I didn’t realize it until I came face-to-face with a woman with fear so large in her eyes that I can’t remember another feature about her. I saw those eyes when I was hand in hand with a boy leading me through the crowd. I was probably smiling—I usually am with him, especially because he agreed to come with me.
I didn’t think he would. I had two conversations happening on my phone the night before. One, with him and a few choice words like, “Would you want to,” and “Okay yay,” and “See you soon.” The other, with my best friend and a lot of words like, “HE WON’T SAY YES,” and “HE HATES ME,” and “OMG HE’S RESPONDING.” But he came with me to visit my new home, and we walked too many miles and sweat through our shirts and kissed in the rain while holding our shoes in our hands.
He didn’t see the woman, but I couldn’t see anyone else but her. She could have been looking for me, exactly me, on the corner of Wilshire and 14th street, knowing she would finally be seen. Eyes holding that much fear aren’t usually pairs of eyes that are seen that often.
That’s what she said as we passed each other. He was leading me forward but I stopped for a second and she stood right in front of me. “Don’t,” she said. She could have yelled it. It felt like she yelled that word at me.
Don’t look at me like you care. Don’t see me and then walk away.
You always walk away.
He kept me walking forward. I might have clung to him a little tighter and squeezed his palm a little harder. I walked away and I didn’t look back even though I wanted to—but I fall asleep a lot at night lately with that word and those pair of eyes locked in my mind.
There’s one true thing about me that I pretended didn’t exist for a long time; I’m really good at walking away from people I care about. I’ve cried myself to sleep at night thinking about all the ways I fall short of being good enough for them because I like making it all about me. I’m not good enough. I’m not in a place where I can handle your bad days and mine all at the same time. I love you, but I need some space. I love you, but you can do better. I love you, and I care about you, and I pray for you at night and in the morning and when I read about a stranger going through what you’ve gone through and when I read your posts on Twitter—but I need some time away from you because quite honestly, sometimes you bring me down.
I don’t show up for people when it counts.
I said it. It’s the hardest thing in the world for me to type because when I think about what I want from my life two things come to mind. I want God, and I want people. I want love in every place, and mug of tea, and pair of eyes I come to know. I tell people they can come to me with every broken heart and lazy day and thought of inadequacy and I tell them I will never turn away from them when they need a person more than they need anything else. I buy them food and I let them vent and I tell them one thing that doesn’t always feel true but always is. They’re going to get through it.
I love you. You’ll get through it.
I mean it. I mean it with every piece of my soul. But I would be lying if I didn’t also say that sometimes I’m just happy that they needed me.
Loneliness is the antagonist in my story.
He shows up whether my life is taking all the right turns and he shows up when everything is going wrong. He shows up when I’m sitting across from two of my best friends, when I’m driving home from a good date with a boy I liked or bad date with a boy I had no intention of seeing again, when I’m watching Parks and Rec alone on my bed, and when I’m sitting on my mom’s lap. I never know when he’s coming, or for how long he’ll stay. But I can count on him showing up for the rest of my life.
I try doing a lot of things to get loneliness to leave me alone. A short list would include:
Going out for a night
Texting a friend
Texting five friends to make sure someone will respond
Going out to eat
Writing lists of things I’m unhappy about
Writing lists of things I’m grateful for
And so on. Sometimes I do forget about loneliness for a little while—a few drinks in or a marathon of sitcoms later—but before long a few tears squeeze out and when loneliness looks me in the eye it seems like he’s grown a few inches, gained a little muscle weight, reminds me he never goes away other than to get a little stronger. I wish I could say that I’ve discovered his Achilles heel, that I’ve cut off his last head, but it wouldn’t be true. A little whisper inside of me tells me that prayer, prayer might be the only thing bigger than him. But I haven’t tested that theory out yet because I have a trusting God complex.
It’s safe to say that I know loneliness. I know the color of his eyes and the thickness of his hair. So when I see it in a person I love or a person walking down the street, all of my heart wants to shield them, take the blow, tell loneliness that he’s already got me, just please stay away from them.
It wasn’t until this year that I realized though that loneliness sometimes takes the form of the person he’s crushing. And sometimes you can feel him even more when you’re spending time with one of his prisoners.
Loneliness scares me. Depression scares me. So when I started to feel it more and more because I stopped realizing that God had already sketched the plan of my life into the nature around me, I looked at someone close to me and pinned my unhappiness on her.
I’ll always show up for you, I’d told her times before.
I need you out of my life, I told her then.
Purpose replaced people. Ambition replaced friendships. Loneliness was having his own damn way and laughing at how easily I believed his lies.
She reached out to me once later, full of grace I didn’t deserve. Loneliness had left me for the time, God was filling me in ways I hadn’t allowed him to for a lot of years, and I tried to tell her again that I would be there. I would show up.
When I saw that woman, I saw loneliness looking straight back at me in the face. I saw the friend I said goodbye to. I saw all of the ways I let people down and the one thing I’m most afraid of, having nobody’s hand to hold onto, leading me forward.
Don’t dwell on the places you are afraid of. Don’t dwell on the ways you’ve failed people you love. Don’t stop trying to be better.
Start apologizing. Start owning up to your mistakes. Wipe your tears away. Trudge forward. Love God. Love people. Those two things are entirely intertwined. Be messy. Be brave. Pray for friends, and family, and strangers. Pray for yourself. Get bigger. So big that loneliness doesn’t recognize you anymore.
Take every hand around you and hold them a little tighter. People are all we get in this world.