I used to consider any sort of alone time a privilege. I loved to escape to a coffee shop or bookstore just to have a few minutes of quiet to read, to write or just to relax. I was an only child, so I’ve never had trouble keeping myself company. That is, I’ve never had trouble until now.
My sons spent their first night with their father last night. I packed their pajamas and a few toys and sent them upstairs. I’d promised myself that I would be productive and get a lot of work done as well as catch up on chores like folding clothes, vacuuming and putting away Halloween decorations.
As soon as they walked away with their dad and shut the door, I knew I couldn’t stay in my house. Our living arrangement is unusual right now. Because we can’t afford to keep two separate households, we are each living in one apartment of our two-family house. I live downstairs, and my husband lives upstairs. While it’s purgatory to me to have him so close yet so far away because we’re not communicating much, the arrangement is helping our kids to make an easier transition to our separate households. So technically, my children were a short walk away. But from my perspective, they may as well have been on Mars. My empty apartment seemed like a tomb.
I pulled on my winter coat, hat and gloves. I stuffed my laptop into my computer bag, grabbed my purse and headed outside. The snow was plummeting down at a brisk pace. I started my car and cleared the ice from my windshield with vicious strokes, making sure to throw as much as possible against my husband’s car. In my anger, I blamed him for taking my kids away from me. I’d never spent a night away from them except for one time, when they stayed with their grandparents in Arkansas, and another time, when I spent a miserable week away from them during my graduate school residency last August. Now, with our fledgling joint custody arrangement, I realized that I’m going to have to get used to being without my children at least two nights every week. I’m going to have to become accustomed to alone time.
I drove through the storm and headed north on I-91. Driving is therapeutic for me. Usually I just listen to music and think over whatever situations I’m facing. Sometimes, I talk to myself (and you do too when you’re in your car—admit it). I wasn’t sure how far I would go. I crossed the Massachusetts border and drove through Springfield. The snowstorm hadn’t reached that far north, so the skies and roads were clear. I kept driving and didn’t stop until I crossed into Vermont. In Brattleboro, I checked myself into a hotel that I’d stayed at just over a year ago when we were still together. Sure, I was still alone, but I wasn’t looking at my empty apartment that, one month ago, had contained what I thought was a happy family.
After a few fitful hours of sleep, I woke up at 3:23 a.m. I’d slept in my clothes, so I tumbled out of bed and took my key to the front desk. The sky spit snow as I drove back south, but I didn’t hit hazardous road conditions until I crossed back into Connecticut. At that point, I realized how stupid I’d been to take off in the middle of a nor’easter. But I was also willing to navigate any kind of road if it meant that I didn’t have to feel so utterly alone.