I live alone. I don’t have to. I’m sure if I set my mind to it I could find a way to live with a woman. Or I could find roommates or even join others in a shared house. In my lonely moments, I bemoan my solitude. But it’s really my own doing. It’s what I want.
Aloneness suits me for two principal reasons. First, I am an introvert by nature and by nurture. I grew up as an only child after the death of my sister when she was six and I was four. Further, with an alcoholic mother and a father in prison, I learned by the age of six that I had to depend on myself even for food. Living in a slum, I became wary of others who might try to steal from me or force me to do their bidding. I was determined to find a better life. I knew I had to do it myself. No one was going to help me.
Second, I am a writer. It doesn’t matter whether I want to be or not; I am. I found out as a child that my mission in life was to write. I’ve been doing it ever since.
A writer must work alone. Even when engaged in a joint writing project, the time spent drafting text is of necessity time spent by oneself. Writing is not a team sport.
The life I chose for myself reinforced my seclusion. I put myself through college working twenty hours a week to pay my way and feed myself. When I graduated at twenty-one, I enlisted in the army. In basic training I learned something new: teamwork. I found out that in some endeavors, like combat, the only way to survive and succeed is to work side by side with others. And I discovered that giving a buddy a helping hand offers more satisfaction than anything I can do for myself.
After I finished my military service, the National Security Agency (NSA) hired me and sent me to Vietnam where I served on and off between 1962 and 1975 with two complete tours and many, many shorter trips. My job until the withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1973 was signals intelligence support on the battlefield. That meant keeping friendly forces, army and Marine, informed of the enemy’s whereabouts, movement, intent, and readiness. I found myself in a fulltime helping role. I was there not to engage in combat but to help those who were.