Loneliness is not an accident or a choice.
It’s an uninvited and uncreated companion.
It slips in beside you when you are not aware that a
choice you are making will have consequences.
It does you no good even though it’s like one of the
elements in the world that you cannot exist without.
It takes your hand and walks with you. It lies down
with you. It sits beside you. It’s as dark as a shadow
but it has substance that is familiar.
It swims with you and swings around on stools.
It boards the ferry and leans on the motel desk.
Nothing great happens as a result of loneliness.
Your character flaws remain in place. You still stop in
with friends and have wonderful hours among them,
but you must run as soon as you hear it calling.
It does call. And you climb the stairs obediently,
pushing aside books and notes to let it know that you
have returned to it, all is well.
If you don’t answer its call, you sense that it will sink
towards a deep gravity and adopt a limp.
From loneliness you learn very little. It pulls you
back, it pulls you down.
It’s the manifestation of a vow never made but kept:
I will go home now and forever in solitude.
And after that loneliness will accompany you to
every airport, train station, bus depot, café, cinema,
and onto airplanes and into cars, strange rooms and
offices, classrooms and libraries, and it will hang near
your hand like a habit.
But it isn’t a habit and no one can see it.
It’s your obligation, and your companion warms itself
You are faithful to it because it was the only vow you
made finally, when it was unnecessary.
If you figured out why you chose it, years later, would
you ask it to go?
How would you replace it?
No, saying good-bye would be too embarrassing.
First you might cry.
Because shame and loneliness are almost one.
Shame at existing in the first place. Shame at being
visible, taking up space, breathing some of the sky,
sleeping in a whole bed, asking for a share.
Loneliness feels so much like shame, it always seems
to need a little more time on its own.
From Second Childhood (Graywolf Press, 2014) by Fanny Howe. Copyright © 2014 by Fanny Howe. Used with permission of the author.