I should rephrase that: I felt comfortably encumbered with what made up the group of important people in my life.
But that has all changed in a big way.
My dear aunt stopped letting new people into her life after a while. She told me that she was through with all that because she had all the people she cared about, if not right where she could see them, then only a short drive away.
It was much easier that way, I suppose. Except, of course, when the people who you care about start to slowly pack their bags and head out the door of this world for points unknown. It got pretty scary for a while there when my mom was sick. We'd spend hours talking--my aunt and I--about the pros and cons of having a large family, a small family, no family. I would always argue the angle that no matter how many kids you have, it doesn't mean they are going to turn out right. To say "Oh, I wish I had had children," or "If you had a few kids there would be someone to absorb some of this loneliness and pain" may make sense to a certain degree, but you're leaving a lot of things to chance here. I'd just have to reel her back in and hope that my words made sense to her as she just shook her head and wondered aloud, "Why, Alex? Why"?
I've never been one to shy away from making new friends. I am a very social person by nature and love to share experiences with others. A laugh becomes an endurance contest when shared with someone who thinks like you. The falling down, clenching your gut and gasping for air--while not, on the surface, sounding a desirable condition--can bring about a release inside and out that can last for hours, if not a couple of days, as you wonder why your stomach hurts, then, remembering the cause, chuckling to the air as your mind blends the experience on high in a matter of a few seconds.
But to partake in this kind of emotional pipe bomb one needs to be open to accepting the company of others. And for the majority of my aunt's life she had my mother for that.
And then she was gone.
My aunt had not kept out everybody, though. She had made a handful of women friends at work when she taught at Durfee High School, in Fall River. After my mom died they became closer and started doing things together on a regular basis. They would go out to eat with coupon books in hand. They would go to music nights at a local cafe. They would get together over an ice cream sundae and talk for hours, laughing, sometimes, until it hurt.
She learned to laugh again with new partners, this very solitary woman. The rhythm was different with them than it was with the woman named Judy, who had learned the delicate breathing dance of a laughing jag with her sister. But it was honest laughter nonetheless, and that was what counted. That was what made life fun. That was the salve that healed the wound ... slowly.
And then she was gone.
And that left me.
Now it is my turn to take the reigns and let new people into my life. I haven't had anyone to hug and hold and tell them I love them for a long time. Not that I consider my current partner a family figure in that way. But the emotions are similar. It is a longing for protection that you wish you could put in a bag, zip up like a sandwich, and send out the door with them to take to wherever they may go, whenever they may need it. Because the world has always been a maddeningly random and dangerous place to live. Unfortunately, it's the only place to live. And lately it just seems that things have been getting out of control, and we hear stories about horrendous tragedies a bit more often than ever before. I know I'm getting old, but I'm not that old that I can't notice the changes in real time.
And so, I now have a new commitment to a special person. And every time I look at her I feel I have a bond that is as strong as the ribcage that holds my heart in my chest. It was not designed for easy external tampering. No, to access that space is to disrupt the whole of the body and that is always a precarious venture.
I also know that it is not just I that feels this way--which was so often my lamentable downfall--but rather a mutual discovery of emotional treasure dredged up from deep within the depths, but still, under the muck and the rust of past travesties intact, legible, and worth more now than anyone could have imagined who might have set sail from shore with its precious cargo on board so many years ago.
And just like nobody plans on a shipwreck I must go about my days expecting to make it to the other end of the ocean. I must not flinch or take my eyes off of the future for longer than it takes to look at my compass. Because on any given day there could be a million variables that test our mortal coil. There could be a danger that lurks within us that is ticking away, waiting for a randomly perfect time to strike. There could be someone who has no idea what their actions may bring about waiting to take the wrong turn or neglect to notice a blinker in the distance. Who knows when or if I will need somebody to reel me back in hoping that their words make sense to me as I just shake my head and wonder aloud, "Why"?
And this new thrillingly mutual liability continuously surprises me. I now have someone who thinks like I do some of the time, and, thankfully, has no idea what I'm thinking the rest of the time. I have someone who makes the innocent air between us thicken and conspire, conducting conduits of expelled breaths and emotions around the landscape of our waltzing facial features. I have someone who can laugh long and hard almost to the point of fainting before calling a time-out so we can both regain our composure, and then, unpredictably starting again with a heave and a jolt, almost feeling as if it might go on indefinitely, interrupting--if not making obsolete--the daily rigors of life.
We fall asleep slowly, relaxing our minds to match the bulb in the dimmer-switch lamp, almost asphyxiated from energy deprivation.
It stays that way through the night; the power surges let it vent.
We wake up and open the blinds, but we don't shut off the lamp; we don't even know it's on.
It's only when the sun goes down again into its own finished basement that we realize that we never did turn it off.
Then it is brightened once more--we need it's light again so we feed it with electricity--and then, predictably, it is dimmed down just before sleep comes.
It wouldn't make much sense to have two lamps on one table next to each other, each one making up for where the other's beams can't reach.
Meanwhile two bulbs gracefully turn down side by side, both connected to the same source of energy, each wondering how they came to be on the same table, each knowing full well that one could very well burn out--and probably will--before the other.
And they go about their day, hardly aware that they are still giving off light, until the nighttime comes and they see each others beams and ask aloud ... are you glowing for me?
And, of course, we know the answer before we ask the question ... but we just have to ask anyway. We like to hear us talk.
And we turn the dimmers up and read each others faces until it hurts our eyes. Then we turn down our bulbs again and go to sleep.
And we hope to see each other again in any light.
And we hope to see each other again.
And we hope to see.
And we hope.
Thanks for reading.