Saturday, 26 February 2011

A cottage in the woods

In fifty years, I've never lived on my own, never even been on holiday by myself. Half a century of sharing and adjusting, carefully negotiating space and sound, decor and temperature.

At nineteen I moved straight from the shared bedroom of childhood to the double bed of marriage. I'd quickly closed down any conversations about going away to university; that had seemed no more real than the notion of finding a room in a shared house, renting a bedsit in the city, travelling around the world. Other people did those things, people I read about, not people I knew.

It might have been that I was rushing into being with someone, trying to get back to the family life that I'd known before my parents' divorce. Or it might have been that young love had convinced me that being half of something was better than being less than someone. Either way, for a long while it was a good place to be, especially while there were children arriving and growing, when sharing space meant snuggling up on the sofa to read a book, budging up in bed to make room for a sleepy kid in the early morning. When eventually, perhaps inevitably, we realised that there wasn't enough space in being married, the children and I moved to another house. Though I'd never been more lonely, I still wasn't alone.

But every now and then I'd think about a cottage in the woods. In my head it was a place where I'd live all by myself. I'd sit and read, with only the creaking sounds of the trees to keep me company. Life was simple in my house made of logs. No electricity, no machinery, no conversations or relationships; nothing to break. I pictured myself revelling in my solitude, writing the book I'd never found time for, being at one with nature and myself. I sometimes wondered though, how long I'd last, how long it would be before I rushed to the nearest town, started a conversation with anyone who'd listen.

My children are all grown up now, but I'm still not on my own. With Philip I've learned a whole new set of adjustments. We live in a tiny house, so whatever one of us does, it's bound to have an impact on the other.  I realise that I'll sometimes have to tolerate the freezing gales that blow through the open kitchen window because he gets too hot when he's cooking. I understand that I'll need to grin and bear the northern cadences of Radcliffe and Maconie, because he likes to listen to the radio while he does so. But that's ok, because I also know that I'll get to sit down with him and eat the meals he's so carefully made while he's been sweltering and I've been shivering.

In return, he's got quite adept at avoiding the shoes and bags I place around the house like booby traps, the laptop leads that I trail across the floor like poachers' wires; he knows I'll get around to moving them eventually, because I'm the one who hoovers. We've both learned that, even when we silently blame each other for leaving clothes around, for piling up books and papers, for failing to change the bed, replace a light-bulb, put the rubbish out, it doesn't really matter. We're both quite comfortable in our clutter and our shared space.

Even so, I still sometimes imagine going on holiday alone. I picture myself lying by the pool with a book, while the other holiday-makers whisper between themselves, wondering in hushed tones about the enigmatic lone-lady. And every now and then, when I've had a dreadful week at work, when I feel like the years are slipping away, when the things I ought to do are eating into the time for the things I want to do, then I still think about that cottage in the woods.

Except this time, there's a bearded, check-shirted lumberjack called Philip living there with me.


Rohini Prasanth said...

we live in a tiny apartment - but that hasn't stopped us from piling up clutter which seems to grow in size all the more in spite of being limited in space. Philip and Prasanth (my husband) are so much alike - even if its snowing outside, he has to open the doors and windows while cooking, he likes things properly set in their place - and I keep telling him this is my home not a hotel room.

your dream is a cottage in the woods. but for now, my dream is a huge house with lots of kids and plenty of space for gardening. wishing both our dreams come true soon.

Baglady said...

I know exactly what you mean about trailing leads and having the radio on while cooking. Our house is the same and we move round each other in it (esp our tiny kitchen) with practised ease.

I yearn for an old house in the country with an open fire and a sunny garden. I love my peace and quiet time but I can't imagine being alone for too long.

Lovely post.

light208 said...

I lived alone for the best part of five years, more if you count the time I lived with people but never saw them because we were on opposing shifts. I've been on holiday alone - both in the UK and abroad. I've grown used to the solitude and now find living with someone overwhelming at times.

I can't imagine having to live an entire live compromising. You do tell of it wonderfully though. And I imagine your life has been richer for it. I love your last line - how your love for each other is so complete that it has brought you to a different story.

Wonderfully written.

sweet pea. said...

thats so cute.

Fran said...

It's always handy to have a bearded lumberjack around, I find.

Scrappy Grams said...

Even though I've been widowed for five years, and so I live alone, I've never ever taken a vacation alone. I yearn to have someone to share life's comings and goings. I hesitate to get on-line to find someone. I'm not sure I can overcome the selfishness I've developed at no longer having to confer with another person decisions to be made. Yet, your current state has its positiveness. Maybe...

Roberta said...

It is funny that you write this now. As I have just returned from vacation.

Not alone. Never alone. Married the first time for 20 years. Kids. Married the second time for 15 years. Grandkids. Never alone.
My best friend, always alone. She hates traveling alone.

She said we should switch some time.

Pat said...

I have never lived alone - I don't count hospital training - living in the Nurse's Home.
The chances are - depending on which of us pops their clogs first- that I will have to live alone eventually, but I learned a long time ago there is nothing lonelier than living with the wrong person. And irritating habits can be borne if love is involved.

Murr Brewster said...

I second Pat, up there, and also say irritating habits can really be borne if dinner is involved.

Hillary said...

The way you write is what I like to read. Yes, I know I sound like a kindergartner, but,'s magical how much I get from your pieces. They practically sing to me.

I very much sympathize with how you felt as a younger woman about going to college or traveling; I was much the same. Family has always had such a strong pull with me, so I couldn't imagine not being around them perpetually. I moved straight from my parents' home to be a nanny in my sister's house to her two young boys. (Plus I always thought I could just be a writer like that - POOF!)

Loved the picture of the cabin.

Madame DeFarge said...

We live apart during the week and so each of us find weekends a challenge, me getting used to him and him getting used to me taking up 'his' space. I think we'd both benefit from time spent in a little cottage in the woods. Lovely piece.

Nessa Roo said...

"A bearded, check-shirted lumberjack."
Ya gotta love a man who is One with Nature and can handle an axe! This is quite a romance story you've written. It makes me wonder if Philip really knows how to chop wood.

caterpillar said...

Nice post...I understand when you talk about the things you ought to do eating into the things you want to do, because that's how I feel sometimes....I wish I could go away somewhere...not to a cottage in the woods, but somewhere...I loved the ending....sweet!

Christine said...

Lovely post. The line "nothing to break" is both funny (machinery) and haunting (relationships).
I know just what you mean about navigating each others' cast offs and quirks. I can't imagine my life without him in it - irritations and all ; ) But I love time to myself too, and I whole heartedly recommend doing things alone. You could start with small things like matinées and lunches, then move up to a weekend away... why not?

dys·func·tion said...

Brilliant. You've really struck a truth about living with each other's clutter. It's a truth that Boyfriend and I live with every day. It has been a good year of growth for me to realize that I make a mess as well, and that we can both tidy (together or apart) at another time.

Brenda Susan said...

I have never lived alone either and it sounds nice tho I don't know how long it would sound nice. Hubs & I have an empty nest & we love it, don't miss all the running around the kids required.
I also love the rhythm of your writing, it is lovely and now I'm going to curl up with my laptop and read some more of you!

Maryx said...

This post makes me think... I also have the 'lone cottage' dream - mine is just a little house by the sea. I like being alone, without being lonely. But you're so right, of course, in saying that we have live around each other. Personalities and ways differ vastly! And that's what makes life interesting!