Tuesday, June 24, 2014

To Boldly Go

For the first time in 19 years, I will spend more than a week living alone, sharing personal, residential space with no one. No wife. No children. No roommates. Six weeks of solitary residential weeknights. Some call what I'm doing "getting a masters degree," but it might as well be called "exploring new worlds.”

When I moved into my new and ephemeral digs over the weekend, the alien nature of this new solitude hit me like a heat wave. Well, actually, that was because the spartan apartment hadn't been running its sole tiny A/C unit for three weeks prior to my arrival, and the place was pushing 100 F. My new place was running a fever. The physical space reflected my inner thoughts.

Five days later, it's clear the difference in "empty time" is other-worldly.

At home, "empty time" means "on call." It's not unlike a doctor, being a parent. Your children might not need you in the moment, and they might not need you most of the evening, but you must always be available. Even if you're escaping domestic madness with an extended potty break -- oh come now, we ALL do that -- your children feel entitled to cut even that moment short for a legion of possible reasons, from a lost toy to a spilled drink to a sibling saying mean things.

When you're on call as a parent, which is all the time, many people like me have trouble committing to projects, because all of that focus can be -- will, inevitably, be -- blown with the needs of a kid tugging literally or metaphorically on your sleeve.

In this new alien place of solitude, empty time means utterly empty. Vacant of responsibility, a vacuum of human distraction. I don't even have a TV. Filling it requires constant, conscious choice. You’re not on call for anything. You must call yourself to act.

This is not a reflection of "better" or "worse" ways to live. It's not about the misery or glory of parenthood or of singletons. It's about atmospheric change. It’s about astronauts who struggle to stand after having been weightless for months or deep sea divers who stay down too long and surface too quickly.

At one point a couple of days ago, I got out of bed and made five round trips from the kitchen and back to the bed in the span of maybe 10 minutes, not because I needed things from the kitchen, but because I was dazed and in shellshock to be awake and have no one to answer to, no children to wake up, no child to instruct or keep on schedule, no food to contemplate preparing, and no wife to greet and warmly wish on her merry way. I was walking back and forth looking for the duties that were going unfulfilled in my mind.

This feeling is why so many separated and divorced couples struggle with depression, regardless of whether their soon-to-be or ex-spouse was a tyrant or nightmare. It’s why so many marriages fail to survive that first year, as the realities of cohabitation with a ring weigh down a former singleton in ways incomprehensible before the union.

As I stand at my tiny table, typing on my tiny laptop in a tiny apartment, I am grateful for the opportunity before me, to experience a slice in time entirely different from what I have known most of my life. But I am more grateful that this experience is exactly that: a slice, a temporary stop on the round trip back to my own bed, and my own kitchen, and my own family, complete with a wife who tolerates my snoring and children who will once again tug at my sleeves, whine in my ear, and snuggle next to me on our couch.

1 comment:

Sara said...

I love this post - it's so true. I think it is important to be alone in your own home at least once a year for those same reasons, but I'm always so glad when we're back to full capacity. Jealous of your program and can't wait to hear all about it.