It’s not as if I walk around naked all the time (though I could since the cemetery across the way is full of lonely people and its neighboring church seems to advocate extremely part-time practice) nor do I only have empties (of potato chip bags, that is) in the garbage, but not worrying about how someone else views my habits or needing to mesh mine with someone else’s has become my definition of contentment. Sure, I miss the opportunity to flesh out the anxieties of the day with someone and I miss seeing someone light up when I come home, but my mother, who lives in Florida, can usually listen for a few minutes before going back to herself, and Poops exuberantly welcomes me home, every single time I walk through the door. So I have backup.
It’s been about a year and a half since younger daughter went to college, which began my living alone stage that initially felt far more lonely than lovely. Before that there was home with mother, father, brother; then there were roommates in various configurations; and then there was husband and daughters; then, five and a half years ago (two years after the divorce) the house finally sold and older daughter went to college, so there was younger daughter on her custody schedule; then daughter and boyfriend; then daughter full-time since another great romantic story didn’t work out and boyfriend left, and my ex disappeared; and now there’s me. Well, me and Poops. It took a while to overcome the feeling that I should be tending to someone, that I am a failure for having failed at all my important relationships (when you’re down, your daughters going far far away to college reflects on you negatively), and to finally settle down into me and not being apologetic or ashamed of that. What is a “should” home configuration anyway?
At work my days are spent tending to others. I calculated that each work day I interact with at least 100 people, where some pay attention to every single thing I say, and others only notice the oh-no’s that slip when you talk for a living. That’s a lot of watching my mind-mouth interaction. And what I read in my spare time is generally about how abysmal our world is and has been, or about the people who try to make sense of that abysmal world record, or about the people who try to make it less abysmal, so I’ve got a weight on me that never leaves.
What does it mean to be alone? It doesn’t mean lonely because I don’t feel isolated (except on Saturday nights when I’m in bed by nine and fully awake at midnight, and maybe, too, on Sunday mornings when I would love to eat breakfast at a diner but even I will not expose myself that much because what could possibly say lonely more than eating breakfast alone while all around you are couples and families?). It does mean that I have the opportunity to live in the undulating rhythm of my mind and needs. It means that I can care about what I care about. But it also means that I have no one to blame for not accomplishing what I thought I should accomplish. There is no blame-game safety net. That isn’t such a bad thing because it also means that I force myself to whittle down into realistic goals, both lofty and nappy (as in napping).
To be alone is not to be without people because that is a decision to be made on an on-going basis, but it does mean that I need to be satisfied with myself since I cannot fill my mind with the la-la-la-la of other people’s doings and thinkings. No meals to anticipate other people wanting. No soothing of disjointed egos and moods. No driving to be done. No coordinating and planning and scheduling. It is to live in the moment gauging only what I need, and that is liberating and unnerving because there is still a part of me that finds fulfillment in being a carpet to walk upon.
Alone. It means to recognize another aspect of my identity. I am a woman, mother, writer, teacher: I am Jewish, a New Yorker, Virginian, American, Israeli; I am alone.
It has taken a while, but I feel strength in that designation. It is a sign of being a cope-er.
Alone is a plateau. One that stretches in an undulating path of self-directed wanderings.