I like closing my door and being by myself. Call it me-time, call it loneliness, call it isolation, but not having had a room of my own in the past six months and two weeks the politics of space are weighing on my sense of contentment.
For a week I am occupying a friend's apartment as she and her roommate have both left over Easter. It is the greatest feeling, just walking around in my pyjamas and refusing to leave the bed. Elsewhere, my bed is a couch in a room that needs to be used by other people. As grateful as I am for the couch and the accommodation, I miss not having to behave like an eternal guest. The guest has to remain polite, avoid confrontation, be clean and tidy and offer to help (whether this be with the dishes or the washing or going grocery shopping or whatever), whereas in your own space you can be wholly yourself. There is no stringent adherence to the polite rules of being a visitor, there is no obligation of feeling grateful and adjusting to the daily flow of a home that is not your own.
I miss not being a reduced version of myself. I miss organising my day according to my own desires and rules, and not having to coordinate every movement. I miss my own bedding, the futon mattress in storage five floors under the couch, I miss not looking for underpants in one box and winter coats in another.
Since coming to Berlin, I have felt a dreaded darkness that descends slowly when things aren't working out as quickly as I had hoped, when life is stagnating and I don't know how to kick its ass back into gear. I factored homesickness, a lack of sunshine and the insecurity of my current situation into the encroaching darkness, but my friend Des added that space is another element contributing to feeling out of place here. The inability to unpack my things somewhere that feels like home correlates with the other aspects. Basically, I miss having a door I can close.
But is this experienced lack not also a form of privilege? Had I grown up in a shack in Khayelitsha, in the slums of Delhi or a Brazilian favela I might not have the same need for square metres that belong to me, that I can occupy all by myself and do with as I please. Perhaps representative of a middle-class sense of entitlement, I grew up with the large houses with large gardens and swimming pools in suburbia that needed gardeners and cleaning ladies from rural areas to come by each week and maintain the property. The neighbours were inaudible presences behind tall walls that separated their lives from ours unless we wanted these to meet at an occasional braai or when someone's dogs had to be taken care of during the holidays.
Here, people literally live on top of one another. I can hear the muted voices of men or people shuffling furniture above me. Still, I think no one makes an effort to know their neighbours beyond short chats in the hallways. Even here, people need their space.