Until I came to Cambodia, I never lived alone. I went from my parents’ house to a dorm to an apartment with roommates and ended up back in my parents’ house. As a result, I both valued a quiet house and feared the possibility of spending a whole day or night alone.
Surprising to myself, I have dealt well with the spending time alone part. Although I miss coming home and sharing about my day with someone over a snack or cup of coffee, I have become downright territorial of my personal time and space. I can do what I want, whenever I want. No questions asked. It’s fabulous. One of my friends stopped by my place and I felt compelled to say, “No, you can’t come in. You’ll upset the aura of Rachael-ness.” (Of course, I did no such thing.) I even get a bit irritated with myself when I make evening plans with friends on nights I’d much rather spend the time curled up in my cozy little nook, watching the 5-season set of “Ally McBeal” I just picked up from the video store.
The part I haven’t dealt so well with is the quiet house part. It seems as though the table has switched. I’ve gone from fearing alone time to craving it and from craving a quiet house to fearing it. Lately, I have not been able to keep things in my room quiet. As soon as I walk through the door, I have to put in a DVD or turn on my iTunes. Sometimes, especially after dark, I can’t even bring myself to read a book because it would be just too quiet. Sure there’s plenty of noise outside - squawking geckos, passing ambulances, the recycling collector’s horn that sounds oddly like a duck’s quack - but the quietness inside my room is too hard to handle.
Maybe I equate this quietness with loneliness. I’m proud of how well I’ve fared on my own, but I will admit, I’ve long tolerated the inability to call up my best friends at leisure, whenever the need for a good chat strikes. The first few months here, I saw it as a lesson in slowing down – learning the hard way that I can be happy with just me, myself and I every once in awhile. In phase two of my stay, I came to accept this quiet time in my life – I understood it wouldn’t last forever, and hey, Facebook and Skype are 21st century godsends.
Now, as I enter the home stretch of my Cambodian stint, I’m ready to have my normal life back, one with the loves of my life around me, with Friday night dinner plans and Tuesday night line dancing plans. The one where an afternoon holed up in my room will provide me temporary sanity from the outside world, not where holing myself in my room is the city’s best entertainment option.
This time of keeping my own company and basking in the quietness of life will definitely give me a new perspective when I return to Ohio. The possibility of living alone is now an actual possibility and I've come to understand that I need to delicately balance my "me time" with my "they time." However, considering the track record, I'm sure Cambodia has much more to teach me in my remaining 4 months.