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.