Life Notes: Table – And Room – For One
An overnight stay just for me

I am lying in a king-sized bed without my king. A feather-light down comforter skims over me, and the deepest, plumpest pillows ever invented are propped under my head.

I am devouring the latest issues of mindless magazines and playing the radio and the TV at once.

I feel wild and wanton and wonderful in my room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia, just 18 miles – and light years away – from home.

This is my “Me Getaway,” a birthday gift from three daughters who had decided it was high time their mother experienced splendid self-indulgence  –  alone. In so many ways, they are far more conversant with independence than I am.

So here I am, about to take a small leap. It’s alternately terrific – and mighty strange – to do this alone.

And it’s suddenly laceratingly clear that long-marrieds like me have quite limited experience in the details of travel: parking, handling luggage, checking into hotels or even coping with tricky room keys. As a “party of one,” I’m on an alien planet. But it’s a state of being I’m bent on exploring.

I don’t know what to do first. So I explore my new, elegant kingdom, touching the satin hangers, drinking in the tapestry drapes. I play with the fancy room TV, learning the ins-and-outs of the remote control. I even watch the sober message about fire safety, feeling the ominous chill and studying fire exit information.

I open the wonderful, perfumed lotions and balms and finger the thick, thirsty towels and pristine washcloths. And before long, I slip into that wonderful king-size bed to do something I haven’t done in years: surrender to an afternoon nap. It’s bliss to drift off to sleep in mid-magazine sentence in a darkened room in broad daylight. It feels a little decadent.

I awaken to the sound of a knock at the door, and initially, I panic. The room is in disarray. I haven’t put away my clothes, and here I am in an unmade bed. But the impeccably polite young woman delivering the hotel’s afternoon amenity tray doesn’t seem to mind a bit as she presents a pink and white china platter with raspberries and white chocolate. There is even a flawless pink flower on the tray.

If this is a dream, please don’t wake me…

A shower in the neat-as-a-pin bathroom, where no clutter or mess or half-empty jars and bottles mar the view, is another magnificent indulgence. Streams of hot water pour down over me and a shampoo that smells like coconuts anoints my hair.

Dinner alone in the hotel cafe presents a special challenge. I’m positive that everyone else is staring, and I don’t know quite what to do with the empty space opposite me.

But it turns out to be another valuable insight into aloneness. And in the end, I feel a quirky pride that yes, I’ve done it. I’ve sat alone in a hotel restaurant minus a partner. I’ve had a taste – a mere nibble, to be sure  – of my sister’s life as a fiercely independent single woman.

I remind myself that Ruthie has done what I’m doing on foreign continents where she doesn’t speak the language, knows not a soul, and finds it all exhilarating. I’m taking baby steps.

Back in my sixth-floor room, I debate whether to call home and check in with my husband. I resist the urge. And in the velvety dark, I sleep longer than I have in some time.

The splendid indulgence dream is, of course, finite. Check-out time inevitably arrives the next day, and after a breakfast of rich coffee (real cream, too) and croissants, I turn in my key to a desk clerk who inquires politely whether I’ve enjoyed my stay.

I tell him that yes, I certainly have.

And then I steer the car toward home, with all its disorder, not-very-fine linens, non-fat milk for coffee and the husband who is waiting. I pull into the driveway, then into the garage. I notice that a lid has slipped off a trash can.

Inside, I hug my husband tight and check the mail. I defrost the chicken for dinner and unpack my overnight case. It’s not the Four Seasons. But it’s definitely where I belong.

March 2012
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