loneliness

Stolen Goods

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I recently got out of an intense relationship. One of those whirlwind, sweep-you-off-your-feet, what-the-hell-just-happened-that-was-insane type of relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Where suddenly your world is their world and their world is your world and maybe there is no other world but our world and wait, hold on, what?? This isn’t the right time for the two of us??? But I was just—and you were just—and we just met two months ago but I feel like I’ve known you forever and now it’s over. You know, like that.

I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a different ex before we’d officially become a couple. He told me he hated getting into relationships because he dreaded that sensation after breaking up of having the world as you know it ripped away from you. For weeks or months or years you spend every day with this person, and then suddenly, they’re just gone. It’s like a death. Of them, of you, of “us.” I nodded. I knew what he was talking about. It was hard to let go. Maybe that’s why I’d been holding on to so many T-shirts and sweatshirts for all of these years.

* * * * *

I stole my first one in high school from my best friend Alex Frost. It was thin, grey, worn, with three navy stripes on each arm. Ralph Lauren Polo Sport- a label I would never associate with him. Not that I would ever associate any label with Alex. He’s never been the guy who cared about names, unless it was Cronenberg, Palahniuk, Fincher, Anderson.* But this was his favorite hoodie, and I stole it. And his was just the beginning.

I suppose if I’m really analyzing it, I can go even further back, and start with my dad’s pocket T-shirts. His multi-colored Hanes were my signature style in my Holy Cross days. Most of the Catholic school year, we sported crisp white button downs and navy blue slacks, but on those rare “free dress days” like Valentine’s or St. Patrick’s, you could find me swimming in a red or green cotton T, proudly rocking a pocket over my underdeveloped chest.

Technically though, my dad’s shirts get placed in the “borrowed” category. I wore them, mom washed them, and then they ended back up in dad’s dresser. While Alex’s hoodie may have begun as “borrowed,” it eventually turned into “stolen,” because I had no intention of ever giving it back. I just loved it too much. Not because it flattered my figure (quite the opposite) or provided exceptional warmth or comfort (see above description: thin, worn), but because it reminded me of him in such an intimate way. Like sharing a toothbrush or a burned Dashboard Confessional CD. I mean, I was inside his favorite hoodie. That’s major.

After Alex, I started collecting clothing items from other people I was close to- mostly boyfriends, but also a couple of girl friends. There was the Nike zip-up from Dan, the tear-away Adidas pants from Zack, the AEPi sweatshirt from Mike, the Kix t-shirt from Greg, the cashmere sweater from Ben, the cashmere pants from Justin, the grey sweatpants from Hannah. They were like my Dexter slides – little tokens I’d taken to remind me of my past relationships. I knew I should return them to their rightful owners, but they felt so good every time I slipped them on. They made me feel… less alone. And so I’ve kept them. All of them.

* * * * *

This time I have a zip-up and a pair of Ray-Bans. Both are too large, although I really like rocking the Ray-Bans, even if they’re scuffed and slide down my nose. They make me think of him and his laugh. I miss him in those moments. But in a pleasant way. Not a lonely way.

We texted briefly a couple of weeks ago. It was cordial, even sweet. I asked him if he could find my favorite pair of jeans. I’d left them in his hamper. He said he’d looked for them. I told him we could do an exchange. After all, I still had his stuff, too. And I wanted to return it. If only to prove to myself that I’m fine the way I am. Which I am. Single, but not alone. And even if the world we had created no longer exists, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still hold a part of it. Because I do. But it’s not in a sweatshirt or a scarf or a pair of boxers. It’s in my heart, where it rightfully belongs.

P.S. Alex, I still have that hoodie if you want it back. I know it’s been 13 years, but better late than never, right? Love you!!

*P.T. and Wes

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The Art of Living Alone

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Candlesticks. Photo by Amy Main, at her house, 2010

I’ve lived alone for nine years now. That’s nine years of leaving the door open when I go to the bathroom, of letting dishes accumulate in the sink until I can smell them, of doing lingerie pilates in my living room while watching Game of Thrones at unreasonable volumes. It’s almost a decade of coming home from nights out to nothing but my fridge and my computer, and crying or dancing or Reese’s Peanut Butter cup eating by my lonesome at 2 in the morning. It’s nine years of paying bills solo, of grocery shopping for one, of having no one to blame but myself for the dead grass and wilted plants in my yard. It’s a third of my life spent sleeping alone under a roof, of having quiet when I want it, of not having to answer to anyone. It’s nine years of learning to live with myself, and only myself.

In the beginning, living alone wasn’t so much of a choice as something I fell into. In fact, my time in LA actually started off with a flurry of roommates. First, there was the chronically high chick I shared a bunkbed with at a USC fraternity for a summer. This was just as awful as it sounds: three months of being accosted with inane questions like “Have you ever tried Flaming Hot Cheetos?” and being kept awake by bros cheering over beer pong victories at 4am.* This was followed by my freshman year roommate, a lovely laid back Hawaiian girl I occasionally hung out with and easily co-existed with in a spacious “dorm” room at the Radisson. After I dropped out of USC, I temporarily couch crashed with a fellow film student in West Hollywood (an experience I pray never to have to repeat, although she was wonderful), and subsequently found one of those ugly, white, wall-to-wall carpeted 2br/2ba apartments near the Rock ‘N Roll Ralph’s. This ended up being a boring, complicated disaster, but suffice it to say this living situation lasted less than two months and ended with me getting screwed out of a refrigerator and mattress. Finally, I ended up down at an incredible two story townhouse on the Promenade with balconies and a view of the ocean for a criminal $500 a month, only to have the girl who invited me into this heavenly situation move out a week later. Luckily for me, her parents decided to hold onto the place a year longer with me essentially playing house sitter, and thus after 15 months and 5 moves, I was introduced to the joy and simplicity of not having roommates. The rest is nine years of history.

* * * * * *

When people find out how long I’ve been living alone, I’m usually met with one of two responses: “Wow, that must be so wonderful” or “Ugh, that must be so lonely.” I tend to lean towards the first, obviously, or I wouldn’t have chosen bachelorettedom for so long, but there are pros and cons to this style of living. As with so many things in life, each positive can also be a negative, each weakness a strength. For instance, living alone has taught me to be fiercely independent and comfortable in my own skin, but it’s also made me uneasy navigating other people’s spaces. I often find myself unsure of the etiquette when staying at someone else’s place, or even hosting a guest at my bungalow. Growing up in a house with my parents and my brother and only one full bathroom I certainly knew how to share space, but it’s an art I seemed to have lost (and one I will need to relearn if I am to achieve a couple of key future goals).

For me, the biggest pro of solo living is the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want, without the distraction of another human being within my space. I find this especially important as a writer and artist, because my creativity necessitates solitude. Yes, I work in a collaborative medium (film/tv/commercials), but most of the hours I put into my craft are spent in the confines of my own mind. I write and work on stories almost exclusively at my house, and I find it exceedingly difficult to get anything done when other people are around. Other advantages include but are not limited to: being able to scrub the kitchen floor naked; not having to rely on another person to get a rent check in on time; being able to leave underwear everywhere; not having to remember what stuff in the fridge belongs to you; not having to listen to somebody else have sex.**

Judging from people’s responses, the biggest con of living alone would appear to be loneliness. While I occasionally feel lonely, it’s not because of a lack of a roommate, but rather a longing for intimacy, mostly in the form of a healthy romantic relationship. Conversely, I’m around people so much in my day to day activities as an Angeleno that I find the solitude essential, a respite from the constant social bombardment of 4 million counting. No, I would say the biggest downside is not having a larger space. Two or more people = more rent money = more square footage. I love my bungalow, but I wouldn’t mind being able to host a dinner party, or walking into a closet, or installing a pole in the living room. By the same token, it would be nice to have someone to split the bills with (I might actually consider getting cable) and to divide up the chores (maybe I would still have grass). And of course, there’s the socialization aspect I mentioned above: I feel woefully ill-prepared for any future co-habitating (apologies in advance, Mr. Right.)

* * * * * *

October 1st marks my 8 year anniversary in my Hollywood guest house, longer than most celebrity marriages (my landlady considers me a surrogate granddaughter). I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ll be reaching my 10 year anniversary of residing solo next year without much difficulty, and I feel like that milestone deserves some sort of award- perhaps a PhD in Bachelorettedom, or a radio dedication of “Independent Women.” At any rate, recognition or not, I’ve mastered the Art of Living Alone, and am proud to have achieved this in my 20s. But as I barrel headlong towards my 30s, I have to admit, it might be time for a change. For something just a little less solitary. For just a bit more companionship. Yes, folks, that’s right. It might finally be time for…

A cat.

* Thinking back on that experience now, it seems only natural that I’ve ended up where I have, like something Freud could have predicted in his sleep.
** I realize for some this last one may be a disadvantage, if you’re into that sort of thing. Again, two way streets.

Crying It Out

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Last night as I was closing the curtains and turning out the light in my bedroom, I received a text from a girlfriend. “R U out of class yet?” I deliberated for a moment if I should respond, the heaviness of my limbs encouraging me to wait until morning, the middle school grammar begging me to flip the phone over. “Yup, crawling in bed.” My fingers hit the keys almost automatically, as if driven by some sort of external Mischievous Spirit of Texting. “: /” She responded. How could so much meaning be conveyed in two dots and a dash? I wondered as I obligatorily sent her that all-probing ubiquitous 21st century question: “What’s up?” I watched the three dots, my eyelids half mast. “Can I call u for like 2 mins while u lie in bed lol.” I groaned. Why did I have to even respond in the first place? Why can’t I ever just leave conversations dangling? “Nooo, lol, I am sooo tired, I’ll call you in am.”* I extended my arm to place the phone on the nightstand and then stopped, the : / staring me down. For some reason I couldn’t shake those beady eyes, that slanted mouth. “Unless it’s important. Obviously if you are upset over something I’m here.” The phone instantly rang.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I’m one of those people who has always relied on others when I’m feeling like shit. That’s not to say that every time I break into tears I reach for the nearest set of open arms (although it’d be awesome to see the reaction of say, the stranger sitting next to me in 12 Years a Slave when I draped my sobbing being in their lap), but I do enlist my closest friends or my mom when I’m having a dark day or night of the soul.** I’ll usually make it through about 5-10 minutes of soul-contorting pain before breaking down and reaching for the phone. After all, misery does love company.

In some ways, my tendency to immediately seek out the comfort of others makes me feel weak. Sure, it was fine to tearfully call up my friends in middle school when Charlie didn’t pass back the note in math class, but I’m 28 years old now, a grown woman. I shouldn’t need to consult my girlfriends every time things aren’t going perfectly with a new guy, or I’m feeling unsure about my career, or I’m upset over being stuck on a blog post. I mean, I’m mature enough to handle my own feelings, to learn from my mistakes, to reflect in the solitude of my own mind. Aren’t I?

Well, yes and no. There is a time and place for self-introspection, for journaling and working through one’s feelings alone, and then there is a time to lean on others. The challenge is being able to recognize which method of coping the situation calls for. Not hearing back for several hours from a text message you sent to a guy you like, no matter how anxiety-producing and nerve-grinding, does not warrant a conference call with your female support group. This is not only a waste of their time, but will leave you feeling utterly pathetic when he responds 20 minutes after said call apologizing for the delay in his response because he was having lunch with his dying grandmother. Trust me, it’s better to just distract yourself with any number of wonderful activities – knitting, learning French, skydiving, actually hanging out with your girlfriends and talking about politics or philosophy or the fashion comeback of the crop top – then to destroy yourself over some dangling text message conversation. (Now, if the next text he sends is “I want to break up with you,” then you can make the call.)

On the other hand, there are occasions when you should absolutely reach out and seek advice and comfort. Last year when I was dealing with an emotionally abusive relationship, I could not have made it through without the support of my loved ones. The night I finally broke free of that damaging situation I spent all day talking with my mom and two best friends, garnering the courage I needed. I’d been struggling for a couple of months to get out of it on my own, but it wasn’t until I really reached out that I was able to do so. Some things are just too large to be contained in a single vessel. Sometimes, you just really need that shoulder to cry on.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I answered the call immediately. She had been there for me over the last couple of weeks as I had been trying to make sense of a relationship, and I wanted to return the open arms and ears. Her voice was weak and watery, and any annoyance I had felt over the postponement of my bedtime quickly evaporated. For the next 45 minutes, she poured out her fears, her pain, her loneliness, her insecurities. I listened and responded as best I could, wanting to make sure she felt seen and heard but also trying to provide guidance. As we talked it out, I became more and more acutely aware of a certain symbiosis that was occurring. I recognized so much of myself in her, and through this process of sharing I could feel us both obtaining a clearer picture of ourselves. Just as a piece of art can deepen one’s understanding of the world, so too was this crying out of the soul helping both of us better grasp our own humanity.

The conversation finally began to wind down close to 1 o’clock. “Thanks for talking me off the ledge there,” she said, her voice stronger, regaining vitality. “Of course, that’s what friends are for,” I replied, grateful for the trust she had put in me. “Okay, you sound tired, I’m letting you go to bed now. Sorry that was longer than two minutes.” We shared a laugh and hung up. I rolled over and squeezed the teddy bear I’d had since birth, saying a silent thank you to all of the people who’d helped me through my own dark nights.

 

*I’m perfectly capable of using shorthand and butchering the English language when others do it with me, but the day I substitute “u” for “you” is the day I stop calling myself a writer.

** The woman in front of me during a screening of this film handed me back tissues and asked if I was okay. I probably could have hugged her.