Solitude

My friend Doc Russia is a very intelligent man. When we got the final diagnosis of The Mrs.’s cancer — that it would be a question of months or even weeks, not years — Doc told me that he was not going to let me stay by myself “in some little apartment, looking at four walls” (his words).

So, true to his word, when the end finally came, he moved me into his guest room where I’ve been ever since — except for when I’ve been living with Mr. Free Market’s family and The Englishman’s family, that is.

Until now.

Now, of course, I’m staying in Cornwall in a lovely cottage owned by The Englishman, and for the first time since February this year, I’m completely on my own.

So how does it feel, this living by yourself thing?

Many people talk of how when they finally come to live on their own, whether after death of a spouse or divorce, that there’s a wonderful sense of relief — that being on one’s own means that all your time is your own, that you have freedom to do whatever you want, even that you find things exactly where you left them, and so on. Last night, for example, I felt a little tired so I went to bed at about 9pm instead of my usual midnight-ish bedtime. Big mistake. As I’ve got older, I’ve come to need less sleep — or, to be more precise, a measured amount of sleep: about six to seven hours — so going to bed at 9 meant waking up at, yes, you guessed it, 4am with absolutely no chance of going back to sleep. Shit.

After a while, though, a thought occurred to me: I didn’t need to go back to sleep. I had nowhere to go in the morning, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention. It’s called retirement, and I’m retired. Furthermore, if I were to feel tired later in the day because of my early awakening, I could just take a damn nap because I had nowhere to go, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention.

Having established all that, there was only one thing to do, of course: I fell asleep in seconds and woke up just after 9am.

Then I walked downstairs after doing my Morning Things (meds, etc.) and walking into the kitchen, to find everything exactly as I’d left it the evening before: tidy (I’m a tidy person by nature) but with stuff lying on the counter that I would need to make breakfast. I still needed a few things so I walked up to the little grocery store and bought them, and when I got back to the cottage I put everything away and made myself breakfast. Which is when yet another realization came to me: this will be the pattern of the rest of your life.

I also don’t have a car, which means I can’t spend my days driving around the countryside like a dervish, being too busy to think. Now I have to take my time, literally, and in that time, all I really have are my thoughts for company.

Let me get one thing absolutely clear, at this point: I don’t mind being by myself — or at least, I’ve never minded being by myself before. The problem is that when you’ve lived as close to someone as I lived with The Mrs. for over twenty years, you get used to being not alone; and when you love your companion, that constant companionship is not a burden, it’s addictive.

For the first time in my life I feel alone, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.

This won’t last, of course. At some point I’ll either get used to being on my own, or else a miracle will occur and I won’t be on my own anymore.

This post, by the way, is not a cry for help, nor is it a gloomy one. In ten days’s time, I’ll be driving along the Midi with one of my oldest friends, and after that, I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year in London with an even older one. My time in Cornwall is therefore just an interlude, but it may well prove to be the most important part of this sabbatical.

But Doc sure called this one right. At this point, having spent so much time in other people’s homes and having been so busy doing things like hunting, carousing, watching cricket and football and driving all over the place, the shock of February has pretty much worn off. Had I moved into an apartment back then and spent my days looking at the walls with a future that was going to be just that, I’m not sure I could have coped. No, let me tell the truth here; I would have fallen apart.

Instead, my friends, my wonderful, caring friends have given me the chance to recover, a time to heal and a time during which I could put my mind at rest.

Now I’m ready to move on, to face what the rest of my life may bring me, and I promise you all, I intend to live it to the full.

9 comments

  1. That’s what friends are for…though I suspect your “retirement” won’t last into 2018. You’ll find something to do. Someplace to go. Writing, consulting…hell, even YouTube videos. (Allow me to plug the Cap and Ball channel as an example of what can be done)

    FWIW, I’m in somewhat of a similar state…I can retire in six months, really enter the window around August 2018. But were I to really sit-on-the-porch retire, you could get a pool going on how long until I keeled over from sheer boredom. Top end 18 months. So I’ll either keep working for the Navy (a decent employer) or turn my coat and go contractor (potentially quite lucrative).

  2. That’s really, really cool.

    I hope that when the time comes my wife has someone who will help her through that.

    1. O.B,
      Your wife will do what she’s going to do. Figure out what YOU will do if she goes first. I didn’t until the very end, which is why I was in such dire straits at first.

      1. Kim, welcome to the next chapter of your life.

        I retired in April, partly because of increasing health issues and partly because I just couldn’t take the b.s. at work any longer (change of ownership resulted in competent management being replaced with morons.)

        I’ve never been married, but I found myself increasingly dependent on a small group of close friends to keep me occupied. It has taken some time, but I finally realized that I have adequate credit cards and a sturdy car and I can go pretty much anywhere I want and find my way safely home.

        Where my friends may have reached the point that they were seeing too much of me, now they wonder why I didn’t tell them where I was going or when I’d return.

        It’s kind of like being a teenager again.

  3. The Bride went to her God last July.
    Your post is precisely where I am at right now, minus the friends.
    As I was her 24/7 caregiver for years, I did not have the time to keep close friends.
    The four walls are getting closer.
    Tomorrow I will go to the gun club…because now I can.

  4. When the love of my life 4 years ago my friends’ reactions suddenly made me realize that I was the wealthiest man in the world to have them. So glad to see that you have the same.

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