DAY ONE, MONDAY
9:36 PM. I keep giving myself pep talks in British accents. “I’m going to get the crackers. I’m doing great,” I say to no one as I traverse the dark kitchen in a tank top and my underwear and bring the crackers back to my bed. Crackers that will be my dinner. I should not live alone. Things get too weird.
To my credit, it’s been a long day. I drove five and a half hours from Minnesota to Chicago today to return home after a lovely wedding and weekend cavorting with dear college pals, mostly Isaiah’s best guy friends who I’ve commandeered as my own as well. I left Isaiah in Minnesota to drive across the country with four of the guys for the next seven days. Hence the lonely week. This is the longest we will have ever been apart since being married stacked on top of week three in a new apartment, all the normal anxieties, and a job I’ve only begun to try to get used to. I’m bracing myself, I’ll tell you that much.
The current plan is to chronicle my feelings and time this week here because I expect I’ll have a lot of feelings and too much time. I’m going to be lonely. That’s just a given. Because no matter how much I try to fill my days with people and events and treats and such, the person I usually bring all of myself back to each night is not here right now, and I’m alone. No small thing, really. I’ve been married the whole time I’ve lived in Chicago. I’m not really supposed to be alone here. That’s not what the lease says. Never have I learned how to be single in the city, how to not have someone who will park the car for me when I can’t find a space and I’m exhausted or who always seems to take out the trash right before I would have done it myself or who makes it a point to always spoon me in bed at night even though he is far more comfortable sleeping on his back. I have not learned how to be single, but I have learned other things like how to compromise, how to look at someone and try to actually see them even when they’re around all the time, how to put down the thing I’m doing and give my attention to my husband instead. I’ve learned a lot of things other than how to be alone.
I wish this were effortless for me. At this moment I’m thinking of the amazing women I know who live alone, these models of independence, each basically a mini Lady Liberty, being their own advocates and carving out space for themselves in a world that feels so already done, holding up their torches and saying, “World, I’m HERE!” I sort of rocketed right past my chance to be an independent strong woman in the city. Now I guess I’m a dependent strong woman in the city? Is that a thing?
I am dependent because every day sort of requires that I be so. That’s part of the bargain, the whole two become one flesh thing. Marriage requires at least some approximation of a surrendering of independence. I am not independent, but I’ll admit that sometimes independence feels like the greater of the binary, the more-virtuous sister of dependence. I feel like being dependent receives far less accolades from people around and creates more of a crippling effect when the person on whom you’ve become dependent isn’t around. I’m not sure what’s good about being dependent except, of course, love and partnership and such. And those things are worthwhile. It’s all just sticky. I’d venture to say that it is maybe impossible to be successfully married and fiercely independent. You have to stop being so fierce at least. You have to swallow your pride and need someone else. You have to nuzzle in a little. And miss your person when they’re gone. Because, if you don’t, then what’s it all for?
So this week is weird. I’m sort of hyper-aware that there is a lesson to learn here, something to prove to myself, but I’m mostly just worried that I’m going to snapchat my husband too much and cry at inappropriate times. I’m worried about disappointing myself. Of not handling this week well. Of hiding and trying to just make it through it rather than thriving, enjoying this time, being a strong woman alone.
But I am strong, I am a woman, and I am alone right this second.
The lonely week begins.
I’m going to learn a lot, and probably not be happy about it.
Excuse me while I binge-watch Parenthood and take some melatonin.
DAY TWO, TUESDAY
11:19 PM. First full day alone. Not too terrible. In fact, it went very quickly. I slept late, so that helped. Till ten, luxuriously turning over and carrying on when I first woke at eight. Then I went to the grocery store to buy some essentials and listened to Carole King all the while. I wore my new clogs that came in the mail yesterday. I felt good. I got a little glimpse of how it would be if this were my normal. This life is possible.
But I also missed Isaiah. It’s a little ache, a tiny worry shaking around in the back of my brain. My normal daily anxieties are magnified. I’ve lost my comfort zone, my phone-a-friend. He’s it, I guess.
But I did my day, my barista training and the following staff meeting for my coffee job, the varying commutes there and between. And then I shook off my loneliness for dinner with my friend Margaret. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. We talked about the things I’m thinking about here, the business of living alone, ambitions and dreams, companionship and independence. We also talked about a lot of other things and got some gelato from the shop next door. When she left I felt very, very okay.
Now I feel less okay because I found that I’m scheduled to work a long coffee shift on the day Isaiah comes back from his trip, July 4th. This is many layers of disappointing, but I’m mostly just bummed because I can’t wait to be back with him and I want as many hours as possible to make up for the time apart. Now I’m distracted and worried, with a sour taste in my mouth. Hopefully sleeping will come easy.
It doesn’t help that his phone is either off or out of service, that I’ve called numerous times only to be met by his outgoing voicemail message. I left a voicemail, said all the things I wanted to say, told him I loved him four times. Voicemails are never enough. I have the urge to call him compulsively over and over and over again until he picks up, but I know that isn’t how it works. I’m surprised by my deep need to talk to him just because it isn’t working. How quickly my mind switches to worry.
I’m sure I’ll lay awake for a while. I’m sure I’ll try his phone at least three more times. I know how my brain works, how it latches onto something and turns it around and around until all the options have been worked through. But I’ll be okay. He’s fine out there in the west somewhere, and I’m fine here alone in our bed in Illinois. Fine, fine, just fine.
DAY THREE, WEDNESDAY
10:46 PM. Ugh, it’s only day three. Three of seven, I’ll see Isaiah on the eighth day. But tomorrow’s four with only three after it. Almost over the hump. The lonely hump. Almost.
The apartment’s a mess. There are still dishes in the sink from grilled cheese with Margaret last night and various shoes strewn about, opened envelopes, empty water cups useless on the coffee table. Tomorrow is my day to put my life back together, to do the dishes and take out the recycling. Tomorrow, not today.
Because today has been full and exhausting. I was on my feet for nine hours making lattes at the coffee shop, probably about 300 coffees in all. The tips of my fingers are all burned and rough from the steam and there are coffee grounds pressed into the knees of my favorite jeans from kneeling down to pump syrups into paper cups. But it was good. My first day on the bar making the drinks rather than taking orders or, heaven forbid, making sandwiches in the back. I was the barista, and I felt large and in charge. I did a good job. I made rosettas and hearts out of nothing but milk and motion. I made my way through the 30-drink-deep rushes with my head down and the mantra, “I can only do one at a time.” I did it.
And doing it all slowly led to the promise of a birthday pizza dinner with Margaret and Annie, lingering conversation and gelato for the second day in a row to top it off. It really helps a day to have something at the end of it to look forward to. Usually that thing for me is being with Isaiah in the evening. This time it was my girlfriends instead. Not a bad trade, no not at all. We ate pizza and caesar salad and recapped everything we could think of to recap. They asked me about my lonely week and in doing so made it feel much less lonely.
Tonight, I’m watching Parenthood, episodes and episodes of it. As I watch, I’m intermittently worrying that Isaiah and company will be mauled by bears, only the latest in a parade of irrational travel worries. They are in Montana, after all! I called him with the express purpose of warning him about the imminent danger of bears. Luckily his phone was in service and he answered quickly. He listened, told me they had bear spray (“Where did you get it from???” was my untrusting response), and told me that he loved me. The phone calls make it easier and harder at the same time. Good to hear his voice, but more confirmation that he is so far away. A pair of his shoes, the ones he wears to work at the sailing dock, is sitting right beside our kitchen table and every time I see them I think for a second, a second, that he is home, that he has just slipped them off and gone to change. But he’s not here. Definitely not. I’m actually alone here right now.
I’ll clean the apartment tomorrow. I’ll also walk down the street and try one more time to to get a city sticker before the late fees set in (it’s been tricky to gather up the required documentation). I might buy myself a plant. I’ll definitely check out the second-hand store on Chicago Avenue that I’ve been eyeing for a while. Tomorrow will be good.
But tonight, more Parenthood and early sleep, I hope. I’m just making my way through these days, trying not to let my brain linger too long on grizzly bears, looking forward to when the shoes by the kitchen table will have feet in them once more. This home is a home for two. That’s one more than just me. I feel the absence.
Am I lame for feeling lonely? For not sucking it up and shrugging my feelings off my shoulders? Am I overexaggerating because I was worried about being lonely this week? Am I actually feeling lonely? Existential! Everything! I think I just really like it when Isaiah is around. That’s why I married him. I’m still a whole person, all the way capable and smart. I just like him. That’s all.
I could probably do it all alone. Life, I mean. But I don’t have to, so I don’t want to.
DAY FOUR, THURSDAY
12:01 am. If you’re wondering how I’m doing, you should know that I’ve just gotten back from a spa. A Korean spa to be exact. And it was as good as it sounds. But you should also know that I have to be at work at 5:30 tomorrow morning, a fact that’s looming over me as I type and making me want to maybe not go to bed at all. We’ll see.
I did a lot of things today, including but not limited to: sitting on the couch, drinking earl grey tea, watching Parenthood, reading the beginning of The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, finally procuring a city sticker, making sure that our power doesn’t get turned off from lack of ComEd account, emailing landlord, walking two miles, thrift shopping, wandering the library and checking out five books, calling my mother, calling my sister, drinking a homemade Italian cream soda, eating a high quality frozen pizza, driving to the Loop during rush hour, worrying, eating edamame, and bathing at the Korean spa. It was a good day off. I got to choose the course of my time. A wide open space of a day with some good girl spa time at the end to look forward to. Completely wonderful.
Except the missing. The ache. The anxiety. Those were all there too. Today would have been fantastic if I knew that Isaiah would be home at four after work. If I knew he would be waiting when I got back from the spa. But he isn’t here. He’s in Canada now, not even America, and I’m alone at the end of the day.
I sort of freaked out today. Internally. About bears. You see, I did the stupid thing where you read the trending news articles on facebook (stupid thing). Lo and behold, one such news article told me that yesterday a person got killed by a grizzly bear right near Glacier National Park. A Bear. Near Glacier. That’s exactly where Isaiah and co. were all today. RIGHTEOUS FEAR. The thing about anxiety is that it surpasses all reason. I knew that Isaiah was most likely not dead. I dimly remembered his looking into my eyes before he left me in Minnesota and saying, “Remember Amy, no news is good news.” Well, I have something to say about that. No news feels like DEATH, actually. No news makes me feel like you are DEAD in the woods and that is why you have not called or texted or snapchatted! Rationality aside, I need to know if you have bear spray on your person at all times in Montana! And bells on your ankles and wrists and worn as a necklace and as a belt. And personal body armor. And staying indoors!!
I’m exaggerating a little, but it really was hard today. Seeing that stupid facebook article triggered the unfunny side of my personal health. I was anxious, simply anxious for most of the day. Isaiah was somewhere with no cell service, so I sent him text after text pointlessly only to slightly abet the ache. And I still did my day. Still found books I liked at the library, still enjoyed falling into Parenthood in a lovely way. Anxiety as a drone in the back of my mind.
It was pure grace really that I found myself in a Korean spa with dear friends washing myself away, dunking myself in warm water, in steam, trying to quiet my anxious, panicky mind with extra oxygen, quiet salty rooms, warm air. The quiet magnified my anxieties at times, circular fears, unhelpful thought experiments, but it also magnified for the rational side of my mind that it all is really nothing more than anxiety, that the thought is always circular, that I just need to let it play out until I can quiet down again. That I would hear from Isaiah soon. That my body was the thing to focus on, to care for. My body and my friends, all of us sweating out toxins and giggling at being naked together, examining moles and dimples.
As soon as I exited the spa, my phone found service once again and Isaiah answered the phone on the first ring with a grand greeting. I almost cried. I listened to him talk all about his day. He told me that they saw some bears and I told him NOT to tell me about them. I told him how good it was to hear his voice, how very much I’d needed to talk to him. He told me that he loved me. Anxieties eased, swooshed away with one phone call. It’s silly how simple it is. But not silly at all.
I really needed to talk to him.
For now, I’m going to rest in the precious little time I have until my 5:30 am coffee shift. The lonely week is nothing to sniff at, my friends. But I’m making it through.
DAY FIVE, FRIDAY
10:03 PM. Today has been a good day. The best I’ve had yet, maybe. Mostly because communication with Isaiah today wasn’t as spotty as it has been. We even got in a 12-minute phone conversation, one we both needed very much. He misses me too, I think, even though he is off adventuring with full, full days. Sometimes it’s nice to remember that he loves me as much as I love him.
My day started so early, 5:30 am. I listened to some girl-power music as I rode the blue-line to work with all the other tired early people. “Wildewoman” by Lucius started me off. I had a bounce to my step. Maybe it’s because I’m over the hump. Only two more days until Isaiah is back, until life is more normal. I can’t help but count the days.
Work was fine, not too busy. I manned the register, taking orders, trying to look people in the eye, to genuinely wish them a good morning, to offer some sort of coffee-kindness when I could. I chatted with my co-workers more than usual, made jokes, took a break or two. A respite from the crazy first two weeks of a new shop in the Loop. Things are settling down and I’m grateful.
Throughout the afternoon I intermittently ate, slept, and watched television. Time passed quickly and the sun was warm on my back as I sat on our couch and whiled away the hours. It felt like rest. After my phone call with Isaiah, I was really actually able to relax, trust that he was okay, that he would be coming back. I was able to put my swirling worries aside and breathe deep, enjoy quiet and an afternoon alone.
Margaret came over for dinner and we walked to a cool restaurant that we’ve had our eye on for a while. (Leghorn Chicken on Western, it’s excellent.) When we got back to my apartment we ate Ben & Jerry’s and watched Brooklyn, feeling all the feelings, all the feelings, all the feelings, and glad to be women alive. It’s such a gorgeous movie, perfect in its biting simplicity, the colors, the story. It felt absolutely just right. All of it did. The perfect things to do while a husband is away and you’ve got a good friend in your living room–watch just the right lovely movie, eat ice cream, and revel in being a woman.
Now I’m alone and Isaiah is texting me updates and I feel calm and sleepy. It’s funny how now that the week is almost over I feel more equipped than ever to tackle it. No big deal, right? Only two more days and Isaiah will be back and I’ll be wondering where all my introvert time went. But I don’t take back anything that I said earlier. This week has been about giving myself space to feel all the ways I feel and to try to process it as I go. I’m actively practicing self-awareness. It makes me feel vulnerable, a bit, to share my thoughts without the distance usually provided by writing an essay after the fact. These journals are pretty immediate, dealing with feelings as they’ve happened, raw anxieties, current worries. I’ve shared the week as it’s unfolded. But I’m not ashamed. I don’t think it’s bad to feel vulnerable. I’m mostly glad to feel strong today, proud of my womanhood and grateful for rest. These days are hard and special. I’m doing them one at a time.
DAY SIX, SATURDAY
11:06 PM. I think today I finally realized that this week is precious, that I am enough to fill it, that life without Isaiah around is still very real life. Funny that I didn’t feel that earlier in the week. But I don’t blame myself. As a very emotional person, I find myself to be slow on the uptake. I feel feel feel and then my rationality catches up. I am a whole person and a week alone is a gift, not a curse. Truth, truth, truth, always hard-won.
People keep shooting off fireworks in my neighborhood tonight and it keeps making me jump. I wish the sound of fireworks wasn’t so similar to the sound of gunshots. I wish that gunshots weren’t a thing that Chicagoans have to consider so often. Makes me wonder if this is what it feels like to live in a more vulnerable neighborhood in this city, if in those neighborhoods sitting in bed at night reading and writing is rife with a peppering of broken hearts, of jumpiness, of fear. I can rationalize it away, remind myself that it is almost the 4th of July and people are celebrating, that I am safe and okay. Not everyone in Chicago can say that about the sounds they hear outside at night. That’s a thing I have on my mind.
But, I also have joy. Today has been joyful for me in my heart. Life feels sweet and real today. I’ve been given a lot of space to speak and think with friends who know me. My day started with a happy phone call with Isaiah as he was buying ham in a grocery store in Canada. My heart felt light while talking with him because I knew that he would be coming home soon, that the time left was short, that he was safe and happy to be talking with me. He sensed my lightness and joined me in excitement to see each other again soon. The perfect sort of phone call to start a good Saturday.
I had brunch with Margaret and Jessie, french toast and bacon, and we talked about everything we’ve been thinking and feeling as we always do when we get together. We talk enough for weeks and weeks because most of the time we see each other only weekly at the most, although this week has been an anomaly with lots of sweet hang out time for Margaret and me. It was during this brunch that I realized the real joyful dimension of this week, the freedom I’ve had and sort of not known what to do with. For these eleven months Isaiah and I have been married, I’ve really seldom been alone. Because Isaiah’s job was tied to our home, he was almost always there when I was. I was almost never alone. When we were home together we liked to be together, to be in the same room thinking about the same thing, spending time not only proximous in body but also in spirit, in mind. A very good way to start a marriage, a very solid ground on which to build our life together. But, honestly, the sheer amount of time spent together left less room for individual development, projects, space, things I’ve always had time in my life for before. I’m afraid of being alone because I simply haven’t had to be for a long time. My life has been extraordinarily met.
I’m entirely grateful for the hours Isaiah and I were privileged to spend together throughout our first year of marriage, but I would be remiss not to add that I am excited for the ushering in of a new season. We are beginning a time when both of us will spend at least a little more time alone, individually, doing different things, occupying different spaces. I want to learn how to be alone. How to value the time I have on my own as much as I value the time Isaiah and I get to spend together. To feel the weight of all sections of my life, my work, my free time, my relationships, my sweet, sweet marriage. I am a whole person, I have a whole life, mine to share and mine to protect. My only life, I’m living it! I’m better at sharing myself, at really seeing the people around me when I give myself space, when I take time to deal with myself, to be alone. My brain was able to step past the wall of my emotions, my sadness at being left, my anxiety, my fear, my loneliness, today to process these thoughts. It’s funny how long it takes to catch up.
This evening I had my friend Sophia over at the apartment for talking and gelato. She’s been in Rwanda all year teaching middle school social studies and theater, and I missed her very much. We both got married last summer, me to Isaiah and her to Matt, one of Isaiah’s closest friends and the perfect man for her to be partnered with. We sat on my couch and ate our gelato and talked, really talked, about young marriage in a way that I haven’t really been able to for the whole past year. I guess I just hadn’t had the right person to talk about it with. We talked together with so much shared understanding. Before she left, Matt came to pick her up and came down to see our apartment. He smiled, and I wished Isaiah were here to be able to talk with him too like how I talked with Sophia. The four of us will spend time together soon enough before they go back to Rwanda for a second year.
After Sophia left, I took a bath and listened to Joni Mitchell, feeling like I could fly. The water was warm, the songs were sweet, I didn’t have to think too hard or feel too much, I could just take up space, displace water, and listen. Now my hair is wet and I’m sitting in bed writing this little journal-essay, letting the words trickle out of me slowly, surely, trying to get them right, to say what I mean, to sort myself out like I’m always trying to do. Each night this week I’ve tried to be nothing but honest about how my day felt. So many ups and downs, such emotion, such fear. All real. And now I’m feeling sort of glaringly okay and Isaiah is coming home so soon and this is what learning feels like. It’s exhausting! And funny, because I knew I would learn things this week! Funny, funny how you can feel life-lessons coming on and you know they’ll be sort of painful so you brace yourself. I’m sweetly climbing over the embankment of my feelings, blinking at the light, always shocked at the sweetness of life, the unexpected softness of the things I thought were going to be nothing but hard. Climbing up with words dripping from my hands and arms outstretched because I feel I can fly.
DAY SEVEN, SUNDAY
9:01 PM. I’m already in bed. Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up at 5:30 to fetch Isaiah from O’Hare. And I truly can’t wait. Nothing about the wave of this week has changed the fact that I can’t wait to be with him again. No amount of joy in independence limits the fact that we are better when we are together. But I am happy to be alone right this minute. My brain is a jumble of thoughts, a swarm of words to consider putting down on the page.
One of the biggest things I’ve gained this week is headspace. My brain has not been lent out nearly as much as it is in a typical week of cohabitating with Isaiah. I’ve had a lot of room to think within my own mind. It’s started me down a rabbit trail of thoughts about writing and being a woman and a theater maker and a friend. Ideas and ambitions and new projects and fear. Plans to submit essays to magazines, plans to find a modern dance class, plans to read a parade of books that I should be reading, to email this person and that person, to write more essays and edit old ones, to say yes to the people I love spending time with, to fill my time in all the right ways, to not succumb to so many of my vices. So many plans, and then I remember that Isaiah is coming back and he is my plan too. In so many ways he is my biggest plan, just living with him, being together, carving out a life, not going too fast, doing things that look quite like a waste of time. Being a creative person and being in love are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes they feel like they are. Sometimes I feel like being married means that I’ll never really get any of my own work done. It’s not true, but it feels that way.
This is the struggle that will define the rest of my life. What married life is to me now will only expand exponentially when we have children. I will always be holding my family in one hand and my art in the other, trying to lay my palms flat against each other or maybe even braid my fingers. It will never be simple. Throughout the past few months I’ve been sort of researching this state of being, the mother artist, quite how a medical student might research the thoughts and lives of real doctors. This is who I will become. What is it like, really? How can I do it gracefully? How will it be for me? Is it really as hard as it looks?
It really is funny to me that this week has been such a crucible for deep thought. I didn’t know it would be that when I set out. I thought I’d be mostly whiney and maybe funny. I expected to forget to write my nightly essay on one or two of the days. I didn’t realize how close to the bone this week actually is, how the line between dependence and independence is more grey than I knew it to be, how much this Sunday night would feel like a time to mourn lost personal time in the weeks and years to come. I belong to my husband and my husband belongs to me. I want to choose him every day, but I have to acknowledge that choosing him means choosing less of me. I’m not sure what I’ll be able to accomplish in the next sixty years of my life. I have no idea what sorts of things I’ll manage to create. If I were alone maybe my stack of projects could be taller, my schedule clearer, my capacity for art and flexibility more keen. But if I were alone I would not know as clearly the depths and cavities of love, the splendor of servitude, the real joy of partnership, of family, of giving myself away to something that needs me. These things I know for sure. I could make it on my own. But I’ve chosen not to.
This morning, I went to Margaret’s church in Oak Park with her. It’s a lively, solid church, one hundred years old in one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen a church inhabit in Chicago. The pastor preached from James, reminded us that we are vapor, that our success, our lives, our breaths, our plans can only exist through the will of God. That we are utterly, utterly dependent, that independence is an illusion, that our only job is to live in faith and humility.
The clarity of the sermon was almost too sharp. Of course this is the current beneath this week, the river at the center of my earth. Independence is an illusion. We need only throw ourselves into the spacious place of God, the center of love, the calm of humble dependence. I don’t know how to do this yet. Clearly. I’ve spent this whole week nearly shouting out my existence, stomping my feet, demanding a life of my own. I don’t think that’s a bad thing to do necessarily, but I do think that I may have missed a chunk of the point. I barreled through the week thinking little of the God who I say I care about, serve, love, live for. But I sat this morning and listened to the pastor repeat the word “dependence” over and over and over again and almost laughed out loud. Of course! Of course. How often quotidian life seems like a giant metaphor, a gigantic arrow pointing at the things that are actually real. How fantastic that God teaches in tiny grand gestures, repeated words in sermons, weeks of sculpted, scattered thought, ideas only begun. I know what there is to learn but I’ve only stuck my toes into learning it. Tonight is not enough at all.
No, tonight is for taking a deep breath. Circling back around, hitting publish, moving on, and sleeping so that I can drive to the airport early, early tomorrow to pick up the person I married almost a year ago. The person I’m really very simply in love with. At the beginning I called this week “the lonely week” and goodness gracious it hasn’t been that at all! This week has been holy! Well peopled and abundant! Confusing and anxious and sweet! Isaiah travelled across America, but I travelled across myself, vast expanses! I’m grateful and a bit bewildered and very exhausted and pretty glad that it’s over. But grateful. Goodbye, sweet, strange interlude. Now back to the refrain.