When I was a kid I loved my solitude so much that it never really occurred to me to feel myself alone. My chief pleasures consisted of a thick book and a good snack, hours spent playing with my dollshouse, and falling asleep in the midst of dreamy and elaborate detailing of a vast, exquisite mansion based partly on the architecture of Julia Morgan and partly on a very old-fashioned book I loved around age nine called The Little White Horse. I always managed to have a few friends, whose parents took us places like the mall and allowed us fluorescent treats like Gushers, and this was fun and daring for a cloistered kid like me, but there was always a fierce and silent part of me occupied entirely with the longing to leave and get back to living the extravagant existence of my mind. I had several running narratives, one for each of my two dollshouses (a miniature one, for which I spent hours poring over magazines in search of things like tiny jars with lids that really opened to spend my allowance on, and one I built in my closet for a china doll my grandfather bought me one gray afternoon in London, whose story was a kind of pirated amalgamation of A Little Princess and The Story of Holly and Ivy) and one for the house I built inside my head each night, which I visualized in such rambunctious detail that I can still walk into the rooms in my mind, turn all the way around, and open up the cabinets and drawers...
It's been a long time since I thought of solitude as a state of presence and not absence. The truth is that my sudden longing for my own rich and vivid company somehow ceases to exist in the presence of a lover: when there is even the potential for intimate attention, my brain acts like a puppy begging to be patted. In the last few years, through college in particular, when I have been faced with being by myself what I feel is not the pleasure of a few hours entirely my own but a kind of drippy uselessness, an inability to genuinely entertain myself. My mind, instead of inviting up my heart and soul for tea, stares listlessly out the window; the absence of other people - or more precisely, other people's attention - is like some obscure thing on the horizon I am too busy trying to make out to notice how my awareness seeps away and leaves me dull and sluggish, not even present in myself enough to feel alone.
I am thinking about this tonight mostly because I am not only alone but also suddenly and unexpectedly unwell: a sore throat, ringing ears, aches and exhaustion, a dull fuzz between my eyes, a sharp decline in my ability to take a deep breath and believe in the best of things. Since childhood, being sick has made me feel utterly, peculiarly lonely and pathetic: all I want is to be fussed over, checked up on, taken care of. There is not sympathy enough in all the world for my headcolds.
It's not that I think my malaise is especially extreme; I just find it strangely impossible to avoid turning into a whimpering five-year-old every time I get the flu. If you tell me a story about a child whose lost its teddy bear at times like these I'll bawl. I don't like feeling wildly, desperately anguished and alone; it just sucks me under, as if it was a symptom as real as the aching joints, and the suction it exerts upon my soul has begun to mildly alarm me. I am just beginning to rediscover what it's like to spend a night alone and not just waste the hours that lie between myself and other people's interest; I was planning to enjoy my evening when the aches set in, and with them the fierce and desperate longing to curl up in my lover's arms and cry, and have my forehead stroked, and be fed soup and other comforting and childlike things, and with that, or rather the plain fact that I am by myself tonight, set in a wave of such intense loneliness and longing that it just got simply insupportable.
And so I determined that I would fight it if it killed me. Instead of sending myself shivering and snuffling to bed at eight o'clock, full of self-pity and sad sentiments, I went out and got the necessary ingredients for my one of my father's favorite cures for all ills spiritual, emotional, and physiological: hot lemonade with whiskey. Here, in my best MFK Fisher mood of verve and vitality, is the recipe:
a nub of fresh ginger, the more the better, but at least a tablespoon or two
shot of whiskey
Juice a whole lemon into a small saucepan. If it's not an especially juicy lemon, juice another one. Add enough water to make a satisfying mugful, two or three tablespoonfuls of honey, and a splash of cinnamon. (A Yogi Tea Throat Coat teabag can be nice too.) Grate the nub of ginger into the pot, turn the heat to medium low, and let it simmer merrily for five minutes or so. Add more honey if it's getting too spicy for you, strain into a mug, and let cool for a minute before adding the whiskey. Mix well and drink hot.
Or, for a quicker, sharper pick-me-up:
shot of whiskey
Dissolve a little honey into the shot of whiskey, add a shake of chili powder, stir and swallow. Follow with a good book (Something like an illustrated Wind in the Willows is really the best thing, no matter how old you are), a cozy bed, and a sense of strong determination not to let a feisty little microbe get you down.
It's really the conviction that even in the throes of sickness I can still enjoy my own damn company that does it, but that lemonade is one of the most soothing things you can do for your poor body in any time of woe...