A Journal of Solitude: Living Alone During COVID-19

By Vanessa Giron

When I first read The Waves by Virginia Woolf, I found myself clinging to one idyllic moment:

‘How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.

But when I first read The Waves by Virginia Woolf, I hadn’t been alone in my house for two months straight.

Everything is so slow right now. And everything feels slower when you only have yourself for company.

Since early March, my day job has ordered us to work from home, and even though I hate how sterile and clinical the office is, when I’m there to pick up my work equipment I feel an overwhelming thought wash over me: I may never see this place again. This is, of course, untrue, but the uncertain nature of the pandemic makes me think in this way.

I’m unsure about my uncertainty.

I don’t love my job. When I started, I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t get close to anyone, but within a year I’ve made some of my closest friends. Friends I spend time with not out of circumstance, but because I really do love them. In the space of a year we have seen the worst of each other—now I’m resigned to seeing them through a screen.

I’m extremely lucky, I remind myself each morning. I don’t have to rush to get in my car and make my way to the CBD. But I can feel a certain type of anger bubbling in my stomach, and it becomes so potent that at every meeting on that second Friday I have a crack at someone.

You know those meetings you never attend? Yeah that’s where we discussed this, I say. Another tedious video meeting gets a Oh you’re having a go at my productivity while I can see you playing Animal Crossing for the 5th day in a row really? Yeah alright, give us your Dodo Code.

This is my sense of humour, and my friends know that so they take it in their stride. But part of me feels hatred towards them. I wish I had no sense of responsibility towards them, that I wouldn’t have to keep up these relationships that take the emotional toll that my body can’t bear right now. I think about how much energy I could save in this strange moment if I chose to love less people, yet they are my only connection now. I think back to twelve months ago when I caved and started spending lunch time with them and say to myself, you’re a fool for getting too close.

But another voice takes over. This time it says, no you’re just alone and hate feeling vulnerable. Tell them that you miss them.

I do that afternoon, and I mean it, with my whole heart—I miss them.

**

‘But I pine in Solitude. Solitude is my undoing,’ Woolf once wrote. Well yeah, same.

A guy I was seeing before lockdown sends me a photo early in the morning. It’s of his dog, and his message reads ‘Hope you’ve been well throughout all this *kiss face emoji*’.

I don’t mean to get upset, but I read it and can hear his voice and can feel him kissing me, and so I cry.

I can hear the kettle beeping, I can see the spoon sinking into the honey jar from the corner of my eye, but I block it all out and continue to stare at this photo and let this new loneliness wash over me. I am never tired of my own company, but I am tired of being alone now. I want to hear a voice other than those of my coworkers through my laptop speakers. When I go to sleep, I want to feel someone’s chest rising and falling next to me, instead of hugging my pillow. I want the false sense of security throwaway nights with him gave me.

Everything is in disarray for the foreseeable future; time is elastic, none of this matters.

What we share is so casual there’s barely a name for it, but it feels more solid than this. He is right there and he is real, but the closest I can get to him now is through my grimy phone screen. I resent this reality so much I want to throw my phone against a wall and never look at it again.

But then how will I receive these occasional messages from him?

**

I am high for the fourth day in a row. Once a casual smoker, I have become a regular smoker during my time in isolation, and I’m really enjoying it. I have found that I’m looking after myself better when I’m not so ‘in my head.’

I am exercising more, have a solid skincare and beauty routine. When I talk to my work friends, or to any of my friends, I’m genuinely excited to see them and hear from them.

I’m okay, I realise.

A colleague asks how I feel about potentially having to go back to the office in a few weeks, and I tell them I can’t bear the thought. They start teasing me about how emotional I’ve been, that now when I get the option to have what I wanted at the start, I’m turning my nose up at it.

I am never tired of my own company, but I am tired of being alone now. I want to hear a voice other than those of my coworkers through my laptop speakers.

When I think about it, I feel that I am entitled to my anger. This whole thing has forced me to adjust in ways I didn’t want to, and within such a short space of time too. It’s disorienting, no one should have to do this. I spent most of those first two weeks nauseous from how rapidly my life had shifted.

It’s not just me, I tell myself. But this thought doesn’t soothe me any more than I’d hope. A guy I was hooking up with before lockdown had to fly back home without saying goodbye. We had made plans for when lockdown ended, but he decided it was best to leave while he still had the money, and when he messaged me from the airport with a photo of him with a mask on looking like he had been crying, my heart broke a little bit.

Four months ago, my then-pregnant sister-in-law asked me to photograph her and the baby when she was born. She had a series of newborn photos she wanted taken, and I agreed that they would be beautiful and I would love to take them. But when the baby was born in late April, it was just her and my brother in the hospital room alone for five days because no visitors were allowed.

I accept and agree that every measure taken is in place to keep us safe. But it’s hard to watch the people you care about go through these experiences in solitude. You have nothing better to do, but you can’t be with them either.

This whole experience has added a new sense of lucidity to my aloneness. I am very aware of the space I occupy, and how small it makes me feel when I’m by myself at home for extended periods of time. And I don’t want to feel small anymore.

Working from home gets extended until mid-May, and I feel myself let out a sigh of relief and disappointment at once. My friend sends me photos of his family home overseas, my brother sends me photos of his daughter now that they’re home, and every once in a while, a dog photo makes its way to my phone with a sweet caption that makes me yearn for quiet comfort with someone.

‘But I pine in Solitude. Solitude is my undoing,’ Woolf once wrote. Well yeah, same.

But it’s hard to watch the people you care about go through these experiences in solitude. You have nothing better to do, but you can’t be with them either.

When I talk to my friend about this piece I’m writing, I ask her, how do I end something that hasn’t yet ended? I put my phone down and decide I’d rather watch the clouds float by my window instead.

Vanessa Giron is a Latinx writer and editor based in Melbourne. She has written for Junkee, The Big Issue, Kill Your Darlings, Djed Press, as well as others, and performed as part of Emerging Writers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival. She is the Spanish editor for Australian Multilingual Writing Project. She is also extremely online: @vanessagiron and vanessagiron.com.

This essay was made possible through the FWF community and our fundraising campaign, #PayTheWriters.

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