This year has been a year of questions. This year has been a year of waiting. This year I feel someone came and hacked off all my hair in a reckless, hasty way and all I can do is sit and wait for it to grow. I’m shaking like those bald chihuahuas who don’t know what they want. Snacks? Sleep? A sweater? They don’t know that what they need is a carefree run in the tall grass to sort themselves out. Those kinds of dogs make me nervous. And now I’m one of them.
There is all this stirring and clanging inside of my chest. Like running shoes in the dryer, shoes banging against my rib cage. Like a house with boarded up windows, but you have a feeling the lights are on. My heart is up to something, I just can’t see inside.
There is a bay near where I grew up that completely empties of water when the tide goes out. The sand stays dark and heavy no matter how long the bay is empty, holes above where the clams lay so they can breathe. When you walk out to go find the water the sand cakes to your toes, making your steps heavy. Kelp black and green and damp, still damp, like the water was there, just, and you merely missed it. The salt water pools in puddles, when you look out it looks like mirrors are littering the sand. When I go home and visit the bay I would always wonder what it would be like to walk to the middle of the bay and wait, and watch the water inch back to the shore, the edge of the sea rolling back lazily like ripples of silk. I would wonder what it’s like to stand and wait, does it take days, does it happen all at once, how long would I have to stand there before the sea was at my ankles, knees, hips, washing over my shoulders, soaking my hair. I get it now, though, I know it so well I can taste the salt; it takes forever. It will take an eternity, when you’re standing in what basically looks like a desert, just waiting for the whole sea to appear. When you’re waiting to be engulfed by the ocean, it will take your whole life, and then, when you can’t even open your eyes to look where the sky meets the sand, you can’t even look up to see what isn’t happening, there will be a bubbling at your feet, and then a pouring in. When you’re waiting for the ocean in a desert it will take forever, and then you will laugh, wondering why you ever doubted what the earth and moon have been doing forever, moving the ocean from one side of the world to the other. I guess we can allow such a feat to take a bit of time.
In this strange season I have found myself in a foreign land. I have been trying to get my footing, but the ground tilts just so, back and forth. I think I am on a spinning plate. I think it’s about to tip, it might all smash on the ground. A tree has grown right beside me, its vines twisted in knots and its leaves purple, like the oxygen didn’t quite reach as far as it should have. The sky is made of ink, like when you grip your pen too tight and its neck starts to bleed. The air is heavy, like a sleeping dog’s breath on my neck. If I tried to run my feet would feel full of bricks, like my stomach, like my head, like my throat, like my chest. I think I have swallowed seashores of sand. I think I can barely move my hands. There is an unending procession of people who keep giving me keys, but in this desert there are no doors. They look hopeful as they hand over the metal, but when I drop their key on the ground, they just shrug and keep walking. I think they’re trying to help. I think it’s not going as planned.
I’m not sure how I got here and I’m not sure when I can leave. I keep looking to the edge of the plate which has the faintest hint of daylight, wondering what would happen if I could get there. I have let go of dreams of flying. I have let go of dreams of running. All I know is that I’m still alive if I still remember how to stand.
Here is what is surprisingly characteristic about loneliness: that we are commonly engulfed constantly, even with the city of people who know us through and through, who often come with trumpets of encouragement and huge hearts, with listening ears and patient nods.
Here are the ways I have tried to cope with my loneliness: frantically busying my world, stuffing my calendar, always saying yes even when the answer should be no, filling up with places to be, filling up with worry to busy my mind, filling up space with music and sounds and voices. I have practiced the glorification of Busy, over and over and over, too busy to be lonely, driving myself so hard that when I get home all I can think to do is crash and burn into a tired ball of dust. I have tried to fill my loneliness with the men who have loved me and also the men who haven’t loved me, playing house, playing the part, making nice, making room in my bed.
Here is where my loneliness begins: in the fear that no one can really understand or handle my sometimes heaviness, my constant discontent and questions, my existential angst, my complicated thirst and wrestle to find God. What it really is: my own unrest with the woman I am, what I have done and not done, the unrest with where I’d like to go. When I sit down with myself I am begging for the phone to ring to break the awkwardness. I need to make peace with that woman. I need to be comfortable in the sometimes heaviness, the blazing vision, the questions.
Here is what I have come to see: that no one is going to bail me out of this, no matter how much they see and how much they care, even with someone squeezing me until all of the impossibilities that cripple me crackle off my fraying frame. There has to come a time when I can tuck myself into bed, tell myself about my day, and say, “goodnight, dear friend.”