(This story won second prize in Writing Magazine's "First Line Competition" in Autumn 2009. I've only just discovered that it's no longer on Writing Magazine's website which I assume means it's now available for me to publish here. Stupidly, I didn't take a copy of the judges comments but they were quite complimentary. I don't usually win anything, so it was a nice shot in the arm! Hope you like it.)
To be honest, Im not very fond of my own company. Or at least I didnt think I was. You would always find me going out, down the pub or out with the latest girlfriend.
I believed life was for having fun and being with other people. That adage work hard and play hard, the excuse for selfishness applied to me perfectly. I was fairly successful and I guess the number of people that I would chat to down the pub, and the number of girlfriends I had was a reflection on how well I was doing.
What was the point of being alone? Youd be alone forever when you were dead. Living was for being with people. On the rare occasions I did find myself alone, I hated it. Id feel at a loose end. Id feel I was wasting time, wasting my life. Id feel empty. Lost.
For someone as dynamic as I was, it was a surprise to start to find myself alone more and more. The friends I had were getting married and starting families. The endless supply of girlfriends was no longer endless. Sure, there were some younger women that I went out with, who lets say raised a few eyebrows when I took them back to meet the family. But secretly we all knew they were never going to last, or if I they did were eventually going to cost me a fortune.
I tried dating agencies: a good way of getting out and about but they were really only ever just a bit of fun and never lasted. Generally, the only thing we had in common was our desperation not to be alone and that fizzled out eventually. There was always a tipping point: when the fear of loneliness was outweighed by the final discovery of something else you didnt like about your latest partner.
The spectre of loneliness, constantly behind me, had caught up. I became more and more anxious to have people around me. Looking back I think I was in a constant state of subconscious panic as the social world around me started to disintegrate. Whenever some company was offered, I would take it without hesitation. But perhaps now I was appearing too eager. The number of invitations was becoming less and less. I started to feel like a junkie unable to get a fix.
Although I considered it, suicide was not a real option. I was too much of a coward, unlike some of my ex-girlfriends whose attempts had thankfully never been successful. The fact that thered been more than one attempt doesnt reflect well on me. Id caused too much pain in my life, through my recklessness, my infidelities, my selfishness. Perhaps they would be pleased to see that I was getting my comeuppance now. Hopefully their lives were happier and they didnt give me much of a second thought, or at most regarded me as some mistake that they had had some fun times with.
I tried to avoid self-pity, but with the increasing amount of time on my hands perhaps it was inevitable. I told myself it was just a blip but I knew the reality was that middle-age was approaching fast or already had arrived and I was alone. Perhaps those friends who I believed werent truly in love but had got married anyway werent so stupid after all. All I could see ahead was bleakness. And aloneness. I was going to be the old bachelor down the road that nobody talked to; that didnt ever go out; that would be found at some point in his house only because the stench of his six-month decomposing body was upsetting the neighbours.
Work, once a welcome distraction, became an obsession. I worked longer and longer hours, late into the nights, weekends. Home was just a place in which to collapse and leave the next day to go to work. But though I was working hard, colleagues seemed to be less friendly than before. There was less banter and chatter and they seemed to only talk to me when they had to.
Eventually I started to get ill. I cant remember when or how it actually started. I think I had minor irritations that I would ignore and work through, but then one day, I just couldnt face getting out of bed. The doctor said I was clinically depressed and signed me off from work. Great. Home alone. It wasnt quite what I thought I needed.
I was prescribed antidepressants but didnt take them. It may seem foolish but I didnt trust them, the drugs or the doctor. Even though I was at the end of the road, I still had the glimmer of self-respect of not wanting to be addicted to anti-depressants.
Initially days, weeks, were spent in bed. I would only get up to go to the toilet, have a wash, have a quick snack of muesli or something. And then back to bed, to doze, trying to block out the world, block out my life. Once a week I would manage to venture out and get some shopping. Mostly though I tried to sleep. In the twilight world between consciousness and sleep I was aware of millions of thoughts racing round. I wasnt dreaming and yet I couldnt recall anything of what Id been thinking when I was fully awake.
The days evolved such that I would get up and watch the trash on the television, the types of programmes that previously I would be ashamed of admitting even being aware of. I eventually began to venture out for walks in the park or downtown, though that pleasure was tarnished with the preoccupation of making sure I went at times when there was no risk of bumping into anyone that I knew. I didnt want to be seen as a lonely waster or have to start talking, explaining what I was up to.
Eventually I did start to feel better. All of the silence, all of the being alone, it was everything I feared and yet one day I came to the realisation that I had grown to like it and even began to believe it was therapeutic. I was immersed in the situation that I had forever been running from and now I believed it was healing me. In fact there were days when I was started to think I had never felt better or happier. Was it some kind of psychotic euphoria or was it real? All I knew was that I seemed to have an inner peace that I had never experienced before.
Of the few friends I had left, one was interested in writing, and suggested that I write something every day: Just write anything. It doesnt matter if its rubbish, nobody else needs to see it, but it may help just to express whats on your mind. Remarkably that seemed to work too. How, I dont know. I just felt better for it. I didnt ever re-read what I wrote, maybe I will one day. But I believed the effect it had was so significant that it became part of my daily routine.
Eventually I went back to work. It was awkward at first. I was very nervous. Having been so insular for so long, I didnt know if I could cope with people. Likewise, colleagues seemed to not know what to expect and treated me cautiously. I was aware that I could be the mad man that had returned; He used to be such fun. But in reality there was none of that, people seemed genuinely concerned and pleased to see me. Such were the pressures of the commercial world that it was only a few weeks that everything seemed to go back to how it was before.
Well not quite. I didnt ever return to being the one that was always out. Sure there were times I enjoyed everybodys company and would go out, but there wasnt the thumping perpetual subconscious effort to avoid going home and being alone. In fact there were times when actually I declined going out just so that I could have some time to myself.
Before I was ill, I would always stop for coffee on the way to work and often be served by the same girl. We seemed to have a rapport and I was pleased to see she was still there when I returned. She even asked where Id been. I wasnt truthful and said Id just been posted to another office.
Inspite of the dishonesty and after a few months of light-hearted daily banter, we started spending time with each other outside of our morning ritual. It was a good relationship, very easy, no pressure from either side. She confided that she too had had a tough time. It took some time for me to return the compliment and tell her of my own breakdown. I guess I felt embarrassed about it, but when I did eventually tell her, there was nothing awkward and in fact it seemed like it was something else we had in common.
Were close and spend a lot of time
with each other but we havent broached the subject of living with
each other. I guess the time will come. The subject makes me nervous, things
are good and I dont want to spoil them. I think thats what I
would say to anybody that asked. But in reality I think what scares me the
most is that perhaps I will loose the opportunity to be alone. I dont
want to loose that. And Im not sure that anyone is going to understand.