She found herself living with a slight isolation that came from the time of life. Only slight, because she had done her best to reduce it. Life wasn’t always this way. She made choices that led her to this place. Choices she wanted to make, with consequences she wished were different. She found so much implied and overt pressure to make these choices, yet once she made them she found there were new rules. Everybody had an opinion. Not so many had an ear. Her choices had shut her away from the rest of society for now: the working world. She found the community-based options just a little less fruitful than she’d hoped. Maybe a little less ‘her’ than she’d hoped.
Finding her feet in her new world just never really seemed to happen. She felt like she fell through the gaps between work and community. She was meant to be part of one but found herself trying to slot into the other. Her choices led her here but circumstances beyond her control meant she stayed longer than she was meant to.
There was a new world born of loneliness which she visited on days when her life was silent. The days when it was easy to shut out the voices but harder to find the ears. This place was her. Truly her. The person who had become invisible out in the world. She ran through this place like it was dotted with sparsely scattered trees with long grass in between. Hair flowing free, long and untamed like the grass. Unencumbered by small talk or her own obliged niceties, everything just felt easier. She discovered things, found solutions to problems, had great ideas. Words flowed easily from where they were locked away. They got stuck when she left this place sometimes. This dark yet restorative place where she is known to herself but where few know her. A solitary place that’s built for company but is often bereft of it.
Sometimes loneliness rose like dampness between the trees, never quite drying in June the sun never quite warm enough to touch it. She dipped her toes in from time to time, embracing the season for what it was: occasionally lonely. It was a game they played, loneliness and the woman in the woods. She tried to keep her toes dry and loneliness would creep up and grab them. Childlike games for a time of life filled with them. Sometimes loneliness would win.
There were days when she went out and realised that she belonged but not quite fully, she had a place but not quite for all of her. Imposed labels rife with implications. Limiting assumptions. She talked about everything except for what she was thinking. These were the loneliest days. The days where she wondered how it could really be belonging when they only saw the surface. A community of small talk. A hard day is never noticed; neither is a great one. A community built on distance and independence. It has its upsides but it can be ever so hard to break past the surface and really know any of its members, beyond the labels, the assumptions and the chit chat.
Her community had come to feel like a series of trees divided by fences. Fences that were too well maintained to break in the wind. She wondered if a collective ripple could get all the trees to unite. Maybe a fallen tree could break a fence and unite a group. But not the
whole. To her there were just divisions. Divisive well maintained fences. All she could see were trees standing alone with people running through them, alongside each other but always separate.
She wondered why society had come to think of fences as civilised; to think of the absence of fences as primitive. They seemed to allow people to remain hidden. Unknown. Divided. Divisions that enable all that people have in common to remain unseen. For people to remain strangers hidden behind fences.
She tries to win the Loneliness Game as much as she can. She just wishes it wasn’t a game at all. She has noted that the one question the woods have left unanswered is how to win. The game exists because of reasons outside of her. Yet she feels shame for being caught in the trap of playing it, for listening to the voices who assign blame while she takes on shame. Often those voices are hers. It’s just so easy to get busy and forget to make meaningful plans. Society values busyness; she races around feeling empty. Busy but empty, and trying to escape the game rather than win it. A bad week, an illness. So many shoulds. So much pressure to be so many things. So many opinions.
She has spent time searching for community. She saw communities being slowly weakened. Resources dwindling. Where they went, she wasn’t sure. Progress elsewhere. How progressive. How lonely. Weaker communities within increasingly strong cities. As she ran through the trees alone she wondered whether you can call it strength when one is grown at the expense of the other.
What she finds more often are other individuals who she can take to the woods for a visit sometimes. These are the loopholes to try and win the game. She can’t change the wider societal structure so she tries to search out the moments of sunshine. Moments that allow her to keep visiting the woods but that let them dry out. She takes a few people to the woods. These are the days when she wins the Loneliness Game. The sun shines and the dampness recedes slightly. Spring comes. Solidarity. Honesty dancing through the leaves. Refreshing, real and wonderful. Drying the loneliness like wool blankets in spring sunshine.
As time goes on and her loneliness season eventually ends, she plans to become part of the effort to strengthen communities and weaken fences. She will do this so that those playing the Loneliness Game can feel the sunlight, even in June. She would love to see strong communities for all. She can only play her part. Loneliness likes to hide itself and we can only unite the trees if we admit it exists. The fences allow loneliness to keep going and for so many to be left playing a game they want to end. Everyone at certain stages of life can pretend it’s not a game they know. That it’s not a game that knows them. Yet in private, outside of the small talk, they struggle to keep their toes dry.
For now the woman in the woods can admit that sometimes she just doesn’t have the fight in her to win the game. So she goes to the trees and tries to stay dry while the words flow from her mind and the loneliness flows at her feet.