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.
I knew you would want to talk about Kant or Descartes or Hume again, how can I compete with them? And this time it's free will; you tell me Physics doesn't leave much room for choice--what if everything has already been laid out? I reach for a pastry, taking the beignet gently in my fingers, letting the sugar glaze melt a little in the morning sun. You lean back on your elbows and ask me or the sky, what if it's all inevitable? I polish off the doughnut, licking my fingers clean then rolling up the cuffs of my jeans That's called determinism, I say and it haunts me. You pause on that, is there any other way? Then you take my ankles and swing my legs into your lap. I lay back, shoulder blades pressed flat into the grass beneath the devstating canopy of clouds and think about agency and freedom: Chaos, I say as if it's half a question. Spontaneity, as if it's something that I want very much but am afraid to afraid to ask for. You're holding my small pink feet in your hands, everything about you, unbearbly wistful. Which is worse? Before I think too hard about it, I hear myself answer: I don't care as long as there is God. What I mean is I want both freedom and meaning-- that's what we all want don't we? The things we can't ever seem to get our hands on.
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.