She never felt lonely, going home each night to an empty apartment. She filled it with books, music, and expensive wine. She was independent, stubbornly so. If she couldn’t do a thing, she taught herself how. Or learned to do without. She was drunk on autonomy. She traveled. Took adventures. Experienced life on her own terms. Solo.
People would offer transparent, insincere accolades – good for you for not letting it stop you. Or – you’re so brave for traveling on your own. But she could hear the subtext – I feel sorry for you. They couldn’t conceal the tinge of distaste in their eyes. As if being single was a shameful divergence from societal norm. She stopped trying to explain that she preferred it that way. They just couldn’t understand.
She had plenty of friends. There were dinners and outings and social engagements. She laughed and offered witty repartee; she was good with people. Yet she always held her true essence back, the self that was hers alone. Returning to the sanctuary of her solitude she would breathe easier. It was bliss to remove the social mask, shaking off layers of pretense. It was even better to get a last minute cancellation. She loved to be invited, but hated to go.
Tonight she was surrounded by too many people, strangers that shattered her tranquility. She floundered in sea of serious faces, bustling down corridors. They all had somewhere critical to be. A baby was shrieking, unseen but insistent to make his displeasure known. The squelch of a radio competed with a ringing phone. The voices that answered jumbled together in disjointed dialogue. A siren announced yet another arrival. The crowd grew.
They left her in a wide section of hallway; it wasn’t really a room. A curtain drawn around the bed masqueraded at privacy. In that small space she was alone with a softly beeping machine and a robe that opened in the back. She tried not to think about how many had worn it before her. The thought made her skin crawl.
People hurrying by made eye contact through the opening in the drapery. Taking in the tubes, the wires, and the empty visitors’ chairs, they quickly looked away. Schooled features couldn’t quite hide the tang of embarrassment. She tried to pretend their discomfort wasn’t born of pity.
She had been there for hours. Her phone hadn’t chimed once. To be fair, she hadn’t told anyone she was coming in. She wouldn’t know who to call let alone what to say. It was all too intimate to share, that frightening vulnerability. And so she waited, in an isolation of her own making.
A man in scrubs slipped through the curtain. He frowned at his clipboard, cleared his throat. He struggled, as if the words tasted bitter in his mouth. For the first time in her life, she wished she wasn’t alone.