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September 21, 2006

Hot child, summer in the city.


That's not clouds you see... it's smoke from the fires. I took this picture last night on the drive home. There's always something eerie and surreal about Los Angeles during fire season, and driving home last night reminded me of last year's fires and all the things I never told you back then.

I wrote this last year right after the big fires near Topanga and I never posted it because it seemed maudlin and weepy and boring:

(Notice that although it is maudlin and weepy and boring, I am now posting it because either A) I am so tired I have lost my sense of quality control or B) I am just generally maudlin and weepy and boring and so be it.)

The fire made me realize that I am now completely alone. Alone to get my cats out and safe, alone to sit and watch TV, alone while wondering where the fire is going, alone when it comes right down to it. I called my friends, and my family, of course, and they were understanding and upbeat. Which is great. They're upbeat! Except... there's ash covering my car. And I am alone all night, wondering if the fire is creeping closer. Will it jump the 101 and hit the Valley floor? Will me and the cats make it out in time?

This is what it means to be alone.

I like my solitary life, generally speaking, but now I can see why I stayed married so long. Even after the happiness faded. People need to feel like they have one other person in their life who is with them, sharing the ups and downs. You want the comfort of feeling like one other human is with you when it comes down to a crisis, just to have someone to sit here with me and watch the news updates, someone to calm me when I worry.

Of course I can haul the cats into the Jeep myself, and of course no man or friend could save my house if the fire were roaring down Ventura Boulevard. But it's comforting to know you aren't the only one. It's a great feeling to turn to your friend, lover, husband, wife, and say, "Don't forget to grab the... cat food/important papers/spare keys/whatever." Just to share an experience together. To have someone to count on.

This is good to remember, since lately I have really hunkered down with the aloneness, and started to believe I never want to be with anyone ever again.

I wrote that on September 29, 2005.

What's so funny is that SO MUCH HAS CHANGED! And so much is the same, too, you should always keep a diary to remind you of the past and compare it with your present.

This time last year the very idea of going on a date seemed scary and impossible, I was too far inside lonely and hurt and divorce to even imagine a man in my life. But I remember that particular night, sitting anxiously on the patio and watching the ash fall on my lawn. I realized then that I don't want to be alone forever, because I want to share my life with someone, have someone to make jokes with ("Bring marshmallows! The valley is HOT!") someone to feel comfortable with even in chaos. Especially in chaos. It was the first moment since he'd walked out that I could see clearly. What I saw that night is that I wanted a future with someone in it, somehow.

I know that folks say it's better to be alone than be with someone who doesn't love you. I know it's true, because after all, I was there. I slept in a bed with a man who didn't love me, never held my hand or told me I was pretty. And now I live alone and have a fully functioning and mostly pretty great life. I have been both sides of that coin.

And I do still get lonely. It's human nature. Often when I speak of it, people will remind me how much better it is to be alone than alone with someone, as if it's supposed to be the period on the end of a sentence. I used to bristle when folks would tell me that. I felt judged, as if there were something broken inside me, as if I were too needy or emotional or not strong enough.

Later I came to see it's just what people say. They often say it from the vantage point of being happily married. They often say it from a place of pain, because they are alone with their husband or wife or companion. So I began to wonder, why don't people leave if they're unhappy?

I think it's because aside from all the scary things -- finances, kids, property division -- most people don't truly want to be ALONE. If you really wanted this "hey it's so much better being alone!" life, you'd have it. Look at me: I stayed, even when it got bad. I would have stuck it out maybe indefinitely, hoping for the best. I was terrified of living alone, supporting myself financially, emotionally, all of it. I was afraid of the very life I have right now. I was afraid to live like me, arriving home each night to an empty house with a herd of felines and three cold beers.

It's funny how much you change in a year.

My life is alone, and it's scary sometimes, and lonely sometimes, and sometimes it's also the best life I could have ever pictured. I'm independent. I got to know what I was capable of. I didn't break. I screwed up a few times, and I cried and blubbered on the phone and maybe drunkdialed with abandon, but I learned to take care of myself, learned to like what I have, learned to be still. I finally got to know myself as an adult, and now I know what I have inside me so that when I do meet a good guy I'll be able to appreciate him fully, give what I couldn't give before because I was too scared or afraid to be alone. I won't choose out of fear or desperation, but out of the sheer happiness of being with someone I enjoy knowing.

And he'll laugh at my jokes, even when the whole Valley is on fire.

Posted by laurie at September 21, 2006 10:13 AM