What Does it Mean to be Alone?

The platform is full of people. The walls hum with the breath of human bodies entering and exiting from all directions. It is just after 5pm and my train to Exeter, NH is delayed by fifteen minutes––prime time for people watching. I make my way to one of the three Dunkin’ Donuts at Boston’s North Station and order a vanilla chai. It’s a Friday night, but are there normally this many preteen girls in neon shirts fringed with pony beads and glitter on their faces making their way through the train station?

“The Katy Perry concert crowd is something else, huh?” a woman behind me in line mentions, gesturing towards a lipstick-wearing mother fidgeting over a pack of daughters in tiger-print leggings complete with little tails sticking out from their backside. I can’t help but laugh with her. “I heard about it on the radio on my commute from work,” the stranger continues. “She’ll put on a real show.” I think back to an argument I had with my eleven-year-old sister about the feminist merit of Katy Perry as compared with the Spice Girls. I’m sorry, children of the millennium, but the 90’s had better music. I rest my case.

I readjust the weight of the backpack on my shoulders and saddle up to the train information screen that ticks the track numbers of new arrivals. All at once I am overcome with the feeling of being in an airport, and being alone. The sensation trickles down my neck and shoulders like a cold egg white. I know no one. Is this what I will feel when I leave?

I am saying goodbye to Boston in stages. Last week I had my last egg and eggplant plate at Clover in Harvard Square. This morning I made my last bike commute in from Roslindale to Cambridge. On Monday I will start coaching my last session of Youth Learn to Row at CRI. I am squeezing in dates between now and August 15 to see friends I know I will miss (if you are reading this in Boston and want to say hello, let me know). Two more weeks and I am gone.

In the last minutes of my finalist interview for the Gardner and Shaw Postgraduate Traveling Fellowship, a woman on the committee asked me, “While you are gone for a whole year, will you ever get lonely? How will you cope with being alone?”

I took a moment to gather myself before I responded. “If there is anything that I learned from my bike trip last summer, it is that the world is full of people. People with stories to tell, if only I listen.”

“But people who know you well,” she pressed. “Won’t you crave interactions with them?”

But the Internet, you know? Well, I didn’t answer like that, but I did express gratitude for living in an age where electronic communication is possible most anywhere. And I have no doubt but that I will keep in touch with close friends and family through electronic communication, and fall back into touch with others when I am back stateside. I want to be as open as possible to the newness and uncertainty that defines this next year of my life. And sometimes being anonymous is liberating, you know?

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