When I moved in, all of my furniture—one half of a green sectional sofa, a queen-size bed, a bureau dresser, and a small ladder desk and accompanying bookshelf—barely fit into the main space. It was all I could do to shove everything against the wall, creating a narrow pathway to the window. Because the place was small, things got cluttered quickly and overall, the apartment felt cramped. I was embarrassed to have people over because of the unfortunate layout of my furniture. The only seating available on the sofa pretty much limited conversation since no one could really speak face-to-face. After a while, even I didn't want to be in the apartment. I grew resentful that I was stuck with furniture fit for a master bedroom, all cramped together in my tiny studio. I cultivated a limitless reserve of small-apartment jokes.
It wasn't until the lightbulb went out in my study/bedroom/living room that I confronted my darkest thoughts. It was late, and I didn't have any lamps to compensate. The super wasn't calling back. There was no ladder. I had to change it myself, which culminated in my stacking my thickest books—a dictionary and a compendium of essays on living in New York among them—onto my dresser and then standing on that in three-inch heels, to achieve the height necessary to reach the bulb on the ceiling. The ruse was a success, but back on safe ground, I considered the ridiculousness of the gambit. If I fell, I could have broken my neck and then what? How long would it be before anyone knew I was gone?
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The thought of dying alone suddenly put loneliness in perspective. I avoided the apartment because being alone there was too depressing. Staying in was usually a one-woman pity party, a cascade of negative thoughts triggering second guesses about the decision I had made to leave a comfortable nest with my ex. What if I made a terrible mistake and what lay in store was nothing but misery? Julie, a twenty-something recruiter based in Dallas, can relate. When she finally broke up with Peter, her boyfriend of four years, and moved into her own apartment, she recalls being constantly afraid. "I cried a lot," she says. "I didn't eat very much. I stared at the wall and didn't want to talk to anyone."