A year ago I was in the school play. It was a musical – a translated and abridged version of Across the Universe – and the cast consisted mostly of third-year students who already knew each other and were confident enough in their friendships to be loud and expansive. I had fun watching them, and I was pleased to find that they were all welcoming and friendly (not to mention entertaining). Shy and reserved as I am around strangers, it took me forever to even start talking to them, but I really enjoyed their company.
We performed four consecutive nights, the last one being a Thursday. Friday morning everyone arrived at school at ten to clean up, after which most of us adjourned to McDonald’s. I don’t even like McDonald’s, but there’s one just down the street from the school which, by virtue of being open 24/7, is the standard Place to Go after school parties and what-have-you. We hung out there for a while, and then the people I was sitting with all sort of agreed that it was time to go. I got up to go as well, in a go-with-the-flow sort of way, and left. I considered joining the other table-full of people, but then I had made it out the door and it was a bit late now, wasn’t it? I shrugged with mild regret and went home.
I arrived to find that my sister had a friend over. I quite like this friend, but I didn’t feel like joining them (or intruding), so I went off to the living room and worked on a puzzle which we’d had sitting on the table for the previous week or so. I sat there, putting the pieces together, feeling sad and confused.
Why? I wondered. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that I was lonely. This surprised me. I realized that I didn’t remember ever having been lonely before – ever missing the actual presence of specific other people before. When I was younger, whenever I was sad I would pull out a book and immerse myself. This would distract me and comfort me, and when I was finished with the book I would either have gotten over it or regained my composure enough to deal with the issue, whatever it was.
This time, though, a book wasn’t good enough. I wanted people – these specific people, too, because joining my sister and her friend wouldn’t have cut it. I didn’t know what to do – it was too late to go back, and – well, I’d never had this problem before. I didn’t know how to cope.
It was surprising. I am tempted to say shocking. I was, in any case, left in a state of some disbelief and wonderment at the fact that I had, to the best of my knowledge, never felt true loneliness before.
I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this. I think my main point is that I’m not used to the presence or absence of other people having any effect on my happiness, or at least not an effect I can’t brush aside, change or ignore. More broadly speaking, I’m not used to other people having the ability to determine my happiness. It leaves me a bit frightened, which I have mostly gotten over by now because I trust the people who currently have power over my happiness; but it also leaves me a bit lost, because I don’t know what to do when I start missing these people. I don’t know how to cope.
Something just occurred to me. When I moved to Denmark, I left behind everything I knew. The pain and confusion was immense. I yearned for what I no longer had. I threw myself into any book, tv show or anime I could find because I couldn’t bear to be out of them, to be in the real world, in a rented apartment filled with nothing. That was loneliness – I just never called it by that name. I used stronger words, like longing, homesickness, sorrow, desolation. And the whole “a book wouldn’t help” business didn’t apply because I knew that it wasn’t going to fix the situation but also that nothing would; so the best thing to do would be anything that would numb the pain. Stories are my escape from reality whenever I need them to be, and I flung myself into stories.
The pain was something within myself, which there was no (viable) cure for; stories gave me distance from myself. This loneliness that I feel nowadays is different: there is a viable cure, and it is simply to be around my friends. To be amidst and among them, to be surrounded by them. That’s really all it takes, and this time we actually are in the same city (not to mention on the same continent). This isn’t a pain that I expected, one where I knew that the only option was to just learn to deal with it. The cure for this pain is not so impossible to reach, so I am always tempted to go after it even when it’s impractical and/or selfish. (Not to mention it still blindsides me like a ton of bricks every time, so I’m left confused and uncertain on top of being lonely.) Stories may still give me distance from myself, but when I come back I find myself in the same mess as before.