We Are Okay(2)

By: Nina Lacour

I close my eyes. The heater clicks off. I wait to see what will fill me.

Slowly it comes: Sand. Beach grass and beach glass. Gulls and sanderlings. The sound and then—faster—the sight of waves crashing in, pulling back, disappearing into ocean and sky. I open my eyes. It’s too much.

The moon is a bright sliver out my window. My desk lamp, shining on a piece of scratch paper, is the only light on in all one hundred rooms of this building. I’m making a list, for after Mabel leaves.

read the NYT online each morning

buy groceries

make soup

ride the bus to the shopping district/library/café

read about solitude


watch documentaries

listen to podcasts

find new music . . .

I fill the electric kettle in the bathroom sink and then make myself Top Ramen. While eating, I download an audiobook on meditation for beginners. I press play. My mind wanders.

Later, I try to sleep, but the thoughts keep coming. Everything’s swirling together: Hannah, talking about meditation and Broadway shows. The groundskeeper, and if I will need something from him. Mabel, somehow arriving here, where I live now, somehow making herself a part of my life again. I don’t even know how I will form the word hello. I don’t know what I will do with my face: if I will be able to smile, or even if I should. And through all of this is the heater, clicking on and off, louder and louder the more tired I become.

I turn on my bedside lamp and pick up the book of essays.

I could try the exercise again and stay on solid ground this time. I remember redwood trees so monumental it took five of us, fully grown with arms outstretched, to encircle just one of them. Beneath the trees were ferns and flowers and damp, black dirt. But I don’t trust my mind to stay in that redwood grove, and right now, outside and covered in snow, are trees I’ve never wrapped my arms around. In this place, my history only goes three months back. I’ll start here.

I climb out of bed and pull a pair of sweats over my leggings, a bulky sweater over my turtleneck. I drag my desk chair to my door, and then down the hall to the elevator, where I push the button for the top floor. Once the elevator doors open, I carry the chair to the huge, arched window of the tower, where it’s always quiet, even when the dorm is full. There I sit with my palms on my knees, my feet flat on the carpet.

Outside is the moon, the contours of trees, the buildings of the campus, the lights that dot the path. All of this is my home now, and it will still be my home after Mabel leaves. I’m taking in the stillness of that, the sharp truth of it. My eyes are burning, my throat is tight. If only I had something to take the edge off the loneliness. If only lonely were a more accurate word. It should sound much less pretty. Better to face this now, though, so that it doesn’t take me by surprise later, so that I don’t find myself paralyzed and unable to feel my way back to myself.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I keep my eyes open to these new trees.

I know where I am, and what it means to be here. I know Mabel is coming tomorrow, whether I want her to or not. I know that I am always alone, even when surrounded by people, so I let the emptiness in.

The sky is the darkest blue, each star clear and bright. My palms are warm on my legs. There are many ways of being alone. That’s something I know to be true. I breathe in (stars and sky). I breathe out (snow and trees).

There are many ways of being alone, and the last time wasn’t like this.

Morning feels different.

I slept until almost ten, when I heard the groundskeeper’s truck on the drive below my room, clearing the snow. I’m showered and dressed now; my window lets in daylight. I choose a playlist and plug Hannah’s speakers into my computer. Soon an acoustic guitar strum fills the room, followed by a woman’s voice. Electric kettle in hand, I prop open my door on the way to the bathroom sink. The song follows me around the corner. I leave the bathroom door open, too. As long as I’m their only inhabitant, I should make these spaces feel more like mine.

Water fills the kettle. I look at my reflection while I wait. I try to smile in the way I should when Mabel arrives. A smile that conveys as much welcome as regret. A smile with meaning behind it, one that says all I need to say to her so I don’t have to form the right words. I shut off the faucet.

Back in my room, I plug in the kettle and pick up my yellow bowl from where it rests, tipped over to dry, from last night. I pour in granola and the rest of the milk from the tiny fridge wedged between Hannah’s desk and mine. I’ll be drinking my breakfast tea black this morning.

In seven and a half hours, Mabel will arrive. I cross to the doorway to see the room as she’ll see it. Thankfully, Hannah’s brought some color into it, but it only takes a moment to notice the contrast between her side and mine. Other than my plant and the bowls, even my desk is bare. I sold back all of last semester’s textbooks two days ago, and I don’t really want her to see the book on solitude. I slip it into my closet—there’s plenty of room—and when I turn back, I’m faced with the worst part of all: my bulletin board without a single thing on it. I may not be able to do much about my smile, but I can do something about this.