‘Green Light’ to be alone

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I wore a dress with little white stars dotted across it, feeling the sweat dampening the sleeves bunched under my arms as I drove. Lorde played as I drove an old silver car that belonged to my uncle, the kind of car I imagine being full of first graders going to see lemurs at the zoo. I filled the first-grader-seats with clattering footboards that slipped suddenly toward the navigation console whenever I braked too quickly in the freeway traffic. I imagined the way the Los Altos first-grader I used to babysit would giggle at the low-friction footboards. These are the things I thought about when I was alone and the aux outlet was absent.

When I opened the trunk, a rush of sultry Los Altos summer tumbled out into the Berkeley heat, tipping me back on the heels of the sneakers I wouldn’t take off all year.

I dragged myself up the lopsided brick steps, gripping my bed pieces with white knuckles, inched down the squeaky amber hallway and then lay down on the floor in between the haphazard planks and listened to Lorde sing about the Louvre until the sky got darker and I stood up to turn on the lights.

“So let’s let things come out of the woodwork,” I sang as I spun around the shell of my bed, gripping a screwdriver.

My mom pulled her white Toyota up to the same curb and opened the doors to a car that would never be full of zoo-bound first graders. She carried a paper bag full of dry spaghetti up through the amber-colored hallway and helped me tug a fitted sheet over my mattress. Then she pulled away in her Toyota, leaving her daughter dancing around her boxes of sweaters and spaghetti to the strains of “Green Light.”

I let Lorde tell me being alone is comfortable.

I didn’t believe her because I was surrounded by boxes of sweaters and music blaring from an iPhone speaker, and I felt overwhelmed by the crowded floorboards of the tuna can I was moving into, sure that if my roommates were there with me I would be happier.

In that moment I missed Cheney Hall, the people walking the carpeted hallways incessantly, the friends a skip and a hop from my door. I turned the music up to the last volume tick mark and listened wholeheartedly to Lorde’s feelings and Lorde’s thoughts — the ones I refused to believe could be true for me but that could distract me from myself.

Then the last track on Melodrama fizzled into thin air and I lay down on my bed and tried to feel happy because I was alone. Lorde had stopped singing and in the silence after she had finished exclaiming her truth, my own thoughts crowded my head again — lemurs and cherry candy and jacket sizes.

Words piled up on my tongue and they clamored to be said to someone.

They clamored for hours while I rolled around on my bedspread — reading the latin plant captions painted next to the illustrated leaves that patterned the comforter, staring at the blank walls through the empty air.

After a few hours, inexplicably, I didn’t feel like I needed someone to be there to hear my thoughts anymore — I’d heard them, and that was enough.

Before I went to sleep, I felt something different from the comfort Lorde had promised me — I felt content. I’m not sure I will ever feel completely comfortable when I am alone; being alone doesn’t make me happy the way being around the people I love does. But being alone doesn’t make me unhappy either.

It’s been a semester since I moved into the apartment. I still say I’m not comfortable being alone, that I’m around people all the time because being in my own company is exasperating, claustrophobic. But when I lie on my bed, alone and surrounded by the furniture I built for myself when I was first alone, I think I feel comfortable the way Lorde says she is when she sings about being alone in her own home.

And then I sit up, put on an old denim jacket that is far too hip for my Gap-sweater-self, and step out of my apartment to meet my friends. While I walk, I listen to the new Regina Spektor song that Malini sent to me until I knock on Nick’s door and go in. When Ketki and Arjun get there, we head to Nick’s car, talking about our days and music and the stars. I sit in the backseat and am handed the aux cord. For a second I’m tempted to play something by Lorde — but I don’t. Tonight I’m out with my friends and I don’t need anybody to tell me that I could be alone at home instead and I would be OK — I know that now.

Contact Olivia Jerram at [email protected].