Though I’m lonely and single, I can’t stop writing love poems. I talk to my English professor about this and he says, Wait, you’re writing? Yes, I say. So what’s the problem, he asks as he takes a sip of his coffee. I keep writing about emotions that aren’t relevant to me, I explain again. Oh, and? And it’s making me feel lonely, I say. Ah, loneliness. He pauses to scratch his beard. You shouldn’t feel lonely as long as you’re writing. The only friend a writer needs is their work. It can’t be that simple, I whisper. Of course it’s that simple, he smiles, proud of himself for believing he has comforted me. I thank him and leave his office.
I take his advice and spend the next three months holed up in my room, scribbling furiously. I turn down my friends’ invitations and tell my family I’m too sick to join them for dinner. I take my meals by my computer, where a manuscript is half-typed, waiting to be completed.
I write a story about a girl who’s missing her right hand. She goes through life too ashamed of her own deformity to introduce herself to strangers. I write about a family that forgets their dog on a camping trip. I write about a son who swallows a mirror in an attempt to understand his insides. It ends with him spitting out bloody shards of glass. I write about the hole in my stomach I keep swallowing ink to fill and wake up in the middle of the night spewing words.
I talk to my mother about this. She is vacuuming and has to turn off the machine each time I say something. “Have you tried writing relatable characters?” she asks. Yes, I say. Yes, I have tried. She suggests I quit trying so hard. She says loneliness is a state of mind. I ask her how you move out of that state. She says, Aw, honey, let me finish this floor, okay?
I go to my best friend. She asks me if I’m depressed. I tell her, no, I don’t think so. How can I tell? She says she hasn’t seen me in months. I apologize and tell her I’ve been focusing on my work. She says, what work? You just said you can’t write anything good. I tell her she’s right. She tells me she’s afraid of losing me, that I look thinner and like I haven’t been getting enough sleep. We make plans to go out to dinner the next week.
I stop writing. I tell myself that it’s made me a bad friend, a bad daughter, a bad girlfriend. I remember what my ex said before he broke up with me: You’re only lonely because you want to be.
I spend weeks with a smile plastered on my face and my fingers twitching whenever they see a pen. It is not easy to wean myself off of words. I have to avoid libraries, bookstores, and Literature classes. One day I see my old English teacher and he asks how my writing’s doing. I tell him I’ve given it up. He says, well that’s not what I wanted to inspire. Don’t you miss it? Yeah, I say. I do. But I don’t think it misses me.
In a museum gift shop, an old man sees me fondling the journals. Do you like to write?, he asks. I hesitate before replying, I used to, but I stopped. Why?, he demands. Everything I wrote was boring, I say. Who told you that? He looks at me curiously, ready to punch whoever put me down. No one really. I just felt like it was. He hands me a journal and says, You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.
I sit in bed and ask myself why a person would want to be lonely. I pour over the work of my favorite authors, searching for an answer. They tell me that loneliness is an art. They tell me being lonely allows you to feel more. They tell me, we understand, we were lonely too.
Late at night, I find myself hunched over my desk, shaking out sonnets. I write prose. I write poems. I write silly rhymes and love letters and long odes. I write until the sun rises and I pass out on piles of paper, my mouth hanging open. The next day I read it all and three fourths of it is about love. I don’t care. I show my mom and she says, that’s great. I’m glad you’re doing what you love again.
I realize the words don’t mind if I’m lonely. They’re not demanding a reason, they’re helping me find one. And I don’t need to be in love to write about it. I just need to write.