Over the course of the 20 miles I did today, I clambered straight up 2,000 feet, and then slipped right down the same 2,000, only to do it all over again at the end of the day. Over the course of those 20 miles I felt the ache of loneliness, and reminisced about the time when that was the way I always felt.
The path was mostly wooded, affording no views of the proud granite ridges that I am sure surrounded me all day long. My attention, for almost the entire day, was on my feet. The trail was either loosely thrown rocks, that strange cobblestone meant to help maime hikers, or stairs built for babies (unable to support an adult foot on any of the steps).
I woke tired, and the long, hard climb started right away. I dragged myself up that hill, laughing at my hopeless body, knowing the entire day was hard and long, wondering what on earth was wrong with me.
I listened to one of Ant’s Spotify mixes on my phone and felt comforted, felt the presence of love. I listened to This American Life, and felt connected to humans. I listened to Dorian Grey, and wondered what possessed me to choose such a sad book to listen to in the wild (but so beautifully written!). I kept listening, as anything is better than Walden’s endless whining.
I watched the little tykes out, playing and eating. This is the season where everything is new. The marmots and chipmunks and prairie dog looking things are all learning about life.
The marmot babies are fluffy and fat and so bad at hiding. I love watching their curious beady eyes watching me from behind a tiny rock, not realizing that they are not safely out of view. The tiny chipmunks all have tails twice as large as they are — as if they are to grow into them. They are faster than light, skittering across the universe with those long tails straight up like flags. And the brown, bustling prairie dog like animals — they are little and move like ferrets, scrunching and stretching their way across the fields.
All of my day I watched for the little ones, and chatted with those who were more interested than scared. They have been taught well by their parents — not one talked to me, a stranger.
By the time I got to camp I was tuckered out. My feet felt like the bones were in the wrong places, my core was so sore from catching my near falls all day, my mind was weary with lack of human contact. I set up shop, finding time for a long, self pitying cry.
Loneliness seems to strike hard after a tough day. I cried because I was tired and broken feeling. I cried because it felt, looking at the trees and trees and trees and far away rock face, that I was the only person in the whole world. I cried because I thought about Ant and Nate watching fireworks together, and remembered my life in Seattle.
In Seattle, and almost anywhere but the woods, I can talk to anyone. I can go to a coffee shop and make a pretense of needing a pen and make a friend. I can talk to the bus driver. I can call people on my phone. I can even just look online and know I am not alone.
Here, I am my own company. There is no one to put on a cheerful face for, to spin the story of today to make it wonderful, to offer up new and original thoughts, to recount the proceedings of the novel. Alone, I can be a complete bore (and probably can with others as well, come to think of it).
This time six years ago, I was getting drunk for the last time, wishing I wasn’t and trying not to. I was wandering the streets of Boston, pretending to celebrate the Fourth of July and really just sinking away from the world. Between blackouts I remember playing music on a friend’s computer, supposedly to make the night more festive. I was so lost in my own world, divorced from reality and far from the reaches of humanity, they had to shake me, to get me to understand that I needed to stop playing music, that it was time for bed.
I had been utterly alone, despite friends in the same room.
Six years later, my loneliness has a different hue. Today my loneliness is a choice, and has a definite end. My loneliness can be altered by looking around, reminding myself that the birds, the trees, the whole world is around me.
Six years ago, loneliness was the prison that kept me. There was no foreseeable escape, no way to connect.
Today, loneliness is a gift. Today I have myself, and friends just up the trail.