This oh-so Portland article about professional cuddlers and the need for human touch reminded me of the five and a half years I spent living on my own in my old little country house. I’d already been thinking about that time considerably, as I’m transitioning between tenants in my home there; as a result I’ve spent a number of hours within those walls doing menial repairs and reflecting upon the place where I’d spent so many hours, days, weeks, and months by myself.
I don’t recall being lonely, per se. But during those years, every now and again, I’d come to these stark realizations that I was, capital letters, ALONE.
One blustery winter I spent considerable time putting up and decorating a Christmas tree. I even topped it with a handmade, red foil-covered letter ‘S’ to take place of the star or angel I didn’t have amongst my mostly hand-me-down ornaments. It was lovely, in my eyes. One of the first things I’d do when I got home from work was turn on the tree’s lights. Only after Christmas and New Years, when I was taking the tree down, did I realize that no one else besides me had seen it in person. That seemed so wrong for the holiday. It retroactively almost rendered the tree– and thusly my effort– pointless.
Another time when visiting a friend they reached out and touched my arm. While I kept my cool on the outside, inside I surprisingly thrilled at the touch– only at that moment did I realize that it hadn’t happened in so long. I’m not sure how long it had been since my last tactile human interaction, but it had been enough to register with me in that moment, and only upon receiving the touch of another person did I recognize its absence.
When I first moved out of that house, trading up the country life for a much more fitting one in Portland, it was really tough to rent out that personal space. The house had truly become an extension of myself. When I trotted prospective tenants through it, seeing their eyes judging the chipped paint along the trim, its steep old staircase, or tiny kitchen, it felt like they were simultaneously judging me. As someone who has always intensely cared about what others thought of her, this was more than tough. In fact my first and only panic attack I’ve ever had was right before my future in-laws came to the house to help me spruce it up before renting it out. The whole point of their visit was to find what was wrong and fix it. It was horrifying.
Only then did I realize that through all the time I’d spent in that house, alone, painting walls and cooking meals and paying bills and cuddling with cats and hosting dates and scaring away raccoons, I was living within this larger version of me. The bathroom I painted hot pink. The sun porch where I drank my coffee. The creaky third step. The drafty second floor. The leopard print carpet. The crooked kitchen cupboards. It was all me.
I’ve now been out of that house for almost three years, and that connection and sense of external identity are almost gone. Now I consider it more of a nuisance, a physical space that’s holding me back. I notice its faults more readily and oddly are more compelled to fix them. In its place is a great sense of home I’ve established with my husband, with whom I cuddle, hug, kiss, headbutt, pinch, grab, smack, and poke so often it’s ridiculous. It’s such a stark contrast to those solitary years in the country. I think if you plopped one day’s worth of the physical contact I have now to that of those years, the side-by-side difference would be dizzying. Obviously the more recent living and interactive conditions are the ideal, but I don’t look upon my years of living alone as a negative time. If anything, it helped lay the foundation for the independence I enjoy now within my marriage and cohabitation with my husband. There’s a small sense of accomplishment in that I know I can be alone, and be content while being alone.