Sitting on a sagging air mattress squeezed between the walls of my best friend’s bedroom, I remember reading my first horoscope — Libra: the social butterfly. “Thrives when surrounded by people,” it said, “hates to do things alone”. The words felt alien to me as if I had been given a silvery tray of things to dress myself in an identity that did not belong to me. As if I had been cloaked in a skin that was not my own.
I have always felt softest in the shadows, safe in the corners in the in-between moments. As a girl, I would take my lunch box to the big oak tree in the schoolyard and eat my cheese sandwich in quiet observation of all the busy. I would welcome the bright sounds of my classmates as they danced towards me on the thick June breeze. In middle school, I would finger through the worn pages of Charlotte Bronte and Alexandre Dumas; I would watch the world swirl into blurs as I folded myself into Igor Stravinsky and Pink Floyd.
For most of my life, I have actively pursued aloneness. I eat alone, shop alone, sit alone. I relish the hours spent basking alone in the afternoon sun of a cafe. Of course, I have never *truly* been alone. I am blessed with a family both given and chosen that ground me. And maybe aloneness felt easier because I knew that when all else failed, they would keep our hearth burning. Nonetheless, I efforted at every turn to make space for myself. It was space to breathe and space to be, but also space away. And for the most part, this life has served me well. I like the world that I have chosen, I like the way it wears on me.
But as I grow older and the ground beneath me shifts, I begin to wonder if aloneness was a choice or if instead, it was a shelter. I wonder if, for all those years, I painted independence across my skin like camouflage to hide from the parts of life that stung. By drawing boundaries around myself, it meant I was never forgotten. It meant that I could never be let down, never overlooked, never left behind. And even though it meant that there were no arms to wrap around my tired bones each night except my own, it also meant that I was never left sore from a half-hearted squeeze or an empty-eyed gaze. It meant I was never left aching to feel like I was good enough or to feel like I belonged.
And I wonder where this all began when I decided that a life lived within the padding of my own walls would be easier than a life in the open. I wonder if it happened when I was young and still malleable. Maybe it happened in little moments tucked neatly into the folds of my childhood — small burns that taught me to keep my hands out of the fire. Maybe it was in the rolled-up beach towels that never got wet, the sweat that cooled on the soccer bench, or the bitter taste left over from too many taillights.
Or maybe it was none of these moments, and yet all of them at once. Maybe it was something that happened slowly, gradually, with time. I think it must be something that my body learned, memorized syllable by syllable into its muscles. I repeated the words over and over again until they became the truth, or at the very least until I believed them to be true – is there any difference anyway? It’s something that began like a hairline crack in your favorite mug, small enough that you don’t notice it at first, so you keep using it. Every morning, every afternoon — it is your favorite, after all. And all the while, never noticing that each time you fill it up, the crack becomes a little darker; the tear between ceramic walls becomes a little colder. Until one day, your slightly too-hot coffee breaks the cup in two. Until one day, you wake up to find that your favorite bookstore has closed down, your neighborhood friend has moved. and you forget when everything changed, or if you even noticed it at all. And you forget when this wasn’t the way that it’s always been. What if this isn’t the way it’s always been?
And what if, by wrapping myself in bubble wrap, I sealed out so much good? What if by choosing me every time, I told the world that it no longer needed to? And what if, just what if, by closing out it all, we miss the door to a second chance.
I’m not sure what the answer is – maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s shifting all the time, evolving as we do, but there are a few things of which I am sure. Your softest, safest home is always, ever you. It is the quiet place that we all return to at the end of a noisy day. It is the place where we close the door and release the breath that we’ve been holding. Nourishing this part of ourselves must be our most essential pursuit. But maybe giving to ourselves does not mean we have to carry it all alone. Maybe we can take off this life and share the weight. Because despite the padding, we crack just the same, we break just the same. Because despite the padding, the cracks are inevitable, and the break is inevitable. So, let this aloneness be a choice. But let vulnerability be a choice too. Let sharing be a choice. Let open be a choice. Unfolding your heart can be a tricky thing and let me be clear, certainly not everyone deserves it — in fact, most people don’t. But every once in a while you will meet someone who will cradle you in tenderness, who will soak your skin in belonging. They will make you ache with hope for a world that holds more good than grit. And if we’re lucky, they’ll have the space to share this wild journey with us. These are the ones worth sharing with. I hope you have these people. If you haven’t found them yet, I hope you do.
I know I do.