It’s 2 am, and I’ve just finished Episode 55 of The X-Files (my current Netflix obsession).
I haven’t had to argue with anyone over what to watch in 27 months.
That means boxing on HBO Go some nights or, lately, DVR’d episodes of Alaska: The Last Frontier, where I’m learning how to hunt moose in case I should ever find myself living on a homestead in the wilderness—I could, you know! Or maybe I’ll pick up and go to Miami, where I’d live in a one-room apartment in Little Havana (¡La Pequeña Habana!), but go dancing every night. Or Oregon. Northern California.
Sometimes, I can’t decide. Instead, I take long naps in the early evening. Put on hideous flannel pajama bottoms and mismatched socks, snuggle down beneath blankets and breathe in the quiet like steam.
When I wake, I check Facebook. There’s another wedding announcement. Look at the happy couple! Yes, there’s a flash of envy. Or see that newborn? I don’t have one of those! I’m 36. What’s wrong with me?
Nothing, except that I’m a free woman at an age when freedom and youthfulness should be buried beneath a constant pile of familial duties, responsibilities and promises that grow to feel more like prison bars than pillars.
My commitments are few. I grocery-shop for one. The clothes in the wash are all my own. Most times, I don’t bother folding them. I hang bras to dry on the backs of my dining room chairs—incidentally, the dining room that’s used as an art studio, not a place where people gather to discuss how school went over plates of Hamburger Helper.
In the morning, while my friends all kiss their husbands goodbye, drop the kids off at daycare and head to work, I’m busy perfecting my salsa-dance breakfast routine, whisking eggs to the rhythm of Ruben Blades.
Later, running errands, I’ll laugh with the cashiers at my co-op. We’ll talk about getting together to jam. Maybe I could join their band. Or go see Jazz on a weeknight.
If I don’t get home until four in the morning, no one is giving me reproachful looks—not even my dog. He’s just glad I came home.
I can see a movie whenever I want. Better yet, I can sit wherever I want. (There’s no, “Do you want the middle, or aisle, or top or down in the neck-ache section?” when all I want is the seat farthest away from those giggling college kids and the woman wearing a tanker trunk of perfume.)
My coffee table is perpetually littered with all the books I’m reading. I paint late into the night, music blaring. There’s a plastic container of yellow Play-Doh on the end table next to me, and I don’t have to justify why—at 36—I still think Play-Doh is so completely awesome.
Am I lonely? Sometimes. It hits when I least expect it—a punch to the heart. The silence is suddenly suffocating. Where is the witness to my life? I think. When will I be beloved of someone?
That’s when I believe I’d trade all this wild unpredictability for the comfort of a secure partnership, for someone to come home to. But the truth is that I may never want it quite like that: normal. Picket fence and suburban house full of skeletons in the closet, running out of things to say if it’s not about the kids or the house—because there is something inside of me that always grows restless when I hear the sound of a train. Because I am still the girl who once chased a rainbow in her car, trying to find the end of it.
Because I still drive back and forth on the highway beneath a full moon just so I can tell it my secrets, so that I won’t forget that there are objects meant to reflect the light—and they are divine in the darkness.
I’ve crawled out of every bed I’ve ever shared with past boyfriends to go write after midnight, or wander into the yard and press my bare feet to earth. What I loved was being awake. Feeling. Connecting. But on so many occasions, the ties that bound me also reduced me. Or I contracted on my own, willingly, because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do in order to make room for someone else.
The dance was no longer unaffected; it was polite, yielding, accommodating, diminishing. It was fear. It was need. No one wanted honesty. It was an approximation of love—the best I could do, since I was just an approximation of me.
But this free woman I am? She knows how to love in ways the bound woman never could. I know me—every shadow, every facet of light, every oddity, nuance and quirk, every glorious angle and curve of my being. When I smile at you, I’m seeing your freedom, too. Even when you think you’re not free.
I don’t have to tell you everything that sucks about being alone. You already know. But there is an undercurrent of calm beneath all that longing. I glimpse it sometimes when I’m messy-haired and laughing. Or shouting at pundits on CNN with a mouth full of de-blueberried blueberry muffin, pointing with purple-stained fingers (and no one is watching with a frown meant to tell me how strange I am—a fact of which I am already highly cognizant).
That undercurrent of calm exists when I’m dancing in my living room all hip circles and twirls, feeling beautiful, with no judging eyes to tell me otherwise.
Do I think I’d be more at peace were I with someone? Maybe. Or—no—it might be a different kind of peace, if they accepted this woman I am, who’s a little bit wild, and restless and full of longing, and passion, and sadness and train tracks for bones. The woman who wants to ride horses and watch music documentaries and play drums around a fire and drink tea and be perfectly still and quiet in between everything that moves me.
More than being alone or with someone, I want to stay awake. It’s the sleepwalking that hurts the most.
It is the loneliness you feel in the arms of someone who does not know you, and does not really want to, that makes you an outsider to your own heart.
But this other kind of solitude, the one in which I get to travel—hours, days, months, years—into my own being, is the road to genuine connections. If I can keep these eyes open, if I can just keep walking, I know I will meet myself, over and over. I will reach the point where, finally, I’m no longer a stranger. And that doesn’t suck.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Renée Claude/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum