When you’re young, you always think you’ll know better when you’re older.
I remember being 12 and thinking, When I’m 13, I’ll be a teenager. I’ll finally be able to say that. I can read TEEN magazine, and I’ll be cool, and I won’t be so young any more. But, of course, that quickly became Just wait until you’re 16 and you can drive, 18 and you can buy cigarettes, 21 and you can drink, 30 and you can stop caring what people think. (Nobody tells you that doesn’t actually happen until you turn 60.)
I thought I would be older, wiser, cooler, rid myself of all my young baggage, I’d change, be better, be thinner, be more successful. But when you’re like me and you’re divorced and you’re past the still-okay 30-year mark and nearing your 40s and you’re still, well, you, it’s like your brain just keeps repeating that line from Great Expectations: “We are who we are. People don’t change.”
Little things do, sure. And maybe I’m more brave, inching closer to courageous, starting to realize I have to believe in myself and all that nonsense. But what stands out the most as not changing in me is what I like to call my melancholy, or my loneliness. And the way I simultaneously repel and attract being alone, love it and hate it, fear it and seek it, always there like an ironic friend.
I don’t mean not-being-in-a-relationship alone, because since the divorce I’ve moved on and am happy and partnered and loved beyond anything I ever could have hoped for. I mean that quiet physical aloneness that comes when the kids are shipped off and tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I have a rare few hours to myself. I notice what I do during that time. I see who I am when it’s just me. And then I look for the loneliness, in a song and a beer and the sound of my fingers quickly moving across the keyboard.
I remember that year I had broken up with my boyfriend but bought him a hoodie for Christmas anyways, and (not because of the hoodie) we got back together for a bit. Ani DiFranco playing on the stereo and the smell of Thermasilk shampoo, but I was still somehow alone.
I remember driving down 63rd Street after my grandfather had passed, listening to Barenaked Ladies, not tentatively reaching over to the person next to me, hoping for a reassuring touch of the hand, and nothing. I was alone without being alone.
I remember going to bed the night before Mother’s Day just this past May, because I let the kids sleep at their dad’s even though I didn’t have to, and thinking how odd it felt to wake up childless on that day. So. Conspicuously. Alone.
My aloneness wants to ruin things, it does. It’s afraid to speak, afraid to break the silence, because sometimes the silence feels so much better than actually saying whatever stupid thing is being thought. It’s magnetic, and it keeps drawing itself inward deeper and darker, until like a flash of lightning, some small but wondrous joy helps me snap the fuck out of it: My five-year-old’s smile; a perfectly timed hug; some other thing I have to do but don’t want to do but doing it makes me have to function again, like school pickup. A beautiful sunny afternoon. A song my 7-year-old wants to listen to on my phone, that pulls me right out of my head.
I won’t be alone this Thanksgiving, and I am so deeply thankful for that that if I think about it for too long, I fear I might end up on my knees sobbing, proclaiming to the universe NO! But I don’t deserve it! I can’t have good things! This is ridiculous! But I did get this alone time today to remind me, in stark contrast, that my mind likes to play these tricks on me. And these old ghosts that haunt me, they’re just that part of me, self-obsessively still somewhat drawn to gloom and doom and woe is me, seeing now from another side how it wants to cast a shadow on all that is glittery and gold: Sunshine. A pair of beautiful gray eyes. A clear moment to think and reflect and write.
Happy Thanksgiving, all. Alone, surrounded, somewhere in between, I hope it’s a happy one. Ghosts and all.
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