While her mind was idle one Wednesday morning, Marnie came to the realization that she was completely alone in the world. Not lonely, that was a different creature entirely, and she enjoyed her own company a little too much to ever feel lonely for long. She was alone. Despite her ability to effectively communicate with people and mingle socially when the occasion called for such a thing, despite the friends she had that would have come to her aid if asked, and sometimes unasked, no other person occupied space within her personal bubble.
But what was the cause? Who was to blame? Her parents? Her environment? A quick-to-judge society built on the foundation of superficial glamor? No, none of these. If truth be known, and why shouldn’t it be, the culprit was herself. It all came down to her unwillingness to assimilate. She just refused to do it.
Some long forgotten hurt in her past made her create a world where family and friends were strangers and strangers were stranger still. She was a distant friend to a select few and kin to no one, and could easily manage to be alone in a crowded room, untouched in an embrace, and unloved in a relationship. Nothing penetrated, nothing permeated, nothing ever touched her. Nothing real, that is. She knew she could feel. This was made evident by her ability to empathize with television and movie characters, which made her wonder if perhaps life would have seemed a little more real if it came equipped with a soundtrack and the occasional laugh track.
And she would have continued on her isolated path if not for her grandmother who, on her deathbed and oblivious to the surrounding family, recounted random stories from her childhood. She stopped abruptly in mid-sentence and in a moment of seeming clarity, locked eyes with Marnie and asked, “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?”
Marnie hadn’t known the words belonged to Charles Bukowski, and with all due respect to the author, it hadn’t mattered. The only thing that was of any importance was the fact that her need for separation from the world was a lie.
Before the opinions of others mattered, she loved to play games without caring about winning or losing, to sing without worrying about being in key, dance without knowing the moves, and love wholeheartedly without fear of rejection. After being away so long, was it too late to return to those humble and innocent beginnings? Marnie had no idea, but she was determined to give it a try.
Everyone I knew wrote me off as a space case, as if I was insane or some sad eccentric with little grip on reality but none of them, not a single solitary person, bothered to get to know me, to peer beyond this veil of all too fragile flesh in order to witness the infinitude that lay within.
It was a dark and stormy night, the type of night I had grown all too familiar with of late—when all my estranged family and distant friends slept but I couldn’t because all the regrets of my life raged in my mind with an unbearable intensity along with the enduring question—
Why am I alone?
Religion had given me assurances that I was never truly alone and family swore up and down that someone would always be there for me, yet despite all this, one dreary day I slipped on a patch of sadness and plunged into a depression so deep, so far out of human reach that not one single person, a collective of people, or even an all-powerful, all-knowing deity was able to catch my fall.
There was a saying along the lines of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” which was true I suppose but it wasn’t always in a positive way. I adapted to my loneliness and was now quite capable of being alone in a crowded room. I could not find camaraderie or companionship with the people around me, and as a writer, not even with the people in my mind, the ones that I had breathed life into.
Even my own reflection couldn’t be bothered to be in my company. Instead, it turned its back on me, facing the mirror-image room behind itself and whispered, “You have been lonely your entire life and now you will be all alone until the day you eventually die.”
And with this simple truth, slick sheets of tears poured from the storm clouds of azure eyes, streaking black and violet lightning across the alabaster plain of the loneliest face on the planet.
He really did try his damnedest to live his life in a productive manner, the only bit of advice he retained from his absentee father before he faded like the memory of a dream upon waking, but despite his efforts, it seemed as though he hadn’t made one definitive move in the right direction. There had been baby steps, to be sure, all down the vaunted paths less traveled, but for every baby step forward, life managed to push him two adult paces back, which racked up a ton of negative miles on his life odometer pushing his right direction destination so far forward it blinked out of existence on the horizon.
He heard that knowledge was power and he was very knowledgeable in the fact that life was what happened to you when you made other plans but of what use was that now? What was the answer? To grin and bear it? To roll with the punches? To play the hand he was dealt? Not exactly proactive, was it? And when he discovered knowledge did not necessarily mean answers, he was left with another riddle to heap upon the compost mound of riddles he accumulated over the course of his misbegotten life: When did the real answers come? Answers that counted for something?
Did they come in the middle of the night, when the pillow whispered his dreams back to him, or was the house creaking an Aramaic Morse code about his destiny as it settled each night? Or was everything realized the moment he awoke from a nightmare, in that flash second when you didn’t know where he was or what was real from what was illusion and the fear gripped him like a tangled, sweat-soaked bed sheet?
Then he began to suspect the answer didn’t exist within us, not singularly, anyway. What if each and every human being contained some small piece of a larger puzzle and all it took was the connection of communication to fit the pieces together? There was a saying acquired from a passing acquaintance that went, “You were never more than five minutes driving distance from an absolute stranger that had the ability to care for you, perhaps they could not offer love unconditionally, but they honestly cared about what happened to you.”
But he destroyed that somewhere along the way. He made strangers out of relatives and friends and instead of concentrating on what made people alike, he focused on what makes them different. And there really wasn’t a great love for people who were different from our visions of ourselves, was there?
He wasn’t what anyone would call a spiritual being, nor did he reside anywhere in that neighborhood, but he knew that there was a tremendous energy that existed in this moment. Right here. Right now. He just couldn’t seem to tap into it. He was far too busy shrugging off the past and contemplating the future to focus on how he was feeling in the moment, or alarmed at the lack of what he was feeling at present. And perhaps that was the real issue. Perhaps he overthought his existence instead of simply existing.
But who wanted to merely exist? To live life on cruise control? He wanted to be consumed in a fiery passion of–of…well, therein lie the problem. He didn’t know what he should have been passionate about anymore. It was like someone or something blew out the pilot light of his passion so that even the things that used to fascinate him barely held his interest anymore. It was like he outgrew his old life and emerged into a void. Waves of ennui assaulted him daily and though he realized that he must accept thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations as they came (accept, surrender, observe, and then, let go)…this didn’t change the fact that this existence, in this incarnation, has grown tiresome.
The ennui of this moment was overwhelming. He had the urge to deaden his senses with the mindless distraction of television, but instead, sat silently and surrendered. He submitted to what was. He allowed himself to feel himself; to truly experience the exactness of this infinite moment without judgment or ridicule. The difficulty of this task reminded him of a college professor’s eloquent analogy of The Tao:
“The current in a river carries you. If you try to swim upstream, you break the flow, you struggle. If you see a rock and you attempt to hold tightly onto it, the water will shove, thrust, push against you until your arms weaken and your body aches. Work with the current and the current works with you; work against the current and the current works against you. The only way to avoid the struggle is to simply flow; allow the river to carry you, surrender to all that is, and your course – even when rough – will be tranquil.”
He needed to learn to give up the struggle. Or rather, he knew to give up the struggle, now he needed to practice doing so. Upset by what was, angered by what wasn’t, worried about what would be, and anxious of what strife may come, he couldn’t even see the now, let alone feel it, taste it, touch it and live in it.
He couldn’t just flow. I couldn’t stop swimming upstream, or clutching to all that was inconsequential.