I haven’t spent much of my almost 51 years of life alone. Growing up, I mostly shared a room with my sister and also had a younger brother barging into our room on a regular basis. When I went off to college, I had a roommate — both in the dorms and later in apartments off campus. When I graduated from college, I moved back home for 6 months before my parents insisted it was time to head out on my own. I ended up renting a crappy apartment in an equally crappy neighborhood, because it was all that I could afford at the time. The months spent in that dreary apartment were noteworthy for being the first time I had ever been truly and absolutely alone in my own home. I’m not sure if it was the apartment, living alone, the not-so-great neighborhood or all of the above, but I was miserable and hated the entire experience. As soon as I could, I moved out of the apartment and into a house with three other people.
Not long before I moved into that house (that bears an uncanny resemblance to the house featured in the HBO show Silicon Valley — I suspect the neighborhood is the same), and immediately after breaking up with my college boyfriend of three years, I met my soon-to-be husband. Things moved quickly and in fairly rapid succession, we moved into an apartment together, bought a house, got married, had kids and collected a few dogs along the way. As anyone who has ever lived with roommates, been married, or raised children knows, there wasn’t much alone time for me. That was until the day my husband moved out. He had been my longest lasting roommate and we had lived together for almost 25 years.
With two of my children now in college on the East Coast (while I live on the West Coast) and one child spending only a few days a week with me, I’ve had a steep learning curve in managing this new solo lifestyle. After years of imagining something terrible happening to my children, my nightmares these days tend to be related to something catastrophic happening to me and nobody discovering my body for days or weeks. I even imagine the headlines that will appear when someone breaks down my door and discovers my dog sitting shiva beside my decomposing body.
Yes, I have relatives and lots of close and dear friends. But we all have busy lives and don’t keep in constant touch. Of course, many would notice if I was incommunicado for a week or so. But a few days would not set off any warning bells for anyone. And while I do have a job, my schedule isn’t entirely regular and, again, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to not be there for a few days, or perhaps a week. After having a husband for almost all of my adult life and being a full-time mom for 20 years, it’s strange to not have someone who knows where I am every minute of the day. Strange and somewhat scary.
When I first moved into my current home, I was constantly amazed at the joy I experienced in taking up every inch of closet space for myself. And being able to hang anything I wanted on any wall anywhere I pleased. I experienced great pleasure in doing what my heart desired whenever I desired it. Nobody to judge, or even notice, if I spent an entire Saturday in my pajamas, eating ice cream straight from the carton while binge watching The Great British Baking Show. (Purely a hypothetical scenario, I assure you) I don’t have to make lunch or dinner for any other person, except myself — and if some days dinner consists of toast then so be it.
But while I have enjoyed some of the freedom that being on my own affords, I’ve struggled with much of it. When unexpected things happen, I don’t have that partner to prop me back up and tell me things will be ok. When the bougainvillea that the previous owner strapped to the side of the house with zip ties collapsed and landed with a crash across the entire width of my driveway, I had to figure out how to free my car and saw through the almost 100 year old thickly gnarled branches and haul them away. It took me a few weeks to get it all done and when I finally did, I felt good. But the moment it happened, I was beside myself. Who would help me? Who could tell me what to do?
This morning when I looked out the window and discovered that my car had been ransacked in the night, I immediately burst into tears. Someone opened up and emptied every single compartment in the entire car and dumped everything in piles on the floor. A few things were taken: a favorite winter coat I left in there because my hands were full when I got home last night, a couple dollars in change I kept in the ashtray for feeding parking meters, and a few things I bought at Target recently but hadn’t gotten around to bringing in the house. So, thankfully, I lost nothing of major value. But my sense of security took a very big hit. I reached out to my not-yet-ex husband hoping for….what? I really don’t know what I was hoping for. But whatever it was that I wanted from him, I certainly didn’t get it.
What happened with my car wasn’t catastrophic by any stretch of the imagination. But in the moments after I discovered it, it absolutely seemed like it. I felt frightened and violated and, more than anything, alone.