Chapter Thirteen

Chapter 13 – Living alone

There came a time when each one must see himself as an integer in the Universe; not dependent or conjoined with anyone else, not needed or needing anyone else. – Elizabeth Yates

I am not sure when or how I reached this point but I can now live alone without constantly feeling my loss.

There is a difference between living alone and being lonely. I hate to admit it but I have gone long hours, even days, without thinking of John. I can lose myself in a good movie or interesting TV show.

I no longer think, “I must tell John” when I see or hear something that would interest him.

I have finally reached the stage where I have my own time table and manage quite well with my small rituals. I get up, eat breakfast, make my bed, do laundry if needed, then go for a long walk and stop for the mail on the way home. I then eat a full meat and vegetables dinner while watching TV – often Doc Martin or The Last of the Summer Wine. Afternoons vary. I may cut the grass, iron if I did the laundry, or walk down to pay bills at the bank or buy groceries at the store. I return home and type until supper time using my laptop. Supper is a sandwich and fruit meal after which I watch TV, read, write letters to friends, or write out new ideas in long hand to type up the next typing afternoon. Visitors, shopping trips with friends and my bi-monthly shopping trips to town with the Connector Bus give a break from this routine. Once a week I visit the cemetery when I go for my daily walk. Winters I often have to shovel snow and sweep the steps before my walk. I am flexible enough to adapt my schedule to the ongoing changes around me so I haven’t become too rigid,

There have been changes but these are the sort of changes that new home owners make as they adapt to a pre-owned home to fit their needs and interests. I have had to transform a couple’s home into a single woman’s home because I now have no one to depend upon but myself, I am shorter so I don’t use top shelves for every day items.

Of course I will always miss John, the handyman. I never really appreciated all he did in his quiet, unassuming way. He replaced batteries and light bulbs without a word, reset clocks after a power outage, stopped doors from squeaking or sticking and shut windows and locked up nights.

Toilet rolls replaced themselves, when John shaved. I now realize he cleaned the sink. He put vinegar in the sink to remove the calcium build up and he even changed the ink cartridge in my printer.

John never had a “honey do” list. He didn’t need one. When he saw things that needed doing he did them. He kept everything in good repair. If he saw something out of whack he fetched a hammer, a screw-driver or a wrench and fixed it often before I even realized there was a problem.

I never thought about where tape or batteries came from. He always kept his stocks up. He had a stash of new batteries in one drawer. When the smoke alarm started chirping, I opened it to see one 6V battery. I opened John’s drawer for a replacement battery and saw he had two. The thermostat takes two AAs. He had three, He also had ten AAAs. I’m not sure what they are for. I haven’t had to look in the remote yet, but I remember him changing batteries when it stopped working right. He always bought batteries in big packs because he didn’t like running out.

Then there is tape. I never bought tape. It was just always there when I needed it. Now my stocks are running low. He loved his tapes and always told me which to use. When I needed tape he would say, “That’s a job for masking tape.” or “Use this green tape.” He liked his silver duck tape and called Scotch tape by its English name “cello tape”. Fortunately I used to accompany him on shopping trips so I know where John found his batteries and tape.

Slowly but surely I’ve learned to look after the house and yard. Not as well as he did but adequate, I hope. Neighbours help. Sometimes when I have been away for a few days

I return and say, “Whew, the grass hasn’t grown at all. It really must have been dry.” Then I see the tell-tale signs that someone has mowed. John had many friends who look out for me.

I try hard not to need help. I replaced the gas mower with a cord-free electric mower that has two lithium batteries and I assembled it myself, manual in hand. I only had to ask the neighbour’s wife for help once. The funny thing is when I went to buy it I asked the clerk, “Where are your mowers?” and she took me straight to it. I said, “How did you know I wanted an electric mower?” She said, “Most women do.”

I’ve learned how to reset clocks and change batteries and do the small things. I’ve only had two major problems to date. The first was the furnace. It was Thanksgiving weekend and bitterly cold in the evening. I had a friend staying over, a widow who is no more mechanical than I. Everything was fine by day with the sun shining in the window but in the evening the house cooled off fast. I turned up the thermostat but the thermostat never came on. I would have called Jeff’s Plumbing and Heating but it was a holiday weekend. I decide to wait until Tuesday. I piled more blankets on our beds and lay in mine, freezing and going over and over the situation in my mind.

Then I remembered the unlabeled switch by the furnace. I got up and turned the switch on. Instantly the furnace roared to life. Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier?

I felt stupid until a lady told me she had the same problem and called the plumber; with mileage it cost over $100 to have her switch turned on! Like me she had never turned it off. We both think that kind visitors saw the furnace switched on some hot summer day and turned it off to save us money.

John used to keep all the drains running so I was totally unprepared for my second major problem. It was an experience straight out of a horror movie I once saw on TV. A thick, foul smelling black liquid suddenly appeared in the bathroom sink one evening after supper. It slowly seeped away, leaving a thin layer of evil smelling black matter. The next evening, I just happened to wash dishes and go into the bathroom soon after. I saw the black liquid slowly rising in the bathroom sink and returned to the kitchen to see the sink draining slower than usual. There had to be a blockage that involved both sinks, I decided. Instead of draining properly, the kitchen sink had been draining into the bathroom sink. I got out the plunger and managed to loosen the blockage. Then I sent clear water down both sinks. I felt very proud of myself because not only had I averted a possible haunting fright, but I had saved myself a hefty plumber’s fee as well. John used to clean drains regularly. Now I use vinegar and baking soda.

I have two problems I never anticipated. The first is having no one to remind me. No one says, “That new TV series starts tonight.” Or “Don’t forget, it’s Customer Appreciation Day tomorrow”, or “That bill is due Friday”. I have learned to put all appointments on the calendar so I won’t forget. At times it is difficult to have to completely rely on myself to remember everything.

The second problem is learning to live defensively as a single and not call attention to my aloneness and vulnerability. When there is a knock at the door, I shout, “I’ll get it!” right before I open the door so the caller will think there is someone with me. If a telemarketer or pollster calls, I say, “Sorry, we are not interested!” or “Sorry, we don’t’ do surveys”, using the universal we, and hang up. If some stranger phones asking to speak to John or the man of the house, I say, “Sorry, he is not in at the moment. May I take a message, please?” I often sign myself with a gender free J. Benger. That is how I am listed in the phone book. I have kept John’s name on utility bills.

I even walk defensively now. When I walked with John every morning, I never once thought of danger. Now I dress to look big and strong and I am very aware of my surroundings. I cross the street or take a different route to avoid groups of people. I walk on the other side of the street when passing a parked car with people in it. If people stop to ask directions, I stand at a safe distance and shout. I am always aware that I am alone now and must look out for my own safety. I miss the tall shadow that walked beside me and kept me feeling safe.

I am still amazed that I can manage alone, but there are two single women on my street, who have done well alone and I have met widows who have lived by themselves for twenty or thirty years. I see no reason why I can’t do likewise. Sure, it is a Noah’s Ark world where most people live two by two, not one on one, but there is no reason why a person can’t survive living alone.

As Elizabeth Yates has pointed out, the actual definition of alone is “All plus one.” At first all we can think of is the one, but soon we come to understand the all is well. One day out of the blue, I found myself thinking, I am still alone but I am no longer lonely. I realized I had learned to live as all one.