I have desired to go where springs not fail
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow
And I have asked to be where no storms come
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb
And out of the swing of the sea
Gerard Manley Hopkins - Heaven-Haven: A Nun Takes the Veil
This is one of the few poems I have memorized and retained - I learned it as a teenager. It is a fantasy of cloistered life, and probably unlike any cloister inhabited by real people, though a vow of silence could certainly reduce the hail and storms. In my mind I often visit this poem.
My dream is solitude in a small white room, empty but for a single bed with a white candlewick spread, a nightstand with a lamp and a book, and a table with a bud vase holding a single rose. And my real life? Crazy with clutter and people.
After my brief first marriage I had always lived alone with my son. When he was 14, Iris, who had a two-year-old, suggested we join forces. We bought a house together, and shared expenses, chores, and lots of tea and laughter as the boys tore around the house.
After a couple of years, though, Iris got married. I bought her share of the house, and then advertised for roomers so that I could pay the mortgage. A succession of young men moved in and stayed with us briefly.
I only remember a few. A Nigerian man and an Africaaner, both grad students, shared our house. They did not like each other, though they had something in common - they ran up huge phone bills and then balked at paying. After they moved on, a musician moved in. He was a short, chubby man who practiced his bassoon in the living room. The other roomer thought he was gay, and complained to me about sharing the bathroom because he feared he would catch AIDS.
Finally we found two roomers who felt like family. We got along so well that we decided to share meals. I cooked dinner; they bought the food and, with Eric, cleaned the kitchen. I’ve always loved cooking for people who like to eat - now I had three hungry and very appreciative young men. I particularly remember a chocolate layer cake that lasted only one night.
Rick was a massage student. He set up his table at home and practiced on me on Sunday nights. Claudio was a Brazilian who was getting his doctorate in coastal engineering. I would find him pacing in the living room early in the morning, playing Bach at high volume on the stereo, as he wrestled with his thesis. Then one morning he burst into the kitchen and announced that he had figured out turbulence in breaking waves. He was ecstatic.
Rick graduated from massage school and joined his fiancé in Colorado. Claudio got his degree and returned to Rio. Then Eric finished high school and left home.
Eric’s teenage years had been rough on both of us. His absence wasn’t a case of out of sight, out of mind - I thought of him a lot. But he thrived on risk and extreme physical exertion, and it was so much easier to hear about his various adventures and misadventures from a distance.
Now I felt my life opening in front of me, a clear, empty space, and I was exhilarated. It was little things: I didn’t have to tell anyone where I was going or when I would be back, and when I returned, everything was just where I had left it - no wandering scissors. And it was the big thing: now I could write. I’d always found that my wool-gathering faculty, so necessary for writing, was fully occupied with work and child.
Living alone, I completed my first novel, and got a good start on a second. Though a boyfriend moved in, he was very quiet and self-sufficient, and didn't take up a lot of physical or psychic space.
Meantime I volunteered as a guardian ad litem, advocating for children who had been taken from their parents for abuse or neglect. But after watching two children move from foster home to foster home, I had no choice - I took them in myself. The boyfriend moved out. The children and I struggled together for almost two years, while I worked and tried to maintain some semblance of a social life. I put the writing on hold.
Eventually the children left, and I briefly lived alone, until Joe moved in. We married, and Amanda came to live with us for a couple of long stretches before it became permanent.
I have friends who live alone. I admire their independence, and envy their control over their time and space. I also admire foster parents who have three, four, five children at a time, and always have room in their houses and hearts for one more. I would love to be so open-hearted, so welcoming.
I think we all have a dream of greener grass. The farmer yearns for the city, the city girl for bucolic bliss. We visit our dream for solace, but if we are lucky enough to have had choices and made the right ones, maybe we are living the life that suits us.
NEXT WEEK: THE MUUMUUS MEET THE MANATEES
Did you choose your life or did your life choose you? If that's TOO NOSEY, I'd love to hear from you anyway. Click "comments" below.