It’s always this goddamn porch.
It’s a lovely porch, really. A back porch, with a crisscross trellis on two sides, and a wide, open top. A stained wooden table and chairs blend into the deck, which opens into a lush green lawn that’s small and tidy, hedged with a neat line of mulch and an array of plants: tall grasses and lavender, short perennials and herbs. Every summer, gigantic ceramic planters in bold patterns and colors overflow with red, yellow, purple, white; leaves and buds and ferns fragrant and bright. There’s a small fire pit. And a second wooden table set on small stone rocks for which to dine, with an umbrella opened to shade the sun. And then, a detached garage turned into a pub shed where, when opened for friends, bar stools and beer on tap and chilled wine and dangling lights and buoys from the nearby Long Island Sound keep merriment going late into the night.
I’m here alone, though.
I’m almost always here alone.
Well, except for the dogs.
Well, tonight, there’s only one dog.
But, back to me and this porch.
It was here, two years ago, that I was in the early stages of a forty-day journey off of social media. A seemingly small thing, it ended up hugely disastrous for one such as I; someone who spends significant time alone, chronically ill, perpetually single. I had the dogs — one mine, one my brother’s; owner of said porch — and a bottle of rose and an entire weekend to kill. Then, the realization all of those things, together — my singledom, the second glass of wine, and another hour of not being able to stay in denial about my solitude by jumping for an online social fix — proved far too much. I panicked. Several times over. Physically. Then. I faced it. Slowly. With breath and thought and grit. It was a tough night, but I learned some things. I grew up, a little.
Then, a few months later, inside the house this time with the dogs, and alone but for the food journalist work I do via phones and machines. Then, a collapse of my body. Chronic illness crashing in, I’m shaking, breaking, the unknown washing over, before I raced from inside to outside and used this porch and lawn and space to asses, why, why, why?
And then, months after these, returning to face yet another weekend of solitude here. But realizing that I had learned to embrace it. To love it. I had actually done the hard work of self-reflection and growth and taking responsibility for my shit and all the stuff I’m supposed to pass on because this is a story yet I can’t because self-help is about the self. But, because of all the work, on this porch at that time, I could confidently feel that I was not alone, despite my being alone. That I was — am — loved. That love is available. That it is everywhere. That I have it and give it and am it.
And so, on this porch again tonight, a full two years after that first incident, with many more tiny moments in between these, still, I know I am not alone. Text messages and phone calls uninvited from loved ones tell me I am loved. Tell me I am not alone. Ask if they should come to me.
I say I am okay. That being “alone” is best right now.
They offer because they know there is only one dog here.
Hopefully, just for the night.
(No, this is not going there. I pray. God, I pray.)
Because, throughout the two years from that first porch night to this, I was never really alone — in physical presence, I mean. My dog was always with me. Her name is Mitra. The name roughly translates from Sanskrit into ‘friend’ or ‘ally’. She is my best friend. My always ally. I adopted her when she was one, and now, she’s eight. I spend about 80% of my time without other humans, working from home and tending my chronically ill body. I spend pretty much all of that time with her.
Every single time I’ve been on this porch so has she. When I was panicked and crying, she was here on my lap. When I was uncontrollably sick and shaking, I held her body close to try to calm mine. Every time since, when I’ve been here and happy, she’s bounded out the back door and onto the deck before me, ready to pee or play.
This weekend, she’s in the hospital. Without me.
And I’m here on the porch, without her.
I called the self-self-help project that shifted my reality The Me, Without because to trigger the changes I went without stuff: First that social media stint, then months off of shopping, then sugar, then others. Going without made me stare down some realities about how I live in habit. About how I see the world, and move through it. About where and how I can better choose. About whether or not I act on what I profess to value, moment to moment.
I finished the Year stronger, tougher, happier.
Last week — a year after The Me, Without ended — I started The Me, With: a year of adding stuff into my life, every single day.
I started with a Challenge of adding thirty minutes of self-care to my daily routine, for a string of forty days in a row.
Tonight, Day Nine, I’m supposed to be taking care of myself. Doing something like meditating or reading a pleasure book or… I don’t know… getting a pedicure.
But I don’t want to take care of myself.
I want to take care of my dog.
And so, I sit and write. I work on the final — the very final — edits of the book The Me, Without that was due to my editor today and I will now turn in on Monday. I get through one small section. I text my friend Andrea, who works with an emergency vet and even though we haven’t talked in forever is now hand-holding me through this. I edit another small section. I text my friend Emma, who loves Mitra and has a dog and lets me cry to her unashamed. I edit another small section. I text my ‘wives’ — my two closest girlfriends who adopted me into their marriages and magically tend me from their far away homes. I edit another small section. I text my boyfriend, keeping my finger from the button that will rush him to my side.
I’m tough. I’ve learned how to handle solitude. And I’m not ‘alone’.
I lift my eyes. I see this porch.
This goddamn porch.
I’m always alone on this goddamn porch.
Even more alone, tonight.
And so, I put the book aside for a while.
I look at birds, and flowers and the sunlight fading in the distance.
I write this.
I guess this is my self-care for Day Nine.
Please, please, don’t let this without go for too long.
I know the only with I want.