Living Alone Is Hard… But So Is Living With Other People

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July 2019

I set the alarm to wake me at 3 am. My cab to the airport will be coming at 4:30, and in addition to normal tasks like showering, ingesting caffeine, and waking the heck up,  I have a bunch to do before I set out. To prepare the house so I can leave it forever.

I rehearse it again in my head: I need to set the water heater on away mode. Make sure external water spigots are turned tightly off. And check that every window is shut and locked.

I’m nervous as I go over it one more time. So I go outside and do the spigots now. And the windows.

The water heater will have to wait after the final shower though.  I lie down to sleep.

I Marie Kondoed an Entire House

And of course I’m up at 2, not 3. For some reason, that’s the time I always seem to pop awake whenever I’m taking an early morning cab to the airport. I take caffeine then. And then sit for an hour reading things on my phone and playing games. Figure I’ll use the extra time to ensure I’m awake before I do everything I need to.

At 3, I hit the shower. Once the shower’s over, I turn down the water heater settings. Throw out the shower curtains, my final threadbare bath towel, my shampoo and body wash. I sweep the floors up once again. Do a walk-around to make sure I’ve packed everything I need. That I haven’t neglected something in one of the closets.

I’ve done this a dozen times, but I half-expect to find something there, even so. Living alone in a house for 2 months has made me painfully aware of my own limitations, my own imperfections.

But I don’t find any mistakes.

I glance at the time. It’s 3:30. I have an hour before my cab arrives. I clean the toilets. Worry for a while. Write a Facebook status on my phone. Check my bags again to make sure I have everything. Walk around ensuring again that all the lights are off. That things are clean. That there’s nothing in the fridge or freezer (hasn’t been for 24 hours, so I’m not sure why I keep checking).

Time moves strangely. That final hour seems to last forever, but when it ends, it’s over in an instant.

I turn the AC off and step out onto my porch. “Thank you, house, and goodbye,” I say as I lock up for the last time.

And as I get into the cab that’s waiting on the street, it dawns on me that I just Marie Kondoed an entire house.

I fight back tears (of sadness? of relief?) as the cabbie engages me in small talk.

Way Early for an Easy Trip

I’m at the airport way early. Of course. I always allow about twice the time I need anytime I’m doing anything important, just in case a bunch of things go wrong (mysteriously, they almost never do when I’ve actually allowed time for them to).

Able to have a nice breakfast. Read some psychological studies on my phone as I’m waiting at the gate.

Flight comes. It’s suspiciously easy. I’m sitting on an aisle in business class this time instead of a middle seat in economy, like I normally do. This time around, I got lucky and was able to upgrade for almost nothing. And the lady sitting next to me is a tiny little slip of a thing who barely occupies half of her chair.

A Happy Reunion

I get off the plane in Dallas, and there Justin is, waiting in the baggage claim area. I don’t even know I’m running the last few steps towards him until I hear him laughing.

I ask him questions about announcements I heard at my gate when waiting in Cleveland. “Why do they ask people to recheck? What’s that all about? I tried to Google it, and nothing came up.”

And he explains. As he does, I’m so happy that I can not only hear his voice but see his face moving in real time. Not simulated real time with technology. Not on an infinitesimal video lag that I’m not supposed to know about but can’t seem to forget, beamed up to space and back.

And better yet, I can touch him.

“Better Not Fall”

We chat for a while. My bag finally arrives. We walk back to the car. As I sit down, he hands me a mango Diet Coke, my favorite soda of the moment. He tells me that he thought I could use it. That he knows how dehydrated I always get when I fly (since I don’t want to risk having to use the bathroom on the plane). I start to cry.

It takes me a second to stop crying, let alone explain why it happened. But I do my best. Living on my own the past few months has changed my expectations in a deeper way than I’d expected. I’m used to fending for myself now. If I want a soda, I have to make sure I get it. Prepare it.

No one’s going to show up and help me out. Over the next few hours, I recount times when this reality was harrowing. When I had to get up on a stepstool to change the garage code for the realtor and new owners, it occurred to me that if I fell and cracked my head open that I was kind of screwed. No one would find me. That I had no firm plans to see or talk to anyone for days. By the time people wondered what had happened to me, it would be over.

“Well,” I’d literally said aloud then, laughing morbidly. “Better not fall.”

I explain that the moment he handed me that soda, it was the strongest signal that that’s not the case anymore. I’m part of a family again. Someone is expecting me. I have backup.

He tells me gets it. And it’s clear that he does. Not only by his words, but by how awkward I feel later trying to help him. He has his own rituals now, routines.

Feeling Like a Useless Ass

I get up with him the first day he has to work, planning to work some magic while he’s in the shower. Make hot water for our tea, feed the cats, maybe nuke him a breakfast sandwich. That was my habit the last few times I’d stayed with him in Texas.

But this time, I don’t have a chance. He heads to the kitchen before the shower. Puts on hot water. Goes to feed the cats and drops the bowl.

I’m half-asleep and it’s dark, so I pick up the bowl off the floor not really understanding what exactly happened. I don’t know if he dropped a bowl full of food or an empty one that food hasn’t been put in yet.

“It’s dirty,” I say. Realizing aloud that he dropped the bowl after putting the food in and not before.

What he says next indicates to me that he’s clearly unimpressed with my not knowing this already.

I explain, try to apologize.

He just got up and has never been a morning person, so the explanation and attempt at apology don’t go over well.

The cats lap the spilled food up off the floor.

He nukes his breakfast sandwich while I try to figure out how I can be helpful. He makes the bed before I can get to it.

He even gets to the rest of the spilled cat food the moment they’re done eating it. But he only gets part of it on his first go so I swoop in and do the rest. That feels good, actually being able to help. It’s something. Not enough. But something.

Finally, he jumps in the shower and I find myself reeling while he’s in there, not knowing how to process any of it. How suddenly everything’s changed and how much I’m feeling like a useless ass.

It’s Tough Helping Someone Who Is Used to Fending for Themselves Without Getting in the Way

It’s a weird reversal from the last few months of doing my own thing, fending for myself.

I’ve only been in Texas a few days now, but there have already been plenty of reassuring moments like the one with the mango Diet Coke. And ones that are disconcerting, alarming. Where I’m trying to find my way to be a helpful member of the household again but can’t find the right moment to cut into the dance that’s already in progress without stepping on someone else’s toes.

I find myself wondering if this challenge is built into our personalities. Because as I wrote in “How Do You Help the Person Who Feels Like They Need to Do Everything Themselves?“, Justin has always been someone who can be difficult to help. He usually appreciates the help once you’ve done it (unless you’ve done the task wrong, of course), but you sometimes have to forcefully step in and do it before he can and without asking him first if he wants you to (because he’ll usually say no if you ask him).

And that’s just in general, not after months of being alone on his own. Which has undoubtedly reinforced the tendency.

Pick Your Hard, the Universe Says

If I were a different person, I could probably sit back and just let him do everything and be happy about it. But I’m not. I’m me, and to me, that doesn’t seem fair.

Plus, he has a way of taking on too much without realizing it and then later getting overwhelmed and resentful. And that’s the last thing I want to happen.

The question, however, is how to be helpful without getting in his way.

Anyway, reuniting after all this time has underscored something very important to me: Living alone is hard… but so is living with other people.

Pick your hard, the universe says. And I love his company, so it’s an easy choice.

Featured Image: PD – Pixabay