Sitting in a smoke-filled biker bar, alone in a corner, I have my eyes closed in an attempt to zone out and let my mind wander away from the current space. Thoughts bounce in and out until I am suddenly jerked back to the present by someone pulling my mask down to my chin. My senses focus with the boisterous chatter and music spilling out of the jukebox speakers. A leathery woman with dyed black hair stands inches from me and in a quasi-flirtatious drunk stammer asks “what’s wrong, you scared of the air?” I yank my mask back up over the bridge of my nose and turn my face and simply say “no.” The woman glances over her shoulder making direct eye contact with the friend who brought me to this place. The friend smirks back. The two have obviously become quick acquaintances over drags of cigarettes and shots of the bar’s special syrupy sweet green tea concoction.
I make my way to the exit, deciding that sitting in the rain is preferable at this point. Under the neon sign flashing “Bar Open”, I pull my mask back down and take a deep breath of Florida’s swampy humid air. It is a year into the Covid-19 pandemic and I suddenly feel tremendous guilt for having traveled across the country, a guilt I am told is unfounded because I have antibodies at this point. This rhetoric is told to me by the same people who never believed in the direness of the virus in the first place. Perhaps my guilt is also coming from another place. Guilt disguising anger for being patronized by the leathery woman or for having been misled into coming on this adventure in the first place. Guilt, as useless of a feeling as it, is certainly vicious in the way it can cover up true emotions. I am suddenly overwhelmed with the omnipresent feeling of loneliness that I have experienced throughout my life.
As I sit there alone outside the bar, I have a visceral flashback to a time during my first year of college when I found myself similarly alone in downtown Los Angeles on a Sunday night. This was back when downtown Los Angeles was all but abandoned except during business hours and before smartphone navigation and Uber were available for quick escapes. It was my first year of college and overcome by loneliness I somehow followed a fellow dormmate to what was supposed to be a concert of some sort. I did not know this person well, nor did I know Los Angeles. I went against my better judgment. We arrived at dusk to an industrial warehouse where I soon learned that the concert of sorts was in fact a fundamental religious organization with evangelical aspirations. Again, those pesky feelings of guilt took hold for having been manipulated and going against my better judgment, or in fact, lonely enough to look the other way. Once there, it became clear that I either participate in the set activities or I do not get a ride back to campus. So, I left alone and spent hours in the dark wondering my way back to campus, tears streaming down my face the whole way.
The story I tell about this incident now is unlike this one, but rather a humorous anecdote about how I was once lured into a religious cult in downtown Los Angeles. It is funny. Much like how I imagine the story of me sitting alone in a rainstorm outside of a biker bar in rural Florida during the middle of a pandemic will be in ten years. It is funny because it has to be, otherwise it just a reminder of how vulnerable one becomes when lonely.
I get told over and over again how brave I am for being so independent, or how lucky I am that I can be so free. Much of my life has been a series of restarts which to the outside eye look like fun new adventures. I have relocated myself eight times as a self-willing adult, from one coast to the other and back again, and a few other countries in-between. Adventure can be one spin, one which fits the millennial stereotype of being detached from responsibility and noncommittal. I can accept a grain of that as my reality, but in all honesty, I move simply because I am not happy where I am. And the restarts are no longer fun.
It is human nature to seek a tribe, the people who will be there to fill the voids that family cannot or when family is no longer there. I attempt to find my tribespeople wherever I go, starting with those who I can count on to do things with, like grab a drink or go on a hike. The hope is to eventually count on those people for emotional support, something built over time. What is disheartening is when you discover that those forged relationships are completely fixed in a specific time and space.
My mind wanders back to the friend in the bar, the one who convinced me to come, the one who I met in a past life. We once lived in the same community. But I moved away, as I do. And while we stayed in touch, over time we lost that special connection, the emotional connection. I am not sure when it happened, but with that glance between the leathery woman and my friend’s smirk back to her, the end was solidified. And at that moment, while I had ventured to Florida to be with a friend and break my year-long stint in isolation, all I wanted to do was go back home and be alone. Loneliness is addictive and this pandemic has fed my addiction.