I love to be alone.
Headphones in. Blankets tucked up to my chin. Air conditioning on high. A book in my hands, with a spine that cracks. A vanilla-scented candle, or pumpkin (if it’s Oct.), burning on my bedside table. Maybe listening to Vance Joy. Drifting in and out of an uncommitted sleep. Just me and my thoughts. Just me and my words.
I like to go shopping alone. Browsing in and out of stores with nobody urging me to go from one place to another, to hurry up or slow down. Just on my very own time. Bookstores are the best for solo browsing. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t have too many distractions if I happen upon a bookstore, unsure of what I’ll select as my next literary adventure. I need time in my own mind, to browse and mingle with the characters on the pages. I can only make a selection if all my attention is on the shelves in front of me.
I like to get coffee alone — watching the people cycle in and out of the cafe — on their phones, with a lover, on a first date. I jot down what I notice, and all I worry about is the ink of my pen, my almond milk cappuccino and this flaky, chocolate croissant. It is much easier to people watch alone. It’s much easier to write poetry alone. It’s much easier to make my cappuccino last for hours when there’s nobody there to tell me they’re bored of sitting and overhearing conversations about baby showers and car accidents and expensive trips to Whole Foods.
This is what it means to me: to recharge.
I digress. I love to be around people — I thrive off of lovely conversation, a dining room table set for dinner with five chairs too many and long drives as the leaves change with my brother in the passenger seat, talking the whole way as the scenery molds and shifts. But having time for myself is essential in my day to day when I sometimes feel as though the walls of my own mind are caving in on me. It is a rarity to get more than a few moments of alone time each day. I never realized how much I took alone time for granted until I was thrust back into the routine of college life after my summer of solitude.
In St. Louis this past summer, I spent most of my time alone. I went on long, dragging, hot and procrastinating runs — going for as long as my legs would allow, just to kill the time. When I was let off work early I walked around Forest Park, as the Midwest heat beat down on my sunburned shoulders and sunburned cheeks and the sweat dripped from my hairline down my face. St. Louis is dangerously hot in July, but I learned to love the feeling of walking by myself in the heavy heat. I would walk through the free zoo, slowly, noticing and wondering. I would stare at the elephants and hang around the giraffe exhibit. I would smile at the little kids tugging on their mother’s shorts and squealing with delight. I’d wonder about when I was their age. I’d walk from the zoo to Jeni’s for ice cream, and I’d sit on the bench outside, all alone, and lick my butter cake ice cream cone that melted down my fingers and hands. I went on bike rides when I needed to clear my head, happened upon the art museum when I was bored and spent hours in the coffee shop at the intersection of Skinker and Forest Park Parkway, tucked in the corner that was always vacant.
I always ended up in the bookstore, on the floor, with my legs tucked under me, paging through the novels to decide what was next to read. The hours flew by in the bookstore, whereas they dragged whenever I was anywhere else. When I challenged myself to stop spending money on books, I’d venture downstairs and sort through the $1 used books, buying any collection of poems that had a nice title.
I learned to enjoy eating alone — dining in and eating out, tacos and breakfasts, hamburgers and oatmeal bowls and anything with bell peppers. I spent a good amount of time in the aisles of Trader Joe’s thinking of how I’d be able to master my next unexpected and original recipe. I always ate against the ceiling to floor windows in my kitchen, watching the sunset bleed through the peaks in the trees.
Even when the sun goes down on a St. Louis summer day, it’s still too hot.
But now, here in Ann Arbor, as the seasons change and my entire life seems to be an unfinished to-do list, I long for the heat, its lasting burn through the mindful, peaceful, quiet days. The way it felt on my shoulders and back as I strolled alone and unfettered through the lush green park — nowhere to go, nobody to answer to, not a deadline in site. Just me, my mind, the lone bench in the zoo near the giraffes and a Jeni’s ice cream cone waiting for me — promised to myself in the near future.