The year both my friends went abroad I moved into my first apartment and it was my last year of college. I had long since stopped having high or hopeful expectations. It took me 15 minutes to walk to class, 13 if I knew I was going to be late. But I always left 20 minutes before. Old habits. I passed the time by bringing a book with me. By the end of the second week, I no longer felt self-conscious.
I spent a lot of time in my own head. Sometimes too much. By the end of the first month, I knew my thoughts would be the death of me, so I started volunteering at a non-profit literary magazine. It was four metro stops away, or about eleven minutes. Naturally I brought a book. I tried to kill the idea—the hope—that someone, somewhere would see me and ask what I was reading. I tried to not care.
At the office, I tried to be nice to people and act interested. I tried to be, in my mother’s words, “personable.” I tried to ask them questions. That’s important. I always walked out of the office alone, but at least I asked them questions.
It wasn’t long before I started doing homework at Barnes & Noble instead of my apartment. I hoped this would kill some of my loneliness. Some days it was enough. Others it only seemed to intensify the echo chamber in my head. On Tuesdays, I bought coffee from the girl who worked there. I didn’t even drink coffee, but I bought it anyway. The $3 and change were worth every penny, and those few minutes were the best of my day.
I never talked to her though. She didn’t seem like she wanted to be bothered.
I tried to do something twice a month in the city that wasn’t school or work-related. Usually I’d see movies and try to forget the fact I was alone. When the lights dimmed, it was the first time that week I didn’t have to hold my breath.
The one thing I mastered was the art of distraction. I went to an exhibition on Degas, saw a Shakespeare play put on by a school club, read books, and watched a lot of Netflix. I figured the more I filled my time, the less time I’d have to think.
That was the year I stopped texting people who never texted back and the number of recent messages on my phone fell back to being counted on one hand. I forced myself to raise my hand once per class. I didn’t always succeed, but I made up for it by sitting in front and nodding my head when the professor looked at me. More nights at Barnes & Noble. More poetry. I tried not to feel so inadequate, like an apology. But I didn’t even know who I’d be apologizing to.
I told myself this would be the year I stopped caring about what others thought of me. I stopped caring that I ate alone or did things alone. I found this immensely liberating. I stopped thinking anyone would, or could, or should fill whatever hole was inside me. I stopped waiting for a first kiss or hand-holding and learned to hold my own damn hand. People spend their whole lives looking for fingers that fit in the spaces between their own. I found mine on my left hand.
But my progress fell apart daily. Every time I saw a couple admiring Van Gogh or browsing the fiction section of a bookstore I would return to the gnawing loneliness inside me. And I started wanting someone to hold my hand again. And I started texting people even though they never texted back."