I wonder how my grandma did it for 30 years. How every morning she woke up, listened to her coffee percolate, wiped her mouth with a delicately folded napkin, ate breakfast at the table alone. How she shuffled in her slippers and nightgown back to her room and picked out an outfit to wear for the day -- perfectly creased slacks, a stylish top. How she then put on her lipstick with precision and pulled the teeth of her wire comb through her dyed perm coif, flattened on one side from her previous night's sleep. How she put on her shoes, checked the mailbox, grabbed the handrail to hoist herself back up the steps and inside. How she turned on the television, let the sounds of the whoops and whirls of game show episodes seep out of the box for hours. How she cooked dinner for one, ate dinner for one, cleaned dishes for one, went to bed as one. I wonder how she did it for 30 years.
For the summer, I live at home with my parents and my dog. In this household of four, I don't usually interact with any one being for too long; I chat at dinner with my mom, watch 10 minutes of a crime drama with my dad, sit on the floor for a bit with my dog and twirl his amber curls while he snores. Though I spend most of my down time by myself, I never think of myself as being alone -- because really, I'm not; I'm surrounded by people and the sound of the microwave humming and beckoning calls to walk the dog. While I am consciously very integrated into the bustling habitat that is my home, I am equally conscious of a certain quality of oneness that, in my domestic circumstance, can come only from a concerted effort to prove its existence.
When my parents left for a short jaunt to the shore in the middle of the summer, I exulted in the freedom their absence would lend me. I'm not the type of person to throw a raucous house party when left to my own devices -- and even if I were, none of my friends were likewise stuck in our suburban purgatory that weekend. I'm much more the type of person to sit half-clothed on the couch reading a book with bowls of old food strewn around my blanketed throne. As such, with my only responsibility being to remember to feed myself and the dog, I thought I was pretty much set for the duration of the affair.
What ensued stunned me. Day one went swimmingly; I came home from work, ate cold mashed potatoes, and fell asleep to a blur of HGTV shows on my television screen. The next day, rather than commuting into Manhattan with my fellow schleppers via three different means of public transportation as usual, I drove to work -- and for the first time in a long time, I awoke to complete and utter aloneness. It didn't feel bad -- just different.
But soon the weekend came, and I found myself trapped in a strange, calcifying bubble of inquietude. I was spending my many days of solitude doing exactly what I had expected to be doing -- reading, watching TV, doing crosswords like a proper nerd, walking the dog up the block, driving around aimlessly when I got bored. What astonished me, though, was that far from reveling in the independence of these actions, I was stifled by the desire to do them and hear the TV blaring and hear my mom sing while she cooked dinner and have my dad pass through the living room and ask, "Hey, Li, how's it going?" The seclusion I had so deeply craved was proving me to be far more dependent on the people and things I usually relegate as background noise than I had ever considered. It was proving me to be the mere silhouette of a far more independent person -- not quite yet ripe for adulthood, yet too sanctimoniously mature to be vulnerable to the indecencies of loneliness.
So now I really wonder how my grandma did it for 30 years. When my parents walked in after five days, I all-too-eagerly ran to the door.