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The Art of Being Alone

By Marina Lembu

In this testimony Marina is sharing her feelings on alienation, different types of loneliness and the imagery of the city she calls home.

There are a million different types of loneliness, but I always feel split between two. There is the loneliness I feel when I am alone, sitting in my parents garden under a lemon tree. The world is silent, I can hear the sun and the cars in the distance and I am alone and content, in touch with the world that surrounds me and with myself. I am lonely but free, and comfortable with being alone. 

I open my eyes and I am on a bus ride home. The rain is tapping lightly on the glass. There are people around me laughing, talking, looking solemnly at their phone screens and it has now been 9 hours since I last used my voice to communicate with someone, 9 hours since I have engaged in any form of conversation and a part of me is scared that if I continue not to use my voice, she will leave me and I will have to find a new one and I wouldn’t know where to look. 

But I am not lonely, right? Connection is at the tips of my fingers. My friends, a whatsapp message away. Sharing their lives with me through their insta stories; I can swipe and swipe and swipe and watch and laugh and engage and congratulate them and be part of their day in Venice or Ibiza or NYC, until I look up from my screen and the interior of the bus is still there and the rain is still tapping lightly on the window.   

I dream of my mother’s lemon tree and being alone when I am lonely but not alone, and most of the time I am confused about which one of the two I want to be and laugh at myself that I have the privilege to think this way, when I am surrounded by people in a beautiful city full of opportunities that “are-just-around-the-corner-you-know-and-all-you-have-to-do-is-put-yourself out-there-and-grasp-them”

In the city I live in, I have learned to recognise different types of silence. There is the silence that follows the third sound of an ambulance passing by in the distance. The silence of my feet touching the floor when I get out of bed in the morning, the responding silence of a passerby to the question of a homeless man as to whether he can spare some change. Or the silence that I become a part of when I am in the middle of a party sitting on the sofa, surrounded by people deep in conversation with one another and I find myself without a partner⁠—suddenly alone⁠. So I keep smiling while I am holding my drink, trying to show myself and everyone that this is deliberate.

I am never alone but my consciousness is lonely; even when I am surrounded by people, my ability to connect is malfunctioning and I am trying to fix it by turning it off and on again in all kinds of ways but it seems like the problem is not just with me but with everyone else and I am part of the problem too. 

So I keep closing my eyes and I find myself under the sun with the shade of the lemon tree on my cheeks and I dream about this place and my mother’s arms and for a moment I feel whole; until I remember that this place belongs to the past, it is long gone and I can never go there anymore.

*The picture accompanying the text is part of the series: “On The Night Bus” by Nick Turpin. More of his work can be found here: https://nickturpin.com/.