Party for One

I used to find myself visited by the feeling of loneliness. Even after I was on campus for a couple weeks, even after I surrounded myself with people who seemed to want the best for me, loneliness sat at the edge of my bed every night. 

It was a strange thing, really. This age, which was supposed to be marked by endless possibilities, was suddenly discolored by anxiety and homesickness. Turning eighteen and leaving home did not have the allure it once did. The worst part was I knew about it. It seemed to me that being oblivious of the events that brought on emotional discomfort was a blessing, but I was cursed with a specific hell of being introspective. Of course, I didn’t blame myself entirely—at least not early on in the night as I sat on my bed coloring a blank page. The darker the night sky grew, the heavier it got to carry the reality of being by myself. 

I knew my interests had a lot to do with this situation: I had not found people who shared the same cultural background as me, the same humor, or the same insecurities. I was not going to force myself to keep company for the sake of not being alone. However, the moment the clock struck midnight most nights, gloom hung over my eyes, and, only by closing them, could I see any clearer. 

One of the first times I hung out with a large group on the steps of Houston, I found myself drifting off to the back and staying there. Early on, I would talk to people left and right about my hometown, my major, and my hobbies, topics that were starters in forming a deeper connection. Yet, by the end of the conversation, nothing happened. Instead, I drifted to the back. The most painful part was no one noticed me drifting away. If anything, situations like these just reinforced my decision to not keep company around just for the sake of having someone around. Loneliness was a pain, but I knew pretending to be friends would be a killer. 

Dinner was always a doozy, mainly because I ate alone. I knew, somewhere on campus, people my age were discovering themselves while eating food from Carm, talking about love and grief. Meanwhile, I sat in my room watching whatever TV show I was behind on, not knowing whether to fear or welcome death. I certainly had no idea how to love or deal with the grief of feeling alone. I ate my dinner regardless. Before I went to sleep every night, I journaled my thoughts knowing someday these notes would come in handy. 

Then winter arrived. Part of the reason why I wanted to study in the Northeast was the guaranteed snow. At first, I thought the snow would make amends with the worst in my life. It was exciting watching white particles fall from the sky, a reminder that nature had its own methods for bringing change into the world. But eventually, the cold seeped through my window, covering all four walls in frost. In the afternoons, when the weather allowed, I would go for a walk around campus. In went my earphones, and out went the ambitions I had set for the day. My therapist later told me that this practice was the best thing I could have done for myself. She said locking myself up in my dorm was not a good idea. 

I knew that I should’ve left my room more, but it was a COVID year. I was a freshman with no clue of who I was. Who was I looking for? What identities of mine would I want to present in my ideal community? Would it serve me any good to think of these questions? These thoughts alone were obstacles themselves. I didn’t dwell much on these questions. Apparently, building expectations on the things you can’t control is not always wise. 

The next few weeks were spent focusing on what I could control: my grades and the food I ate. Around this time, homesickness was a frequent visitor who forced unwelcomed overstays in my shoebox dorm. After a few weeks, missing the presence of my family turned into a yearning for the way life had been in the past: a Wednesday afternoon in Texas with the sun melting on my face. 

These thoughts, as much as I wanted to, were difficult to control. It reminded me of an article I read about nostalgia. In the 17th century, nostalgia was considered a psychopathological disorder, one that in many cases led to death. Despite being seen in Spanish soldiers during the Thirty Years War, this disease had traveled through centuries and across continents, landing on me and making a home out of an eighteen-year-old body whose world was just opening up. 

Coincidentally, COVID-19 was also making its rounds, and though my immune system was strong enough to fight it back, it seemed like nostalgia was the stronger disease in my heart and mind. Of course, I knew nostalgia couldn’t kill me, at least not in the 21st century. What I was really scared of was losing the ability to experience the world. I decided then that no matter what the experience was, I would write it in my journal at night. 

Gradually, the walks across campus became about the trees changing colors and the squirrels zooming in front of my path and less about the absent people around me. I no longer measured every person by how likely they were to be my friend, and it was then that I began to feel a part of something, a sensation running through my body welcoming me to a new stage. Though COVID still persisted, restrictions had decreased and allowed for small in-person events, where I would come to learn from others that I was not alone in how I felt. 

On one occasion, I recall admitting to someone who I had just met that the distance between Tufts and home had greatly affected me. She was from California and felt the exact same way. I was glad to have found a moment of comfort with her. Looking back, I applaud my honesty. I had nothing to lose then, and it gave me the opportunity to connect with others in the way I had wished for. As I began to wrap up my first year at Tufts, I could see familiar faces in every space I walked into. My world was opening up. Saturation to the max. Everyone metaphorically cheering me on. 

It became clear to me that we crave social connection; this natural drug is innate to us. Looking back, I see the journey I was on as instrumental to where I am now and who I am with. Loneliness is only a reminder that you are only human and that you want a community to connect with. In the months I spent alone, I learned that when you don’t have a community, every corner of the world becomes a place for you to try to make one. And every little detail about you becomes a labyrinth for others to walk through. And even if they don’t make it to the end, there’s something tender about opening up to a stranger. Vulnerability welcomes you into a new home and those lonely feelings soon vanish. The moment ends and life goes on. The party for one becomes a party for two, or for three, and eventually a party for all.