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.

10 October 2008

I can still feel the morning dew as it seeped into my navy basketball shorts that Friday morning in October. I couldn’t have been dressed out in my P.E. uniform for more than thirty minutes before I found myself laying out on the field that was in the center of my middle school’s track.

It was football week, which meant highly competitive boys were refreshing the skills they picked up on their flag football team while they show what they’ve got before all of us head to high school next year. We weren’t running plays––they were just chucking the ball to see how far it could get and hoping there was a teammate of theirs on the other side.

We all wore the same navy pants and gray T-shirts that had our last names marked on the front and back with a black sharpie. I don’t even remember what team I was on, but I wanted to catch a ball. Growing up, I lived a reasonably competitive lifestyle with the sports I spent my weeks playing. Up until that point, I had played soccer, dance, tennis, basketball, volleyball, and lacrosse. I was used to playing with a team, but that never loosened the competitive drive I had when it came to giving the sport my ultimate best.

I remember lunging in the air, reaching my fingertips through the sky, while the ball spiraled through space above me. A boy, Jacob, jumped for that exact ball, and we collided. Our ribs smacked into one another, throwing our momentum off balance and having us both plummeting back down to the field beneath us.

As I landed, it was like the earth below me gave way. Pop, pop, pop.

There was no pain for a matter of moments, just a sound knuckles cracking, or a piece of fabric ripping. Either I landed on Jacob, or he landed on me, but I remember the moment I tried to stand up and fell back to the ground beneath me.

My footing was uneasy, and I looked down to see something was wrong.

My ankle swelled to three times its average size within moments.

Classmates from across the field could see me holding my calf up as my foot dangled. A group of them rushing towards the two of us, Jacob, was, however, standing beside me talking about how bummed it was not to have cathed the ball. Our teacher came running over, took one look at my leg, and ushered a group of students to get the golf cart from the other field in the distance.

She asked if I could stand, I said no. 

I never knew what the tenth of October would mean for my life. How I would miss those moments when the pain was slowly rising to my level of consciousness because it has been eleven long years since I could say I am pain-free. The trauma surrounding this incident manifest and swarmed me into complete darkness nearly impossible to ever feel like you would find your way out.

During the 2009, 2010, and 2011 anniversary, I was still dealing with the repercussions of this day. For a while, I thought I had beaten it, nearly forgetting what day it actually was until 2014 when a stumble down uneven grass had me reversing all the progress I had made in the prior year.

Because of this day, I have scars I can, but won’t cover-up. Screws and wires are lingering inside, holding everything in place. My bones have been drilled into, my skin has been carved, and my body has been repaired.

Most October’s, I forget about this day, but the aches are still there most morning as I wake up wondering what it would be like to just not jump for that damn ball. 

Are We Really Listening?

Earlier this week I received, the advanced reader copy of Kate Murphy’s novel, You’re Not Listening, set to release January 7, 2020, and was immediately struck by the contents of the story. The Houston, Texas-based reporter who in the past has written for The New York Times and The Economist, shows within the first few pages just how convincing and exquisite her story-telling skills are.

What fascinates me about Murphy’s book is that even during the increasingly unavoidable loneliness of today’s digital age, she’s found a way to combat isolation. In this book, Murphy addresses the epidemic through a profoundly personal style of teaching us to be better listeners and connecting with everyone around us. In a way, she urges us to stop talking and start listening.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic, and I want to motivate my readers to get their hands on the book come the new year because I think many of us can use it as a tool for our upcoming New Year resolutions in 2020. Ever since reading the first few chapters, I have changed the way I listen to the people around me. I have become conscious of my subtle cues, and have noticed times where I really am just not listening.

I say that with sadness because no one should feel ignored, and I should know better as I have been in the situation being ignored. It’s disheartening to be on the phone with a friend and hear the radio silence behind every “mhmm” and “yeah” that they mutter out as they go through the motions and “pretend to listen.” Your confidence can be crushed when you are catching up with a friend for drinks, and they keep checking their phone in the middle of your story about what you’ve been up to since you last saw them.

As a psychology student, I have always realized how widely essential listening can be for yourself and the relationships you forge in the future, and I regret to say I’ve ever fallen short when it came to listening to everything someone said. One thing Murphy pointed out is if we are actually listening, there is no need for the subtle cues that show that we are listening. We don’t need to interject with mindless mumbles, but rather when they are done with their point, we should be able to briefly summarize what the person may have said and then add our thoughts and point of view to continue the conversation.

It could be jarring at first, but after reading that chapter of her book, you come to realize just how often you nod your head and interject in addition to how often you may lose your focus on just merely listening when you are going through the motions of proving you are “listening.”

Maybe teachers have always tried to make us good listeners. Perhaps they know what they are saying when they tell us to put our hands down until they are done speaking.

It was in middle school when I heard a teacher interject, “you aren’t listening when you have your hand up, and you’ll have more questions later because of it.” Which is wildly accurate, in school and in life outside of the classroom.

Someone may have said something, and then you replay their statement over and over in your head because you have a question about what they may have said, or you might be formulating a response and all the while you never hear the rest of their story.

There is so much we can learn from just listening, and being an active listener versus a passive listener. Although my friends had always deemed me as a great listener when it came to heading their insecurities and struggles because I would typically ask thought-provoking questions in response to their statements, I know there is more I can do to prove I am a good listener. I have Kate Murphy to thank since she was the one who reminded me just how important it is to really listen to your friends.

How many of my readers have felt ignored or lonely because they feel like there is no one out there to listen to them? Has there ever been a moment where you felt like you couldn’t be your complete, authentic self because you thought, “what’s the point in wasting my breath, they aren’t even listening?” I want you to know you aren’t alone, but that there is so much we can learn by being listeners, and the more that we can do to inspire others to listen, the more we can change the way our future develops.

Excitement with August

Let’s go back to August 1997. I’m two, strawberry-blonde, and sporting baby tooth smile. I’m headed off to pre-school this year, the first time that I can remember being away from my home and family for more than a few hours. I’m enrolled in Miss. Robbin’s class at The Caring Place, or under its new name, the Village School.

I don’t remember my first day past vaguely gripping my mother’s legs until a strange woman coaxed me into this colorful room full of chairs that were my size and children that were my age. However, as my mother recalls, I kinda waltzed in, established myself as a classmate, and became the one everyone wanted to play with.   58639045142__3F178EB1-314C-4507-BB84-67B634579505

Eventually, I got used to the routine of mid-afternoon naps with other kids, Spanish and English lessons, and recess. When I think back to my time at The Caring Place, I have a few very distinct memories. I remember our Halloween party, scooter/bike day, and our aquarium themed performance. I remember going to the big school next door, Sea Gate Elementary School, and playing on their playground which had my favorite recess activity––the swings. I remember the second year of pre-school better than the first. I’m not sure if it was Miss. Misty’s doing (my second pre-school teacher) or whether my mind and memory were developing more, but she threw a wild St. Patrick’s Day party that will always stay with me. Picture your teacher trashing your classroom with chairs thrown about the room, tables upside down, and glitter everywhere as the students are tasked with making “leprechaun traps” that were made out of decorated shoe boxes propped up with sticks as lucky charms were strewn about underneath. 

However, 1997 was technically my first “back-to-school” season, so here I am in 2019 realizing I won’t be going back-to-school this 2019-2020 school year and I won’t again for the foreseeable future.

 

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My first “school photo”

 

That thought, feeling, the idea is strange. Not being a student is foreign to me in all sense of the word. I hit the month of August and the first thing I think about is going back to school, hell even my partner brought up that he received his tuition bill yesterday. Even when I graduated early from my undergrad, and lived at home for a fraction of the 2016-2017 school year, that Fall I was taking courses at the local education center and applying to grad school.

I think the “strange” realization ruminated in my mind somewhere between May and July. It was the May when I graduated and had the first thought of “it’s over.” That then manifested in my subconscious until my inbox received it’s first “back-to-school email” of the 2019 season in July —it was then that I realized just how strange it is to be done.

Most people can’t wait to be done with school, and I feel that on lots of different levels too, but at the same time, I love it. I love going and learning more about the subjects I find interesting and being in a classroom with my peers. I love the consistency of a schedule and packing my backpack with books, notebooks, freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils, and Sharpie fine point, felt pens. I didn’t love the tests and the books I was forced to read. I didn’t love the six am wake up calls and final papers. There were the downfalls that came with “I don’t want to get up” that every student experiences, but at the end of the year, when summer came, I was always excited for August. Always until now. 

When I first started applying to jobs after my graduation, I saw an ad for a masters program that was offered online for mental health counseling. I was job hunting for all of 2 minutes before I saw the ad and considered going back to school for yet another degree. In my mind, my “forever-student” mentality is the reason I am facing a crippling amount of debt. I think this “strange” feeling stems from being worried about not being as successful as I aspire to be, but it also glosses over what it is I owe because of school.

It is coming down to understanding how attending school became my crutch but manifesting the fear into subconsciously putting off getting a job does nothing for where I want to be in the future. Because when it comes down to it, I’m scared to not be in school because I don’t know what is to come when I am no longer “a student.” 

It’s August, the 2nd of August to be exact, and as I apply to more jobs that I can’t fathom doing means I am missing the idea of going back to school in the coming weeks. As I interview for jobs I start missing the tests, final papers, and book reports. I miss picking out my first-day outfit and going to Target with my mom for new school supplies.

I want to have the structure and rigidity of a “classroom” and “schedule” in my next life after school but I can’t seem to find the right match. All of this stress of finding work is making me miss my yearly “first-day” photos at the front door. I feel like there is so much more to learn from the world, but I worry about the jobs I am applying to what teach me what I want and need to learn. I am looking for the balance, but I haven’t found it yet, and I am nervous I won’t find it. So happy August everyone, I know good things will come, so I am trying to be as patient as I was in middle school when I was “so over these first day photos.”

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My first, first-day photo

 

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My last, first-day photo.