The Concept of Loneliness

Something that’s crossed my mind a bit this past month is the idea of being alone, being lonely, and feeling lonesome. It isn’t because I feel alone, neglected, or overseen but rather how today’s advances isolate us in ways different than the past. In February, I read The Lonely City by Olivia Lang as well as You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy. Together, these books examine how loneliness doesn’t discriminate. Together they focused on two thought-provoking topics. On,e is how even in a city as populated as New York City, you can feel incredibly alone. Another being even if we have people who we care about us may do little to make us feel acknowledged instead somewhat ignored. 

Something I felt when I first moved to New York was his it’s sheer size did, in fact, isolate me more than I already felt. I moved to the city of opportunities for a new life in New York. But, I moved here heartbroken

The man I love ended our last conversation by telling me he never wanted to hurt me. What he never understood was, saying a final goodbye to someone I wanted to always say hello to, was a pain that I could not numb.  He propelled me into the loneliness of heartbreak while I was alone, surrounded by strangers. 

I was smuggled by the emptiness each evening. Those who supported me felt the timing of it all was perfect—the only baggage that I would have was the emptied suitcases stored on the top shelf in my closet. I struggled to see how lost love would be a silver lining when I had no desire to find it with the city or the men who filled it. 

I used to say my hardest goodbye was London; a city that propelled me into the best version of myself. When I found love that was reciprocated in a way a city could not, I realized there were goodbyes that would drop me to my knees. I knew I couldn’t love like that again soon, so I took to explore New York. 

The first week here I found my, past intertwined with my future. A chalkboard that leaned against the window of a bar, just a block away from my apartment on 9th Street, caught my attention. It displayed happy hour prices that were grad student reasonable, but it was the bartender of the evening’s information that had my feet moving downstairs into the dimly lit dive bar.

His name, Alex, was the same as my older brother’s. He was born the same year as me, and only eleven days separated our births. We grew up in the same town in Southwest Florida, and somehow our paths crossed in New York. The serendipitous meeting was my first shot at finding a community in a place that associated closely with my lonesomeness. 

He introduced me to everyone he knew. Soon the other bartenders knew my drink order, and the regulars knew my name. The owner learned the story of how I came to be a regular and told it to everyone. Inside the bar, New York shrank in size.

Several times a week, I entered the watering hole for adults. I took notice of the novelty decorations that hung all around and seemed to have no reason to be there. I paid homage to Einstein, who overlooked the entrance and the knight amour who stood tall over the bar. Christmas lights colored the low ceiling, while small amber lights attempted to illuminate the faces who lined the mahogany bar. 

I’d press my fingertips to the cool copper countertop; lean in to greet my friend on the opposite side. Over their head was a wall of confiscated IDs, an underage drinker’s most wanted that filled the empty space above liquor bottles. They’d place a Guinness in front of me and smile. The froth with the first sip gave me a slight ‘stache which made me smile larger in return. I thought I found good company in New York that appreciated my presence. 

Men who frequented the bar took me as a damsel in distress that needed saving. They consumed my evenings with small talk, which lead to questions of nightcaps, numbers, and future dates. Single seemed to objectify me and the wrong men some became possessive—the last thing a woman wants/

One evening, I stood outside with them. The three of them wavered as beer replaced the blood swimming through their veins. In his thick Irish accent, one bartender enclosed me with his love which turned confessional of how much he cared for me and how glad he was that I was apart of the bar. He flicked the butt of his cigarette to the ground and held me tightly in his arms before he faded back into the bar. 

Another checked that I would be okay walking home as he inhaled his final drag. I nodded and he hugged me goodbye before he slipped downstairs. The last one closed the door and turned to me. I uttered goodbye as I turned for home, but my sense of safety slipped from underneath me. 

I was face to face with a man who wanted to hurt me. Aggression filled the words he interchanged for goodbye. His displeasing attitude stemmed from me not falling into bed with him. I caught on to that when I asked him to repeat what he just said. He wanted power over me. I stood in shock, as he listed threats that came one after another. Confused by how this change of events happened, I sought clarity with the bartenders inside and attempted to open the door. 

If his words weren’t painful enough, his hand clutched around my arm as he pulled me out of the entrance. He pushed me further outside and yelled at me to vacate the premises. The men who loved my presence did not get up. The men that just said goodbye ignore the scene which unraveled outside. They heard the yelling, but chose to stay downstairs. 

At that moment, I questioned if I had found a community, or had I found depths of another beast? Observe, but avoid confrontation if possible while here in New York. The community I felt dissipated in a matter of seconds. I spun a web and somehow became tangled in it. Embedded in the pain, I could not forget was feeling alone in a bar that I once felt safe in. I could see that evening was their eyes as they diverted from the conflict I was confronted with. I felt confused as to why they feared to lose me when I mentioned it wouldn’t be ideal for me to keep coming around. As if my final goodbye caused them some sort of discomfort.

Were they just as lonely as I was? I questioned, as their smiles grew each time they served another Guinness to the coaster that sat in front of me. I wasn’t surrounded by strangers, but that made the pain of loneliness feel different.

Since then, I’ve contemplated if there was any benefit of isolation. In the coming months, I went back to see them and share causalities of the day and weeks ahead of us. I used the bar to understand myself and the insecurities that were growing because of the company I felt. I vowed to focus on myself after the issues there piled up. And those weeks in December that I spent in isolation, I found myself. Like Murphy mentions, these men weren’t listening to me. Sure maybe my friendship benefited them in some way, but I gained little to nothing from them past more pain.

It’s strange to think I could ever feel alone or isolated in New York City, but as millions of people rush past you, and you know no one, then all you can feel is an amassing weight of being singular.

29 August 2017

In the comfort of a Memoir class at New York University, I told my partial truth. We were tasked to write a short piece situated in a place. For me, that was New York. It was my home of a few weeks, and by the 29th, I had already felt abused by it. So I sat down, and I typed about the one thing that had me feeling utterly alone; the D-Day of my unsettled nature.

The man I love ended our last conversation by telling me he never wanted to hurt me. What he never understood was that saying a final goodbye to someone I had wanted to spend the rest of my life saying hello to was a pain that I could not numb as quickly as he had.

I moved to the city of opportunities for a new life in New York. He propelled me into the loneliness of heartbreak while I was alone, surrounded by strangers and thinking over what destruction was lying in the path of my future. 

I was starved by the emptiness each evening. Those who supported me felt the timing of the break-up was perfect—the only baggage that I would have in NYC was the emptied suitcases stored on the top shelf of my closet, not a washed-up man living at home complaining about how his career hadn’t taken off. I struggled to see how lost love would illuminate a silver lining when he haunted my every thought, but I tried to listen.

I used to say my hardest goodbye was London; the city that propelled me into the best version of myself. Yet, when I found love that was reciprocated in a way a city could not, I realized some goodbyes would drop me to my knees. When I moved to New York, I wondered what I would find, and would I love the city just as I had love London? What was I to find in the streets of New York? Would they inspire me like London did while I was in limbo of finding myself again?

It was the first week here that I found my past intertwined with my future. A chalkboard that leaned against the window of a bar, just a block away from my apartment on 9th Street, caught my attention. It displayed happy hour prices that were grad student reasonable, but it was the bartender’s information sketched out that had my feet moving downstairs into the dimly lit dive bar.

His name was Alex; the same name as my older brother. He was born the same year as me, and only eleven days separated our births. We grew up in the same town in Southwest Florida, and somehow, our paths crossed in New York. The serendipitous meeting was my first shot at finding a community in a place that associated closely with my lonesomeness. 

He introduced me to everyone he knew.

Soon the other bartenders knew my drink order and the regulars knew my name. The owner learned the story of how I came to be a regular and told it to everyone. Inside this nondescript dive bar in the East Village, New York shrank in size.

Several times a week, I went to the bar to connect with my newly acquainted friends. I took notice of the novelty decorations that seemed to have no reason to be there. The bar paid homage to Einstein, who overlooked the entrance and the knight amour who stood tall over the bar. Christmas lights colored the low ceiling, while small amber lights attempted to illuminate the faces who lined the mahogany bar. It was dark, damp, and musky in the basement bar. Television screens lit up with the nightly news, sports games, and fishing shows. 

I’d press my fingertips to the cool copper countertop; lean in and greet my friend on the opposite side. Over their head was a wall of confiscated IDs, an underage drinker’s most wanted that filled the empty space above liquor bottles. They’d place a Guinness in front of me and smile. The froth with the first sip gave me a slight ‘stache, which made me smile broader in return. I thought I found some good company in New York. 

Men who frequented the bar took me as a damsel in distress that needed saving because I was alone most evenings. They filled my time with small talk, which leads to questions of nightcaps, numbers, and future dates. I objected them all. Single seemed to objectify me slightly to the wrong men, and one man, in particular, became possessive. Andrew was a regular like myself; the first one I met through Alex, but he is the worst kind of man; insecure and fueled by anger.

I stood outside with two off the clock bartenders and Andrew. The three of them wavered as beer replaced the blood swimming through their veins. In his thick Irish accent, one bartender enclosed me with his love which turned confessional of how much he cared for me and how glad he was that I was apart of the bar. He flicked the butt of his cigarette to the ground and held me tightly in his arms before he faded back through the door. I needed that. I needed a man to show compassion for a single moment and not want anything in return. 

Alex checked that I would be okay walking home as he inhaled his final drag. I nodded, and he hugged me goodbye before he slipped downstairs. Andrew then closed the door and turned to me. I uttered goodbye as I turned for home, but my sense of safety moved from underneath me. 

I was face to face with a man who wanted to hurt me. Aggression filled the words he interchanged for goodbye. 

“You are banned from this bar.”

His displeased attitude stemmed from me not falling into bed with him. I caught on to that when I asked him to repeat what he just said. 

He had no jurisdiction over this bar but wanted power over me. I stood in shock, as he listed threats that came one after another. Confused by how this change of events happened, I sought clarity with the bartenders inside and attempted to open the door. Really I was looking for help.

If his words weren’t painful enough, his hand clutched around my arm, and he pulled me out of the entrance. He pushed me further outside and yelled at me to vacate the premises. I remember telling this part to my teacher, and he repeated back the words, “he assaulted you?” I was nervous. I felt like I was oversharing, but I couldn’t deny what had happened. 

The men who loved my presences did not get up. I yelled for them down by the bar, while this man forcibly kept me outside. I watched them ignore the scene which unraveled with the fear I was sinking into. They heard the yelling but chose to stay downstairs. After just showing my compassion, they ignored the issue. I walked home, scared, and alone. The man threatened my safety, and I was frightened.

Had I found a community or had I found depths of another beast?

I spoke to them all about it during the days that followed. One begging me to come back to talk about the situation. They scoffed. Of course, I would never be banned.

“He’s just upset you wouldn’t sleep with him.”

One said as I felt slight justifications leave his mouth and my stomach lurched from the pure arrogance to the situation and the issue at hand.

“Don’t feel threatened by him.”

Another said as I filled with anxiety as he entered the bar and stared me down. How could I not be? A man who wants nothing but power over a woman is someone a woman is taught to fear.

Embedded in the pain was feeling alone in a bar that I once felt welcome in. All I could envision was how their eyes diverted from the conflict and could only stare down. I felt confused as to why they feared to lose me when I mentioned it wouldn’t be ideal for me to keep coming around. As if my final goodbye caused them some sort of discomfort, yet the pain in my voice as I yelled for help didn’t cause them any. Did they know they were wrong to leave me alone? Did they have any regrets?

I began to wonder if they just as lonely as I was? They weren’t struggling with a break-up, they had friends, family, and lovers in the city. They were connected with the locals and their coworkers. But they were lonely. And for once in New York, I wasn’t surrounded by strangers, but these people were anything but friends of mine.

For the remainder of my lease, whether I want to ever admit it or not, I looked over my shoulder in fear. I was anxious to bump into the man who assaulted me. I never wanted to come face to face with him again, even though many have told me that he was sorry.

I didn’t want that. I wanted a new beginning where I could be happier, and that meant leaving that life behind. It meant never replying back to text messages from those people and forging a new life I wanted to live. For a while, New York pained me, but as I let go of that pain, I felt better. Little by little I opened back up to the city I so quickly shut down, but it wasn’t until I let go of this week, this day, this month in 2017. 

It’s these moments, the August 29th moments, that have me continuing this blog. So much has changed since that moment, but at the time, I was struggling to ever find a way out or a positive in the situation. It’s difficult to think back to the fear I had at one point and wonder why I would ever put myself in that situation, but I realize now there is always time for me to grow and move past the difficult time.

 

 

Camping in the Shadows of Rainier

I lost cell phone service about an hour outside of Mount Rainier National Park. I was the navigator, so luckily Google Maps pinged my location somehow so we didn’t end up lost, but that meant nothing was distracting me from the road ahead.

We were driving from the West to the east; inland towards the coast. For hundreds of miles, all we saw were sprawling fields, deserts of mesas and rugged terrain up until we made our turn and headed straight into a deep forest––Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Elk stood and watched oncoming cars enter the national forest. Daylight forced its way through the cloud and tree cover above. I felt the air whip into the vehicle from the sunroof as the tips of the pines swayed and disappeared out of view. I was at peace looking around as the car wound around each hairpin turn and followed the potholed road.

There was a caravan of us, three cars in a line approaching Mount Rainier and the protected land that surrounded it. My eyes were peeled for more animals lurking between the fallen trees and thick brush. Only the occasional camper caught my attention. Off the highway, on the turn-offs, there were the random trucks, cars, and camper vans perched and overlooking a family nestled along the Nisqually River and listening to Berry and Big Creek bustle.

There were so many of them tucked into the cliff faces, starting campfires, and tiptoeing across fallen trunks like a tightrope walker in the circus that I expected all of us to stop and pick a place to set up camp. To me, and my experience with camping, this had to be what everyone was doing.

However, I learned there are campsites, and that doesn’t just mean the place we pick to set up our tent, but rather for Big Creek Campground was a little culdesac of others pitching tents so close that you can hear them chatting around their picnic bench as you are falling asleep.

A few weeks before booking this trip across the country, my partner let me know there was a plan to head out and camp with his family. I had met most of them last year in Germany, so I figured this must be a big deal since half of them were making the transatlantic flight to enjoy the summer on the Pacific.

“Camping” wasn’t something I had ever experienced. I had religiously watched “You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s Camping Party” on VHS. I remembered how they hung the food in the tree so the bear wouldn’t get it, but other than that I severely lacked on what it meant to camp.

The anxiety that began to build made my stomach weak. On our drive, we first approached the cabins where everyone else would be sleeping. It was a quaint log cabin with a hearth and loft sleeping areas. There was a jacuzzi on the porch, running water, and a full kitchen—bigger than the one in our New York apartment might I add.

We arrived around 5:00pm, which meant as the sunlight was slipping away, we needed to make our way to the campsite to make building our home a lot easier. The three of us, myself, my boyfriend, and my boyfriend’s father set back off onto the road and followed the GPS to our campsite. We parked, surveyed the land, and got to work. There was a flat piece of land, a picnic table, and an ominous toilet paper roll hanging from a branch just off the path of our site.

They began pulling tents, sleeping pads and bags, and blankets from the trunk. It went fairly quickly, and I was helping, but in my mind, fearful thoughts were racing.

“Check for Ticks!”

“You didn’t bring any winter clothing? You know it’s going to be freezing!”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t be camping.”

The tent looked cozy when it was filled with blankets, but when I kneeled to place my borrowed hoodie, beanie, and gloves, I felt the forest floor directly beneath my knee and realized all the layers didn’t mean comfortable.

I started to set into a small panic attack. I needed to use the restroom, and I could feel the tears welling up from fear. I thought I looked like a prima donna. Like a snobby girl who had never camped and expected a tent big enough to fit my space heater, cloud mattress, and vanity set. But really this was just new, different than anything I had ever experienced. I felt exposed and overwhelmed and couldn’t control my emotions.

In the toilet, I cried. I felt misunderstood. I didn’t know how to vocalize that I was excited to try something new but also simultaneously terrified for no rational reason. When everything was set up, we headed back to the cabins to join the rest of the family for dinner and smores. Most everyone who planned on camping for one our two nights during the trip decided against it when they saw the look of the cabins. The general consensus was that they were “too old for it” or “it’s supposed to rain.” I was scared they knew something that I didn’t, that I was in for a bad experience, so I started to believe it.

I went inside myself, trying to hide, but also calm myself so I could function with everyone else. I was tired come 8:00pm. The sky was deepening, and I knew the father would want to head back to the camp. I think I realized then that I was feeling these strange tinges of feeling left out. I felt like we would miss out on something; maybe midnight boardgames or last-minute smores; perhaps even a shower at night, or having a light in the bathroom.

I went, I wanted to camp for at least one night. So before we left, we brushed our teeth with the cabin’s running water and changed into sweatpants. The headlights on the car illuminated out tents in the dark and the smoke rising from the campsite next to ours. My partner turned to me, “absolutely no food in the tent, Hannah, I mean it.” I knew he was cautious, but he also knew I had a stash of M&Ms in my seat pocket. I left everything because I had been listening to scary bear encounters on the drive up.

Our tent was unzipped as we said goodnight to his father. I shone my iPhone light onto the ground, so I knew where I was walking and unlaced my shoes outside the tent, so I didn’t track any dirt into the sleeping area. We zipped up and began to lay out the blankets over one another. There was only one sleeping bag for the both of us, so we unzipped it completely to lay on top of.

My partner held onto me tightly as there was nothing but stillness on the air surrounding us. Eventually, we heard his father’s snores, but other than that, there was nothing. It was quiet, and I was able to fall asleep quickly from my anxiety earlier, causing me to be exhausted.

I tossed and turned quite a bit from the cold. I burrowed myself into my partner’s body heat and tried to hogg the blankets. I woke up to the sound of a rooster calling and his father stirring. My neck ached, most likely from how I slept, but it meant I had a hard time looking at anything the next day; however, I survived.

I ended up camping the next night with no anxiety whatsoever. It reminded me of sleepovers with friends, and I was giddy to be cozying up to someone I love. After then, the rainstorms fell over mount Rainer, leaving our tents to drip from the roof. We spent the last two nights in the cabin, while the symphony of snores echoed from the three double beds and twin bedroom upstairs.

At times I missed the quiet. I look forward to camping again because next time it won’t ne something new. I will have already known what to expect, and know how to pack. I will be able to anticipate what we will need and what we can leave behind. A pillow, is 100% somethin gyou should splurge on if I were to give any advice on the topic.

Check out how we got to this point on my previous post about driving across the country!