It’s not for not having people who love me. Not at all. And it’s not for not loving people, including a number whose side I would pick up and fly around the world to be at in a moment’s notice if ever they said the word. There’s even a dear I have no doubt would hide me in his basement or attic in the likes of a WWII occupied Europe. And I the same for him. And maybe a few more like him, both ways.
So no, it’s not for a lack of love. At all.
But sometimes I feel alone in all the world. Sometimes alone wakes me up. Sometimes it cries me to sleep. Sometimes it sits on my chest with no intention of leaving anytime soon and it’s hard to catch my breath.
Before you go feeling sorry for me, let me just say there are plenty of times I don’t feel alone and plenty of other times alone is just fine. After all, I love my space and my time and my books and my many-a-million things, like the weathered wooden ladders that I found yesterday and lugged home and washed and put in my bedroom and living room to hold all manner of scarves and cool fabrics and Humlum and more.
I am a girl who can get endlessly curious which means I am not likely ever bored. And I am a girl who gets off on eavesdropping in cafes. And on buses and subways. (Watch out!) And I can look at practically any person I pass on the street and find at least two, if not ten, ways I relate.
All that to say, sometimes I don’t give alone a second thought.
But last night was not one of those kinds of alone. Last night was an alone of a lonely variety. Last night was an alone in all the world alone. An I am completely on my own alone. In moments when I am believing thoughts like these it’s probably good no one around me is desperate for an eye because I’d probably hawk my left one to feel connected.
But I’m picky on top of that, because not just any old connection will do. I notice I’m not picking up the 2 a.m. drunks at People’s Republik. I notice I don’t say yes to anyone and everyone. In fact, I don’t say yes to many things.
Also I must tell you that this isn’t about sleeping or sex. Not necessarily, at least, though of course those would be nice too because sometimes a girl just hankers for body. You know?
OK, who’m I kidding: sometimes a body, the smell of skin, and a neck to nuzzle into are missed so much my molars ache! And maybe I would hawk my other eye. So yes, that would make me blind right about now.
So what is all of this about, really?
It all boils down to connection. It’s about wanting to feel gotten. It’s about wanting someone to say, “I understand. I get it. I so get it.”
All of this I was noticing last night, with not much hope of anything changing, really, when Billy Collins came by for a visit. Be-still-my-heart Billy Collins. Can-always-make-me-laugh Billy Collins. Down-to-earth and ever-accessible Billy Collins. You should know that I’d probably hawk my nose for Billy Collins in person, but this morning finds me with my nose intact: alas, last night’s Billy Collins came in my mind’s eye. No matter. I’ll take Billy Collins any way he comes.
Billy Collins writes poems about big things like love and everyday things like egg salad. Last night he brought me his poem, “Marginalia,” and while alone didn’t leave, I notice that alone fell asleep in good company. Billy Collins had gotten me.
Marginalia (by Billy Collins)
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”