There’s something unsettling about your first night in a new environment. That’s not to say that it’s a matter of safety or danger so much as it doesn’t feel real. Your body wakes you up every few hours to check your surroundings, a defense mechanism from our ape years when we wandered the globe for food, never sleeping anywhere longer than a night or two. Now that we have roofs and floors and chain locked doors, you would think that primitive part of our brains would be inactive, but I assure you that underlying component of the human brain is alive and well under the right circumstances. Your brain still accounts for new lighting, the subtle difference in nightly noises, even differences in temperature than what you are used to. You concentrate on things that you normally wouldn’t, and you have to grow accustomed to the sounds of new human lives being lived around you, the habits and idiosyncrasies of new people you never had to accommodate before. When things like a breakup, separation or god forbid a divorce occur, it resets your life, often times entirely, and many of those changes cause you to go back to default mode. Your life goes back to the stone ages, and before you begin the process of adapting to your new existence, your primary ape brain takes over.
I can say all of this with a certain level of experience. With a separation under my belt, I accomplished something on the human experience roulette wheel I never thought I would have to. The same is to be said about living alone again. In my case, there never was a first time living alone, so really this is my first experience. I had roommates in college and a girlfriend turned wife that populated my living space from the time I moved out until several days ago, and although I have been alone in those spaces, it’s a far different beast when you know no one will be returning to your home. Despite minimal experience with aloneness, I wasn’t prepared for it on such an inflated level.
This idea can be ever so accurately described in my first trip to the grocery store on my own. I’ve grocery shopped 1,000 times before, many times alone, but for some reason this time it felt different without shopping for two. I felt intimidated, and somehow exhilarated at the same time. It was new and being on my own, I could buy anything I wanted to without judgement or scrutiny, and that level of freedom should never be granted to a 27 year old man with the pain of a separation who has never lived alone before. I got my staples and reasonably healthy choices, but somehow I decided in a fit of newfound independence that I would buy a family sized box of Fruity Pebbles and a 36 pack of Pop Tarts because in my head I decided “That is what single dudes eat for breakfast on TV so I should too!” I got overwhelmed by my totalitarian rule over myself and rushed out realizing only later that I did not buy produce or any protein. I basically left with items that were 90-100% sugar and some cleaning supplies, an odd combination of necessity and gluttony. I’m not proud of my decision making abilities in that moment and I am beginning to think maybe Ape brain is more predominate in men, although my sample population is skewed by being too close to the test subject. Chalk it up as a mistrial.
In general, after almost a decade of living alongside someone else, it’s amazing what basic tasks you could make a two person job. There’s a balance even in the most mundane decision making. You hold one another accountable and ground each other so that when you walk down an aisle with breakfast for children, you don’t go grabbing every brightly colored bulk box you can find. The Ape brain covets shiny intricate things, it’s a common issue.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of a change like a separation after such a prolonged period of time is when you realize you are alone, truly alone. I don’t mean it like a breakup is the Walking Dead and all your friends are zombies, but when you relocate and move out on your own, you forget how much interaction existed on a day to day level beforehand. I have found myself walking around the apartment talking to no one in particular, stating questions that would normally be meant for my partner. I can only imagine my neighbors reaction to hearing me, very clearly alone, yelling things like “Where are my goddamn keys!” or “I thought I left that over there why the hell did I put it in the kitchen?” or just a plain “Is anyone listening to me right now?!” It must be an adjustment for my neighbors to have to hear me dropping things at 2 in the morning, singing tone deaf renditions of Phil Collins songs while dropping things in the shower in the morning, or swearing about dropping things at basically any time of the day because for some reason I am very aware now of how often I drop things. Dexterity and hand eye coordination took a few millennia to evolve after all.
One could think at this point in the narrative of my new life that I’m coming pretty close to winning a Darwin award and perhaps any hubris about my ability to survive on my own was more of a front than anything, and no one is in that camp of thought more than me. However, if you take into account recent trauma and factor in how quickly I was forced out of the nest that was the last decade while also considering I still have all my appendages and my apartment hasn’t burned down yet, I think it’s reasonable to give me a pass. All in all, I’m doing better than a lot of other people I know who have endured ¼ of the changes I have had to undergo. All things withstanding, I’m alive, and despite the occasional sugar crash from my poor shopping habits ( I went back to get protein today, panicked and bought Eggo Waffles because I thought guests might like those ) I’m thriving. It may not seem that way, but humor aside, there’s redemption in failure. Sometimes you need to slash and burn a crop to grow a stronger one, and sometimes there can be beauty in the ugliest of life’s trials. Maybe the grass isn’t green on either side of the fence, and maybe there isn’t any grass at all, but so long as you have a few seeds and some intermittent sunlight, you can make it work. Even with primitive brains, early man figured out how to make fire.