The first time you lived alone was in an attic bedsit in Laura Place, Bath. Your window overlooked the rugby field and you shared a cold bathroom with the woman across the hall. You were nineteen years old, and for many years you’d longed for solitude and freedom, but now that it was here you had too much time and not enough wisdom to know what to do with it.
You were studying at catering college, back in the days when the Government paid young people to learn. On the way home from class you bought your food for the week from the vegetable stall at the Guildhall market. You practiced your new-found cooking skills on the two-ring stove, tortellini with white wine sauce a speciality.
Once, you invited your student friends around for a party; flame-haired Rachel from Liverpool who was quick as a whip; butch Martha who found an equally butch girlfriend by the end of the course; gentle James who was darkly handsome and in love with the blonde Melissa; the sullen Tom who dressed like he was homeless but whose parents were so wealthy they lived much of the year in the Cayman Islands.
You wish now that this party had involved drinking games, dancing and kissing, but no, it was a decorating party, everyone invited to strip wallpaper from the crumbling Georgian walls with occasional breaks for scalding cups of tea and cheap biscuits.
The wall beside your bed was cracked and crumbling and when everyone had left you began digging into it. You kept on digging as though there was something to discover, but all you found was a giant hole and the panic of knowing you were truly lost and detached in this small attic room in the centre of the city. You gave up trying to find the end of the hole and began filling it with fresh plaster, layer upon layer until the wall was bulging like a gently pregnant woman.
Eventually you moved out to live with your boyfriend, who you married after a few years. You had two children and a collection of meaningless jobs, you went on holidays, celebrated Christmases and birthdays, you wrote novels and raised your children, you went to university and became a teacher. At some point along the way you realized how the heft of your days were driven by the needs and wants of others, marriage and motherhood a secretive cage that was kept in plain sight, your children the prize that kept you blinded to the bars. So you got divorced, you travelled, you met people, you loved and you lost people.
And now, thirty years after living alone for the first time, you finally live alone again. Daily you relish your return home to find your water glass on the counter where you left it, still imprinted with the shape of your lip. You dance before breakfast, light candles at the window, stay in your pajamas to write. You pause at your window to see the rooftops of your town, the smoke-curling chimney pots, the church spire, the greenhouses and gardens, the multitude of birds and trees and cumulus clouds. You stand and wait for the setting sun. You close your eyes and feel the room pulse to your own beat, knowing there are no holes in the wall you are trying to fill.
Now you have time and you choose how to use it. At your window you feel apart from everything and a part of everything. You stand and breathe, feeling time stretch wide and long before you.
Here, anything is possible.