We are social animals, everyone says, busy trying to make sense of our separateness and our mutuality, our fear, etc. So we grow tame and isolate. And I keep reverting to the plural for company—or the illusion of it. The way we asked or shoved our imaginary friends into the cellar: you go first.
Close your eyes and consider the walls of the room around you, or, if outdoors, consider the absence of walls, and the possibility, however remote, that your molecules will suddenly disperse into space. Then consider the extent of your loneliness—the breadth and nearness of that ineffable bubble. Warm and nebulous and not-to-be-shed.
Mine is perhaps more cloud than bubble. Or more creature. It does have a skin, which makes everything outside seem to glisten. Anything I might say about my loneliness has already been said about your loneliness. Presumably with softer lighting and more luminous gestures.
And yet, our lonelinesses are distinct phenomena, each manifesting its own constellation of mood, shadow, density, and tone. Call loneliness an aura if you’re so inclined. But try not to confuse it with death, that other difficulty we are so keen on negating.
With companions, one can still be lonely—there remains that gap between thought and speech, more or less obvious depending on years of acquaintance and other variables. But let’s say my loneliness and yours are compatible. They trot along together like a pair of improbable dogs: one spotted, the other with a brindle coat.
Maybe we should make a habit of introducing our loneliness first, bribing it to sit as we do with our companions at the dog park, and only then moving on to handshakes, first names. Or maybe sticking to weather. We could stand around and throw tennis balls for our lonelinesses to bring back.
And then my loneliness might be less anxious at parties, knowing it could always go play in the loneliness corner. And we could stop pretending it didn’t exist and trying to whisk it out of photographs. We could let them all rest their heads on our shoes; we could reach down and say goodnight to every lonely one before we left. You could trust your own loneliness to follow you out, lead you home.
Ceridwen Hall is a PhD candidate at the University of Utah and reads poetry for Quarterly West. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Fabulist, The Cincinnati Review, Grist, Tri-Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere.