On not being alone

When I visited my analyst, as I did almost daily over twenty years ago now, I never failed to speak to her from the moment I rested my head on her pillow and closed my eyes.

It was exquisite, this chance to slip into the recesses of my mind and dredge up whatever thoughts assailed me. Most often to do with things that bugged me, about this person or another, this situation, or even about Mrs Milanova herself. 

Whether I complained about the frequency of her times away, her failure to understand something I said to her the day before, something I wanted her to understand more fully; or her occasional silences when I wanted noise, or her noisiness when I wanted silence.

Through our talks I learned how to tolerate the differences between me and those not me.

Mrs Milanova helped me to think for myself. She helped me to overcome the sense I’d held from my childhood that I was not a person who could use her mind to understand things, that I could only rote learn and repeat the things that others had taught me.

It’s spring again and when I walk the dogs, the scent of jasmine hits me. The confetti of white petals strewn over footpaths far and wide and the pink fairy floss of blossoms still sitting on their trees ready to drop at the first wind help me mark the season. 

We have a crowded house this week. Many of my children, at least three and two of their partners, are staying over and every bed is occupied.

The dogs are unsettled and the cats have already brought in their first spring time mouse, a big one I rescued from the puppy’s jaws, after the cats had abandoned it. 

I don’t sleep well when the house is full, but when the house is empty, which is yet to come – when most of my lot go away on holidays to Bali and I’m left home alone – it’s a different experience altogether.

There was a time many years ago before the onset of my analysis when to be home alone was almost unthinkable.

A terror set inside me at the thought. The residue of that terror remains but it’s not as acute. 

Why is it I can feel safer with only one other person in the house, one other person who might be a small child?

Why is it that the presence of another person at night in the house offers a comfort and companionship that makes it easy for me to drift off to sleep, while the thought of being in the house alone, even with the company  of two dogs can, can leave me feeling a nameless dread?  

Fear of the unknown seeps through the walls or under the window cracks. 

I leave on lights in the back garden so I can look out into the dark corners where some of my fears lurk. The strangers in the bushes who will evaporate if I they have nowhere to hide.

I keep the telephone by my bed and rehearse the number for the local police or at worst, triple zero in case of emergency. 

None of these things matter to me when there is at least one other living person in the house.

In a conversation with Mrs Milanova many years ago, I told her about my favourite number two or multiples of two, as in 22 and even 222. 

‘Two represents the couple,’ she said, ever the wise one and I brought her interpretation. 

It sang to me of my wish to be with at least one other, and preferably only one, other. I can form part of a group well enough, to deal with the cross currents, but one-on-one is so much better.

Better than the aloneness that comes of being surrounded by people, or the total absence of others.

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birth. She would have turned one hundred. She wanted to reach this milestone but fell five years short on her death. She wanted the big party with everyone present, akin to the party she held for ninetieth. She had even planned to have a birthday bash on her 95th, but death got in first.

I’m not a believer so I don’t imagine I’m ever going to meet her again in the big blue yonder. I only imagine I will see her in my dreams where she often re-visits, or in the recesses of my mind where I can catch a glimpse of her. 

How she preened when people told her she had magnificent skin for a woman of her age.

How she grinned when people admired her youthfulness even into her nineties. They reckoned she could not be older than seventy. 

These days, even when I look in the mirror and see my face with her superimposed, I look more like her, though I will never share my mother’s round pixie face and her chubby smooth cheeks. 

My mother exuded vanity whenever the camera was trained on her and she pursed her lips into a movie star smile and her eyes glazed over as if she was photoshopping herself. 

At other times at home, she lolled about in her nylon pink dressing gown with buttons missing and worn out in patches; a cigarette in her hand. Maybe if she’d never smoked, she’d have made it to one hundred. 

Maybe she is part of my addiction to the number 2. 

Maybe her proclivity towards having babies and being part of that lovely thing called a nursing couple for as long as it lasted – even as a nursing couple endures their share of horrors as well – I too have loved the state of infancy as a concept and even more so the state of being pregnant.

A time I remember so well from my own pregnancies when I was never alone.

I was never alone when pregnant. Not that it ever happened in any time of the year but I can’t imagine being fearful to be alone when pregnant, the cosiness of the illusion of the two-as-one could exist for that time only and for the rest, no matter how many others are around and even in the deep intimacy of coupledom, I realise we are alone. 

2 thoughts on “On not being alone”


    Solitude used to be so special
    till you came between us.

    I think of you when I’m with her
    and she knows that I do.

    And it’s not the same any more.
    Nor can it ever be.

    28 May 1989

    The “you” in this poem is my first wife. I’d had a girlfriend before her—I know, only one, how sad?—but she was the first person I was half of a couple with, where I thought of myself as a part of something bigger than merely me. And then she left me and I found I couldn’t go back to being single. In the past I’d enjoyed solitude but now I was lonely. I’d never been lonely before and I didn’t much care for it.

    I’m not sure how I feel about being on my own these days. I am much of the time because of my erratic sleep patterns. I’ve been sat in this office for over five hours this morning and the only time I saw Carrie was when she got up briefly to use the loo. She’ll likely wake up in an hour or so by which time I’ll be feeling ragged enough to go back to bed. It’s an odd arrangement but we make it work.

    Over twenty years after I wrote ‘Loneliness’ I wrote the following which I think of it as a love poem and will likely be the last love poem I’ll ever write:


    My wife is not dead. Good.
    I listen for her breaths—

    in and out, puff and wheeze—
    all of the proof I need.

    The patina of love
    has worn thin like patience

    and the drab truth revealed;
    I do not want to die

    alone. I go to pee,
    sitting down these days and

    wonder why so long for so
    little but, hey, that’s life.

    Back in the bed I check
    again. Just to be sure.

    8 June 2012

  2. Such poignant poems, Jim. They make me sad. Yes, loneliness is an acquired thing. Something we learn following loss. Something we cannot unlearn once to sets in, but it’s also something to which we can adjust. Thanks Jim.

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