For most of my growing up years I shared a large room with my siblings, all six of them. We were like the dwarves in Snow White—seven beds all in a row. I was in high school when we finally built an addition to our house that included individual bedrooms.
My new room had two windows, a large closet, a desk, and a bookcase that doubled as a dresser. It didn’t have a heater yet, but it was mine and mine alone, and being able to see my breath in the winter didn’t seem that daunting of a prospect if I was the only one seeing it.
Besides being cold, the room was also aptly named “The Bee and Fly Room.” Wasps and flies lived in the attic above my new domicile and wouldn’t go away, no matter how many times my father sprayed. Being attracted by the light and heat of the bulb, the insects would crawl into my room through the light box. On chilly mornings, dozens of tiny but deadly black and yellow bodies, sluggish from the cold, littered my floor like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. They stayed there, a wriggling carpet, until the sun crested the mountains and warmed the air enough so they could start their busy day of tormenting their co-resident.
After several stings, I developed the following precautions:
- Remain covered up—bees won’t worm their way under the covers, but if you invite them under, they’ll accept.
- Keep arms and legs (and head) inside the blankets at all times.
- Check the bedspread for wasps before you uncover in the morning.
- Keep a pair of shoes or slippers beside the bed so you don’t have to walk barefoot across the treacherous floor.
- Check your shoes or slippers for insects before you slip them on.
- Always make your bed in the morning so nothing can make it their home during the day.
- Look where you plan to sit before actually doing so.
- Don’t leave clothing on the floor or something else might try to wear it.
- Shake out your clothes before you put them on, even if they’ve been folded in the bookcase.
- Pause a moment outside your room and assess the situation before entering. Ask yourself the following question: Is what I need inside really worth it?
It is a testament to just how badly I wanted my own room that I put up with these “roommates.” I hadn’t realized how stifled I’d been. All of sudden, I had my space. If I wanted to be alone, I had a place to go. If I wanted to stay up all night reading, I could do it without keeping anyone else awake. I could listen to my radio, tape posters on the walls, do my homework, or have a friend over for a private giggle about boys or a slamfest about teachers. The door to my room didn’t shut me in—it shut the world out.
I experienced a lot of firsts in that room. I cried my first tears over a boy and dressed up for my first prom. I read my acceptance letter to The Netherlands Rotary Exchange program when I was sixteen, then packed up the closet and the shelves to leave my family for the first time. I returned a year later and a decade older. Those walls heard my laughter and my prayers, my sobs and my whispered dreams, and they sheltered me as I muddled my way through the tangled emotions of high school.
That was the last time I had my own room. I joined the Marine Corps after high school and shared a squad bay with sixty other girls at boot camp, then moved to my next duty station and into a double room in the barracks. Eventually, I got married and have shared a room with my husband for twenty years now. Even though living with him has brought me more joy than my teenage self ever imagined possible, we all need some alone-time occasionally. Everyone needs some breathing room. A space to be ourselves, to let our hair down—to think outrageous thoughts and scream obscenities and laugh till we cry. A space where the only eyes watching us are our own.
So go ahead, take a minute. Shut the door and breathe.