Suspended Animation

By alison January 17, 2023 7 Min Read

The sky is a creamy blue and the rooves dusted with icing sugar. And in here, in the flocked walls of home, I have been quite certain that the whole world has fled to warmer shores and forgot to tell me, so isolated do I feel. But isolation isn’t necessarily a terrible thing is it? Though we want to bind alone to lonesome, they are different and it is quite possible to regard isolation as a gift: a temporary state we might just miss when it passes, for it, like all emotion, it is more often fleeting (even when it feels interminable) than it is likely to be permanent.

And this I know. I really do. But twice this week I have felt quite overwhelmed by what it is to be alone, even when I know for sure that January always feels closer to a state of suspended animation than it does a month where progress feels likely. Twice this week I have felt a little scared for myself. A little weepy. And too many times to count people have told me on the phone, oh, but you are alright aren’t you? And of course there is no other answer to that than to say, absolutely, of course I am! Because I am and I’m not and I barely know what to make of the space inbetween let alone explain what living by myself feels like when there is so very much of me both adoring and despising the freedom it brings.

A few nights ago I felt odd. The wind was howling and I was restless with a shivery cold heat I couldn’t quite stabilise despite the flinging on and off of my fleecy wearable blanket and regular trips up the stairs to wag my finger in admonishment at the thermostat. I tried to read, to write, or to watch TV, but simply couldn’t settle, and in the end decided that bed was surely the answer for isn’t it almost always, if we are to care for ourselves as if we were our own children? So off I toddled, taking valerian to gently push me into slumber and instead falling head first into a deep, berserk sleep I was suddenly yanked from only a few hours later, convinced I had heard the front door shut.

So there I lay listening. Trying to discern noises downstairs from that howling at the window. Had Finley come back in a university inspired drunken stupor and quite forgotten where he lived? Wouldn’t he come straight up the stairs to report the goings on and misdeeds of his friends, if he had? Was there a prowler rooting through my bookcase with raping and pillaging on his mind? I didn’t know and I could barely think for the noise of my heart banging about in my throat. I groped about at the side of the bed for the loft stick I keep there, a long length of metal used for dragging down the loft ladder, and found it, but horrified myself by making too much noise, and paused hanging over the side of the bed upside down. Listening, as all of a sudden there seemed to be a something of a riot going on. And there I stayed, irrationally too scared to move. Sure now that it couldn’t be Finn because the child is all but dead slow and stop, and convinced that only a burglar (of whom there are thought to be a few doing the rounds in the village) who had quite lost all sensibility, would be dashing about apparently flinging doors open and banging at the windows. But also certain that edging my way down the stairs in my scary dressing gown and poking him with a big stick probably wasn’t the answer. Not least because I might give the poor, desperate thing a heart attack. SO because I am big and brave and ridiculous, I buried my hot, flustered head under the duvet and held back a screech of panic until twenty minutes later, the noise died down and the wind settled and I had a little weep of relief. Astonished at how cowardly I am in the face of apparent attack when I had always been certain that should I find myself the victim of a midnight rampager, I would go down and give whoever a stern talking to, arms across ample, disappointed bosom, like a latter day Dick Emery.

When daylight finally came, I donned said dressing gown and opened the living room door to mayhem. For there had indeed been a riot. The conservatory door usually tight shut, was wide open and all the laundry that had been on the maiden, flung around the floor. All that had been on the coffee table was scattered across the room, the curtains dragged this way and that and a bin bag spilled across the kitchen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. For this was no more of a break in, than it seemed to be a protest, and there was no sign of either a comatose teenager nor the rifling of anything precious. Just mess. As if the god of housekeeping was disappointed in me and had decided to punish my January malaise with a show of his strength to cause the kind of chaos I would have to spend all morning cleaning up.

And there in the midst of it was Meep. Not asleep in the cupboard as he always is first thing in the morning, but standing with a pair of knickers in his mouth and a stripe of protein pudding decorating his furry forehead. Apparently proud for saving the house from the roar of wild wind, and so delighted to see me, he sprung from the floor to my shoulder and wiped a little protein pudding across my face too. And I laughed and cried at the same time because nothing is ever quite as bad as it seems and my head was banging with a temperature that had descended over night and a throat so raw, that not only had it taken my words, but its jaggard edges seemed almost certain to choke me if I didn’t get myself back to bed as soon as can be. So ignoring the mess and taking a cat quite thrilled with his antics back up the stairs with a tray of tea and paracetamol, I took to my bed, head quite filled with the muddle of fright and illness, all too aware of how both things are so easily accentuated by solitude.

For it was a short-lived flu. Days lost to effort made to get up each morning convincing myself I was ok, only to return to bed later in the afternoon, delirious and certain that I must be at deaths door. Pushing through necessary work and then collapsing in a heap of blankets and relying on Uber and Deliveroo to bring me cold medicine, crumpets and hot toddys. The whole ugly streaming nosed palaver of Winter illness reaching a peak on Sunday afternoon when I discovered I had run out of milk and my sickly sorrow turned into the kind of aggrieved outrage that was a sure sign I was on the mend!

But this is not loneliness. It is instead the inconvenience of solitude and the irrational fright of a woman living alone for the first time in her adult life. For a child is a kind of armour the single Mother wears, battling through fright and sickness for his sake, and it is only when he flies the nest, that she is stripped of it, wearing vulnerability for a while, where there was once strength reinforced by grit and metal. No, it isn’t loneliness at all, it is a new state of being I have not yet lived through a year of and am not yet wholly familiar with. nor seduced by.

Yesterday as I started to feel better, I ambled around the house restoring order, making fortifying cups of UHT, dark hot chocolate in the Velvetiser and telling myself not to go too bull at a gate at my must be dones, but to give myself the grace of a quiet few weeks to simply exist and soothe all over again a heart a little bumped about in the days before Christmas. So I took a morning bath, and dwelled on what isn’t. I made proper food for the first time in an age and text family, and friends, old and new. Reaching out to those I had somewhat left behind. Reminding myself that I was still of this world, even when life seemed to be standing still. I listened to everyone else’s stories and told myself that we are all living through odd times, a cultural and societal shift very few have not been touched by in the past year or two. And then late at night, when a friend sent me pictures of the snow in his garden, I rushed to the front door to discover that I too had snow. That the silence of the lane was the hush of its blanket, not the vanishing of the rest of the village.

This then is alone, not lonesome. And my challenge is not to rail against it, nor to seek to fill it with claustrophobic company, but to recognise it as a necessary pause in which to gather myself up, reinforce the armour and call Deliveroo, because I might be strong but I cannot manage without tea and would rather boil my face than drive in snow, don’t you know?

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