Today’s blog post begins with a confession.
My name is One Single Mama, and sometimes I read books.
I know, I know. I can see you all loading your various weapons and training them in my direction. Books? What the hell do you think you’re playing at, reading? Dear God, woman, don’t you know how odd that makes you?
I thought it was a perfectly normal thing, but according to recent experience, I may be wrong.
When my little guy is with his dad and I have a baby-free night and no plans, I sit in my house on my own. I tidy up. I get twitchy in front of the TV. I try to read, or have an early night, but my mind is restless. I plague Facebook and Whatsapp and Messenger and try to make contact with people who are all having far more fun than I am, because I am alone, and I am an extrovert, and I can’t deal with that mix. I’m just not comfortable in my own company.
I am talkative and sociable, and I thrive on the actual real-life presence of other people. Even when I’m feeling quiet, I just like to be in a room with other human life.
As such, when I became single, I made a point of carrying a book with me whenever I could. The logic is simple. If I’m reading, I’m not alone.
As an extrovert I’ve always been perfectly happy to walk into a room of strangers and not be fazed. As an ex-barmaid of 7 years who cut her teeth in a local pub, I’m also perfectly comfortable with going into a local and having a drink on my own. I’ve got to know the bar staff in the three pubs nearest to my house, and I like to pop in on the odd occasion. It’s not frequent – perhaps once or twice a month – but it’s enough for me to be deemed a “regular” and get brief nods and hellos from some of the punters.
With my limited cash, and my limited time, it’s an escape. It means I don’t need to think about work; I don’t need to tackle that endless chore list at home; I don’t have to worry about the little one. There’s nothing worse than walking in on my own, though, and then feeling like I have nothing to do. The book comes in handy here.
I walk in, and order a glass of wine that costs the same as a supermarket bottle, and have a seat. I get my book out and get lost for a wee while, listening to the chatter and music and general life around me. The company reminds me that I’m not completely disconnected and alone, as sitting in my house without the baby so often does. It combats that overwhelming emptiness that my baby-free evenings consist of. It stops me from feeling low. It means that I can be around people, without having to make awkward conversation.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I did just that and found myself being audibly laughed at last night?
Two guys, older than me but not old by any means, were playing pool in my local. The barmaids had chatted to me. The manager had chatted. I’d even seen them glance over and size me up. I didn’t recognise them, and presumably they didn’t know me. I’d got my wine. I’d sat down. And then I heard it: “Fuck me! I’ve never seen that before.”
I glanced up and he stood, staring at me. A girl, in a bar, reading a book.
“Look! Look at this!” he shout-whispered, grabbing his pal away from the pool table, and both of them had a loud and not-particularly-pleasant conversation about how I must be some kind of weirdo. I don’t know whether they thought they were being quiet, or whether reading stopped my ears from working, but they weren’t subtle.
They got others involved, too, including their girlfriends. I don’t know what part of it they found so weird: I had done my hair and makeup, so perhaps it was a relatively pretty girl sitting in a rubbish pub on her own that struck them as odd. Maybe it was the book. Maybe it was the whole scenario – a Friday night at 9pm and all I have to do with my time is sit, not talking, reading, alone. I felt tiny and awkward under their stares, but most of all I wanted to go and shout at them.
They can grab their partner and go to their local. They can phone their mate and have a game of pool. They can make easy small-talk and spend their money how they want, and they must have no idea how pervasive and soul-destroying that feeling of having nobody can be.
They don’t know that if I go home, I’ll just cry about the fact that the washing pile is never empty and the dishes just stack up. Every time I get the house sorted, the little one comes home and it’s been a futile effort to even start. The only people who will be guaranteed to communicate with me are inside my television. If I want to have real human contact it can take weeks to arrange and coordinate custody, babysitting, cash, and transport. Then, I leave it all in the hands of the gods to see whether my general state of mind, which is still all over the place, is going to put me in the mood to actually carry out those plans.
Those guys don’t know that if I wasn’t sitting there, ordering that glass of wine, I wouldn’t have had human contact with another adult between leaving work on Friday and going back on Monday. Worryingly, I believe that a vast number of people in this world don’t know how that feels. I didn’t know until I became a single mum, but I certainly do now.
Thankfully, I’m thick-skinned enough to not let some stupid people put me off going into the pub alone again when I’m feeling disconnected from life. Let’s just hope that it was a one-off.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to read my book…