Three years ago, I moved back into my childhood bedroom. Around the same time, all my friends moved back into their childhood bedrooms, too — if there was room for them. (My friend Sarah’s parents adopted a Kazakh orphan while she was away at school, so she slept on a futon in the hallway.) My bedroom was vacant, but my pack-rat parents had begun to use it as a storage room; it was piled high with boxes, and my closet was full of my folks’ old clothes, things that hadn’t fit them since the ’70s. For maybe the first time in my life, I was part of the kind of thing that people who write for Newsweek and Psychology Today love to write about. Every magazine I read that fall asserted that recent college graduates were moving back into their parents’ houses in record numbers. They called us “boomerang kids.”
When I first returned to my hometown — a tiny, conservative hamlet on the Idaho-Oregon border — I slept in the daybed my parents bought me when I was in the third grade. With its white iron frame — with little welded hearts where the bars intersected — and twin mattress, it had clearly been chosen for a nine-year-old girl. Worse, the mattress squeaked at the slightest provocation. I concluded I would not be getting laid anytime soon.
In high school, I was cheerfully geeky — editor of the school newspaper, a theater nerd, the worst player on the worst high school tennis team in the state. I had a place to sit at lunchtime, but never spoke to anybody. Most Saturday nights, my mother and I rented movies together. Sure, I’d gone to college and blossomed — in the way that geeky girls will, when given permission to reinvent themselves, and roommates who teach them how to apply eyeliner. But if the pickings had been slim in high school, now they were nonexistent.
Suddenly I was living at home at twenty-two, mortified by the thought of bringing a boy home. Grownups aren’t supposed to negotiate parents on the first date; they wait until the relationship is really serious, or on thin ice, or somebody’s pregnant or something. My folks also had the endearing habit of calling my cellphone if I did go out for beers with a girlfriend from work — as if I hadn’t just spent four years off their leash, drunk off my ass a good portion of it. In their defense, these meetings were usually a good twenty miles from my house, and they didn’t want me driving home drunk, so they’d just call and ask if I was cool or if they needed to pick me up.
Still, cool as my parents were, I did not want to have sex under their roof, and I hated thinking about all the lies I would have to tell about why I didn’t come home if I snuck off to have it somewhere else. Once, while I was living at home, and Mom and I were watching Say Anything for the millionth time, she said she thought Ione Skye’s character had a weird relationship with her father. Until Lloyd comes along, Diane’s father is her only friend, and that is weird. But like her, I didn’t know how to lie to my parents. If I’d lost my virginity when I was in high school, I probably would have come home and spilled my guts about it, just like Diane did.
The journalist-shrinks all seemed to think we boomerang kids favored our parents’ homes over the bright and terrifying world of adult responsibility. They made us sound like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, whimpering, when anyone asked what we were doing, “I’m just sort of drifting . . . here . . . in the pool.” But, like most of my friends who lived at home, and like none of the boomerangers profiled in the blitz of articles, I worked full time. I didn’t pay rent, but I helped out with other bills. It infuriated me that this trend was attributed to some soft-headed psychological bullshit and not to pure economics.
But the authors of those articles were right about one thing: this was happening because boomer parents were more permissive, happier to support their children, than previous generations. In my particular case, my car I needed to do my job, and get to my way-out-in-the-sticks apartment, had just died. It was the second I’d killed that summer. My paycheck was barely enough to cover my weekly rent at a fleabag motel closer to work. My folks bailed me out: they invited me to come home with them.
And it basically worked. It was essentially okay to be a teenager again, except for the sexual logistics. Sarah, an even later bloomer than me, actually lost her virginity during those futon-in-the-hallway years, albeit not on the futon in the hallway. But her parents are very conservative and very Christian, so her mother was none too happy to find a birth-control pill packet in the garbage. Tearful confrontations with both parents followed. Still, she told me, it was strange: she’d spent several nights at her boyfriend’s apartment, and had been dating him for a good chunk of time when the news surfaced. “I assumed they would have assumed that had already happened,” she said.
My friend Jeanne, like myself, elected to avoid sex in the confines of her parents’ home, though she did have a couple of brief relationships while she lived there. One was long-distance; she invited him to visit while her parents were out of town for a week. After that relationship ended, she took up with another boomerang kid, but they spent most of their time at his house. She told me it was half a matter of convenience (he lived closer to where she worked than her parents did) and half a matter of acoustics (his house was simply much quieter).
I, on the other hand, was left with just one outlet: masturbation. While my parents were moving me out of the apartment I lived in before my move home, I realized there was no safe, discreet place to stash my vibrator, and trashed it before they could find it. Months later it occurred to me that, just as I had no desire to have an awkward conversation about a vibrator I already owned, I didn’t want to explain any unmarked packages that came for me in the mail. Or any little cellophane bags from the sex shop in Boise. For some reason, the drugstore didn’t occur to me.
Not that any of that mattered, because while I was at school, my folks began remodeling their bathroom, and installed a Jacuzzi tub.
I discovered that if I angled myself just so against the Jacuzzi jets, the pressure was consistent and intense enough to send me straight to heaven. This was terrific, except for four things: 1) the lock on the bathroom door didn’t work; 2) during the remodel, the cabinets had been torn out, so I couldn’t pull a drawer in front of the door as I had in my younger years; 3) a shower curtain had not been installed; and 4) my mother is the sort of person who will waltz right into the bathroom and pee, regardless of who’s already in there. This happened several times, and each time I flipped my legs back into the tub, took a deep breath, and pretended everything was normal. But she knew what was going on, and I knew she knew; she once she said sheepishly, “Oh my. I guess I should have knocked,” then waltzed in anyway.
I got pissed off whenever this happened. Not necessarily at Mom but at my absurd situation. I felt everything I’d felt at fifteen, only that much more vigorously. I hated spending eight hours a day indoors, at a desk, in an ugly building, doing work that bored me. I hated not having a social life. I looked forward to moving out with much more enthusiasm than I’d looked forward to graduating from high school.
Teenagers are angry because, cognitively and physically, they are adults, yet they don’t get to lead adult lives. Those of us who negotiated adolescence relatively cheerfully did so because we knew we’d get our adult lives soon enough. But to have an adult life — or the adolescent, playing-at-adult-life existence one leads in college — and then to suddenly have it ripped from me was an injury I could hardly bear. Sex was the main sticking point, and ultimately my means of escape.
One night, after I’d exhausted the job listings in my field and in my target city, I wandered over to the personals. I answered an ad from a self-described “alcoholic nerd” 400 miles away, and when I was called to a job interview in his city, we arranged to meet. We kissed haphazardly on the porch of the house where I was staying. And that was it. But it was enough. I wanted more. I’d been planning my escape from my parents’ house for months, but at that moment I said to hell with savings. I didn’t get the job I interviewed for that weekend, so I said to hell with that too. I gave notice, packed all my belongings into my Tempo, and drove away.
The alcoholic nerd, it turned out, had advertised himself too honestly. So I moved on. Portland’s a demi-paradise for sex-starved geek girls. I ordered the geek-guy appetizer tray. To the most recent of these, a guest at a friend’s party, I simply stood up and said, “Come upstairs with me.” He followed. He’s been around for a year. Sometimes I have dinner with an old college roommate and listen to hear complain about how tough it is to meet men in this city. All I can do is shake my head and tell her she doesn’t know how good she has it.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays.