I think of my family when I see the snow. A few Noche Buenas ago, in Chicago, when there was already snow on the ground, my siblings and I rushed outside after opening presents because it had begun to snow. The ripped wrapping paper strewn about the floor. Reds, golds, greens left on the floor for my mother to clean up as we almost tripped over each other putting on coats, boots, hats, and gloves. We ran down the stairs and out in the open, brisk air. We threw snowballs at each other. Slid on the almost ice on the sidewalk. And tried to throw each other into banks of snow. We laughed. We laughed hard. Our toes were going numb and our noses were bright red when we decided to head back. We were so cold. My mother brought us hot chocolate and blankets. It was a beautiful night.
Whenever its snows my younger sister likes to tell of how I enjoyed pushing her into the snow when we were younger. Every year she tries to do the same but never can. It’s not because I’m stronger but because I’ve become a bigger cry baby as I’ve older. The snow is much too cold. Plus, its funnier when she falls into the snow.
I’ve had good times with my peoples in the snow. Ice skating. Snow people building. Snow ball fights. Putting snow down peoples’ backs. But we’ve also had some difficult times in the snow. While growing up, it was rare that we had a working car. Some winters we’d have to trudge through feet of snow to get groceries. When my mother gave birth to my youngest sister she stayed home with my baby brother and my baby sister while my other sister and I walked ourselves to school in the snow. The cold also meant there were fewer places for us to go when it got too unsafe a home.
The snow also reminds me of my solitude and my loneliness. There’s a thin line between feeling at peace and feeling terrified at the stillness that comes after a snow storm. It’s the same thin line that exists between solitude and loneliness. It’s a difficult line to straddle. I believe both solitude and loneliness are part of my personality. When I’ve found the balance between the two I feel right. But when I spend too much in solitude I begin to feel anxious for company. When I spend too much time in loneliness I get self-destructive.
In All About Love: New Visions (2001) bell hooks explains that solitude is different from loneliness. She writes, “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” Solitude is about love while loneliness can be harmful. It’s a difficult difference to learn. One that has taken me quite a while to understand. I was very lonely as a child. The violence I witnessed at home had something to do with it. Being undocumented had a lot to do with it too. However, it was the silence and the fear that come along with those experiences that had the most impact. As a child I often isolated myself. My teachers always told my mother that I was a good student but that I didn’t talk much. I remember being in 6th grade and deciding to read during recess instead of playing with the rest of my peers. However, I’d sit outside. Against the fence and watch others play and run while I kept my book on my lap. Unable to join them. I didn’t sit against the fence every day. I’d join in every once in a while. And sometimes some would sit next to me against the fence.
My loneliness took a different form as I got older. It took the shape of people. I’m reminded of Warsan Shire’s poem “For Women Who Are Difficult to Love,” when she says “you can’t make homes out of human beings.” When I first read that poem I had buried myself deep inside a person lonelier than I. Our loneliness was toxic. I realized I had been trying to make homes out of people for quite some time. In other words, I needed boyfriends, lovers, and others to escape the pain lodged in my heart, making it impossible to live freely.
As long as I’ve been in higher education, isolation has been a part of my journey. It’s been challenging being the first in my family to go to college and then graduate school. Getting my degrees has meant that I’ve isolated myself from family and friends. My education has demanded time and that has meant taking time away from something else. I’ve missed important events in the lives of my peoples. When we are reunited it’s a bit awkward because they knew me but they don’t know me just like I know them but at the same time I don’t. I have moved around a lot. Even now, I made the decision a little less than a year ago to move to NYC for an academic position. Again, I isolated myself from my family and friends so I could plant new roots. The roots elsewhere are not severed but it’s hard to nurture them from afar. All of this has added to my loneliness.
Writing has been a source of both solitude and loneliness. I enjoy writing and when I’m happy to write I appreciate my solitude. Writing is the space where I can explore my pain and engage in my healing process. That requires time by myself. And it’s difficult fighting for that space. Again, everything else demands so much time. Writing isn’t often recognized by those that don’t know as worthy of that time. Demanding and giving writing the appropriate time and space seems selfish. I’ve made the choice to be selfish. I’ve made the choice to choose me. I’ve given myself the time and space to write because that’s what I need (and the guilt I feel when I don’t write and can’t produce is another story). Choosing me and choosing my craft has also added to my loneliness. I can get lost in my writing. I can lose time. But the longer I spend with my head in the clouds the greater the risk that no one will be there when I’m ready to come down. That’s a risk I’ve taken. However, it’s a choice that burdens me when I don’t write. I could’ve spent all that time socializing and nurturing relationships instead of sitting in front of the computer begging for the words to come. Instead of giving the time I’ve dedicated to writing to procrastination. And the loneliness seeps in and it becomes unbearable.
Solitude “is central to the art of loving.” Solitude can be a beautiful act of self-love. It’s certainly helped me love others better. I know now I can’t use people to escape and I know now I can’t make people save me. Whatever I may feel I’m missing I won’t find it in other people. Solitude has taught me that. Loneliness, however, makes me feel like I’m being pulled back into a dark abyss I’ve experienced too many times. An abyss only worsened by depression and dark liquor. Sandra Cisneros says about depression that it has a “purpose if you use it before it uses you.” Gloria Anzaldua also says “Depression is useful. It signals that you need to make changes in your life, it challenges your tendency to withdraw, it reminds you to take action.” While Cisneros and Anzaldua don’t speak to the biological aspects of depression in these quotes, I am familiar with the form of depression of which they speak. What they do say about depression can be said the about loneliness. In a way, loneliness reminds me that I need to check myself before I wreck myself. Loneliness isn’t a bad feeling. But, at least in my experiences, loneliness can lead to more self-destructive behaviors. Binge drinking. Binge fucking. Binge shopping. Binge eating. Binge Netflix-ing. It’s all fun until it’s not. When I center myself and find peace solitude can be great. It’s empowering. It’s nurturing. It’s loving. Sometimes I go days without hearing my own voice, sometimes by choice sometimes not. Some days are better than others. The loneliness reminds me that I do have a purpose. That there’s a reason I decided to come out this way by myself. That I have an opportunity to do me. That doesn’t mean the loneliness doesn’t make me feel shaky. Craving for a binge of sorts. And when I do feel this way I know I need to honor those feelings and reflect before I go and try to make homes out of folks.
There’s was a snow storm today. Lots of inches, maybe feet, of snow on the ground. The city went into serious precaution mode. The snow is beautiful. Even though I only went outside the reason my flight got cancelled this morning. I was supposed to fly out to Chicago. I had made plan with my partner. We were going to go to the museum. Thurdays are free entrance day at the Art Institute. We were going to take a picture in front of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Like we did on one of first dates. But instead I got stuck here. It was very easy to dive into a deep pit of loneliness and guilt because the snow wouldn’t have trapped me here if I lived over there. But the snow forced me here with extra time for solitude. And this solitude gave me the strength I need to write today. It’s stopped snowing. But I keep writing.
Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College in NYC. She is an immigrant of Juarez, Mexico and raised in Cicero, IL. Her work has been published in Huizache: The Magazine of Latino Literature, Hispanecdotes, Everyday Fiction, Acentos Review, Newtown Literary, and So to Speak A Feminist Journal of Language and Art.
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