Throughout my years on Kernan Drive, I wasn’t an only child, but I had been a latchkey kid. Both of my older brothers had moved away. And soon after, my mom and I, in the middle of the night like Mary and Joseph carriaging to the inn, packed up all our stuff and moved out of my dad’s house. The house on Kernan had been ours for years. My dad had bought it in the early aughts with the intention of renovating, flipping , and cashing it in for a healthy green check. But it never happened. And the house sat in its own dust for years, until mom and I sought its asylum. 

The three bedroom house sat up a short, but very steep hill. Two stories of red brick with a side yard and a down-sloping parking space. It faced north and brought in very little light. It was crusted with bushes and high grass and what I can only guess was an eastern red cedar tree that loomed over everything. I lived in the attic, which meant my room was the width of the entire house. It smelled of belated cat pee and dead wood. I had a walk-in closet that reached to the tonsils of the house. I covered my attic slanted walls with clippings of album covers and strange phrases from magazines the library had retired. There was a built-in dresser I cluttered with cheap plastic jewelry and photos of my friends from summer camps. Oh, and lots and lots of duct tape wallets I had made.

It was in that house, that for the first time, I stood over a mirror trying to fit in a tampon. It was in that house I pined after my first girl crush, my neighbor whom I spent most my after-school hours with. It was in that house I ate alone, read alone, homeworked alone, and cried. Alone. 

The May after we moved in, mom and I decided that for our birthday, we were going to bring some light into the house. We couldn’t flip the house around to face south so we decided on another plan: to paint the living room sherbet orange. This is my happiest memory in that house– the two of us up to our necks in paint, rolling over the drab green and coating everything in orange. For hours we painted and giggled and dipped our rollers back into the orange sun. 

“Get that spot!” 

“Oh, don’t forget that corner!” 

“It looks so good, let’s start on the next wall!” 

Maybe it was the fumes or the joy of our own personal holiday or maybe it was the simple therapy of the color itself, but whatever it was, we were elated painting those walls. And coming home to it again and again served us well. 

Mostly, Mom worked. Literally all day and all night, from 9 a.m. in the morning to 11 p.m. and most every weekend a month besides one. For that reason, we didn’t spend much time together. So I filled my teenage years with OPP– other people’s parents, in other people’s homes, with other people’s children. And not to forget: Jesus. I was deep into the holy roller life. During the week I was fed, driven, and even clothed by OPP and on the weekends and Wednesday nights I was at church, drinking in all the juices of an everlasting Christ. But when I wasn’t after school kicking a soccer ball around a field or praying the gay away in the pews, I was home alone. And I hated it. 

If I hadn’t started writing this, I may have forgotten why we left Kernan. But now, I remember. Dad’s house, the house I grew up in, was being foreclosed. And Mom didn’t want him houseless. So she said we would move into an apartment in Owings Mills and let him have the Kernan home. And as stealthily as we had entered, we packed up all our things and left. 

So reader, you can imagine my surprise, my mistrust, when after one semester at college I discovered I really wanted to live alone. That was 10 years ago. And for most of the last decade, I’ve lived in that distrust. Because how can a lonely person trust the lonely desire to live alone? On the surface it seems cowardly; at arm’s length it seems re-traumatizing.

But last year, I took the plunge. I messed up the plan. I told my best friend, only months after we moved into our apartment, that I wanted to live alone. And I have. For nearly a year now, I have spent every day coming home to myself in the shape of things– the pothos atop my cupboard, the curly tailed cat on my bed, the long hallway that licks the heels of my full-sized kitchen. I have cried more this year than any year. I have walked just as much. I have had all the space to feel, to mess, to listen.

I love listening. The deep rumble of motor bikes from the street, the firm hush of rain at my window, the growl of a lawn being mowed somewhere just beyond the alley. And then there’s me, my mind, sloshing around in its herenesses. All mine. To myself. Letting me feel through whatever and for as long and with every ounce of loving kindness I can extend. It’s kismet this me and me. My me and I. Here, in Woodbrook or Mondawmin or whatever you want to call it, I know I’m in the right place and it’s me by my side, present and pushing, happy and showing up everyday to feed, hold, and shit as the animal I am. 

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Jalynn Harris

Jalynn Harris (she/they) is a writer, educator, and book designer from Baltimore. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Feminist Studies, Poem-A-Day, The Hopkins Review, The...

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