Home alone 3

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Strange how a house empty of its usual occupants can feel so forbidding, as if there’s nothing but hidden menace in every corner, ready to appear when I finally turn off the light before midnight, exhausted and keen to sleep, but fearful of closing my eyes.

It must be like this for babies, reluctant to go to sleep in case they lose contact with the one who holds them together, the one who keeps their fears at bay.

During the week when we were out to lunch in a café overlooking the sea at Brighton, my cousin told me about her sister who lives a full and busy life with three sons, now grown, and a husband who has endured the ravages of Multiple Sclerosis for many years. She also finds the times when he’s away on respite and all her children away, too, similarly daunting.

The pleasure of not having to deal with a snoring husband is offset by a sense of unseen danger. The newspapers pile high on the bench, as my husband is the only one to read them.

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I once thought my difficulties sprang from a childhood of fear under the weight of nights spent with my father roaming the house.

When I was alone at home, I imagined my father still there on the prowl, but another friend observed during another time of sitting over coffee, this time in a café in Malvern overlooking Centennial Park, that we are by nature sociable creatures.

We humans are not meant to live alone. We are not hardwired to find ourselves in total solitude.

Although hermits and monks and Carmelite nuns might embrace the idea of such solitude by taking themselves off into cloistered cells or caves in retreat, they do so often as part of a community. And often they do so with a view to a higher power, one that keeps them company.

I think of the people who live alone. I admire their fortitude. I could not do this for long. I would take in boarders. I would move into a retirement community. I would look out for someone to house share. I would not let myself endure this haunting melancholy of turning out lights in an empty house for long.

Whenever I hear on the radio about a spate of aggravated burglaries in Melbourne, I tune out; reluctant to dwell on the thought it could happen to me. And the fantasy that somehow it is less likely to happen if someone else is at home, reminds me of my cousin’s thoughts about her disabled husband, who cannot move at all, and would be useless in an emergency. But his presence in the house, his company, reassures her, all is well. It gives my cousin leverage against the fantasy and fear of intrusion.

It is this fear of intrusion that creates the terror. And in my mind, I map out ways of escape.

I take both telephones, my mobile and landline receiver, to bed with me. I make sure both are within reach and rehearse the process of putting on my glasses and finding enough light from the mobile once I click it on to be able to dial triple zero.

Triple zero becomes my access to help, but I fear alerting the intruder to my presence. Better to hide, but where? In the cupboard, too obvious a place.

My anxiety paralyses me and so I need to call for help, but how to speak without sound so as not to alert the intruder to my presence.

I practise invisibility like Janet Frame’s imaginary sea bird, the one who soars overhead, the one who gives her wings and feathers to fly away from her terrors.

Janet Frame morphs into her migratory bird to fly away from the social situations that cause her angst.

For me, it’s the unsocial situations that herald danger, in the aloneness that opens me to intrusion. It calls for invisibility.

So I aim to slip away like a wisp of smoke that curls under the door, slides along the walls and out into the day light, under a street light, or into my neighbour’s house where I can resume bodily shape, safe in the company of others who do not wish me harm, and far from the ones who terrorise me in the empty night.

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16 Comments on Home alone 3

  1. christina houen
    August 6, 2016 at 11:16 am (11 months ago)

    Beautiful and sad, Lis.
    I am so used to being alone; I was alone for most of my childhood, and much of my adult life, it is customary for me. Nights are ok; books are my companion before I go to sleep, and bed and sleep are my haven. Days can be harder, when I have nothing structured to do. Don’t know how I’ll cope with that when I retire!

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 7, 2016 at 10:33 am (11 months ago)

      One of my daughters rang me yesterday during the day, Christina, and told me she had no idea I was so lonely that week with her dad away-she’d read this post – and I had to reassure her I was okay. It wasn’t that bad. And it wasn’t and for me certainly not by day. It was only later in the evening that it grew troublesome. I could read before I fall asleep but usually I’m too tired, though reading certainly helps to keep unwanted thoughts at bay, at least for a time.
      What will you do when you retire, Christina? Ho hum. You’ll never retire, I expect though I imagine that comment of yours was somewhat tongue in cheek. I reckon we never retire until we die. Retire, expire I reckon. Thanks, Christine. Always lovely to hear from you.

      Reply
  2. Christine
    August 6, 2016 at 5:06 pm (11 months ago)

    I lived alone for a long time… or did I? For some of those years I had a pet and, after more years, I found a larger place and sublet to international students – an experience I found to be enriching and valuable. Learning to live alone and live well while living alone takes time. It is an experience I value.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 7, 2016 at 10:38 am (11 months ago)

      See what I mean, Christine, you probably never lived alone, pets and international students constitute companionship and I too had two cats and one dog to keep me company during this last week of so called aloneness. It’s amazing though what a difference it makes knowing some other human is in the house with me, and not just an ordinary human but one I cherish , one so familiar who keeps some of my fears at bay. I reckon we’re often assaulted by fears of the alone even when we’re not alone.
      By the way, it’s lovely to read of your travels in Scotland and elsewhere, Christine and it must make a difference travelling in company than traveling alone. Though i hear tell travelling alone can be fun too as it enables you to meet other people, people whom you’d never get to know except for being alone. Thanks, Christine.

      Reply
  3. Andrew
    August 6, 2016 at 7:58 pm (11 months ago)

    That would be Parkside Cafe, I guess. Very good. I’ve never really loved alone and while some aspects appeal to me, generally the thought terrifies me.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 7, 2016 at 10:41 am (11 months ago)

      Good guess, Andrew but not quite right. I’ve not been to the Parkside cafe. The one in Brighton is called North Point, I think, on North Road and the one in Malvern which might have been misleading probably more like Malvern East is called Our kitchen table. Both lovely places. Glad to find another who shares my sentiments about the horrors of living alone. Thanks, Andrew.

      Reply
  4. Jim Murdoch
    August 6, 2016 at 9:57 pm (11 months ago)

    I’ve lived alone three times in my life: when my first wife left me, in a high-rise before my brother’s wife left him and he moved in with me and when I returned to Glasgow in a furnished flat. The first experience was by far the worst because I was going through (although I didn’t know it at the time) my first major depression. I watched a lot of TV for company and got hooked on ‘EastEnders’. My brother lent me his fitness equipment and I spent hours pumping iron and listening to the soundtrack to ‘Blade Runner’ and Jim Steinman’s ‘Bad for Good’ over and over again. I only lasted a few months, then packed in my job—stoopid! stoopid decision—and moved back in with my parents.

    Living with Mum and Dad had its pluses but I missed the privacy of my own flat. So I applied to the Council for one and, surprisingly for a single guy, got one just down the road from my parents’ house. At this time in my life I’d decided to give religion a proper go and so my life was full of people; home was a place to escape to almost. I had my desk and my books and my projects and I was really quite happy. I can’t say I was lonely but I missed having a wife. I didn’t like it when my brother moved it. I get on well enough with him but we’re very different people. But when family’s involved you do what you have to do.

    The Glasgow flat was okay but by this time I’d given up on religion—and so it had given up on me—and I was very much alone. I could go for days on end without talking to anyone but I busied myself looking for a new job which didn’t take long and once I had that—and started bringing work home from the jump—I was too busy to worry about loneliness. It was about then that I discovered the Internet and Christ was that liberating. I spent hours on the computer. Looking back I’ve no idea how I coped. Well, that’s not true. I know how. And it was only a matter of time before I burned out again which just happened to coincide with Carrie’s first year with me.

    Longevity runs in Carrie’s family and so although she’s twelve years older than me she’s convinced she’ll outlive me which may well prove to be the case. Should she not I’d cope because coping’s what you do. I wouldn’t want to live with anyone else after her but I might get a pet. As I’ve said before I’m a very dutiful person and so having an animal to care for would make me get up and get on with it.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 7, 2016 at 2:10 pm (11 months ago)

      What an up and down life you’ve led, Jim. I agree life on the Internet, social media and the like makes a huge difference to any sense of isolation we might otherwise experience. For me, one of its greatest joys is the possibility of making a host of friends with people like you with whom I’d never had made contact otherwise. I have so many new friends via social media and although I can make a distinction between real friends and virtual friends, the online relationships i have are very important to me. i can imagine this becoming more so as I age. It’s also vital to my writing life, to connect with other writers and readers. So despite the sadness of my post and the burdens of isolation and of living alone, if only temporarily, there’s still the joy of companionship further afield. Thanks, Jim

      Reply
  5. Karen C
    August 7, 2016 at 7:50 am (11 months ago)

    I don’t think I am an anxious person by nature so nights alone in a large family home cause me little concern but I do understand that for others the huge silence can give rise to all manner of terrible possibilities.
    I was recently woken by 4 loud thuds in the dead of night (isn’t that an apt description?) as a picture fell off the wall, hit the furniture beneath it and landed on the floor. I lay in bed in fear, trying to make sense of what I had heard and wondering what I should do. Get out of bed and investigate (the obvious one)? Wait for more noises to help me put a context to it? Lay quietly and hope no one would come looking for me? Jump out the window? I did what every procrastinator would do and went back to sleep, figuring that if I got woken up again I would deal with it then. A useful philosophy I have used often with success.
    I agree we are by and large social creatures and choose our comfort level in society between the centre of the hub or on the fringe. I know some who rely on social contact as a form of oxygen. Not me. I have learnt that I can live happily on my own with select interaction but I am also aware that I have quite a large social circle to pick and choose from, a luxury many don’t have.
    When I listen to people talk about their fears I wonder if they realise the greatest risk we take everyday is getting in a car but it has become such a way of life we feel strangely safe despite the inherent danger. It is the one-off unknown that paralyses us.
    I do feel your fear, Elisabeth, it can be quite overwhelming.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 7, 2016 at 2:18 pm (11 months ago)

      I’m not sure I’d have been as sanguine as you, Karen, in those circumstances. Four thumps in the night, unaccountable thumps, and I’d have made myself investigate. It gives me the shudders just thinking about it.
      I met a friend who reads my blog this morning by chance in my exercise place, otherwise known as Keiser training, and she mentioned this post. I proceeded to elaborate on some of my fears and she went on to tell me I was sounding decidedly neurotic. No matter, I thought. we’re all neurotic, if not downright mad. To me it’s part of the human condition. We all have our ways of coping, some ways perhaps more effective than others. I admire your ability to live alone and your going-on-living after your husband’s death, the way you do. I agree, too, about the dangers of driving in cars. How many defences we need to employ in order to convince ourselves we’re safe on the roads when in fact we’re not. Whenever i fear taking myself off in an aeroplane I remind myself of how much more dangerous it is to toddle out in my car. Still life’s like that. We have to get by somehow. Thanks for such a lovely comment, Karen. You write beautifully.

      Reply
      • Karen C
        August 7, 2016 at 9:55 pm (11 months ago)

        Thank you for your compliment, Elisabeth. Coming from one who knows more than I is high praise indeed.

        Reply
        • Elisabeth
          August 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm (11 months ago)

          You’re so welcome, Karen, but I’m not so sure I know much more.

          Reply
  6. Maggie May
    August 7, 2016 at 8:02 am (11 months ago)

    Beautiful, acutely observant, melancholy writing.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      August 7, 2016 at 4:25 pm (11 months ago)

      Thanks, Maggie May. Kind words from one who shares equally observant and melancholic thoughts.

      Reply
  7. Louise Allan
    August 8, 2016 at 12:59 pm (11 months ago)

    I need silence and solitude or I go batty. When I had a houseful of boisterous little people, and even five minutes to myself on the loo was impossible, I yearned for time alone, and felt quite resentful that I couldn’t get it. Now I have hours each school day to myself, and it’s still not enough. I suspect I say all this safe in the knowledge that I have people around me when I need them. I now also remember those busy, noisy years as the happiest of my life!
    I’m also scared of the dark and things that go bump in the night. It’s the worst part of husband’s going away. That and having to put out the rubbish, disposing of spiders and cockroaches, and reaching the up-high places! Oh, and missing their company, of course …

    Reply
  8. Elisabeth
    August 8, 2016 at 2:57 pm (11 months ago)

    I remember the days of longing for solitude, Louise, especially when my children were little but now I have more of it, though sometimes still not enough – with the exception of weeks like the last one, I’m reminded of my mother who also relished the busyness of life with a big family, simultaneously longed for some peace and then hated it when she found it. We are such contrary beings. Thanks, Louise.

    Reply

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