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[COLUMN] Dormer Diaries

Pinpointing home: navigating loneliness and independence as a solo dormer

Denise Marcelo (1)

Authored by Denise Marcelo

When I think of home, three images become clear: the home I grew up in, the home I stay in during the school week, and lastly, the home of a most peculiar and abstract kind. 

First, the suburban two-story on the outskirts of Manila that now feels numbingly alien to me, at a distance greater than the metrics of space could ever account for. It’s a place that has become a point of departure and refuelling, somewhere I return to only at the behest of my parents and for brief periods of time.

I left because moving to a place near school was the best recourse from the feelings of being imprisoned somewhere I thought I had already outgrown. Staying at home felt like settling in a limbo of uncomfortable stillness. I thought that If I stopped nominating a completely different environment for where I would eventually live, I’d be postponing the kind of personal growth that required isolation from familiarity. And so, my home of 10 years became synonymous with history that I was itching to leave behind.

As a result, I hoped to reestablish home in the context of new beginnings. The day I moved to Katipunan, I was brimming with reckless delight. There were no rules. No . supervision. No ceilings to how I could assemble my new life within an ostensibly infinite spectrum of possibilities. For four years, I could do whatever I wanted. Freedom didn’t scare me at all; instead, I encountered a different kind of shock. Years of having helpers clean up after my untidiness left me totally unprepared for the task of maintaining a dignified level of liveability in my new home.

Home, then, became the modest studio unit across Ateneo that hosted revolting terror in the form of unwashed dishes and self-replenishing clutter. The disorder that accompanies my scatterbrained character materialized in light of living alone, and I was too disgusted to confront the mess I made.

I felt like I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t plot myself in any of the places I thought I could call home. Although the charms of living alone had quickly worn off, the spell that freedom had cast over me remained. I wanted an adventure. I didn’t want to leave anything uncharted.

Little did I know that my sojourns in Katipunan’s multitude of late-night establishments would illuminate a most unconventional definition of home. In the absence of a home that exudes warmth and tenderness – the idea and experience of a coffee shop – has given me the feeling of life I crave. And this third sense of home is what feels most real.

There are several coffee houses, both franchises and independently owned, that operate in Katipunan. Their lights never seem to fizzle out, drawing droves of night owls in like swarms of flies. Among these nocturnal packs of students in hot pursuit of deadlines and espresso shots, there is always a preferred coffee shop. For students who live near Regis, it could be the Coffee Bean. For people who live along Vista and Prince David, it might be Bo’s. My default is the Starbucks beside Shakey’s, a short walk from my condominium building. Without even noticing, I began to spend countless hours idling there, overstaying the welcome my usual order of one Tall Americano affords me.

Plenty of my friends have scratched their heads at the feasibility of working in coffee shops, especially one with Starbucks’ ubiquity. It’s distracting, they say. And they’re not wrong. The discordance, however, soothes me. Noise and I have a beneficial relationship. As long as there is sound, no matter how disruptive, I am reminded of how humbling it is to be a face in the crowd, among people who remind me that I live in a world where stories intersect and that I am never alone, even when I come here as a single patron.

More than the remoteness of my first home and the dreadfulness of my second, it’s the loneliness I feel in both that causes me to walk away. Only the faint hum of a crowd, that filters in through my apparent devotion to getting work done, can sever the loneliness that lingers after sulking in an atmosphere of isolation for so long. I feel part of a loose community, bound not by the things that bring us here but the fidelity we forge to this place, when we could be anywhere else. A combination of deductive reasoning and regularity has allowed me to recognize the mainstays of the Starbucks here. Law students flipping through books of insurmountable thickness, pre-med majors carrying highlighters of every color, floaters like me who have decided to occupy any vacancy available.

Oddly enough, patronizing the coffee shop culture has deepened my sense of humanity. I feel more aware of how small I am in a way that doesn’t denigrate my significance. It is in observing these brief vignettes of otherness that I appreciate how communal spaces cluster people together. The world is populated with central and peripheral characters, and we embody these at each and every point in our lives.

Knowing that we are all configured into one giant, cosmopolitan narrative is the kind of proverbial wisdom that consoles me whenever loneliness speaks. In the dead of the night when my neighbor’s door creaks. In the guards at Ateneo, Starbucks, and Jollibee who greet me enthusiastically each morning. In the baristas who know my order by heart. And most of all, in all the solo dormers and tenants and students, all of whom I know are in solidarity with me when I say that we exhaust every avenue for fighting loneliness.

Living alone can present itself as liberation. To a certain extent, it is. Living alone can also be enormously difficult. It is the apex of self-sufficiency that not all people, certainly not me, are equipped to handle. But from what experience has taught me, the greatest struggles of living alone arise in defining what it means to call a place home.

Because when I think of home, what I really mean is the unequivocal feeling of belonging that knows no physical boundaries. It could be anywhere. It could even be anyone.

How do you know?

You just stop looking for it, I guess. It’s realizing, this is it.



Published by Denise Marcelo

Gradually unbottling.

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