Seattle Stories

Seattle Stories: Learning To Adult

This is going to be personal and probably a little maudlin. By way of explanation, a younger relative of mine is on the cusp of one of life’s greatest adventures – waving farewell to the parents and getting her own apartment. This got me thinking about my own rite of passage. Those days are burned brightly into my brain with the red-hot poker of impending independence.

That’s the weirdest sentence I’ve yet written, but I stand by it. I can still remember the smallest of details. How the Olive Tower’s cheap wood floorboards creaked. The slam of the trunk of a Yellow Cab. The annoying crackle of a single paint-splattered speaker I laughingly called my ‘stereo system’. The squeaks of an air mattress every time I moved in the night.

Seattle, Washington – Me, age 19. Clueless about the reality of living on my own.  I’ve just spent a couple of years swabbed tightly and not by choice in the clutches  of a religious cult centered around Green Lake, Seattle. Prior to that, I had a couple of great years sharing a house with my dad, and prior to that, I watched my parents go through one of the most weird divorces ever. Let’s just say it involved the previously mentioned religious cult, a barely-running 1940’s car that dragged my mom and my brother out of Southern California and up to Seattle, and prior to THAT, I had the picture-perfect classic suburban childhood with everything a kid could ask for.  Except for a perfect future. But I … well I don’t digress. I ingress. Whatever. My blog.

Back up to age 19. The cult had pushed my final buttons by trying to pressure me into an arranged marriage. This was in Milwaukee. Not Seattle. Why Milwaukee? I spent a year there by reasons of their insanity. Then I went back to Seattle, where the cult was waiting for me with another hidden agenda. My existence was a badly bouncing, rapidly deflating cheap plastic beach ball.

One not-so-bright day, I woke up and thought, “Screw this. Where’s my life?” I packed all my belongings. Sum total, they’d fit in the trunk of a Yellow Cab. I said goodbye to the cult-family I was staying with, and was told, “We’ve spoiled you for the world. You’ll be back because no one else will accept you.”

I’m so thankful for that sendoff. Those were the best words I could every have heard. They gave me the strength to prove them wrong.

Olive Tower
The Olive Tower

A Yellow Cab delivered me and my meager possessions to the Olive Tower in downtown Seattle. It’s a 14 story re-purposed hotel built in 1928. By my current standards, it was amazing! An historic building with all the vintage touches in an apartment overlooking Seattle from the 10th floor? Yes, PLEASE.

At the time I arrived though, it was a scary, empty place. I had four cardboard boxes of belongings. I walked to a store that evening to buy an inflatable mattress to sleep on that night.  I heard every sound in the old building that night, and all of them seemed dangerous.

The next day, I took a taxi home. I’d given up before I even got started. My first experience in an apartment as an adult had lasted exactly one day.

True Story. I was a failure.

Two months later, and with my head screwed on more tightly, I moved out again. This time I landed at a rather bland cookie-cutter apartment building on Capitol Hill called Sahara Manor. The carpet was terrible and I had no furniture. But the managers were kind, they let me borrow some furniture and use their vacuum cleaner when I needed to. I had no idea grown-ups bought their own vacuum cleaners so I just kept asking the landlords to use theirs. They must have thought I was hopeless, but they smiled and let me use it, no questions asked.

I figured out how to be an adult at Sahara Manor. I learned to live with what I had. I worked hard. I walked two miles to and from work because I couldn’t afford a car (And damn, that gave me some killer gams!) I lived on cheap bread and pasta. Slowly I made friends in my neighborhood, and was invited for dinners (ohgod, MEAT) and then later, I invited friends to my place for crappy but sincere meals. My adult life started in that cheap little vanilla box of an apartment. In retrospect, I loved that place. I’d tell you all the fun memories of slowly collecting the niceties of life and building friendships away from that damn cult, but that’d be a novel. Maybe someday. (okay, I started it some years ago, It’s 6,000 words on my hard drive. One day that novel may see the light.)

What’s my point? I guess this. Moving out of your parents care isn’t always the exhilarating experience you see portrayed on tv and movies and in novels. It’s more often a clunky experience and nothing is what you really want it to be.

But then again, it is. It’s the gun, and you are the bullet. Being an independent person is freedom, make no mistake about that. Maybe you’re eating spaghetti for the fifth night in a row, but dammit, you’re having it out of a bowl you own, and if you want to soak in a bubble bath while you dine, no one can tell you you can’t. Because it’s your life, and you will make it whatever you need it to be.

My younger relative that’s about to take this step – don’t be scared. Well, you will be, I suppose, but try not to be TOO scared. Know that so many of us have been here, and we DO understand how it feels. Don’t worry about furnishings. You’ll accumulate possessions slowly as time goes on, so don’t sweat it. Try not to run up debts if possible. Focus on your job, getting enough sleep, friendships, good cheap food and remembering the moments. Because in years to come, you WILL remember this stage of your life, and I hope it is with fondness. This is the time when everything changes – it’s when you become YOU!

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.

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