“Just…one?” The hostess eyes me, a long sweeping look, as if trying to figure out what’s wrong with me that I have to eat out alone.
I used to answer, “Yep!” with a smile, all peppy and bright and for God’s sake don’t look at me like that, I have lots of friends, I’m fine, I’m great. Or I’d hold up my notebook or stack of papers, maybe even a pen, and explain self-consciously, “I have stuff to get done. Had to get out of the house. You know how it is.” All the while, I would cringe at my urge to lower my eyes, to explain, to make jolly and nice.
Over the last year, though, I have decided that it is Not Their Business if I decide to take myself out to lunch. Not the hostess who tacks on “just” and a judgmental pause before the “one”. Not the waiter who snootily asks me if I’ll need another water glass and menu, or if it’s just (there’s that word again, as if I’m not enough) me. Not the couple in the corner, who eyed me and whispered when I took my booth alone.
It may be immunity born of necessity – the more there is to do at home, the stronger my need to go elsewhere in order to be loose and creative and writerly. Or perhaps this confidence comes from motherhood. When you’ve had too little sleep, and you’ve changed and laundered hundreds of diapers, and you’ve contorted your face into this many silly poses just to make an infant laugh, well, eating alone isn’t such a big deal. Or it could be the realization that it’s just food. It’s eating. You do it three times a day, and often alone in your kitchen or dining room or in front of your TV or at your desk at work. A restaurant is just another place to do it. No different from going to the library or the bank alone, only, you know, with food.
Mostly, though, there’s the comfort of my writing. It is so nice to work on it again, and if it means I have to put up with an occasional smirk or up-and-down glance in order to enjoy a little quality time with a notebook and a bowl of pasta, well, so be it. I’m not alone, anyway. I have my imagination and the characters I’ve created. Together we make a whole crowd.