Column: Leave me alone, sometimes

Jason-Column2I’ve just spent a weekend alone, and it was glorious, but I’m glad it’s over.

I’ve been married for nearly 15 years, my wife and I have been together for nearly 18. For about 12 of those years, I stayed at home, ostensibly working on a writing career.

We’ll get back to that in a moment.

My sister is 10 years younger than me, so I was an only child for the first decade of my life. I was quite used to playing alone. I think it suited me.

Last Tuesday, my wife’s late night at work, I went to the Bowtie Cinema 100 in Greenburgh to see “All is Lost,” a film about a man who is alone and in the gravest of crises at sea. Though there were other people in the theater, I was alone, and it was around the time I had to maneuver my popcorn from my lap to the floor and back again so I could get my phone and house keys from pockets in my jacket—at rest on the seat next to me—to pockets in my jeans that I realized being alone is something like an adventure. Somewhere deep down, I think I moved my phone and keys closer to me because, even though I was in a nice movie theater in a nice area 20 minutes from my home, I was all alone and, whatever happened, I was going to have to deal with it myself.

And so I sat, on my solo Tuesday night adventure, watching a movie in which Robert Redford is the worst kind of alone. By the time it was over, two things had happened; I’d seen the best movie I’ve seen this year and I had the idea for this column.

Not bad for a Tuesday night.

I’ve wanted to write since shortly after I became self-aware. I knew in first grade I wanted to spend my life writing in some capacity. In 1999, I stopped working outside the house—leaving my job as a reporter for a tiny, courthouse-based wire service—because the belief was my wife, who was my fiance at the time, was making enough money to support both of us while I worked on getting a fiction career off the ground and took care of the house. She wasn’t.

I’d tell you what she was making at that time, but I don’t want to be responsible for what happens to you if you never stop laughing.

During those 12 years, I was alone for most hours of most days. The good news was I had all the time in the world to write. The bad news was I had all the time in the world to write. No matter what I did with my near total autonomy, I could also say there would be time enough to write tomorrow or next week.

Or eventually.

Being alone as much as I was in those days was like living in a parallel universe alongside the one in which my wife, and most everyone else, existed. I was on the road and in stores when other people were at work. I was awake at hours when most people were asleep. Weekends lost nearly all their value as a respite and the weekdays all bled together because the reality was, for me, it didn’t matter what was a Wednesday and what was a Friday, so I think I subconsciously stopped keeping track.

In the end, it was too much alone.

Which is not to say I never got any writing done. I wrote a young adult retro-pulp adventure fantasy novel that you will never read and some short, rather nasty, crime fiction that you will if you have a moment to Google me and the willingness to never think of me the same way again.

In 2012, my wife and I decided it was time to end the grand experiment, which, at that point, had clearly failed as I’d come to think of myself as much more a house husband than I did a writer.

But that’s how I came to be in your newspaper. I was lucky enough to get a shot at being a reporter again, this time for The Mamaroneck Review. I won’t deceive you; coming back to work, after 12 years away from anything, to a job based almost entirely on interaction and deadlines was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but it proved to be one of the most personally rewarding, too, and it’s the reason you and I get to spend time together in this space each week.

But even now, I’m sitting in a room alone as I write these words and it’s very possible, perhaps even likely, you’re alone somewhere as you read them.

We’re alone, together.
And that brings me to this past weekend. My wife was in Philadelphia, running its marathon. That’s probably a story for another column, but this one’s about the wonderful time I had alone in her absence. On Saturday, after I completed all the housework I had to do—because, unlike when it was my job, I actually do housework now—I watched two movies. The first was 1951’s “The Tall Target” in which Dick Powell plays a detective trying to foil an 1861 assassination attempt on President Lincoln before he can be inaugurated. The second was “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” which I haven’t seen since about 1993.

Those were DVDs. I also found time to watch an episode each of “Star Trek” and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” on Blu-Ray.

On Saturday night, I also spent some time in the Norman Rockwellian confines of the Village of Bronxville, wherein I purchased dinner at the A&P and found three Marvel Legends action figures at the drug store on Pondfield Road I did not expect to ever see in any store.

I’m a colossal nerd, by the way. Have we not discussed that yet?

On Sunday, I did our finances and my laundry, got some stuff off the DVR and picked my wife up at the Fleetwood train station at about 8:30 p.m.

Being a newspaper reporter, as I was late last year and the early part of this year, or an editor and columnist, as I am now, is time-consuming work. It can be quite rewarding, but it’s always going to claim more than its share of time. Beginning last Tuesday, when I sat alone and watched a film about a man alone at sea, and this weekend, when I had the kind of solitude and autonomy I used to waste on a daily basis, I realized how much I value my time to myself now. I tell you it’s a great feeling, not because I seek time away from my wife; quite the opposite.

Enjoying time to myself now means my time has become valuable again because a good deal of it, the time I spend working on your newspaper, has value and substance. I have something to be away from and, when I have the time to enjoy the things I enjoy, I treasure those things more than I ever did when I had all the time in the world.

As someone who has experience with many kinds of alone, that’s the best one.

Reach Jason at jason@hometwn.com and follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas.