A stone’s throw away from 40, my New York sublet ending, and with not much more than my demure velvet sofa, a suitcase of regrets, and the manuscript I had bled over in my thirties, I headed back to the suburbs and my childhood home.
I had forgotten to get married, forgotten to have children, forgotten to make money. In our culture, no one views an adult’s move back home as a boon. I was the Hester Prynne of Forest Drive, my Scarlet “L” for Loser strapped to my chest for all the neighbors to see.
After caretaking two older and full-blooded Sicilian parents, I am now alone in our house, which I own.
At 59, I am a data point: In 2019, there were about 72 million Baby Boomers, almost 27 percent of whom live alone, according to the Pew Research Center. Articles describe us in terms of loneliness, decline.
Like the majority of Boomers, I am still in the work force and, because of my shift work at a supermarket — 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. — I spend a lot of time with me. Friends are working when I am home. When they’ve finished a normal workday, I am still hours away from closing my section, bread.
I had always thought of the move from Manhattan back to my parents’ house as temporary, kind of like checking into a sanitarium, but with much better food. Walking in, I could see only the house’s surface, petrified in the 70s, complete with paneling, drop ceilings, and a color palette of avocado green. Temporary.
Living alone since my early 20s, I had imagined that by my 30s, I would have a romantic Jane ending — Austen or Eyre.
My studio sublet (read: exposed brick, patio, and garden) was over and so were my 10 years of editing lawyers at an international law firm. I headed home that winter to hibernate until I could reinvent myself.
At the time, I did not hold any of it: how easily temporary transitions to permanent. How my mother, then 74, and my father, 82, needed support. Now, alone for the past four years since my 90-year-old mother died, my memory is a continual camera shutter, a mishmash of images.
I grew up cloaked within a noisy, opinionated, and fast-talking family. My grandma, my mother’s mother, lived with us. Every Sunday, our house sang with cousins and aunts and uncles. Everybody showed up for our matriarch, who was the mother of nine, and grandmother of 37. Nothing replaced our ritual: church, cemetery, bakery, grandma.
I can still savor the release of sugary scents that came when the red baker’s twine was cut and the lid lifted on the white bakery box, freeing the buttery crumb cake, the French crullers. My cousin’s hand dips a chunk of crusty Italian bread into the simmering pot of Sunday gravy with meatballs and sausage.
We were robust.
Like other Boomer families, ours was squeezed by the fallout of our changing culture, and our emotional or geographic distance. My grandmother’s family shrank — the never marrieds or divorced. Our fertility dropped. Many of our tribe have ended. Our time together has contracted. Jobs called people to stretch geography, to establish new family of friends. And then there are the family operas — the relatives who didn’t speak to their parents, and the legacy of slights that estrange siblings or other family members. This is how alone takes shape.
That first summer without my mom, I found her old movie projector and films. Each morning, still dark, I played a few reels, images whirring off the kitchen wall. My grandma’s 75th birthday. My parents’ first trip to Italy. A cousin’s wedding. My green velvet flower girl dress. The Pocono vacations.
I know the bones of this house, which I rebuilt. The bones of this family, which I needed and, which ultimately needed me.
When I first moved back, I thought my life was growing smaller. Turns out, what felt like my Hester humiliation was redefined. The stereotypes of being alone — tragic spinster or devilish rogue — no longer suit. Our Boomer generation has been rewriting the narrative, which has many textures and hues. Alone, by choice or happenstance, is the story of me, the story of millions of others.
Mary Ann D’Urso is a freelance writer.