|There are many different types of being alone. My favourite kind is when the lights go down, and I am amongst the rustling and shuffling of fabric edges and fluttering eyelashes and boiled sweet packets. I love sitting by the aisle, with an empty seat on the other side of me. I love the bubble of solitude I can bob along in, in this ocean of warmth, and the breathe of strangers. And I love it most when the show begins, and we all stare forwards, eager, immediately in love, and open like a forest of split trees.
I might be an anomaly when I say, I love being alone more than anything else. It certainly wasn’t always like this: I am an only child, and I used to be obsessed with calling and messaging my friends as soon as I got home from school. I suppose this isn’t particularly different from most pre-teens and teenagers, but for me, I didn’t have any sibling to share my life with. I pretended my cats were my brother and sister. It was an echoing, buzzy kind of childhood loneliness, alive with the scrabbling for constant companionship.
Between the ages of 16 and 30, a string of partners poured cement into the hollow part of me, filling up the quiet spaces. One of them taught me what loneliness really felt like: there is nothing quite like the blackness of isolation, when forced to live amongst people who don’t want you. The nothingness that ran deep and velvet, accompanied by the whispering voices of depression and anxiety that laid me a soft hole to sleep in, while the beast-shell of me raged on outwards and upwards at everyone who loved me.
A year later, at age 31, and the air around me is clear. There is a soft, gentle space, with a breeze blowing and bouncing off the walls of my beautiful small room, where I live on my own. I wake up cushioned in solitude, and fall asleep in the arms of my own moonlit walls. I open my heart to my old and reliable friends, letting their easy love run through my fingers like warm seawater. This is happiness, and I am lucky to have found it in myself.
So I suppose, I do feel like a fraud when people commend me for isolating alone. I simultaneously feel like I deserve some recognition for my situation, while knowing that being alone is not the struggle, it is the salve. Having my loved ones live far away from me for over a decade has trained me well, and I am long used to experiencing companionship through solely calls and messages.
But, like I said, there are many shades of being alone. I have gone to plays alone for a few years. I love the lack of social pressure, and not needing to worry if I have dragged someone to an experience they won’t enjoy. About 5 years ago, I went to my first gig alone. It was a very mixed experience, but ultimately I enjoyed it as the night went on. My final hurdle was going to the cinema alone: which I know will seem odd as I notice most people I know go to the cinema alone more than with other people. However as a teenager the cinema was always a social occasion, and I have had that cemented in my head ever since. But after the first time, I realised what a gorgeous magical experience going to the cinema alone is, sitting where you want to, covered in the popcorn you bought only for yourself.
And so, that is why, after 5 months of various stages of lockdown, I ache to be alone. Not alone in my flat, or alone in my office, but alone in a theatre filled with other people. I crave the smell of perfect salty popcorn from the Savoy, and the softness of velvet seats in the Abbey. I desperately miss an orchestra of laughter rippling through a large room, where none of us meet each other’s eyes but we still feel like we’re in on the same joke. I miss being alone in surround sound, with the warmth of life behind, in front, and on either the side of me.
So when we gather together again, the first things I want to do is buy a ticket and walk into a theatre, where I can sit on the aisle, leaning away from everyone else, and settle myself into the warmth of a well-worn seat. And when the lights go down, I’ll be happy, because I’ll be alone again, in the dark, with all of you.
|Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan is an arts manager and writer. She has been published in Writing Home: The ‘New Irish’ Poets, and Honest Ulsterman. She has performed at events and festivals in Ireland, with work aired on NPR and Irish radio. Chandrika is currently guest editor of Poetry Ireland’s Trumpet, and book reviewer for Inis magazine. Twitter: @Chandrikanm, Insta @Chandrikanm.Art, website: http://www.chandrika.ie|