Jane The Virgin 860x441

“Are you going home for the summer?” my friend asks me from across the lunch table. We haven’t seen each other in a few months, because we both work.

“Home? I am home. This is where I live now,” I say casually, and we continue eating.

It’s been less than a year since I graduated from college. All around me, many of my friends are living with their parents or guardians in whatever city or town they lived before going away to college. I’m not. In the wake of the backlash against Talia Jane’s “An Open Letter to My CEO” on Medium, it feels wrong to say I don’t live with parents to save money. Many of Talia’s dissenters formed a rallying cry that she was in her dire financial circumstances because she made the poor choice not to live at home—but for some of us, there is no choice.

I can’t live with my parents, and there is no “home” for me to go to. My new apartment, with my girlfriend and my two cats, is my only home.

I grew up just outside Boston with my mom, which meant weekly trips into the city, lots of movie nights, and the occasional Chinese food. When my mom passed away several years ago, I moved in with my dad. My parents were separated, and lived in different cities.

Throughout college, I went home during the longer winter and summer breaks, and sprinkled other visits throughout the year as they correlated with long weekends and weeklong holidays like Thanksgiving and spring break. Every time I went home for the summer, I was so happy to be with my dad again—but I was beginning to notice that something was off. There were days that he was too physically ill to get out of bed, and had to call out of work. He wouldn’t remember things I’d told him just a few hours before. I’d tell him I was going to the beach with friends, and he’d forget, and call me over and over again, on the verge of a panic attack because I couldn’t answer my cell phone.

And then, just about nine months before I graduated, my dad got into a car accident. He had a serious repeat concussion, along with problems with his back and shoulder. Because his career required that he drive for a living, he was left unable to work for several months as he attended doctors’ appointments to try to find ways to manage his new health problems. Afterward, he could only work sporadically, and he struggled to make ends meet.

As graduation was approaching, the topic of conversation for every second semester senior was, “What are you doing after college?” I had a plan, but I also had a bundle of nerves. I was lucky to get into my top-choice graduate school and receive a nice financial aid package. But I’d also soon be trying to make it work in the Boston area as a recent graduate with no financial help from parents and no guarantee of a job.

Two weeks after graduation, after a stint of back-to-back interviews in every corner of Boston and the suburbs, I got my first job offer. I accepted immediately, with no consideration about salary, benefits, or long-term growth. I needed the money and the stability. My girlfriend—who would also be working and going to school in Boston—and I were scheduled to move in August, before classes started, and I needed to know that the move would happen. I needed the move to be able to happen.

I was one of the lucky ones. I knew someone else who was moving out, someone who needed to be close to city train access, someone who I would enjoy living with and who I knew was responsible. Not everyone is as lucky as I am. My older cousin was still in college when her mom died and her dad sold his house to travel the country in an RV. She was completely thrown, and needed a stable living situation after graduation—so she moved in with someone she didn’t know well, and ended up in a life-threatening situation. “I don’t recommend that,” she would tell me when I was in high school and college. “If you can stay at home, do it. But make sure you have a Plan B.”

For years, I’d been telling myself, “I’ll just live with my dad if I can’t afford a place after graduation.” My dad and I had an excellent relationship, and after I turned eighteen we were more like roommates and friends, except that I occasionally asked him for advice and left dirty dishes in the sink too long.

I had been kidding myself. I couldn’t live with my dad after I graduated. I can never live with him again, unless the roles are reversed and he begins to need so much care that I have to consider letting him move in with me. Even though he’s only fifty-five, my dad has early stages of Alzheimer’s and a host of other physical and cognitive health issues. He hasn’t been able to hold down a stable full-time job for a few years because of his health, so he works odd jobs and relies on disability benefits to get by. For several months, he’s been in the hospital, and then he’ll figure out whether to move in with friends, get a roommate, or try for subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled. He’s working on getting his treatment plans settled and his medication regiment situated. Right now, he needs to be able to take care of himself. He can’t take care of me, too.

When society criticizes young people for moving out of their parents’ homes, or blindly throws around, “Live at home!” as a suggestion for financial certainty, it hits me, hard. There are so many people—those with abusive parents, those whose parents are dead or absent, those raised in foster care, those whose parent(s) have severe health issues, those whose parents are drug addicts or alcoholics—who cannot live “at home” for one reason or another. Instead, we have to hustle. We have to take whatever work we can get, and stay proactive so that companies won’t let us go. Many of us have to forego or postpone school, or attend school while working. We have to get apartments when we’re not necessarily emotionally or financially ready to do so. We have to make a home wherever we’re allowed to.

I don’t live with my parents because I can’t. I carry my home with me. I pay all of my own bills, my car is in my name, I claim myself on my taxes, and if I don’t make my doctors’ appointments, no one does. And that’s something I should be proud to say.

Alaina Leary is a native Bostonian currently completing her MA in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College. She works as a social media designer and editor. Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, BUST, AfterEllen, and others. When she’s not busy playing around with words, she spends her time surrounded by her two cats, Blue and Gansey, and at the beach with her girlfriend. She can often be found re-reading her favorite books, watching Gilmore Girls, and covering everything in glitter. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @alainaskeys.

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Top image: Jane the Virgin, who lives at home

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Alaina Leary is a native Bostonian currently completing her MA in Publishing and Writing at Emerson College. She works as a social media designer and editor. Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, BUST, AfterEllen, and others. When she’s not busy playing around with words, she spends her time surrounded by her two cats, Blue and Gansey, and at the beach with her girlfriend. She can often be found re-reading her favorite books, watching Gilmore Girls, and covering everything in glitter. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @alainaskeys.

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