7 Lessons I Learned From Living Alone In A Cabin

One night in August, something small was pricking at my ankles. I reached down to scratch, and found that constellations of small raised bumps had surfaced overnight. Another quick sting, and a fleck of black pepper jumped from my ankle into the abyss of my sheets. I spoke aloud, at a volume I hoped might wake my roommate: “Godd*mn those motherf*cking cats.”

My roommate, Sean, and I were living in staff housing behind the seasonal restaurant that employed us, on North Haven island smack dab in the middle of the Penobscot Bay in Maine. Though his cats Sabine and Rucifee did adorable things like pee in my suitcase and draw-and-quarter dead voles on my carpet, it was the fleas that proved a deal-breaker. Any other time, I’d have been happy to wash all of my belongings, vacuum daily, and douse the house in flea spray. But working 60-plus hours a week serving martinis every-which-way to the Mad Men generation, I was at the end of my rope. I could choose to live with fleas like a 14th century Londoner, I reasoned, or not live with them.

For a while, I crashed with friends, co-workers, and other kind people who welcomed my bedraggled homeless self into their guest-bedrooms. I’m indebted to them all. And for the last two weeks of an Indian summer, in probably one of the greatest kindnesses since those blood transfusions I received at birth, I found myself living alone in this little gem.

Better still than the charming pond-side location and Wes Anderson atemporal cabin décor, I was living for the very first time without roommates. Dinner for one. Toute seule. And that's when things got weird.

Here are a few things I learned from those two weeks living solo:

1. Every sound at night is indeed a ghost.

It is impossible not to be creeped out at night in a cabin by yourself. There are too many little noises: wind against slatted wood walls, branches knocking on the roof, the small insects trapped between curtains, and window panes that erratically buzz and shudder.

I remember lying in bed one night, hearing something clunk in the drain, and keeping my eyes closed. Don’t look, I thought, If you look you might see something, so why look at all? Be at peace with the ghosts. Welcome the ghosts. You are flesh, they cannot hurt you... unless The Sixth Sense is entirely real, and those ghosts will take you to town and you’ll wake up looking like a f*cked up Haley Joel Osmond.

I murmured jumbled fragments of the Our Father, crossed myself, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, those spirits stayed at bay.

2. Some things are best enjoyed alone.

It was the great Kelly Clarkson who once said, “Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.” Sure, there are always moments worth sharing, and nobody laughs at your jokes better than another real person. But when it came to me and this little house, it fit me like a Slanket.

I’d step out at night, so far from any ambient light source, and feel completely cloaked in stars that seemed to drip from the sky. I even once saw a faint glimpse of the aurora borealis, a green haze floating above the trees like glimmering tulle. And one rainy morning, I spent hours undisturbed, snuggled up with coffee and Celaena Sardothien of the Throne of Glass young adult fantasy series.

I learned that there’s a difference between loneliness and welcomed solitude — these lovely moments were made all the more lovely because they were mine, and mine alone.

3. You can be oddly productive when you have to entertain yourself.

Living alone gives you a lot of time to practice everything that you would otherwise be too afraid to do for fear of being caught by another human. Over those two weeks, I worked on learning all of the lyrics to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” because it’s my new karaoke go-to (get ready to be blown away), and tackling one of my greatest fears of all time, stand-up comedy.

Very soon I reminded myself of Jenny Slate in Obvious Child (not at all the hilarious parts but the cringe-worthy part when she gets way too drunk and goes down a terribly depressing hole about her ex). Stand-up, like any skill, takes practice, and only if the planet is evacuated will I ever find the privacy I require to become proficient.

4. Too much silence can bring you to a strange place.

Even with all of the nature-noises and wood-creaking, life in the cabin could get quiet. The kind of quiet that prompts thoughts like ricocheting pinballs in a waterslide: Will I spend the rest of my days as a drain on the world’s resources? Could I eat a dozen bagels in one sitting? Perhaps, but with cream cheese and lox?

To escape this incessant mental warbling, I listened to the iTunes library I hadn’t updated since high school (a lot of Radiohead), and Tina Fey’s own reading of Bossypants . I thought I would embrace silence after my past year in Brooklyn’s noisy concrete jungle — but to preserve my sanity, I found I had to fill the sonic void.

5. Those dishes are yours, and yours alone.

There’s a certain amount of personal filth I’m comfortable living in. Clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, and an empty bottle or six for that classy, bon vivant touch. On a scale of Adrian Monk to Alpaca Holding Pen, I would put myself at Well-Kept Stable.

There’s something comforting, though, in knowing that all of the crap around you, every stray pair of underwear and errant KIND bar wrapper, is your own. Likewise, if you find yourself looking around thinking, “Who lives in this sh*t hole?”, remind yourself that you do and pick up the vacuum.

6. If you build a fire, you must put it out.

The Meadow House came with a lovely fireplace, and I so wished to curl up with a book next to my crack-crackling fire that I took a stab at building one. However, I have more experience with the kind of tinder where you swipe left, so I’d stir the embers and stare at them late into the night, until they dimmed to a red glow, and I was absolutely sure that I wouldn’t wake in the night to flames crawling up my quilt. At those wee hours, I saw metaphors in them there ashes, believe you me.

7. It can be tempting to disappear into loneliness.

One morning, I woke up and found myself alone. Not Kelly Clarkson empowered-alone, nor the melodramatic Bridget Jones’ “All By Myself.” Just listless, apathetic, and empty. Through the window, the sky was gray, and cool air entered in drafts. I could stay in bed for hours, I thought, and no one would come, no one would know, I could lie here until night came again and it wouldn’t matter. But on this particular morning, as I sank further into my mattress padding, I heard a knock.

No, not ghosts — I saw my old roommate Sean with our friends Will and Joe through the window, traipsing around the front yard in drag. Will’s birthday party was that night, I remembered, and later we were all going to be dressed up and making fools of ourselves. I invited them in for tea, and all afternoon we sat around the kitchen table playing Bananagrams. The three of us filled that tiny cabin, and even as wind blew through the slatted walls, the room felt warm.

Images: Jane Brendlinger (2), Giphy (7)