September 11, 2007
“You should spend a winter here on Cape Cod, sometime,” my coworker Matt tells me with a strange grin. “It’s fun, in a crazy way. It gets so quiet. There’s snow everywhere. You get to the point where all you want to do at night is dress up and have dinner parties at your friends’ houses and drink yourself into oblivion.” This doesn’t sound unappealing. It’s probably something I could get into for awhile. But I’m not sure I trust myself. I was not wired to appreciate alone time; I’m just not used to it. By the time I was four and my parents could begin to think about leaving me to my own devices once in awhile, I was already being shadowed by a little sister who followed me everywhere for the next 13 years of my life. Until graduating from college, I’d never had my own room for any length of time, with a one year exception.
I want very much to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind being alone. Doesn’t even notice it sometimes. The kind of person who sinks back in a leather chair, wiggles their toes in a pair of heavy wool socks and spends the entire evening absorbed in a yellowed book with miniscule type. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s something I could ever manage. Within 15 minutes I’d be up making nachos and flipping around to see what was on VH1.
Growing up in a bustling city, I took for granted from a young age the idea that someone, somewhere nearby, is always awake. Frequently, they are setting off car alarms, kicking over trash cans and yelling down the street in the middle of the night, but at least they are living proof that the world is open 24 hours. Everything doesn’t stop just because most of the shops are closed, the traffic has died down, and the city feels hushed. The validity of this idea was not disputed during my four years at Bard, when whomever was awake always seemed to be out in the hall with a kickball at two am, or in the room above mine, playing Abba at six-thirty in the morning.
Now that the summer tourist season has come and gone on Cape Cod, however, and most of the houses closest to mine are shut down for the Fall, there are many times, late at night, when the windows up and down my road are dark and it feels like I am the only one awake in the world. When you live in a city, no matter what time it is, there is always a 24-hour convenience store clerk a short walk away who will have no choice but to interact with you. Up here, at night, I frequently drive for long periods of time on stretches of dark, lonely road without passing another car.
Matt insists that winter on the Cape is the perfect time to catch up on all of the projects you’d always been meaning to get to, although he warns that “sometimes, you’ll spend an entire day rearranging your living room, and when you leave and come back, it barely looks like you’ve done anything at all.”
“See, I’d never survive,” I tell him. “That’s exactly it. I would start to lose it. I barely made it through a year of living alone in college, and this time I’d probably crack. I’d start folding my underpants into origami swans and storing them in the bathtub. I’d take my vodka martinis with ketchup. One day you’d knock at my door and I’d greet you wearing a giant bread dough penis. ‘Oh, this?’ I’d say. ‘I’ve just been catching up on so many projects this winter. It’s been great.’
“Matt laughs and shakes his head, but I can’t stop thinking about it, long after the discussion has moved on. Sure, in theory, I could spend a winter here. I’m sure that eventually I would discover a rhythm, work out a routine, find things to occupy my time. I could do a lot more reading. Maybe write a few letters. I could explore Cape Cod more fully than I ever have during nearly 10 years of working here during the summer. Meet more local people, spend more time hanging out in coffee shops and taverns in town, learn more about the way things work in East Orleans, MA during the cold, isolated, slow winter months. Freeze my ass off, and follow the course of events in “The Real World: Philadelphia” just a little bit too closely.
Maybe next year.