Cloth hangs thick as curtains: floral dresses and saris with their oriental prints. Patterns from the tropics. Fabric from the moon. My own clothes now are navy and dull from so many cleanings. These are the pants I wear to work. The sweater I wear to meetings, to my lectures, with no comment or complaints to my supervisor or his supervisor. I know myself well, it is a lifeless body draped without vegetable dyes or the soak of the earth, raw hands to knead the knots and stitches. I am clearly not of this same earth as I see my face distorted in the curve of the shining rods on the racks. These clothes are almost free, relinquished by those who once owned them, by those who first imagined them, holding the design in their mind and finally made them, stitch by stitch. There is sadness in such a tender craft. For now they belong to themselves, aging in the light as it streams through windowpanes; they are safely apart from the world, yet part of the world, made of the world as it flashes by the bars of my body and does not peek inside. Look at me, I’m begging these bones to open, to open! and yet I am trapped in this box of glass: every speck of dust is illuminated.
Libraries, for example, are good places to escape the viciousness of people when they try to get inside of you. Between the shelves there is plenty of space to lick your wounds. This is something I do often. My first twenty years weren’t easy I was always busy with the important occupation of dismantling myself—an exhausting and ungrateful enterprise. I did this so earnestly that I was, in fact, convinced I had invented the vocation. I just kept carving and carving. Did I ever succeed? in scraping clean the rind. in turning myself inside-out. What is left? after such a thorough cauterization. One raw little soul. I can still taste that grief in my mouth like champagne, icy & no hint of sweetness. I could have stayed inside all day. Meanwhile on the quad, a pretty girl walks her small white dog across the grass & shadows sprawl across the perfect lawn with their splotchy memory. Although memory, I am learning, always give back much more color than what was there in the first place. I look back now, and I want to feel that grass on my skin. But all I can remember is that I hated my life and I hated my life. The feeling comes and goes, but at least I find a quiet absolution in my landscape: the restfulness of books and sunlight in an empty room that transforms the isolation into something else entirely.
Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find someone who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you'll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle get in the way.
Excerpt adapted from White Oleander, by Janet Fitch.