I’m at the bottom of a well so deep that I can’t see the opening at the top. No light betrays day or night above. No sound leaks down the narrow shaft to relieve my solitude. I am utterly alone but for the soft breathing in the dark of a furry companion. A voice drifts down like a leaf falling slowly until it lands on my ears, “You okay down there?”
I want to scream, “No! Please throw down a rope. A chain. Anything. Save me. It’s cold. It’s terrifying. I’m so tired of this.”
But I was raised to not lean on others. My parents were always busy with my siblings. I had to learn to entertain myself.
I call back. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
Another verbal leaf falls. “Okay. Well, we’ve all been in wells before. Let us know if you need…” The voice trails off.
In the darkness I nod at no one and settle back into my solitude. The breath of my animal companion quickens as he finds his way next to me and reminds me that he is there and that has two implications: he will be beside me in my solitude and he will die beside me if I die.
I awaken in a brightly lit older beach house in a brightly lit beach village in Southeast Texas. My dog is breathing heavily from steroids he is taking to treat an ear infection. He hogs the bed as usual.
“I’m fine. Thank you.” I say with some sarcasm and pat his head. I examine the dream images with respect to my personal circumstances.
When I was in my early twenties, I was married to a violent alcoholic with Bipolar I (one) disorder. I went to work when our daughter was three and very gradually acquired skills plus a tiny savings he didn’t know about. (Just enough to pay for a lawyer) Meanwhile, my daughter and I endured his manic outbursts, his rage, and his pitiful sobbing under self-medication. My family helped where they could, when it wasn’t too painful to watch, but I was of a mindset that I had to handle things by myself. I made the lion’s share of income in my little family, a fact that angered my self-pitying husband even more so. When my daughter and I finally escaped him, I had a good job and had returned to college. I was, in a word, independent.
I began dating a coworker. I was insistent, though he found it more amusing than admirable I’m sure, that I pay for my own meals when we went out. Throughout our “courtship,” I continued this. I had been in a relationship of control. I was not going to let go of my newfound independence. I wasn’t going to give a man an excuse to say, “I gave you something. You give me something in return.”
That autonomy bled away over twenty-nine years during this second relationship for various reasons. Now I sit in a little home I rent for myself, the dog, and my possessions. Now I have recovered some part, though not all, of that autonomy.
Now there is COVID-19.
I moved into this house on March 20th 2020, just as the virus and social distancing were ramping up in this part of the country. Just as neighbors and friends were beginning to take it seriously. Parting hugs as I gave them news of my impending move at the beginning of the week suddenly seemed foolhardy at best, deadly at worst (thankfully, we all remain well).
My birthday came and went a few days ago, with no great fanfare. That’s all well and good. The alternative to being older is, after all, death. The month has been stressful, exhausting, and painfully quiet at times. Now and then, a call or text comes through the ether, “Are you doing okay?”
“I’m okay. Not sleeping well.”
Chit chat back and forth about the dog, the house, the weather, the virus.
Sometimes ranting about this or that. Politics. Religion. The romantic fallacies of “soul mate” and “forever.”
Sometimes, after I hang up the phone or log out of social media, there is sobbing and wailing, and internal pleas of “Throw down a rope! A chain! Anything!” But tears are usually kept to myself because I had planned to do this on my own power as much was possible.
I simply hadn’t planned to do it—PHYSICALLY ALONE! With no visits from my daughter. No hugs. No coffee with friends. No trips to town to wander in the mall or walks on a crowded beach to feel connected with other people.
My estranged husband is fond of saying, “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” I hate that expression because there have been times that emotional strain has nearly killed me, either through illness or depression. It wasn’t worth the strength I gained.
I feel better equipped, oddly enough, to survive this pandemic despite having no one within six feet of me. I have more hope than I have had for many years. I have, however distant, a great deal of support from loved ones. I have the peace and ease of this little house by the sea. And I am fully aware that I am far more fortunate than so many. I am not, after all, on the COVID-19 front lines. I am merely, like so many, in COVID-19 limbo. I am simply alone. Well, with the dog.
Fearful as I am of the virus changing our way of life permanently. Fearful as I am that the loneliness of the coming months will be too much to bear. Fearful as I am, not of losing my own life, but of losing loved ones, I am grateful that I am here and getting this chance to be the Autonomous Me.
I have watched others live in their autonomy for a while now. I’m fifty-six. It’s late. But I’m here. Ready to turn down someone offering to pay for my lunch again. Ready to put aside a little money if I need to escape something, anything. I have a considerable wait ahead of me for those events and that is the hard part.
I’ll have to throw my own rope down for now.