Today’s poem of the day from the Paris Review is about loneliness. Today’s heartache is not knowing how to help my daughter navigate her loneliness.
It’s a staunch truth that though we may be surrounded by people—home, work, school— we can still be suffering from loneliness. A longing to be with our person or persons. Someone who has dedicated their precious time and space to listening to us. To hearing us, holding us, and to being present in those difficult moments.
But not just difficult moments. Laughter is so important too and what would life be without someone who makes you laugh or laughs with you, sometimes rolling on the floor with tears streaming down cheeks, uncontrollably? Without someone to smile with, life would be a train on a track rolling through a dark tunnel. No sun, no rain, just a cold dark void.
At 1:30am my phone rings. I know before I look that it’s her. Call it a mother’s instinct, call it experience. It’s a call that hurts my heart and I’m ready when I answer. “Yes, I will come to your room.”
I shuffle up the stairs and she’s sitting on the edge of her bed in tears. The first thing she says is that she needs a hug but I’m already by her side with my arm around her. She’s crying so hard she can’t breathe. At that moment I’m not sure what triggered it, but it doesn’t matter. I hold her tighter.
We sit that way on the edge of her bed for a while, not saying anything. And then finally I break the silence by asking what has happened. She tells me and again, I’m not surprised.
Her best friend is a shitty friend. She only has one and has suffered from a long string of terrible, undependable, aloof, or thoughtless friends. People that she’s put her trust in and they’ve broken her heart, disappointed and abandoned her. She’s been stranded alone so often she has developed a fear and a kind of neediness that feels to me to be atypical for a girl her age.
The advice or wisdom some might offer is that it’s just a phase and that she’ll meet other friends and it will be wonderful. And though I might believe that too, I can’t let those words exit my mouth in front of her. I understand her.
She’s an introvert and has a tough time meeting new people. She doesn’t feel comfortable speaking in a group and doesn’t seek out new friends. She’s trapped in a bubble. I understand her.
That’s my message. I hold her and just try to reinforce that she’s not alone. That I’m here to listen, to talk, and that I will not abandon her.
I am hopeful that when she goes back to college this fall her new dorm mates will be nice girls who she can connect with. I hope she meets people in her classes and that her world gets a little bigger. It’s lonely living in a bubble and it’s not natural. And I hope she’s open to it too and pushes herself to be outside her comfort zone a little bit. I want to promise her it will be worth it, but I can’t make that promise.
We sat and talked for about an hour and then laid down and talked some more. She shared her thoughts and feelings and I listened. Then I shared some of my own life experiences so she knows she’s not alone. At about 3:15am I went back to my own bed because I knew she had to get up at 8 for work.
This morning she came down the stairs, her normal grumpy morning mood tempered a little as she asked for some ibuprofen for her cramps. Yeah, the apple doesn’t fall far.
I’m not terribly inspired by the poem about loneliness, but it feels very accurate. I spent many years feeling that. I’m empathetic but it’s so much worse because I’m her mom and I hate that she’s hurting. You want to protect your children, you know, shield them from the rough times but you can’t. We all have them. All we can really do is be there.
We’re going to dinner tonight, just the two of us. Hopefully we can have a good conversation and I can get to a place with her that she will be open to the advice I have to offer.
So starts a new week. Not exactly the start I was hoping for, but there it is.
Be kind to each other,
PS. Today’s daily poem from the Paris Review:
Though It Looks Like a Throat It Is Not
by Patricia Goedicke
Issue no. 65 (Spring 1976)
The shape of loneliness is a hole
By definition, to be filled.
At the outer edges of the hole
The lizard of jealousy sits
Licking his cold lips
For the shape of loneliness is a hole
With teeth on either side.
In the middle of everyone’s body
Like an empty house, like a coffin
Though it looks like a throat it is not‚
Though it looks like a cunt it is not,
Nothing glows in it but heartburn‚
Nothing lives in it but hot air‚
Gulps of it, rushing through the passages
Occasionally a sigh hurtles through it
Like the roar of a buffalo in a wind tunnel
So that the thin shell of self pity all around it
Shivers a little, and whines
So that it develops a red nose
Complaining to itself, and muttering
Gradually its conversations become more boring
So that everyone walks right by it without looking,
Nobody even bothers to fall in it
Tears water it, profusely
Eventually sadness swamps everything,
Out there among the stars
And the light years between stars
Even the last tiny pinprick of fire at the bottom
Soggy as a landslide sloughs away
To the other side of space
For the shape of loneliness is a hole
Without any edges, finally
The entire universe whistles through it.