Over ten years ago, I moved in with one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life (still true, and there’s been a lot of competition since then). We became friends because she was dating my ex-boyfriend, who was then my best friend. Many people warned us this was a terrible idea, that nothing good could come of it. We rolled our eyes at all of them and did it anyway.
I was nervous. I had never really lived with a girl before. I had no sisters, I hadn’t even really had a lot of female friends. I wasn’t great with women and I wasn’t sure how it would go. But I was tired of living alone, I wanted something new. I had no idea just how new things were about to get.
Before the end of that year there were five of us girls living in a two bedroom apartment. That was only for about four or five months, before we moved out and found a properly sized house, but four of us girls stuck. We were all varying levels of crazy, we had all come for different reasons. I had invited the others in. I believed in collecting people, believed in them having a place to stay. I wasn’t yet very well versed in the idea of boundaries.
Let me be clear that from most perspectives, the next five to seven years were something of a disaster. We were all so messed up. Me and one of the girls were sleeping together, sometimes more off than on. I was busy insisting I was certainly not queer and God hated all of that but like she was super hot and the sex was super great and I’ve never been awesome at avoiding temptation. Especially when it’s right in the next bedroom (or at the foot of my bed, depending which living space you’re referring to). We fought furiously, alliances were forged and ever-shifting. Sometimes one person was more crazy than the others, there were group confrontations, gossip, text wars, etc. When I look at my journal entries from that time, it is an ongoing record of truly insane fights and drama. It seemed like such a hopeless mess.
I’ve been giving the mess a lot of thought, because it seems so distant now. See, something happened in those years. We are not all still friends with each other in the same degree but the same group is all still in touch in varying degrees. We eventually realized who actually had things in common and who was just forcing it. We’ve adjusted. We still come together a few days before Christmas for our yearly celebration. And when I think about that, I realize that what happened in those years changed my life. Looking back on all of the drama, I know I could never live that way now. I don’t think any of us could. But there are some important things to point out, at least from my perspective.
The first is that I had never had a better living situation than this before. My home most of my life had been with my parents and I think we all know how trauma free that was, and with very few choices involved. This may have been a mess but it was our mess, it was my choice. We were clumsy and stumbling through it but we were adults making decisions. It wasn’t like home. After my parents, I had lived for six months by necessity with a friend and her parents after I was kicked out. It was not the worst place I could have ended up but it was a fragile living situation. And then I had spent a year living on my own. I was desperately lonely and depressed, I had only two friends. One of them was a judgmental and cruel person, surrounded by an equally cruel family who I clung to because they were what I had. And one was my ex-boyfriend. We fought or we fucked and sometimes we did both but in any case, these were not happy times for me. This new life was tough, but compared to my previous situations, it actually doesn’t stack up so much worse. A large part of why I know I couldn’t do it now is because I know there is so much better.
The second and third things are what doesn’t show up in the journals. I never wrote about them and it’s too bad. We had so much fun. When we weren’t at each other’s throats (and sometimes even when we were), we were constantly doing things. Someone was always planning group trips, going to the zoo, going to concerts, we ate out constantly, we shaved our heads, got tattoos and piercings, and watched so many movies and shows. We had a ridiculous amount of disposable income because we all worked full time and had pretty low bills with so many of us. We laughed constantly, we played, we did things. No matter what time of day or night it may have been, someone was home. You were never going to be lonely.
I don’t know if I can overstate the importance of that in my life at the time, and it is part of the third thing, which was simply the security of who we were. No one was leaving. I’m not saying that was always good. In fact, if we had been healthier people it almost certainly wouldn’t have been true. But we weren’t and at this point we had all chosen to be here and somehow I think we all knew that no matter what happened we had picked each other to love, for better or worse. Even if it was often worse.
When I talk about family, these are still more of the people I think of. I have brothers and I have sisters. Let’s not worry too much about the specifics of the metaphor, given that at least some of us have had sex. But you know. In spite of all of the fights, in spite of the fact that some of us have had distance for a while and come back, or some of us have settled into what will probably be a more permanent distance, we all come home for Christmas. We eat food and we drink cider and we look in our personalized stockings that we’ve had for ten years now. What I didn’t realize when I was younger was that in some ways chosen family isn’t always that different from blood family. It takes time and effort and it’s not always what you expected. Sometimes it’s about faith and just hanging on. But to those of us who tattooed ourselves as part of this family… I think maybe our instincts were more right than we knew.