When Transition Betrays Us

You’re bright and hopeful. Your bags are packed, the airline tickets are booked. The new landlord has been notified and you’re off to a new county, state, or country. People have told you wonderful anecdotes from their own lives about what a good experience moving away and working in a new city can be. They lay out their experiences like elders at a campfire, recounting stories of navigating unfamiliar streets, cooking for themselves, and learning the 8-to-5 work rhythm. They tell you they’re excited for you, you will be fine, and you’ll learn a ton.

Soon, the key is in your hand and the door closes behind you for the first time. There is no sound so peculiar as shutting a door and realizing no one else is home. For many more times that summer, that sound will always give you pause. Gone are the roommates that would have greeted you with murmurs or musings. Gone are the close-by people who can reassure you.

Oh, and you won’t have internet for two and a half weeks.

Your apartment is old and has a personality to match. The cupboards squeak. There’s a claw-foot bathtub. Ceiling fans abound but air conditioning is nonexistent. The basement is cavernous. (That’s the Southern California talking.) You set off the fire alarm at 7:50 a.m. cooking bacon (good morning). That’s not the last time it happens.

As you begin to establish routine, the procedural nature of your actions echoes along the walls: in the kitchen, you place the groceries on the counter, raise an eyebrow at the unswept crumbs from the morning, open three drawers before finding a place for utensils. You enter the walk-in pantry and pick the third cupboard on the left. Your can of garbanzo beans, two bags of pasta, and bottle of olive oil sit shyly on the bottom shelf. That’s when you remember there’s no can opener in your apartment.

In the bedroom, the door handle creaks. The wood floor bends and snaps underfoot. You maneuver the bookcase, the dresser, and the desk three times till you are satisfied with the arrangement. Oh, no one swept this floor. You find your broom, sweep.

These actions show the rooms aren’t yours yet. Trying to assert some ownership, you fill the shelves with your own belongings, which look small and sparse. It’s the little things—dried molasses in the cupboards, broken shades, sticky door locks, hidden light switches, and the ambulances screeching toward the hospital four blocks away—that all clue you in: “It’s new, you don’t belong here, yet.” Then the reality settles in like silence when you come home from work to no one but yourself.

Sometimes transition just betrays us. It promises us newness and adventure, when really it exposes our weaknesses and breaks our confidence for a little while.

But new places make us see anew. They make us rethink ourselves, rethink what we know and realize we aren’t in control. We grapple for what we’ve come to expect (tissue box! saran wrap! bathtub mat! hangers!) and feel increasingly less confident when those familiar handholds aren’t there. We have to find or get them ourselves. By doing so, we ease into the newness bit by bit. Each memorized cycle route, pre-packed lunch, and evening spent resting or reading is a victory. Day by day, the quirks of a house are learned. The betrayal of transition will hurt for a while, but eventually it will make sense.

You will emerge from transition with regained pluck, victory over everyday dragons, and a tale or two to tell.

Katherine Kwong

Katherine holds a degree in English Lit and Writing from Westmont College. This past summer, she interned at On Being Studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the land is flat, lakes abound, and cyclists (almost) rule the roads. There she learned how WordPress really works and what it takes to make an enterprise out of a podcast. Find her work on The Mighty and Medium publications: Letters & Landscapes and Westmont Downtown. P.S.: She also does art @kairoswatercolor

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