Personal Column: Alone isn’t lonely


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Throughout this story, I learn the importance of being alone.

Just go away!

I stifle my sniffling as I hear two soft knocks on my bedroom door. I knew those knocks, they belonged to my dad, who had just ruthlessly relegated me to time out in my room for fighting with my brother, Augie. Again. For the fourth time this week. Clearly nobody understood me, I thought to my third-grade self. All I wanted to do was say hi, joke around, just be with my brother, but he started shouting. Why?

I finally cede to the soft voice of my father, as I always do, and walk across my carpet to unlock the door. Then the sniffles returned. 

I didn’t do anything wrong!

I bawled in his arms, desperately explaining between gobs of snot that I wasn’t trying to make Augie cry, all I wanted was to be with him. Brushing the baby hairs off my face, my father told me,

Your brother’s tired, and he might not want to play right now. Augie just needs to be alone.

Alone. That word scared me. Was my brother okay? Was he sad? I worried whenever my parents explained the concept of alone time – why would anyone want to be by themselves when they could be with someone else?

Thing 1 and Thing 2, my brother and I were named the Wonder Twins (and still are called that) because our age and bond were both so close, we were practically twins. (Courtesy of Audrey Piczak)

To me, being alone meant being lonely.

And it did for a long time. So I did my best to keep company close, making sure the dinner table never got too quiet, bustling between the rooms of my sister, brother, and parents, between the comfort of one friend to another, whomever it was, I made sure I kept the warmth of another body, another person, near my own. 

In fourth grade, my dreams of interdependency seemed to unfold right before my eyes as I found myself a part of the Pink Posse. No, this wasn’t some esteemed secret organization or pop group. It was six 10-year-old girls dazzled in pink who reaped the benefits of elementary school popularity. I actually hated the color pink, and I found myself missing playing football when we sat at recess to gossip and talk about cute boys, but I had friends now – lots of them. I sat with my new friends at lunch that day and felt the eyes of my best friend since second grade digging into my back. We always sat together. We always did everything together, actually, but not anymore. Deep down I felt a feeling of shame churn in my stomach, but I just told myself it was the peanut butter sandwich, because what good did a best friend do when you could have six? 

They weren’t really my best friends. It was clear that I was not one of them, and unfortunately I was the last one to realize it. Basically the whole classic coming-of-age story unfolded where I found my way back to who I really was and gave a big hug to my actual best friend (we’re still best friends today) and everyone lived happily ever after, yada yada.

My best friend, Caroline, and I have been best friends since the second grade. (Courtesy of Audrey Piczak)

But I still think about that. How easily I ran from my closest friend just for the comfort of quantity. Six bodies were much greater than one, and that’s all I saw them as. How I never quite understood what alone time meant. How, to me, my brother’s cries for quiet were cries for help. 

I remember when I found out where my brother’s love for quiet came from. One day after school I was talking to my mom (spoiler alert: he got it from her). She told me about the other moms that she knew who always had to be seen by others, with others. She told me she didn’t understand them, or rather, their addiction. I remember watching as she stood across the kitchen. I remember looking at her differently, noticing the serenity behind her eyes for the first time, the authenticity of her smile, all of these things that I’ve grown to admire the most about her today. She was happy – truly happy – because she didn’t need superficial company to give that happiness to her. I remember looking down at my peanut butter sandwich and nodding in agreement. And I remember my stomach beginning to churn as I realized I was destined for the same life-long addiction as those PTO moms, but I just told myself it was the peanut butter sandwich.

I’m a junior now. And I know I’m still young, but sometimes I feel like I’m already becoming my mother. I’ve become less scared of this whole being-alone thing. It’s taken a while, sure, but I think that I’m doing pretty well, seeing that my progress is better than some 40-year-olds. But I do also know that this fear isn’t ever going to completely go away nor fade. That’s the thing about fears, we never get rid of them, we simply learn to live with them. When we see their waves, we learn to dive into their waters rather than being knocked over by their power. I’ve also learned that being alone and being lonely isn’t the same thing. There’s a very thin line between the two, but it’s there. I’ve learned to walk it like a tightrope, sometimes teetering on the string but never falling off it. Being alone is a choice – dare I say – a privilege – and I’ve come to appreciate it as such. My third-grade self, of course, would be mortified, but I think my brother and mom would be proud. I used to be scared of walking by myself in the hallways at school. Now I love to put my headphones in, turn the volume up to where the voices of others fade to background music, take a deep breath in, and walk alongside myself.