I’m standing in front of my mailbox, mindlessly sifting through my Monday mail. Between the grocery store flyers, a postcard reminding me to purchase new tires in preparation for winter weather, and a parking ticket addressed to my apartment’s previous tenant, I’m unimpressed with the day’s delivery.
I’m not paying attention to my surroundings, and as I shut the small metal door of my mailbox, I’m startled to find a man standing next to me. Though I know him—he lives across the small courtyard that separates our apartments—his appearance surprises me and causes the contents of my hands to quickly scatter to the floor below us.
As I kneel down to pick up my mail, he crouches down beside me.
“Oh, you don’t need to help,” I say as I move to gather everything together. “I’ve got it.”
He picks up the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer that lies next to him.
“I’m happy to,” he says, handing it back to me.
I wrap my fingers around the paper and offer a small smile as I thank him and stand back up.
“Hey, it’s the least I can do for scaring you like that,” he laughs.
Though I am well-versed in filling in the pregnant pauses that come with small talk, it’s one of my least favorite things to do. And since my day has been spent tackling an overflowing inbox, putting out multiple work fires, and dealing with other people’s problems, I simply don’t feel like engaging in a conversation right now: I just want to be left alone.
“No worries,” I say. I shift my work bag back up my shoulder and begin to head toward the elevator. He falls in step next to me.
“Do you have your daughter tonight?” he asks.
“Nope, not tonight. But she’ll be back Wednesday,” I say.
“Max will be happy to see her,” he says. His son always loves looking through the rails of their patio, trying to find Zoey on our own.
Once we’re in the elevator together, he turns toward me. “Hey, you can come over for dinner if you want. We’re making sausage and roasted cabbage.”
My introversion and my desire for a quiet night quickly take over. “I appreciate the offer,” I say, “But I’ve got leftovers—and a lot of work—waiting for me tonight.” I point toward my bag, hoping the gesture and its heavy appearance backs up my excuse.
“Maybe some other time, though!” I add, perhaps a bit too brightly.
The elevator dings and the door opens, inviting the two of us to step out into the hallway together.
“Sure thing,” he agrees, giving me a wave. “Good luck with the work.”
I thank him again for his offer and wish him a good night before we go our separate ways. Once I’m inside the safety of my apartment, I close the door behind me and lean against it, letting out an audible sigh. And then, as I’m surrounded by the dark emptiness of my home, I tell myself the lie that I’ve become well-versed in, the one that keeps me company during the nights I am here by myself:
I just want to be alone.
* * *
I toss my mail on the table, hang my purse on a chair, and kick my shoes off onto the floor. A few blades of grass cling to the bottom of the heels. Stuck there by bits of dried mud, I had collected them earlier as I walked up a muddy hill outside work to catch a glimpse of the day’s long-awaited—and absolutely stunning—solar eclipse. Looking back now, I realize those few minutes had been the only moments of my day that I had felt fully and truly alive.
I realize this because my current moment is not one of them.
I pick up my shoes and clean them off while I go to my room. I change my clothes and then walk back to the kitchen and open the refrigerator to assess my food situation. Given that my dinner the night before had consisted of an apple and a granola bar—the bag of popcorn I’d single-handedly eaten at the movie I had taken myself to left me too full for a bona fide meal—and although I’ve told my neighbor otherwise—there are no leftovers in sight. I hastily scramble up an egg and then sit, eating at my kitchen table, looking at pictures of 19 cent bananas, kale-enhanced spring mix, and peanut butter-filled pretzels.
When my food is done and I finish flipping through the flyer, I think about that lie I keep telling myself, the one where I’m happy being by myself, and then I think about the truth. As much as I don’t like to admit it, I feel so terribly lonely, and while I don’t want to be around people that I don’t really know or spending my time meeting new people, I really don’t want to be alone: I just want to be with the people I love.
And though many miles and reasons and circumstances separate us, I want them here right now. I want them sitting at my dinner table, asking me to pass the butter, or standing at the sink, keeping me company while I wash the dishes. I want welcoming hugs and late night conversations and laughter to fill the empty spaces in both my home and my heart.
I sit at my table, motionless, for another half hour, with my walls closing in on me and these thoughts swirling around in my head. And then, after another 15 minutes pass, my thoughts have returned to my fully alive moment of the day. I think of the way the crescent sun had hung high, orange and burning in the sky, trying its hardest to break free from the moon’s shadow, and I realize that the sun isn’t the only thing that’s been obscured today: my loneliness seems to have eclipsed me. Suddenly, I know what I need to do to make myself feel better.
I know where I can go to not feel so alone.
* * *
I grab a sweater and sneak out of my apartment, hoping I don’t accidentally run back into my neighbor. I make my way to the next building and opt to take the stairs instead of the elevator. I climb four flights quickly, and by the time I’m pressing hard against the door that always sticks, I am sufficiently out of breath. But when I step out onto the rooftop, fresh air greets me, and my lungs are sufficiently filled again.
I remember being mesmerized by this rooftop garden when I toured my apartment building, its westward view offering a spectacular, distant sight of the Rocky Mountains. From where the sun sits in the sky, I can tell I’m just in time to witness the day slip into dusk behind those majestic peaks.
I sit down in a comfy chair and wrap my sweater around me. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and let my thoughts finally start flickering to happier things. I recall a night, one quite similar to this one, when Zoey danced on this very rooftop mere days after we moved in.
I remember the happiness that slowly spread across her face as she twirled and leapt and shuffled over the floor’s inset lights, ones that offered the perfect spotlight for her impromptu performance. I remember the way my claps and our collective laughter echoed down to the street below, the way she climbed into my lap so we could watch the sunset together, the way our bright white skin cut across the navy sky as we pointed up toward the twinkling stars that gradually appeared above us, the way our hopeful hearts slowly opened up to this new beautiful unknown.
And now, I think of Zoey a few miles away, safe in bed and sleeping, and I wonder if in her dreams, she is remembering these moments, too. I tell myself she is, and peace settles into those aching spaces in my heart.
* * *
The sun starts to dip low on the horizon, and the amber slowly fades to blue and the blue eventually slips into midnight. By the time this thick darkness finally settles in, I realize my loneliness has faded alongside the color of the day.
Because as I sit here on this rooftop, I’m under a sky that’s been with me from the beginning. I’m under the same sky that hung heavy on a cold Indiana January morning when my parents held me for the first time. I’m under the same sky that I grew up under, the same one that stayed above me with every move I made. I’m under the same sky that spanned the states I traveled across when I decided to head west. I’m under the same sky that kept me company during Zoey’s early infant midnight and 2 AM and 4 AM feeding sessions. I’m under the same sky that spilled sunlight on the floor the first morning my new chapter began. I’m under the same sky that, by now, surely knows me better than I know myself.
My loneliness has faded, because right now, I have the universe surrounding me. It sits there beside me, welcoming me home, wrapping me up, and passing me memories that offer comfort—ones that remind me that although I am alone sometimes, the company I crave isn’t as far away as it sometimes feels: Because somewhere out there, we’re all underneath this same big sky, most likely all wanting the same thing: Each other.
* * *
* * *
I sit in the darkness and wonder: How can I feel so alone? And how can I feel like the people I love are really that far away?
I realize I can’t, because just like this glorious universe, they are with me now, and they are with me always—in my thoughts, in my wants, and in my dreams. They are with me in my heart.
I’ll take this kind of comfort and company any day—especially this one—so I tilt my eyes toward the heavens and offer up an immense and spectacular prayer of gratitude, one that is only rivaled in size by this infinite—and intimately beautiful—night sky.
How do you combat loneliness when you are away from the people you love? And where do you find peace and comfort in the universe—is it in the sky, the stars, the sun, or the moon? Perhaps you find it in other beautiful things—like flowers or rainbows or majestic mountains? Tell me in the comments—I’d love to know.
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.