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How to Be Alone When Lonely: A Guide


Loneliness creeps up in early November.


Don’t let the feeling come as a shock, given you know around two people in the whole city, speak only functional Spanish, and occupy much of your time with schoolwork.


Let the world remind you, with a sinking feeling, how overwhelming loneliness can feel. Seek comfort in Netflix, in writing, in long walks, in reading the Times, in familiar music and in Youtube comedy videos.


Accept, after two full days with no prevail that the news feels engorged with politics, writing takes on a troublingly existential tone, music does not distract, and even Netflix children’s movies do disappointingly little to sooth the ache.


Decide to embrace being alone instead.


Take yourself on a date to Teatro Macedonio Alcalá to watch La Sinfónica de Oaxaca perform. Slip on small-heeled boots, wear mascara, and walk with purpose and a straight posture.


Settle into your red velvet seat in a packed theater and let the awe come in sentimental waves. Fall in love with your instrument again when listening to the horns’ mellow tone carry over that of the strings. Forgive yourself for quitting music, and vow to return to it after school. Indulge in a daydream of yourself in a black concert dress, the feeling of brass against your fingertips, looking past sheet music to the grand, arching structures and tightly curved walls of the intimate theater.


Chat spiritedly during the interludes with your seat neighbor. Laugh and banter with the Seattle-born traveler about the results of the US election. Listen to the captions of his current journey traveling north from Argentina with his spouse in a bus purchased illegally, but not unethically, on the Peru-Ecuador border. After the finale, swap numbers, thank him sincerely for his invitation for a ride to California, and feel grateful that you do not feel jealous of his adventure, but rather solaced by your own.


Try to fight the feeling of dread that comes with the thought of returning to the US. Instead, sign up for next semester’s classes with a cold beer in hand. Smirk at the university emails that flood your mailbox; take great pleasure in deleting announcements for campus events you cannot attend due to the 1850 miles distance that stretches between the two cities.


Deliberately get lost in the city streets. Slip into a chocolateria when you grow bored of walking and people watching. Sip a steaming mug full of raw cocoa chocolate, taking delight in the thick foam and rich flavor. Very seriously consider giving up coffee for chocolate.


Reconsider when offered coffee the next morning.


Attend a public showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at La Biblioteca Infatil. Smile and consider how the brazen film might appear for those seeing it for the first time. When the movie ends and a drunk college boy from Texas gives you that gut-feeling, pit-in-your-stomach, sensation with his uninvited flirting and compliments, gratefully accept an observer’s offer to distract him so you may flee. Escape into the night, the quiet slap slap sound of your quickening feet hitting the cobblestone barely audible over a fearful heartbeat.


Do not dwell on the times you said no and they did not listen.


At a time when you feel less fearful, you may laugh thinking of those who begged you to be careful while in such a dangerous place, their thoughts filled with images they’ve seen of Mexico on the American news stations.

Consider telling them that, after a full two months, the moment that fills you with fear wasn’t brought on by any cat-calling Mexican man, but a drunk American one. Swallow the lump in your throat, look behind you, and, with a hand tightening around the metal whistle attached to a ring full of keys, let the small rush of relief wash over your when you see no one following.


Let new days bring new joys.


Stretch to dizzyingly blue morning skies on a concrete roof. Blow kisses to the full moon. Rip a scab from your leg and dab alcohol on the gash.


Consider getting a tattoo. Check your bank account. Do not get a tattoo.


Ask the noonday sun to turn your skin brown so that you don’t look so foreign. Then remember that, with a head full of bronzy-blond hair and a nose straight from Scandinavia, you will never pass for Mexican, regardless of your skin’s shade.


Give up on trying to look Mexican and hope that the city and people accept you anyway.


Study Spanish language flashcards on a nearby mountaintop in chilled late-afternoon air, repeating words like Ojalá and Almendra until the pronunciation feels easy. Enjoy pretend conversations with the stone benches and low shrubs.


Ask the swaying trees: tienes una nariz tapada? Do you have a full nose?


Laugh, because trees do not have noses.

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