“We’re not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here.” from "Thelma and Louise"
Now we are pretty much alone up here in Northern Michigan. Our neighbors to the south, the leaves safely removed from their lawn, have fled to Virginia. Our neighbors to the north did not return from California this summer for medical reasons. Our one year-round neighbor from last year, Joe, died. It’s dark starting in late afternoon, with no signs of human life. So, what are we to do for companionship?
Kim and I have each other, of course. We are partners. But still, the solitude presses in.
With no signs of human life, we find companionship in non-human life. Feed the birds. Speak to the crows to entice them to stay, eat, and become friends. (This has not worked so far.) Pay attention to the raccoons and possum that come in at night to clean up spilled birdseed that the squirrels missed, and the occasional meat scraps we leave out for them. Look for deer.
How about a pet? That works for some people, but Kim says she is already taking care of me, and that’s enough. I’m almost house-trained.
Make human connections when opportunity presents. When I go to the post office to get our mail, I make a little small talk with Misty, who is there every day. Thank the UPS guy when he’s dropping something off. Go down the road to help Connie Lu clean out Joe’s house. It turns out that he was a great collector of vitamins and supplements – so far, we have taken five garbage bags full to the police, with more to go. Visit with Marshall, outdoors and wearing masks, when we stop by to pick up eggs. These are scraps of live human contact, no substitute for hugging family and friends, but we do what we can.
If we look carefully, we can see the glow of a television from a nearby subdivision. That means people live there, right? And Don, a neighbor in his 90s who for health reasons did not return from Florida, has a light on a timer that turns on every night. That’s not the same as seeing Don and Nancy, but it’s something. The few lights we can see on the distant shore across the lake are far away.
There’s always the telephone. Kim is great about making and sustaining phone conversations with friends and family. I am less than great, preferring the more insulated medium of the written word, though I do sometimes phone people when Kim suggests I do so. Perhaps I prefer solitude.
Though I do miss tangible friendships, I also enjoy being an imaginary friend. Perhaps “friend” is not the best word here. When I read fiction, which pandemic isolation gives me time to do, I befriend these characters shared by my and the author’s imaginations. The same is true for the movies Kim and I watch on tv, where the people are not wearing masks. The regulars on The Great British Baking Show are my friends now, as is Kya in Where the Crawdads Sing. These friends, however, do not appear to be curious about my life.
A little less imaginary are the friends and family I hope to see and touch in the future: Jerry and Fleda, Rick and Sandy, Don and Nancy, Randy and Linda, Miguel and Megan, Peter and Kerry, and our kids and grandkids, among others. For now, though, I imagine and remember our being together, which will have to do: friendships of the mind and heart.
And the lake is itself a companion, and like the middle of nowhere, we can see it from here: reliably here every day, always different, speaking to us through the sound of its waves, touching us with its breezes, giving us gifts of rocks and beach glass. The word “us” in the previous sentence keeps the darkness at bay.