I close the door behind me. I am once again between four walls. Alone. The loneliness drowns everything. I'm swimming in a giant jar of molasses.
But let's go back a while. To what seems like ancient history: some other four walls. Those of my student apartment in Cyprus on the first floor of an apartment building at the end of a dead end alley. I am standing by the window. It's the end of the summer, and the sun is brutal. I'm watching the white rental car with the red license plates drive away. I'm free. I'm alone. I'm a person. It's one of the most exhilarating feelings I've ever experienced.
A flashbulb memory like no other.
Here in the present, I'm chopping something up on the kitchen counter. It has become second nature by now, so I'm not thinking about the onion, or whatever it is, but my mind is racing through the past. Happy memories now almost bring tears to my eyes. Or maybe it's just the onion. I keep on chopping.
The rental car disappears at the end of the alley. A wave of anxiety crashes down on the sand of happiness and identity I was feeling: “Now what?”. The sunlight coming from the window now burns. I walk around and inspect the lifeless rooms. The apartment is furnished but it has the character of a hotel room. This is not somebody's home.
The chopped vegetables go into the frying pan and i turn on the heat. A few drops of olive juice and I'm anticipating the sizzle and the smell of hot oil and fried onions. Cooking has become my escape. Something that takes enough attention but not too much. And has a happy ending, unlike everything else in my life right now.
I am holding the apartment keys in my hand. This is now my home but it really isn't. I'm a guest here. That feeling of identity is being chomped on. I close the door behind me and take the stairs. I get out into the sun. It still burns. The streets seem empty, deserted. I start walking aimlessly, thinking.
As I mindlessly stir the pan, my mind slows down on vacation settings with my ex. We haven't been long apart. I miss her. We can't be together anymore though. These happy vacations are a thing of the past and we've tried again and again to bring them back. We're different people now.
As I walk by uninteresting buildings and lifeless neighborhoods I start thinking I want to talk with someone. But I don't know anybody. I can't define it yet. I've never before looked inside me and it's going to be almost two more decades before I manage to take that first glance at my feelings.
The smell fills the room. I have deliberately left the kitchen hood turned off. This is part of the experience. This is the experience. I realize that even a few months ago I was mostly annoyed when the phone rang. I valued my alone time and didn't want anybody to interrupt it. She was the exception. It was always soothing to hear from her. Now I'm longing for a message, any kind of communication. As I'm thinking that, my phone makes the familiar notification sound. I literally jump to the table where I left it, only to find an automated message from my bank.
The first half of my freshman year continues like that. A few awkward attempts at socializing that don't really catch on, the start of a friendship that will eventually last long but still sputters and spits due to both of us not really being our own persons yet, and long, lonely walks in deserted streets. Only cars passing by, some, complete with jerks hanging out of the windows teasing anyone walking.
The piercing smell of raw onion is slowly being replaced by the tinge of caramel as it becomes translucent. My mind leaves the happy vacations and stops at another dark period of my past. This looks awfully like the present:
I'm in a third apartment, the smallest of them all. 19 square meters. I'm sitting on a cold, inflatable double bed that touches three walls of the room. There is just enough space to get off the bed and open the closet. I have a computer on my lap and I aimlessly wander some online space. There's a girl that responds to every piece of depressing text that I publish. I stay up a little longer, even if I'm insanely tired, just waiting for some kind of interaction. Anything.
I open the drawer on the left. It still has food we purchased together. I think once again how it will be when I finally have this home for myself. When all her things are gone. I take a packet of rice out and try to pour some in a cup. I spill it, like every time. Swear words. It comes to mind that those past periods are both as dark and devoid of any creativity as this locked down present. I cannot draw, I cannot write, I can't even find the required energy to sit in front of the computer and code. Ideas fly around in my mind but even the few times I forced my hands onto the keyboard I only typed “Hello, world!” and left it at that. My mind returns to the locked down present.
I know now that this feeling is loneliness. I know what I need to do but I really don't know how to do it. Why now? It's as if I wasn't a loner all along. Why has the annoying sound of a message now transformed into a ray of hope and disappointment? The rice has become translucent. Time for the wine.
This is my favorite part. The smell of caramel is flooded with sharp alcohol and the sensation is amplified by the sizzling and steaming as the liquid fights with the heat. As my senses saturate by the sounds and smells, my mind brings these three periods into view and as they start to overlap, I can now discern a glaring similarity. A hole the size of an ocean gaping all along; but it's always harder to spot something missing than something that's there.
The heat ultimately wins and the sharp sounds and smells rapidly subside. A fruity scent remains, combined with hints of butter and celery and I revel in the sight of the sauce as it flows, slowly filling the void created by the wooden spoon as I stir.
I look down on my plate, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and carefully decorated with a fresh stalk of mint, anticipating the result. I never taste the food while I'm cooking. It's like reading spoilers before the movie. I put a spoonful in my mouth and taste the sauce, reduced to the bare essentials, those that give me the soothing satisfaction I so much need. Like that sauce, the past in now stripped in my mind of all the extraneous details and what's missing is now as clear as the wine in my glass. It's her.
(this was written last year around this time, I just posted it now)