Do you remember the day you first left home to strike out on your own? What about your first apartment?
I remember mine, vividly.
I was 18, I’d graduated from high school, and was about 3 months into my first full-time job (a clerk in the Registrar’s office at Carleton University), earning the princely salary of $5,700 per year.
Even back in the mid-1970s, that was a crap wage.
However, it was a salary, and I was bound and determined that it would be my ticket out of our parents’ house. I started looking at apartments, but quickly discovered that I could afford either housing or food, but definitely not both.
Did I ever mention to you that one perk of working in the Registrar’s office at a university is that you meet a lot of guys? Yeah. So this one fellow, Simon, had asked me out on a date. He was a nice guy, but there was no spark, no zap, no zing…in short, no chemistry whatsoever.
However…it turned out that he would be moving out of his apartment soon. Okay, not actually his apartment—it was a room in a house that he shared with two other people.
Next thing I knew, I was sitting in Simon’s living room, meeting my two new roomies…and then breaking the news to Mum and Dad.
I should mention that they were not even a little bit pleased that I was planning to strike out on my own. Mum’s only comment was, “Do you even know these people?” I’m pretty sure she thought I was moving into some kind of crazy hippie commune, and that I’d change my name to Moonshine or something.
Dad helped me move my stuff from their house to my new place. It was a bright spring day, and we’d finished unloading my clothes and stereo from the trunk of the Pontiac. He slammed it shut, looked at me sternly and said, “Don’t let your morals go to pot.” Then he got in the car and drove away.
I knew what he meant, of course.
He must have heard about my secret plan to become a bank robber. Or maybe he’d figured out that I’d decided to become a drug dealer. Or he’d happened upon my application to become a hit person for the mob.
Obviously, those things are morally wrong, and he’d felt a duty to warn me.
This all came flooding back to me this weekend, as Rachel and I drove to Toronto, where she started her first real job yesterday. She’s earning a good deal more than I did, but apartments in Toronto are as scarce as hen’s teeth, and 10 times as expensive. (Yes, the hen’s teeth market has exploded recently. I regret not having bought shares when they were low.)
So she’s living in a co-op—she has a room in a Victorian house in Toronto’s Annex district. It’s a bit like a dorm, but there’s more responsibility: the residents have to clean the place, prepare their own meals, and contribute their labour. In exchange, they get cheap accommodation, camaraderie, and independence.
Rachel’s room is pretty basic, just as mine was when I first left home. But as we lugged her stuff up 3 flights of stairs, I remembered the excitement and pride I’d felt when I moved into my first place. I remembered the niggling fears, too: would I be okay on my own? It would be all up to me now: paying my own rent, buying my food, managing my money, remembering to take the garbage out….
But I managed. She will too. And when I left yesterday morning, no admonitions about “morals” were exchanged. Somehow, it just didn’t seem necessary.