The sound and fury of peace and quiet

I wanted to invent myself, I really did. Who knew solitude could be so creepy?

| 12 Apr 2021 | 03:06

Ah, Warwick! Sunkissed valleys, meandering country lanes, centuries old farmsteads nestled in bucolic pastures. I came here for the good life, an escape from the rat race, the cacophony and crush of humanity. I came to embrace a simpler paradigm, to reinvent myself. I wanted these things, I really did. But I discovered the shift to a “kinder, gentler me” was fraught with unexpected obstacles.

What I didn’t know was that I harbored fear. Fear of solitude, of quiet and isolation, and of letting go of all my comforts and conveniences. That cacophony I was so eager to leave behind? It turned out that it had become a fundamental part of who I was. And I resisted the change.

It started small, evenings spent watching network news just to see images of New York City. I’d get a secret thrill at the sight of piled up garbage and buses belching black smoke, drinking in the soothing tones of Bronx-born newscaster Darlene Rodriguez dropping her R’s. I’d make daily calls to my brother in Manhattan, promptly at 8:07, when I knew he’d be riding the uptown local to 59th St., just to hear the squeal of hydraulic brakes and conductors’ garbled announcements. I developed an unhealthy obsession with The Ramones, subjecting my family to repeated playlists of Blitzkrieg Bop and Rock and Roll High School. “Listen, listen!” I’d shout at my fleeing daughter, “This is New York City punk at its finest!” Lying awake at night, cold and disoriented, I’d get up to bang on the radiator with the heel of my shoe. My husband, Max, would sit up bleary eyed and say, “You know it doesn’t work that way, right?”

I soon came to exhibit slightly more desperate behaviors. Rising early in the darkness, I’d hover in the kitchen window, scanning the woods for signs of human life. If I squatted all the way down on my heels and craned my neck just so, I could see a glimmer of light in my neighbors’ house through the dense copse. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I’d catch a glimpse of him puttering around the house. I’d squat there, my knees aching, losing sensation in my toes, in the hopes that he would do something exciting, like go outside and start his car. Deep down, I knew this was not normal. But I clung to this ritual like a morning prayer. It gave me hope.

Sure, I was homesick, but this was something deeper and more than a little bit unsettling. Distressed to see me so out of sorts, my husband suggested I make more of an effort to embrace our new environs. So I downloaded the Alltrails app and went out in search of my bliss. Armed with nothing more than a protein bar and some Deet, I tackled my first wilderness trail, an easy foray around a small lake. I knew immediately that I’d worn the wrong shoes, as each step I took was a struggle to remove my canvas sneaker from the wet muck. I swatted at mosquitoes. I kept one eye on the sky for signs of approaching storms, and the other on the forest for crazy people lurking in the deep dark woods. I practically sprinted the last quarter mile, losing one of my sneakers in the quagmire, and threw myself into my car, where I sat shaking and gasping for air and marveling that anyone could find this sort of thing enjoyable.

Later that evening, I recounted my treacherous adventure to my family: the mud, the bugs, the imminent possibility of certain death. There was no bliss, no revelation, and certainly no inner peace. Max shrugged it off as first timer’s inexperience. “Start small,” he said. “Maybe in the backyard.” Yeah, sure. The backyard. I’d humor him.

So the next morning, after I finished creeping the neighbor, I poured myself a second cup of coffee and went out to sit on my back stoop. The step was cold and a bit damp, but I decided to tough it out. I took a deep inhale, and slowly let it out. I observed the chickadees and cardinals flitting in the trees, chatting and vying for dominance on the bird feeder. The sun came streaming through the trees and warmed my chilly feet. I closed my eyes and took another deep breath. What was this unusual sensation? Could it be...? Smiling, I pulled my phone out from the pocket of my robe and dialed. After a couple of rings, my brother picked up. Yeah, I’d need to start small.