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It's Nelly's World

Dead Bird

alec vanderboom

What is the cure for loneliness? (And why don't rhetorical questions get answers?) I am sure I have never felt it as I do now, but then I remember I make a habit of fooling myself; I was, after all, once twenty-four and living in a big city alone. Of course, every other of those eight million in the same place were happily enmeshed with others, and all wore their bright badges of affiliation with self-satisfied smiles.

The admission of loneliness is not tolerated well by those I know. They hasten to tell me they are sometimes alone, too. Hey, occasionally their partners go away on business or work late; they are alone for an entire day or even week. This makes me smile. For sixteen years I too was left on my own for a weekend or a week, and I loved it. No loneliness in that whole span of time, ever. One must be alone on occasion in order to be together with oneself.

This, this is different.

I was driving home recently from a public place in which I was both alone and lonely. I suddenly knew in that deep pit of understanding why someone might rush to the liquor cabinet, to find a fast friend in a clear bottle. Someone who would stay right beside you until tingling numbness replaced the ache of loneliness. When they can't cure you, they give you an anesthetic, right?


The days are filled with stuff: volunteer work (in which you do not get to speak anyone but rather stare at Dewey Decimal numbers, or desperate dogs straining at the end of a leash; and when you do this, you think, Why am I here? All this serves to do is increase the frantic feeling that you should be at home, taking step after step up that Sisyphean mountain of work). More stuff: the daily root through the schoolboy's backpack, filled with papers from school to review and sign and mark down on the calendar; the computer, with its endless illusions of togetherness. And then you fall into bed at night, exhausted from the loneliness, which is like a sack of stones you drag everywhere behind you.

Your dog is there, and in some measure she allays the feeling that you are standing on the edge of a precipice whose bottom cannot be fathomed but is felt, by the whistling of a cold wind you are not entirely certain is below you and not inside your chest.

You look it up online. The word "loneliness" generates 13,400,000 hits. Ah, so there are a few others interested in the same subject. The day's first laugh escapes your lips as you wonder how tough it might be to connect with just one or two of these millions--surely you both could take care of the problem with a single stone. Come on, just one or two!

In the online encyclopedia entry, you read the following: "Loneliness is a feeling where people experience a powerful surge of emptiness and solitude. . . . [It] is not the same as being alone. . . . To experience loneliness, however, can be to feel overwhelmed by an unbearable feeling of separateness at a profound level. . . . It is often a very common though normally temporary consequence of divorce or the breakup or loss of any important or long-term relationship. . . . Chronic loneliness (as opposed to the normal loneliness everyone feels from time to time) is a serious, life-threatening condition."

Powerful. Surge. Emptiness. Overwhelmed. Unbearable. Profound. Loss. Chronic. The bell tolls, a sound you know. How temporary is "temporary"? Separateness feels like death for some animals.

What is the cure for loneliness? Your child plays upstairs, alone.

Then, the phone rings. A friend calls. Dinner? Quickly, you make herbed deviled eggs, assemble a salad, then trundle the kid into the car and drive down the hill. The sun is preparing to set. While the children run and catch frogs from the swamp and muddy their pants legs, you sit on the back porch of a lovely, serene house and look out over thirty acres of wildflower meadow and wetlands and rock gardens, a drink in your hand, and talk and talk. You swallow it whole, conversation, like sustenance, and you haven't eaten in days. Then you and your friend drive to get the wood-fired pizzas, the four children running around back there god knows where but safe, because it's only nature. It's people and their cars (and guns) you have to worry about, not stones, sticks, or skinned knees. They're fine; anyway, the father is there. So you drive and talk some more, this time about other people's problems, not your own, and it's far better than a drink to relieve what was pulling at you. You don't feel it at all anymore, that which was crushing you earlier. A friend, some talk, citron vodka, and pizza outside while the clouds go orange-pink--restored to humanity, and restored.


The other day a bird hit the upstairs window in the sunshine, right into the reflection of a sky that was not there. He fell to the earth like a rock, and for a while lay there, his heart thumping visibly in his chest. He was a yellow-bellied sapsucker. His gorgeousness lay exposed.