I sit at the dining table and look out of the window. It’s pitch dark outside. During the day, I can see the blue of the sea, the white surf of the waves, and it’s such a beautiful view that I lose myself for minutes, taking in the beauty of the scenery and feeling grateful for the privilege of having this very special place by the sea where I can find peace.
And solitude, too. Many times, in my life I’ve been alone, but not always lonely. I enjoy my own company – I believe I began to feel that on my frequent business trips to Paris, when, in the early evening, after work, I would have the luxury of some time to myself, just to do as I pleased. I would walk down the boulevards, shop the latest fashion at Galleries Lafayette or Printemps and then sit down for a glass of Kyr Royale at the Café de la Paix, and feel at peace with the world. Often, I would have dinner at L’Hippopotamus, where I would order a delicious steak tartare with chips. I would look at the other tables, where groups of friends chatted or lovers whispered to each other, and I would feel happy to be by myself, to have that moment of freedom.
I remember feeling lonely, though, when I went Christmas shopping all by myself, because my then husband would always be working on Saturdays; I missed the companionship of other couples who, hand in hand or arms entwined, smiled to each other as they stopped by the shops’ windows or admired the Christmas lights in the street. Then for a number of years I had no time to feel lonely, because I took my boys everywhere with me, and they were the best company I might have. With their tiny hands in mine, I was as far from loneliness as I could be, and they filled my heart in a way I had never thought possible.
Time went by and they became teenagers and naturally more independent. Those were challenging years – aren’t all teenagers challenging? – but also, years of happiness and fulfilment, because I had finally found a companion, someone whom I thought would never let me feel lonely again; and even when we were not together his presence filled my heart, because I knew the following day he would be there for me.
Somehow things did not turn out as I had expected them and again, I found myself doing more and more things by myself. I didn’t matter if he was by my side or far away – he wasn’t there for me anymore, and there came a day when we both had to realize it.
Loneliness has crept in during this last year. During the first confinement, I sent the boys to their father’s. He has a huge house with a garden, swimming pool and lots of space, so they would feel less restricted there. For the first time in my life, I lived by myself for four whole months and, strangely, I rarely felt lonely. The boys came for dinner often, and I made the most of the time to think about my life and make up my mind about matters unsolved and postponed. Oddly, it was a time of serenity, calmness, that I look back to with a nostalgic feeling, recalling my long walks by the beach, alone or with friends, enjoying the warmth of the sun after a long winter and looking forward to the summer and the end of the pandemic.
The summer came, and went, but the pandemic didn’t go away. It’s raging as never before, and I’m beginning to feel cornered. My friend Gabi, who is in a high-risk group because of her kidney failure, has tested positive for Covid, as well as her boyfriend. Thank God she has no symptoms, apart from feeling tired, but it’s scary, so scary to know she has it. Today, I felt so downcast about this all that I reached for a friendly hand, a friendly voice, of someone who might make me feel less lonely, less scared, but, sadly, that shoulder who once was always there for me, was not available; on the contrary, it was dismissive, and that was a moment when I felt lonely, truly lonely, and found myself singing that old song from the seventies by Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Alone again”. In the end, I believe, no matter what, we’ll always find ourselves alone, with no one by our side extending a friendly hand.
I look at the dark outside. I can’t see much, but I can hear, very audibly, the sound of the sea, of the waves crashing on the shore. I hear it when I’m in bed, and it’s like a lullaby rocking me in my sleep. It’s a soothing sound, a sound that it always there, a sound of nature, of all the seas of my life, the warm Indian of my childhood, the dark blue of the sea in Madeira, and ultimately the rough blue-green sea I watch from my window.
I close my eyes and let that deep sound invade me. I feel lonely, for the friendly hand I reached for was denied me. But where a friend has failed me, there is another who will never let me down. Who will always be there for me – my friend the sea. No matter what, no matter when, whenever I need it, I just have to look out of the window, or walk along the shore – and I will be soothed. Yes, I think, I will never be completely lonely, as long as I can hear the beautiful, unique and mysterious, but always friendly, sound of the sea.