It’s been hard, man
Two weeks ago, I ordered Pad See Ew. It had been a hard day, a long day, an anxious day. I had spent too much time alone and then a terrifying ten minutes inside a small, badly ventilated office with unmasked people in an effort to print a single pdf document. So naturally, on my way home I ordered comfort food.
The restaurant was closing and one of the workers was wiping down tables as I waited. She had a round face and kind, dark brown eyes. She asked me if I had just finished work, and I said no, I just had a long day. She gave me a look of such kindness that my eyes filled with tears. She grasped my forearm and said “I am so sorry. I wish I could hug you.” She hadn’t seen her family in a year. I wanted to hug her, too.
Some days, the loneliness overtakes me. It seems as if everyone has more friends than I do, more boyfriends than I do, more of a social life than I do.
It is, admittedly, a bit of a peculiar time to be a New York transplant. Most of the people who are here right now have stubbornly refused to leave New York since the pandemic hit. I zealously listen to them when I work in the outdoor seating areas of Partners Coffee, casually overhearing journalists and graphic designers and architects chat about how much they love New York and how they just can’t imagine leaving even though all of their friends are moving to L.A.
It also doesn’t help that I live in a fun, lively neighborhood with lots of bars where I can watch people have a good time with friends they’ve known for years.
The loneliness makes me feel hopeless. It makes me want to cry. It makes me feel as if all of my efforts to make myself happier are in vain, that I’m incapable of being happy, anyway, so what’s the point of trying?
Oberlin College, for long stretches of time, was a very lonely place for me. I made a close friend occasionally, but I never overlapped with them for more than a few months at a time. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what my whole life will be like — chock full of acquaintances nearby but my close connections made in moments and then only accessible by phone forever after. During that time I got used to it: College, I constantly reminded myself, only lasts four years.
But it’s not college anymore, and the loneliness still hurts.
The worst thing about loneliness is that the more intense it gets, the harder it is to do anything about it. I become embarrassed that I so desperately want to talk to someone in person that I think, better just stay in my apartment so that no one can see what a desperate, sad, lonely fuck I am.
I want to chase the loneliness away. Send it packing on its heels so that it can no longer shoot shards of glass through my heart and expose the gaping emptiness in my soul.
But also, I want to bring the loneliness close to me in a loving embrace. It speaks the truth, after all, and it didn’t mean to hurt me. But not too close, lest it slips back inside my chest and wreaks havoc once again.
There are days when it seems like everyone else is handling the pandemic loneliness better than I am. That, despite everything, I am inadequate and that soon I will go crazy and be unfit for human interaction.
But the fact of the matter is, I have met many people and haven’t offended most of them. I live in New York for fuck’s sake — people live their lives in front of me whether they like it or not. I chat up everyone, from the guy fixing the wooden garbage can holder on the sidewalk to the barista playing guitar during a slow shift to the guy with the curly hair selling me house plants. Just yesterday, I had a lovely conversation with someone who also happened to be lugging a newly bought 43” television from Best Buy on the subway and lived by the Bedford L. Sure, on the way down the subway steps a homeless man spat in my face, but I’ve dealt with worse. I used to be a canvasser.
As painful as it is to watch two friends share a bottle of wine on the boulders by the East River in Domino Park without me, I am at a beginning. I found a job, moved into my first apartment, and live in the city of my dreams. I will feel this loneliness, cry about it, and move on. And if it comes back, so be it. I will cry some more.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York