A few weeks ago, I casually mentioned to a coworker that I was an only child. He just has the one kid, so it’s not like this was a totally foreign concept to him, but he practically did a double take.
“I’m so glad to hear that,” he told me sincerely, “You seem so well-rounded. I’ve been worrying we might have ruined my daughter and turned her into a serial killer or something.”
I assured him that I am not, to date, a serial killer, nor have I been saddled with any crippling personality disorders, as far as I know. I am mostly a pretty standard-issue human. Maybe a little light on social skills, but I can fake it when I need to.
It’s true, there are some detriments to being an only child: no one to play with when you’re young; no one to help you care for aging parents.
But, like plenty of other setbacks I’ve encountered, I’ve been too stubborn to let this really get in my way. I grew up on a street with lots of other kids my age, one of whom has remained my best friend—she stood up as the Best Lady at my wedding, where lots of people would have stuck a sister. I’m close with my parents (who, by the way, could not have afforded a pony for more than one kid; file that under “only child privileges”). I was always good at talking to adults (and even now, as an adult, supposedly, this seems like a plus to me). I don’t mind solitude. As a kid, I had plenty of cousins to get riled up and break something with at family gatherings.
In fact, I’ve always been pretty good at entertaining myself. Thanks to a vivid imagination—I still regularly envision scenarios in which I save the day/get to tell someone off/accept an Academy Award—it doesn’t take much.
Which is why, when Bix and I arrived at a beautiful campsite on a remote Hawaiian black sand beach last week, I was excited to peel off my sweaty clothes and stretch out on the shore with a book until it was too dark to read. I’d been fantasizing about this for hours, strategizing about how I’d maximize remaining daylight.
I’d just gotten my socks off when the first raindrops hit the palm trees above us. We agreed, despite that there wasn’t much chance of heavy rain in the forecast, to get the tent up—just in case.
By the time we’d snapped the fly on and finished staking out the tent, of course, we were in the midst of a torrential downpour. We hustled inside to wait it out.
Bix pulled out a deck of cards and proceeded to explain the rules to gin rummy, which I’d maybe played once, long ago, but had since forgotten entirely. I didn’t much care for it, at first, and kept accusing Bix of making up inane rules to suit his hand (pun very much intended). After a few hands, which I lost soundly, I was ready be done with the whole affair—what? I’m an only child; everyone always let me win—but the rain didn’t appear to have any intention of letting up.
The next day was something of an ordeal, but we found ourselves back at the trailhead with an hour to spare before my parents were scheduled to pick us up.
“Gin rummy?” I suggested, as we had little else with which to pass the time.
Bix looked delighted. We leaned our backpacks against a picnic table with peeling paint. He shuffled the cards, dealt our hands, and looked smugly at the deck as he announced that he’d had excellent fortune this round.
Not as smug as I looked, though, when I solidly trounced him twenty minutes later. I may have gloated a little, though in retrospect, there’s a good chance he took a dive for the sake of his marriage.
I guess I’m an only child, after all.