On being alone

Those who make life happen while living alone are a special breed. We are (more or less) tough, low-maintenance, and pretty self-sufficient. We have carved lives of wonder and meaning out of a society that is obsessed with “matrimania” – my new favorite word – and we’ve done it with, more or less, some measure of grace. IE, we’re not raving lunatics with 50 cats and a habit of leering at people out of our windows. Go us.

We go to dinner parties alone. We travel alone. We shop – and cook! – alone. We get take out alone. We think about how to stay safe while walking in the woods, alone. We get sick, and get better, alone. We deal with the inevitable questioning of our life choices, alone. We do most things, alone.

Of course, we’re not always alone. We date. We work. We spend time with family. We have friends: wonderful people who will help move the furniture or tag along on an event. Who are there for the late-night chats or mid-day facebook messages. Who bring us chicken soup, or take a trip with us, or just basically have our backs.

And lest I lead you astray, all this alone doesn’t necessarily mean we are lonely. Don’t make that mistake, and above all, hold the pity party. Most of us alone types are pretty happy by ourselves.

Most of the time.

But not all the time.

Tonight, I’m alone, and it’s quiet and peaceful in my apartment. It’s warm and cozy. My dog is sprawled next to me, snoring mightily, feet going every which way, belly up, as safe and content as it’s possible for a dog to be. My apartment is clean, most of my errands are done; there are no dishes in the sink, a miracle if I’ve ever seen one. My body and brain are tired: my body in that lovely, jelly-legged way gleaned from a spectacular weekend of running and hiking and walking and being outside in the glorious New England fall; my mind from, well, thinking too much.

You see, I had a small taste of the other side of the coin over the last few weeks. A couple of times, I had someone to walk in the woods with, to look at the map with me when I was trying not to get us lost. Someone who offered to wash the dishes, and helped me put my AC into storage. Someone who picked the movie, packed the lunch, and helped me figure out where to put my feet on a slippery rock. Someone who needed me to offer a tissue or hand over half an orange.

I won’t lie; it was pretty nice. But it was temporary.

And now things are back to normal, and this is one of those times where it hurts a little. Maybe hurt is the wrong word. Maybe it’s more of an ache. A reminder of something that was fleetingly there, and isn’t anymore. Not a bad ache. A gentle one, the kind you get after lightly exercising a muscle long unused. It’s not the kind of ache that crushes a person. But it’s real.

Because, much as I love her, Sadie can’t help me bring groceries up the stairs.

What to do about this? Nothing, really. Time passes, aches fade. I think the only thing I can say is that I hope those of you who have that extra pair of hands around can take a moment to appreciate them. Whether it’s a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, friend, caregiver, or roommate, take a moment to be glad that someone is there to help you. Sure, they come with baggage, and tempers, and quirks, and all-those-super-annoying traits, but they are still there.

And sometimes, that’s just, well, nice.

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