Barkley lays on his bed by the fireplace. I am rocking in my recliner while looking out the sliding glass windows. The gas fireplace is on, and the heat from it relaxes me.
ME: You know Barkley, driving there and back to the Finger Lakes – we were in the car for twenty-two hours – really was my Mount Everest, my Boston Marathon, my great American Novel. It showed me how I could rise to a challenge I had been avoiding out of the fear of loneliness. It has given me a lift in life, one I probably needed as I stare down the Holidays.
Barkley lifts his head at a car going by. He lets out one of his sharp yaps, then settles back down, seemingly satisfied the car heard him, and backed off. I continue, feeling secure a minivan won’t rob me.
ME: When my loneliness hit, I wanted to fill my life up with people, events, activities, and things. It’s already so filled, but I wanted more. I reasoned if every hour became so overcrowded, I wouldn’t have time to feel any of my aloneness or the constant reminder of being without Peter. Only that doesn’t work for me. Even in a crowd or doing something night after night, I feel Peter’s absence. He’s gone, and no amount of avoidance will change that. Any activity I do, I do without him. Any crowd I join, I go into it without him. Any party I am invited to, the invitation does not include him. Anything now is without him. Now I’m not saying I will live like a hermit and avoid “without him” situations. I can’t do that either. My extroverted self needs to come out and play sometimes. However, filling my life up too much where it overflows into fatigue is not something I can do either.
Barkley leaves his bed and jumps to the back cushions of the sofa. There, he perches himself like a cat, looking out the window, perhaps hunting down more minivans.
ME: Then there’s the whole thing of my introvert side needing attention. Going out too often, filling my days with too many plans, does exhaust me. I like small groups. I like the intimacy of being with a few. I think that’s why I enjoyed marriage. I am driven, as a person, to connect with others, and I am not good at doing that in a crowd. For me, a group brings about my superficiality. I’m too deep of a thinker to be all, wow-that-weather-huh. And I know you can connect to one person in a group, or two, or three, but finding them seems all so daunting. It’s especially now, being a widow. I don’t have Peter as my soft place, my confidence to move throughout the crowd. Does that make sense, Barkley?
Barkley jerks his head my way and gives me his attention. His head tilts. When I don’t say his favorite words of “dinner,” “go outside,” or “treat,” Barkley looks back out the window.
ME: Being in the car, by myself – well, with you – for twenty-two hours showed me it’s OK. Everything will be OK. It wasn’t just the car ride. There were many moments alone since my daughter had to continue her school and work-life while I visited her. And during those times, I spent time alone with nature, with my thoughts. Nature is very cleansing and reminds me I am part of this world, not separate from it. Yeah, this trip gave me precisely what I asked the Universe for – peace. It also gave me what I didn’t ask for, but the Universe knew I needed – an acceptance of myself, of my solitude, of the true me.
Barkley jumps off the back of the couch in a move that hurts my joints. He pitters patters his way up to my feet. He stretches his body out in front of me. He looks up at me and his eyes stare into mine. Maybe he was listening all along, and Barkley is a better listener than I thought.
ME: I don’t know. I do know I have to do what makes me comfortable. For now, I think I am entering a part of this life cycle where I don’t hate my solitude. I’m digging the freedom of it. Loneliness had been in my life so intrusively, and I despised it. I cried over it. I looked toward ways in which I could avoid it. Now, this trip showed me, I am in control over it, to a degree. And guess what? I don’t mind bouts of being alone, even twenty-two hours in a car. The time gave me a chance to climb my own Mount Everest, finish my own Boston Marathon. Now, I all I have to do is get on that great American Novel.
Barkley lurches onto my lap and stands there, looking at the fire. I pet him in rhythmic strokes.
ME: So, Barkley Avenue, where should we go to next?