"You can come out now," she said.
"That's OK," I said, smiling. She peered in to see that I'd set up all my stuffed animals around the bed. It was a theater-in-the-round and I was having a grand time enacting some sort of play for them. She laughed, shook her head and headed down the hall.
Children without siblings learn early and well to entertain themselves. We are our own best audiences. My buddy Janine and I -- she, too, was an only child -- have coined a phrase, "It's an only child thing," whenever we find ourselves the only two laughing at a lame joke no one else gets, or when one of us bursts into an unbridled exhibition of silliness as though no one is looking, then discovers that everyone is.
I loved being alone as a kid. I'd hold entire conversations with myself and my imaginary friends, or my fabric and plastic friends, catch end zone passes and land on the bed in a blaze of touchdown glory, blast down-the-line passing shots as the Wimbledon crowd in my head went wild. I'd sing to the radio into a broom handle to adoring, if inanimate fans. This was not an occasional thing. I did it often, and for hours. Even today, my husband, Ron, will come into a room and ask, "Who are you talking to?" and I'll say, "The cat," but he knows better. There were, however, times when I envied friends from large families. I remember waiting for the bus during those years my Queen of Peace classmates and I all picked strawberries in summer. The days began early, still dark outside, and chilly. Mom would drop me off, then head home to crawl back into her warm bed for another hour or two before the day started for the civilized world. Mrs. McCarthy was always at the bus stop, there in the parking lot of the closed gas station with a carload of McCarthys, motor idling, heater blasting. They'd squeeze me into their sanctuary, tight and toasty, a comfy place, of jibes and giggles and fun. There were always and ever so many McCarthys. The affection among and between them was palpable, and for a few moments those mornings, mashed in with them like Irish sardines, I too was a McCarthy, an honorary member of the tribe, a part of something good.
The writing residency feels a little like that. There's a warmth and support here, like being brought in out of the cold by old, best friends. Like family. We've seen each other in our jammies and without makeup. We even bicker and gripe a little, but mostly, we're crammed into this literary Chevy like contented McCarthys, genuinely happy to be in each other's company, worried over one another's troubles and setbacks, glad for each other's improvements and accomplishments.
To crave solitude is not something unique to only children, but it may be more acute in us. Fantasies of long road trips alone for days or weeks along endless stretches of empty highway gnaw at me, like hunger. Yet lately, as I listen to friends tell family stories of siblings and children and grandchildren, there's a sense of something missing, something I've lost for never having had it, the lone wolf displaced for lack of a pack. What becomes of elderly wanderers, only children with no kids of their own? Of course, having children is no guarantee you'll have someone to care for you and share your time in old age. Kids can be fickle that way. And I do have a husband who loves me and a fine, furry family of adorables. Able-bodied and well-fed, I am one lucky buggah, indeed. But it's something I wonder about. I still relish the notion of a solitary venture along some long, lonesome road, still bent on the merits of the journey over the destination, but now, it is connection rather than disconnection along the way that I seek, with the rare and special people I've come to know along the way. It would seem then, that I am far less the loner than I've pegged myself to be.