“I could do it, but I just don’t want to,” for me means, I actually cannot do it. There has to be the want.
Like, I could do it, but I wouldn’t be happy, or fulfilled, or motivated. And unless I can live a life unfulfilled (which experience has proven no), then no, I cannot do said thing.
Said thing now? Life alone.
I took a trip home. Home meaning back to Oregon where my people live. And then over to New York, where more of my people live. Home meaning back to the essence of me, how I was raised, how I was structured.
The first week I panicked. My precious, familiar solitude, suddenly replaced with constant company. But what panicked? Not my heart. My heart fell easily, gratefully into the softness of family. It was my stoic mind, worried that I would lose the capacity for independence. Stuck on what I had become, and all I had yet to achieve, and the belief that I needed to do it alone for it to be real.
Then there were moments of irritated overwhelm. Simple grumpiness really. Maybe a belly-ache or sleepiness. Things that when alone I never have to explain. I just lay down, or power through, gritting my jaw, grumpy to no one but the trees or the ocean. But with others there is that ripple effect. My moods wash over me and spill onto them. That is hard, makes me feel bad, inadequate, a little guilty, and then a little bitter. I think, “If I was alone this would be easier.” I’ve worried often that I will always be alone, because of these moods, and how they make me feel about myself.
But after such a long break from companionship, those old thoughts, forever a facet of my social dilemma, now felt foreign. They weren’t a part of me as they once were. Solitude had pulled them out, strand by strand, replacing them with new habits. Like how to listen to my body, what to do with my moods, how to flow smoothly from extroversion to introversion without the grinding worry that I might let someone down or miss out. My family, after all, would still be there once I was done with my nap.
I got grumpy in the kitchen one day, with my eager nieces crowding around our baking adventure, catching under my feet every time I spun around. I couldn’t think straight, my back ached. My mother asked if I was mad. I wasn’t, but I was too grumpy to assure her. I grunted something about my back and disappeared to my little room, shutting the door, flopping on the bed, sipping a micro-dose of solitude before withdrawals turned nasty. Ten minutes later I was ready to bake again.
After 36 years, both my mother and I are finally learning my signals. She doesn’t need much space, but she is learning to give me mine, and I am learning to take it shamelessly. As our visit slid by, I slowly melted into her home, her rhythm. I learned again how to snuggle, reading stories to toddlers totally trusting in my arms, watching Netflix curled next to mom on the futon couch, the cat sprawled purring over our two bodies. I realized how tense I had been these last two years, building a life on my own, relaxing into no one. Independence is empowering, until it is restricting. Until strength limits flexibility.
I didn’t want to leave. I wept in the car, in the airport, hugging my mom, on the plane. Tears fell unnoticed, disappearing into my mask. I wept as we landed in New York, through the leftover turbulence of Hurricane Ida. I looked out at the blinding rain and wondered if we would make it. I thought about writing a loving text in case we didn’t. I wept again. A month ago I would have been scared of such sensitivity, that it would rob me of my strength. Now I realized that it gave me more. I was feeling everything, but it was OK. And that is true power.
I am back in Puerto Rico. New York was beautiful and exhilarating. And it was hard to leave my father too, as always. My shack needs all the same things it always does. It needs to be cleaned, and organized, and aired out in the constant battle against mold. And weed whacked in the constant battle against the jungle. What felt exciting now feels monotonous. The shine wore off.
It kind of feels like, what’s the point anymore?
I had a vision. Buy a house of my own, on my own, all by myself. To prove to myself I could do it.
And I can do it…But I maybe I just don’t want to.
These years have been an experience though, like all my phases. Little journalistic inquiries. A few years here, a few there, living different personas. A student, a traveler, a counselor, a tour guide, a construction worker, a writer. Studies abroad. Studying how others do life. But none are forever for me. I need change, I need freshness, growth, inspiration.
Here I have learned how to do things from scratch. How to learn a town, build a business, and make friends who aren’t your roommates, or coworkers, or crew mates. It’s a good skill. Like all skills, it gives me more freedom. But it’s not enough. Dinner dates are not dinners at home. “Catch up” sessions are nothing like sharing life. No one here has seen me at my most vulnerable. I always have time to clean up after my messy processes.
“Trauma bonding,” I joke with my wilderness therapy friends, reflecting on our grueling weeks in the field. Growing close through hard experiences.
I am proud of my stint with solitude. It’s important that I learned to sing and dance alone in my kitchen. And that I learned to manage my moods and hold my sadness and fear and nightmares, and realize that ultimately they are always mine to hold. By having no one else to prioritize, I learned, really integrated, putting myself first. I don’t think I will ever unlearn that now.
And do I want to see that I can buy and fix up a house all on my own? Yes. That would make me prouder still. But pride may not be enough. Pride is the steam rising from the pot, but connection is the soup itself, nourishing the soul.
I don’t want hard work to calcify my soft heart again. Now I want to keep feeling, even if makes me a little less independent. Even if it makes me invite others into my single-track life. Even if I must widen the road.
My biggest worry though is stepping off that track. What if I get distracted? What if I don’t write anymore? What if I give all my time to others? Lose myself instead.
One of my last nights at my mom’s house, I sat at the kitchen table typing away at my memoir, she and her boyfriend busy with dinner. I had already eaten, treating myself according to my own diet and my own schedule. They chatted and listened to music, but I zoned it out, so accustomed to their routine and conversation.
When I surfaced from my focused flow I was surprised to see I had pumped out two new pages, even with the bustle of people five feet away from me. I felt a sudden surge of relief, and hope for my future. Maybe my love for writing did not have to exclude my love for companionship. Maybe loving others might not have to mean losing myself. Maybe I just might be finally getting good at balancing the two.
And maybe, through this focused study of solitude, I am also mastering the art of partnership. We shall see, maybe that is next semester;)