WORDS

Solitary Smiles

Learning it’s okay to be alone is a strange feeling. When you drop the last friend off and it’s time to head home, there’s an unnerving restlessness inside the pit of your stomach that tells you…is this okay? The empty space in the car feels almost suffocating and intrusive. Humid Texas air presses against your face and the cicadas in the bushes are the only noises you here now. You quickly roll up the window and squat your cheek. The humming of your old AC unit is too eerie and you switch on the radio. Just in time, it drowns out your own thoughts before you can realize that you are the only one left.

Why is it that it’s more common to have a reason living than to just embrace it? We use our phones, our friends, our music, to make it seem as though we have a purpose. Sitting at a cafe or laying down at a park is fine if you can answer the why. You can’t merely just be in the moment. It just seems…weird. It’s better to have a conversation full of  “Chemistry is killing me!”, or  “What photos do you think fits my feed?” than no conversation at all. During the most crucial years of learning individualism, our generation is becoming increasingly more dependent.

Not to say having friends or spending time finding inspiration on social media is a bad thing, but it also shouldn’t a crutch. Being with friends isn’t supposed to be a photo war on sharing, “Look! I’m not as alone as I feel!” Scrolling through that Cool Girl’s Instagram isn’t supposed to be a self-hate session—no one’s body looks like that 100% of the time. We are so connected to everyone and every place now due to technology, getting lost is almost impossible.

Our parents spent summers running through the freshly cut grass at midnight with cherry soda coating their tongues. Their greatest moments only could be revisited through memories. They learned to wait by the phone for the boy in their math class to call. They curled up in the back of the school library with a Sylvia Plath up their nose. Everything was theirs and only theirs. Their heartbreaks. Their adventures. Their epiphanies. All could be shared but didn’t have to be. They weren’t two seconds from reaching out to a friend, and that was okay. They learned to deal with things head on, individually. They lost track of time. They drove down roads they had never seen. They crept out at night. They went to the movies alone. They could just be.

Through my experiences, though, it seems almost infeasible to go out by myself. God forbid I see anyone I know. What would they think? If that trip to your friend’s house wasn’t on someone’s story, did it even happen? I didn’t realize how much I depended on my phone until I found myself waiting for my pad thai by the school microwave. Instead of just waiting for the one-minute timer to go off, I instantly(and brainlessly) went through my already-read messages. It was almost…instinctual. I couldn’t stand the feeling of making eye contact with someone. Someone with a million friends stacked up on their table. And me, just standing there, alone. It’s a rare thing to just see someone wait now. Just take in the minutes. Let your eyes effortlessly travel the room. But no? Why would you do that? Looking at your phone gives off a message, “Face it. I’m doing something important because I’m important.”

Being alone, no really alone, can be a foreign emotion when everyone else seems so attached. Though, how connected can you really be through a filter of a machine-made scrap of metal? And isn’t it more important to be connected to yourself first? The past month I’ve been setting my phone on Do Not Disturb and taking more steps to a more mindful thought process. It’s been the first time since I was in fairy costumes sinking my toes in the mud that I realized the importance of being me. Without being leeched onto my phone or nearest friend for support, I realized how strong I can actually be if I just let go.

Inner strength is a big deal because what happens when your mediocre friends leave you out or your phone looses connection? You can’t just roll up the window this time. You can’t always escape your own insecurities. You have to learn to push your shoulders back and gracefully go about your business. Being alone is an incredible power. Take time paying attention to the small patterns on the back of the bus seat. Listen to the sound of your boots hit the wet concrete. Smell the fresh, bitter river behind the park. Realize the small in-betweens you have been missing.

Since last weekend, that unsettling pit in your stomach has been cut out with your grandma’s butterknife. So now, it’s a Friday. You drop your last friend off for the night. You watch her walk up to the old Tudor house and you notice the paint crack on the windowsill. There’s thunder in the distance and you keep your window open as you drive away. A smile drapes upon your face. You don’t need to finish that sob story anymore. You already know how it ends. And you’re okay with that.

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