A few days ago, I was talking to a coworker about a book he’d lent me, and admitted that I hadn’t gotten very far in it yet, because, “my lunch breaks are only 30 minutes long.”
“Don’t you read at night?” he asked, surprised. He’d apparently taken me for a fellow bookworm, which was a credible assumption, and then apparently expected me to share his habits, which was not.
“Not really. At night, I have to pay attention to Doug,” I said, a sort of laughing complaint.
It made me kind of sad at the time, to think of this quirky, intelligent guy going home after work, and, night after night, finding himself alone in the company of his books. And it made me sad again, a few days later, when another coworker and I were commiserating over our shared woe of having to pay attention to another human being, when all we really want to do is relax at the end of the day.
“Yeah, but look at the alternative,” said another guy, this one a single father. “You could have no one to go home and pay attention to.”
Maybe I’m projecting my own fear of loneliness onto these guys. After all, I’ve already admitted here that I’m not good at being by myself. I’ve never had “no one to go home and pay attention to,” because I’ve always lived with my family, roommates, or a partner. The closest I ever came was one year in college, when my roommate spent a lot of time over at her boyfriend’s place instead of the apartment we shared, but even then, there was the presence of another person there – her photos, her furniture, her dishes in the sink. And we had pets.
This weekend, I get to give alone-ness a try, if only for one night. Doug worked this morning, and I woke up alone. Although we met quickly for lunch, he took off almost immediately after his shift to go spend the night at his father’s house while his dad and step-mom have a night out, to make sure his teenage brother and sister don’t throw a party or an orgy. Which means that I am alone now. I will go to work later, walk myself through the parking lot at midnight when I get home, and tuck myself in. By the time I wake up tomorrow, not only will Doug not be here, he will already be back at work, and, unless I want to go out of my way to meet him for breakfast, I won’t be seeing him until his shift ends.
It’s 24 hours. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it sure feels like it. And unlike that year in college, Doug’s presence left behind in our apartment isn’t comforting; it’s stressful and/or sad. It’s the rabbit cages that are so much easier to clean when we do it together, and really probably should be cleaned today; it’s the pile of mail I sorted for him to look at yesterday, sitting untouched on the coffee table; it’s the dirty pots and pans that wouldn’t exist if he didn’t live here, because I would never cook; it’s the big empty bed with the tangled-up sheets and the two pillows almost overlapping.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, although I don’t know if that’s true long-term. In my last relationship, it was a two-month period of separation that helped me realize I could live without my ex (although it did not give me the balls to actually end things; we stayed together for another year after that). But sitting here now, with a headache, in my messy apartment, all by myself for what feels like a small eternity, I am able to see just how much I depend on Doug. It’s not that I couldn’t live without him – because I am adaptable and I probably could – but it’s so much nicer to have him here, acting as my personal chef, my partner, my calming force, and my pillow.
The up-shot is that I will get through a large chunk of that book in the next 24 hours. But what a sad and lonesome exchange.