Within an hour of arriving home from our trip, I was on a stepladder, dusting cobwebs from the ceiling. The family therapist has advised that when I find myself dusting the ceiling, I should probably step away and do something for myself. Hey, I get that. But I’d left the windows closed all week (so the cat couldn’t escape) and the house needed to be aired out. That meant opening the casement windows near the ceiling, which required a stepladder, and while I was up there, naturally, I dusted. It seemed sensible, at the time. We then picked up the dogs from the kennel and passed a street festival, with so many people having so much fun. I woke up this morning, let the dogs out, stood at the kitchen sink to make coffee, and burst into tears. There was nothing to come home to but dishes and dusting, it seems.
The tears come easily these days. It seems rather maudlin. And it seems that the way to counter loneliness is not to plunge into the street festival but to “lean in” (pardon the trendy phrase) to the loneliness. Rather than feel alienated from others in my solitude, why not really go there, really be here in this state of being alone? Why not have a life of my own here, far removed from everyone else?
Stephen Fry, who has recently confessed a suicide attempt, admits that he is lonely, but he also wants to be left alone. He’d like to be with someone in the evenings, but he also cherishes his mornings, alone, when he can get up and work. Hey, I get that. I’m lonely without the luxury of being alone, but for a few hours each morning, I’ve got this place to myself.
I made a pot of coffee and entered the study, a room I’ve been avoiding except to stash unopened autopay bills, the mementos that keep coming in, and other sundries. I cleared out the piles of mail and papers. I vacuumed and dusted with my friend’s herbal cleaner. I found some nice prints from husband’s great aunts that I will take to the frame shop and hang on the walls. I found a small colored trail map of the state park where I kayak and taped it to the wall. The desk is cleared off, the books are shelved. It’s my study again, ready for business. I sat at the desk and wrote a journal entry about feeling like my great aunt, who used to take the train down from the city, dutifully tended to but largely forgotten.
I brought the piles of papers to the dining room table and enlisted the kids’ help in sorting through them. Son has been wanting to help with financial records. Here was his chance. He may be able to help me come up with a better filing system. Daughter got to use the paper shredder. I appreciated their help. Sometimes I just need some company, or a witness, to get through the tasks I loathe. I should note that I take care of the most important financial stuff promptly. This was all the not-as-important stuff that I set aside and never got to as the semester got busy…or never wanted to get to. There was a birth announcement that lay in the pile for months. I’d better get something delivered to that family before the baby’s first birthday. I found a pair of booties I’d bought for a local baby half a year ago, and I’d better check the size and I’d better get around to paying a visit to that family. The library fine notice…I sent that one straight to the shredder without opening. Daughter opened it as she prepped papers for the shredder. “Do you want to know how much?” she chirped. I didn’t, but she found an overdue notice for a TOEFL book that I never checked out. I will contest that bill! This could kick me into gear.
I was able to slide things out of the pile unnoticed–the death certificate from the lawyer, a photo of the mayor with a memorial brick from yet another memorial service that we didn’t attend, a token from the organ donation organization, a dvd of a talk that my husband gave in The Netherlands. I pack that stuff away in good bins and boxes. I picture my children sorting through these mementos years from now, when they can see how cherished my husband was by others. It’s reassuring that other people carry him in their hearts, until our hearts are healed enough to hold him again.
When I found a three-month-old royalty check from the university press, I announced that we could treat ourselves to brunch. And so we did.