The World is Empty
Or maybe it’s just me
“Do you think everyone is always a little bit lonely?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, even when they’re around people. Most people probably feel a little bit lonely when they’re alone, but do you think that happens when they’re with friends?”
“If we’re all just alone together?”
“Yeah. Or, like, what connects us? In that moment, when we’re together, what’s connecting us?”
“Well…it’s probably the spending time together part, right? Our ideas and our shared experiences?”
Anna pauses and waits, as if she isn’t sure what my question is.
If only I knew.
I walk by a string of restaurants on my way to meet a friend and catch a glimpse of the people inside, their faces illuminated by candles and Edison bulbs. Couples on dates and groups of friends sitting around communal tables. Hand gestures. Laughter.
What are they talking about? What does anyone talk about?
“Do you ever feel like, you have fun with your friends, but afterwards you can’t remember what made it fun? Or like, why anything that happened matters?”
“How so? In the grand scheme of things?”
I laugh. Grand scheme of things. What does that even mean?
“No. I guess, why was it important? Those interactions. The shared activities. Was it meaningful? Did they make me happy? Am I happy now?”
“What? I don’t think that’s how happiness works.”
“Right, but don’t you ever feel like. Like maybe it didn’t mean anything? Like conversations are just conversations and doing stuff is just doing stuff, and after all that’s over, what do we have?”
“I think it matters. We get good memories, right? Or even bad memories. But we get to build on our experiences and our perceptions of the world. And maybe that makes us happy.”
But sometimes I feel like all my memories and my experiences have drowned underwater. I know they’re there, and I can make out their shapes and outlines, but I can’t reach them anymore. I can’t piece them together to build anything. Or maybe it’s me.
Maybe I’m drowning underwater.
I listen to Dave talk about his day at work, explaining the dynamics of trading and global markets. Topics I wish I understood more and wanted to learn about. He pauses to make sure I’m still interested, and I laugh, recounting some off-hand statistic about drivers of human behavior. We’re a pretty good match that way. Complimentary interests rooted in nerd-dom.
We speculate about the other people in the bar. Which date they might be on, how a group became friends, if they know each other from work.
He tells me he’s looked into renting a boat for a day and I laugh at how Connecticut we’ve become. Maybe we can do a weekend in upstate New York instead, he says. Find a cabin by a lake. I smile. Sure, maybe.
“I don’t know how to date people.”
“I mean, obviously I know how to date people.”
“Or just pro-Tinder.”
“I guess I mean, well. I don’t know how to stay excited about guys post-date. Post-dates.”
“Like they weren’t memorable?”
“No, like — ”
Like I can’t remember the point of this, of dating, of loving, of being in love. Can’t imagine what a best-case scenario looks like, what any-case scenarios look like.
The couple across from me on the subway sits in silence, swaying to the movement of the car. Three stops later, he checks his phone. Two stops later, she checks hers.
Is it comfort, or lack of anything to say?
Do we get so used to the people around us, they stop being interesting? Do we run out of new ways to discover each other? Maybe we get complacent in our relationships. Maybe that’s the way all relationships go.
Across the way the girl starts nudging the guy. Shoulder on shoulder contact. Bump bump. Her movements become quicker, and when he finally looks down at her and rolls his eyes, she laughs. Tilts her head up to say something in his ear, and he smiles, the edges of his eyes crinkling.
“Wait, what happened? I thought you really liked this one!”
“I did! I do. Or, well, I did.”
“So? What changed?”
Me, probably. I changed. Or rather, I didn’t. Don’t know how to.
Don’t know how to feel something when I’m no longer experiencing it.
Don’t know how to stretch out moments of happiness. To grasp and twist it, forcing it to last longer than a day, a few minutes, a snapshot.
I used to know.
But that feels like lives ago.
“I don’t know. I guess it just, fizzled out?”
Groups of friends gathered on picnic blankets dot the park. The first nice day of spring. People throw around footballs and frisbees, eat hot dogs and ice cream. Try to drink sneakily from paper bags.
There are girls tanning in bikinis and couples making out, as if the world fell away around them.
An oasis in a hectic world of uncertainty.
As if, for a few moments, we could press pause on the rapid spin of life.
Are we all just collecting moments?
“Do you think you’ll fall in love again?”
“You know, like, eventually.”
I don’t know how to say that it’s been so long since I’ve been in love, I’ve forgotten what it feels like. That I don’t know how to get there. How anyone gets there.
That I’m not sure if I ever had it in the first place.
Because in hindsight, love looks a lot like time plus the ability to imagine a future together, and I’ve been having a lot of trouble with imaginings and futures lately.
“Maybe. I hope so.”