For the most part, in keeping with my severe penchant for living blissfully in denial, I would never admit to being lonely, if I ever was. Or if I did, I’d say it was a perfectly alright way to be because, hey, I was a woman of this world, right? I didn’t need anyone. I was strong beyond words, I had things to do and I had thoughts to complicate. Loneliness was okay. Because if it wasn’t, then I’d have to admit to need. And need, need wasn’t my style. I didn’t do needy.
And so it became that I was never lonely. Even when I was. But that was before I actually became lonely. For, you see, till recently, I realise I haven’t truly ever been lonely. I’ve been physically alone plenty of times, sure; I’ve even felt a bit of loneliness on and off when things weren’t so great but never the loneliness that has recently revealed itself to me. In a room full of people, in time full of words, on the other side of a screen-full of people saying wonderful things, loneliness among plenty. That, I now realise, is true and honest loneliness.
A loneliness that is as natural as blinking your eyes, a loneliness that grows on you, around you, filling every area of your living, gradually like the plants you tend to in the garden, like water boiling. You don’t see it grow. I was in search of something, of finding out what lay in the centre of this chaos that I’ve made my own for a while now. So I pruned and cut my life till there’s only the bare minimum left. You dust all the glitter from the surface to reveal a solid colour beneath it, you trim and trim and trim, till you are left with the essence, so fragile and devastatingly true that a mere dishonesty from within was enough to shatter it. You do this, this trimming of extras, in order to find the one thing, or a couple of things, that are most important to your life. You clear and clean till you find the core of what you want. For the most part, it is a great process. The raw that you see beneath is beautiful in its quiet, ugly truths. And for that view, the process is worth it.
The other side of this relentless and ruthless cleansing is, for me at least, that you drive away everything that holds your normal outward life up. You shut people out by creating an independence so fierce, however temporary, that you cannot let them back in for a while. And you do this slowly. You do this every single time you respond to someone’s “How are you” with a cheery “Fine, thanks”. You do this every time you decline an invitation to go out for a drink. You do this every time you make exciting plans only to chicken out at the last moment because that peace and quiet you’ve been holding on to has been so addictive that you are worried your withdrawal from it will show in the presence of someone else. You do it every time you hang clothes out to dry and your mind takes a bit of a walk; every time you read a book and forget the line between your boxy little bedroom and whichever other world that you’ve been living in vicariously through words. Insidious, entirely undetectable and filling your life like a room packed with air, loneliness takes over your life in the most natural way. Come to think of it, it is a slow, quiet journey that you make for yourself. Loneliness, then, is as much the journey as it is the destination.
On a train once, I wrote a line that came from watching trees that stood in the vast listless palms of the earth’s hand. “Loneliness is a tree” I observed. Because indeed, nothing but nothing I’ve witnessed comes close to the self-contained honesty that a tree is. Shorn of its leaves, the branches are all kinds of meandering. They reach out only be frozen midway; they stand contained and uncrying. They do not compromise; they wait. Even when full and lush, a tree is loneliness. Leaves have time for each other; shared green secrets, silky applause in the breeze, a flirtation with sunlight, a zamindar to birds. And yet the tree itself is loneliness. Unmoving, contained and exquisite in the entire honesty that it will never be actively engaged in the company of others. But that’s to me, the one watching the tree. If a tree could talk, it would then tell us of the infinite terrible-ness of its loneliness. And that, for me, is the probably the most hellish thing about being lonely. That there are no words.