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What it means to be independent

/ 12:14 AM October 20, 2016

Monday night. The day was a holiday. I am alone, and I have nothing much to do in this tiny, studio-type apartment that I share with a former intern turned close friend. I watch an LRT train pass from the balcony where I am reading Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The rain has just stopped pouring and the wind is cold. It brings me an odd sense of happiness for something that I can’t quite put a finger on.

This is the fourth week that I have chosen to live my life independently from my family. And truth be told, I don’t feel homesick; I love it. I can’t say that it’s easy, but I am in love with the fact that I am holding my own now. I have wanted to do this since last year, but there have been some struggles that prevented me from doing it. Now, with the help that came in the form of motivation from someone, I have done it.

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These were his words: “Stop crying and start moving.” He challenged me to quit complaining and start doing what I had always wanted to do for a year now.

Moving out is like learning how to ride a bike, except you don’t start with training wheels. You do it all at once. No knee pads or a cute pink helmet to shield yourself from the inevitable bruises, bumps and scratches. This is not child’s play. This is the ultimate launch into adulthood.

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Aside from paying a two-month deposit and advance rental for one month, and turning over five postdated checks for an initial 6-month contract in this apartment building, how much and what did it cost me to live independently?

I learned how to budget my money in order to make it from payday to payday. I plan my dinner at home now and do some grocery shopping every now and then. Oh, and I also bought a frying pan. You can’t imagine how emotional I was in the middle of the grocery store when I bought my own frying pan. This is not a big deal for some. But you have to understand that I have never bought any kitchen stuff in my life.

I didn’t grow up rich and I come from an ordinary working-class family, but my mother and some distant relatives who temporarily stay with us from time to time did all the household chores. Perhaps this was the reason my mother was initially hesitant to accept the idea of me living all by myself: I am not adept with household chores. But I told her I’d never learn unless learning was the only choice I had. I told her that this is not some capricious decision I made on a whim, that when I leave, I leave for good. So I did.

My flat mate comes home very late from work, so more often than not I eat dinner by myself. It’s said that eating alone is a sad thing, but I beg to differ. In these precious half-hours eating dinner, I find bliss in the middle of solitude. I am given a sense of self-worth. You know how they say you cannot be happy with someone else unless you are happy with and by yourself? This much is true.

Last weekend, I had smoked fish, salted egg and tomatoes for dinner, but boy, did I feel grand. I felt like I was dining on a five-course meal in a five-star hotel with a string quartet as entertainment while I asked for seconds of the dessert, and not some cheap tinapa that I had bought near St. Benilde. I felt in control. I felt like I may be broke but I still manage.

Merriam-Webster defines independence as a state of freedom from outside control or support. But I think independence is more than a state of someone’s affairs. It’s a decision.

It’s the decision you stand by when you are on your way home knowing there’ll be no food for you to eat unless you prepare it yourself.

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It’s the decision that makes you feel in control when you unlock the door and see the water bill that was slipped under it while you were at work.

It’s the decision of being responsible in cleaning up before and after you invite friends over, because that’s what an adult is supposed to do.

It’s the decision to skip buying clothes or shoes and save the money so you can buy a flatiron, a chopping board, and a cooking pot instead.

It’s the decision to not feel homesick because where you are now is actually home. Alone, yes. But you are home. I have learned that home is where you plan to build it.

Lastly, it’s the decision to be responsible for yourself. It is waking up every morning knowing you’re almost getting it together. Life, I mean.

Because isn’t it what it’s all about? It’s looking at the city lights from my balcony, knowing that I am living what I was just dreaming about last year.

Dear 2015 Cat, we made it. No, we’re not yet rich or successful. But we made it into the outside world. And as I sit here contemplating my flight from the family nest, I feel hopeful and chipper and positive.

Millennials have the tendency to dream about changing the world and carving a name for themselves in their chosen field. But sometimes, the change we need in our lives begins inside a 15-square-meter, studio-type apartment somewhere in Pasay City.

Catherine Mones, 25, is a media and public affairs associate at the Department of Foreign Affairs. She is working on a master’s degree in history at De La Salle University Manila.

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TAGS: career, decisions, Family, independence, life, Moving out
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