It’s often just enough to be with someone. I don’t need to touch them. Not even talk. A feeling passes between you both. You’re not alone.
Betty ventured off this week on a photography trip and left me behind to toil over movie scripts. I could have gone along if I wished, but this is her time to create art and besides, I figured it was better for me to remain here and discover what it means to create a documentary movie script, sitting for hours in a chair in front of both the computer screen and the TV screen…back and forth from one time-code burn of conversation to the next. Capture the optimum moment when the speaker pronounces just the right thing, about how someone died, the flick of the speaker’s head, the flare of the smile, the wide gulf between his sweeping arms.
But even as we loaded Betty’s bags and camera gear, in the front room, something loomed, like a gaggle of ghosts ganged up in the peak of the cathedral ceiling. Maybe I could turn on the ceiling fan and scatter them to wherever they sneaked in from. But I suspect those ghosts really haunt me from the chambers of my own innards.
I think you can tell by this writing, that I am not totally comfortable with being alone. I don’t know why. I consider myself a loner. I’ve been called a loner. I am a writer which means I work alone. Alone, alone, alone.
What is “alone?” What does it mean?
A few synonyms:
Single, solitary, unaccompanied, unattended, isolated, lone, lonely, desolated, longing for companionship.
Right now I am unattended, or unaccompanied.
Right this moment, there is:
no laundry thumping in the washing machine tub
no one trotting up and down the stairs
no querying calls on the intercom
no prodding about what is right and what is wrong, what’s not done
no one to nudge me out of bed to turn up the heat first thing in the morning
no warm body next to me beneath the blankets, no one to snuggle.
Somebody once tried to explain Existentialist philosophy to me and all I retained of the conversation is that you are born alone and die alone. Being born alone doesn’t seem too bothersome since, if you survive, you have your whole life to ponder and prepare for your end. And I’m not sure you know anything at age two days, anyway. And you’ve got your mom. But dying, I think, presents one of the most frightening things a person can ponder. Dying…alone.
When I say dying alone, what I think I mean is that no one can step through that portal for you. You must gut it up and march through, even though you don’t want to: like reporting to the principal in second grade because you almost bit Thel Gillespie’s right ear off in a fight on the playground at recess. The sudden silence except for the rampant thump of your heart beat. Hesitation below the doorway lintel. Forcing yourself to reach up and knock. But is dying alone what’s gnashing at me now, seeding this sense of isolation?
Maybe it’s always bothering me.
I have questions. Do we need something extraneous to ease our minds, our fear as we walk down that hall? Take our minds off of what’s on the other side? Or not on the other side?
Alone. I think we hope for one or more of a passel of rewards on the other side of that door: resurrection, nirvana, peace, love, spirits spun out with Alpha Centauri in the ecstasy of string theory. But all we really know is that we die. Alone.
I have more questions than I have answers. I wonder if we don’t bury ourselves in ideas, activities, social interaction to occupy our minds, keep us from pondering the finality of that ultimate moment.
Does fear of being alone and its concomitant possibilities generate social strategies intent on helping us survive? We hear, “multiply and replenish the earth,” even though we can’t seem to get a handle on controlling our population growth. The more of us, the safer we are? Is that the primal drive? The more of us there are, the safer each of us will be? I wonder about that notion…..we seem to be kin to bison in that regard, and red ants and black ants and termites. The more of us there are, the better our chances of survival. Like wolf packs, pronghorn herds, flocks of starlings, Hereford cattle, Nubian goats, Navajo sheep.
I have queries. Does being left alone lead us to despair?
One day in 1968 in Vietnam, during a particularly savage artillery and rocket attack, I huddled against the cold, wet red-mud walls of my bunker with my eyes closed as every round seemed to get closer, closer. The whiz bang sizzle, roar-whine of death singing. My mind exited my body, trying to hide. In a vivid moment, a steep gabled roof, me on the top, like a Wallenda on a high wire, gazing left, then right, then left…to the left insanity and escape. To the right, reality and what? Death, death, maiming? What did I want least? Insanity? Or death? I heard a soft click, looked up at a thin photographer as he shot images of me in my moment of despair. The sight of him, his ragged dungarees and scraggly red beard (an anomaly, that red beard in a military setting) made my heart (is that word too trite?)…my heart hurdled with…was it joy? (Again, is that word too hackneyed?) Or was it relief? Salvation? All I know is that while he captured my portrait, I was not alone. Maybe all we need is another person.
Not alone. But still, we die. Alone.
I’m glad Betty’s coming back