Alone with my mother

I’m an only child, an O.C. My default state is alone. O.C.'s are not like people with siblings. Somewhere I bet there are support groups dedicated to only children that I’ve successfully avoided having anything to do with.

I think it was John Updike who said he thought only children missed early experience in human relations and compromise and god knows what, and so maybe never catch up with the masses in blending in. I wouldn’t be surprised. The bigger the group, the sooner I end up alone.

I’ve spent more time alone than I have with any other person. I was married semi-briefly in the ‘70s, and I was alone the whole time. I didn’t mean to trick her like that, but I did. She thought I was with her.

I’ve heard people say only children are spoiled, somehow ruined by too much loving attention. Yeah, that makes sense.

I enjoyed not being in competition for resources at home. Home was a refuge. I’ve seen siblings at each other’s throats—including my sons—over an idea. I missed that.

Being an O.C. doesn’t mean being pampered. It means being the center of attention. Everything depends on the person whose attention is on you.

My mother, Eckie Porter, was a fearful, smart, profoundly ignorant, hypercritical woman. I was the center of her life. She’d lost one stillborn before me and then one after, and I was her asthmatic joy and responsibility. And, of course, it was her on whom I based my basic views and expectations of Woman. There you go.

My mother didn’t like me. She fed me and taught me to read and took me to the dentist and to church as long as she could, and I hear she took pleasure in recounting my achievements. She always said she regretted the reading part, though. She didn’t like the man I was, and she’d like me even less now.

At our house, my mother talked. A smart woman, she didn’t need anybody to listen, either. She was conversationally self-sustaining.

Eckie was a good socializer and had lots of friends and liked to laugh and tell funny stories. I was attracted to Zora Hurston’s work because she used the same verbal expressions. My mother meant well and thought it her right and sometimes duty to call attention to whatever seemed to her less than it could be. She did the best she could, like the rest of us.

On the other hand, I know how not to talk. When Pete and I went fishing on Saturdays, it was because when we got where we were going, nobody would be talking. Pete, my father, taught me everything he knew about not talking.

I learned not to talk because anything known was open to criticism. Then I learned to talk about anything except me. That worked poorly for years. I tried opening up once, sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings. I haven’t seen her since.

Just kidding.