Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Home Alone

Jeff is out of town for a few weeks, and I'm at home alone with little T. Our nanny worked until 3pm today, and as soon as she was done, we rushed to T's music class down on La Jolla Boulevard. Only one other mom/kid showed up, but the class was delightful just the same.

As we were leaving, I got that dreaded feeling inside as I thought of returning to an empty house. A little taste of those panic attacks I've had a couple of times in the past, where the emptiness of the house feels overwhelming, the looming hours frightening. I strolled little T down the street in the direction of the park we usually walk to. As we neared a frozen yogurt shop, I saw a mom with a stroller seated in front, and I dropped in, hoping that she may be up for a chit chat. But no such luck. As we approached, she started packing up her two little boys and rolled away. I still got my frozen yogurt, which I shared with little T and thought about where to go next. But it was already nearing 5pm, and the sun would go down soon. And the little guy needed his bath, having missed it last night. He was already showing signs of fatigue, so I reluctantly strolled us home.

When I walked in, the closed windows felt stifling, the silence, too thick. I busied myself getting T ready for his bath. As I did, I turned on my iTunes, and Elvis' cooing filled the silence. Bathing T, feeding him, and then chasing him around for a bit filled the following couple of hours. As soon as he went down, I busied myself folding the laundry and then sat myself down with a glass of red wine and my computer.

The Roomba is buzzing downstairs, and Sherlock is already conked out on his pad. I'm in my glasses, with my make-up wiped off. I'm ready for bed, and it's only 7:30pm. I usually don't stay up late anyway, but I don't know if I can fall asleep this early. It's ridiculous because I have a shit load of things to get done, and I'm not sure how I'll finish everything by their deadlines next week. But right now, I can't seem to care very much. I feel immobilized.

I don't know what is wrong with me. I'm guessing that at the heart of this pseudo-panic is a fear of being alone. I had always thought that solitude was something that never bothered me. If anything, I used to relish it and often felt that I didn't have enough of it. I remember how in college and in the years after, I wanted to be left alone more so that I could have more time to read. And now, I can't seem to spend a night alone without feeling panicked.

I imagine at the root of it is some deep-seeded fear. Something I am aware of, but haven't really pieced together. Loneliness has always been a central theme in our family. Growing up, my parents repeatedly mentioned that we were alone in this country, that we had no one we could rely on for help. We had no relatives here, very few family friends. No one we could call if some tragedy befell our family. We had to rely on ourselves and no one else. It was a call to attention. A warning to stay on the alert, lest we let our guards down and suffer.

To prove the case, our family lived a lonely existence. On Christmas and New Year's eves, we often stayed late at our parents' dry cleaners, watching others pick up their evening gowns and tuxedos for the parties they were planning to attend. When we turned off the neon sign and locked the front door after 7pm, the streets were usually empty and the other stores around us closed except for the lone liquor store down the street.

On the holidays we celebrated, we never celebrated with anyone else. Who is there to invite, my parents asked. Besides, they would say, it's just extra money to spend. Why spend more money to feed others?

For several years, I worried about who would attend my parents' funerals. Who could we call? No relatives. Very few friends. No church members. No neighbors. Just our small nuclear family. Who would stand with us to remember their lives? Make note of them and mark their existence on earth?

My dad always admonished that all we had were each other. There's no one else, he would say. We're all we have.

Despite his admonishments, we have done a poor job of staying cohesive as a family. And I wonder if my panic attacks didn't start after my fight started with my sister, the person I always relied on to be there for me.

In some moments, this world seems like a fragile little place, where all I have are Jeff, my little T, and my parents. These four people out of all the people in this world. Who can we really rely on to be there in times of need? But not just times of need, because I'm sure I have friends I can call on if something dire came up. People whose lives don't turn on a different axle, who don't live separate lives except for occasions when our lives intersect for this or that social gathering.

Sometimes I wished we lived in a small village, where everyone knew everyone else's business, when you can amble down the road to find a kin. I must be longing for more meaningful human contact, something I have had less of since we moved down to San Diego. It's just not enough to post some tidbit on Facebook every now and then.


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  2. Hi! I can relate to this post... I don't know if a Korean thing, an immigrant thing or whatever.. but those feelings certainly colored my childhood. No one even said them, but there they were.

    Anyway, I want to say it's a lot to move and adjust to a new place. It's hard to ask for help... I used to think that asking for help meant that I was being needy. Now I know that I have to ask for help to take care of myself. The world can seem like a cold, heartless place. But there is also lots of love and support too.