From time to time I am, in a word, melancholy.
Strikes at night for the most part, and arrives gently, as a tug of yearning for an indefinable something. I don't know what I'm melancholy FOR, really, perhaps it's just the feeling that SOMETHING ought to be happening somewhere that actually means something, and I'm missing it because of who or where I am.
When I was 21 I took summer school to cram organic chemistry into my brain so that I could finish my degree within a year. Eight weeks of chemistry for hours upon hours, and a lame job shelving books in the library for another 10 hours a week, which is all the work-study would allow. I learned or worked all day, and at night was faced with choosing between studying or not much else.
The apartment I lived in was right across the street from the hospital, and had a great view of the setting sun. I wandered slowly back there in the evening with the sun behind my back and climbed the stairs morosely, trying to delay my arrival to home and the nothing that waited for me there. I plopped my stuff down on the kitchen table, promising myself that I would indeed study "later," grabbed a beer, and waited by the window for the sun to go down. I watched the colors fade and blend and darken, breathing deeply of the night air and listening to the day end. People walked below my open window laughing and talking, cars rushed by, the bus came and went. The 18-wheeler trucks down-shifted toward the stop light and the grinding was so loud it was as though they were trying to make a point. A breeze brought smells of diesel exhaust and someone's pizza, the plaintive warble of a last songbird drifted in, and the cooler breath of evening muted the stifling heat.
And I sat. And did nothing, and was nothing, and thought nothing at all except how very very alone I was, and how I wanted so much to be not.
An hour or more went by, with nothing happening in me except a slow ticking over of many heartbeats, of many long breaths exhaled, of an empty and yearning mind casting itself out beyond the Blue Ridge as I imagined all that was out there.
I thought I needed to be happy all the time, you see, and a momentary lapse in the happy was a trouble to me. I didn't know that melancholy and introspection were useful fodder for personal growth. I wasn't that nearly aware yet of the possibilities afforded by long stretches of time in which to lose myself in vast nothing. Some religions call it meditation, but I called it awful. The alone was a heavy weight, the yearning was a physical presence and pain I didn't know I could bear. My "self" seemed to always want to be someplace else, as though restless and nervous to be always going on down the road.
After a long time of the nothing, the key turned in the door, and my boyfriend walked in. I jumped up and tried to pretend that I had just fallen asleep reading so that he wouldn't worry about me being all alone there in the dark with the lights off. I was glad he was home, because then I could forget myself in somebody else once more, and ignore the girl behind the yearning trying desperately to get out.
It's still there - the feeling of not really being who I was supposed to be, and wondering how I would ever know if I was.
I'm still not sure, but I think I'm getting closer.