On Solitude by Berny Tan


I have recently made the observation that I am increasingly uncomfortable being in groups. One other person – fine. But in groups of three or more, it leads to more opportunities for realising how apart I really am, how much everyone else is close to everyone else, how much they are okay with being away from me… I don’t know. It’s as if the part of that person that is real to me is the one I encounter in the intimacy of our respective duos, and I can’t seem to deal with how much they change when they are around other people, other situations. And that’s when I start to judge them, and myself, start to compartmentalise irrationally. Me, a control freak, you, in your little box, determined by the experiences we’ve had with each other and nothing else. It’s scary how selfish I am.

Maybe this was something that had been disturbing me since I was a child – it seems to be a familiar, albeit more intense sensation. But it was also something that I repressed for some reason; perhaps I felt it to be “not right”, or I was trying to assure myself that I wasn’t all that different from everyone else, even though all I had to do was look in a mirror to see that was a lie. As I grew older, it seemed to me that everyone else found someone or some group that they connected with in a manner that sadly eluded me. Even now, I think back on the people that I have felt closest to in my life and all I can see are the differences and distances. The people that, at some point or other, I honestly felt were everything I could ask for in a friend, have drifted so far away. I remember I once called this… the un-equivalence of need. Or something along those lines.

It’s sad when you fear loneliness so much that it paralyses you, you, alone, in your own body, your own empty shell filled only with the memories of what once was, memories that define each person’s existence. People change, they snatch out a memory from under their own little memory pile, and suddenly everything comes tumbling down…

And that is why I need to be alone. I don’t want it to be this way. But I need loneliness to protect myself from being lonely.

One and One.

I was on the flight back to New York when I realised something. I sat back in the chair and thought: “It’s so fucking loud in here. I can’t even hear myself think.” It was strange; I felt like I had noticed it before but I just never cared. It just really got to me this time, how loud it really was in there, and how everyone didn’t seem to notice that continuous bass note of static coming from the engines mouths saying, “I just wish this flight was over so I can stop being so loud and hear myself think.” That sort of extended muffled roar that no one could care to listen to, but once your brain realised what your ears were hearing you just couldn’t shake it.

In fact, it was so loud that you could be in the restroom – those “lavatories” – and say anything you wanted at the top of your voice and no one would even hear you. The noise would suffocate you before you could even get around to screaming. I could have said anything I wanted in there. I stepped out of myself and thought, this is intensely solitary. Here I am in this space, steps away from the next person on this plane, and yet they wouldn’t be able to hear me shout. Here I am spending the entire flight sitting, sleeping, and eating next to a complete stranger, thousands of feet above the sea with the engines blaring in my ears…

People really are oblivious to how alone they are. Maybe the big secret is… we pretend that we are not lonely because it is the most unbearable thought in the world.


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