The Loneliness of Jupiter

jupiter, juno nasa

“Lonely, ain’t it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.”
— Toni Morrison, Sula

I was sitting on my sister’s couch when I found the picture of Jupiter. This picture of Jupiter. I don’t remember where I found it; Twitter, perhaps. But I saw it and stopped scrolling and feelings coursed through me. Shock, awe, that glittery rush of pure, unexpected art.

And loneliness.

That’s the one that surprised me.

Not loneliness in the broad, intergalactic sense. But the small, handheld kind, no bigger than a needle’s eye. It was strange. Marveling at this picture of Jupiter—admiring the whorls of color, the complementary shades, thinking of how one could paint an image like that—and feeling inexplicably lonely.

See, what I really wanted was to share this picture, to send this picture onward and have that person brim over with the same bubbly wonderment as I’d felt. But I couldn’t think of anyone. And the one person I could think of wasn’t an option anymore.

And that made me feel lonely. That earthly Jupiter loneliness.

It’s strange to talk about loneliness. Why does it feel shameful? The scent and grit of weakness? Earthen wanting skin. What a human thing.

I wish we talked about loneliness more. I wish we talked about the feelings that keep us up at night. I wish we talked less about the weather.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. Loneliness, Jupiter, how feelings can sneak up and yank you into the tides. But after all that thinking, I still don’t have much of coherence to write.

So here’s this. This is what I have. Here’s what my loneliness looks like these days: I took a walk last night at my new five-month home. It gets really dark out here, which is strange because there’s a neighborhood five minutes away, house windows glowing like jack-o’-lanterns, but the outsides dark and quiet. I walked and got lost and listened to the same song by The National on repeat. I got back to camp and sprawled in an Adirondack chair, neck craned to the sky, looking for something familiar. I found Pleiades and Orion, but I couldn’t find the Big Dipper. And just like Jupiter, loneliness. Right on cue. Because I always found the Big Dipper back in the Adirondacks. Every night I’d feed the animals and hanging over the lake, just visible beyond the farm, the Big Dipper punctured the sky, and I’d walk toward it on the wide dirt path, back to my house. And that’s what’s making me feel lonely these days. The Big Dipper, yes, but more so all the experiences that are mine and no one else’s, how when my housemates invited me to a movie night in their room it reminded me of those countless attic nights in India curled up under a comforter, and god that made me sad, and that’s what life is feeling like at the moment, all these times, all these memories, and no one to share them with, not in any meaningful way. I wrote to a friend about nostalgia the other day, and he wrote back this incredible line: “Telling stories of nostalgia is a way of not being alone in a memory of something gone.” And wowowow that hurts and dazzles and stuns because I want to gush everything to everyone but I never seem to get the stories quite right, they never capture the scent of chai and that warm, tender feeling of fingers entwined with mine. And honestly, nobody really cares. Nobody except me. And I guess what I’m saying is I feel alone in memory and that fills me with this smoky sense of loneliness for places and people gone, and I don’t know what to do about it or if this is just a way of being, if this is just what it means to exist for people like us.

Nebraska

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You are driving through Nebraska.

Nebraska has always been a drive-through state for you, a large expanse of field and sky, a doormat to the mountains, to your destination. You have no vivid memories of driving through it the other three times prior, only the vague smoke of anticipation, of wanting to be somewhere else.

It starts off as it has in the past. Flat land. Straight roads. Towns that make you think of the Dust Bowl. But then things start to change. Traffic slows. The other side of I-80 is closed. Sirens scream up ahead and lights wail. You drive by slowly, your mouth falling agape a little, just a little, as you see two pulverized cars in the opposite lane, their frames crumpled like plastic bags.

It’s a bad omen. But you don’t believe in those.

First you notice cars with snow on them coming from the opposite direction. And then the sides of the interstate become tinged with snow, cows huddled together near a fence looking as if they’d been sugar dusted. And then it’s here, you’re in it, a white-out of monstrous proportions, the road slick with ice and fear, cars sliding, toppling, over, out, on the ground, in the ditch, in the sky.

Everything narrows to a pinprick. You cannot keep up conversation because you are focused on the road. Focused on staying in the tread marks of the car before you because if you move too much either way you will skid off the road.

Many people have skidded off the road.

It is like a graveyard. That is all you can think. Car after car is stuck in the snowy median, hazards still methodically blinking. As you pass by, you sneak a glance into the driver’s seat, to see if someone is still there. But they are empty. Most of them are empty. (Where did they go? How did they get out of here?) And it is these empty, abandoned, still-blinking cars that make you think of a graveyard, headstones with a splash of fake roses that echo the semblance of life, that whisper, don’t forget me (we didn’t forget you.)

You drive slowly. Twenty-five miles an hour. Semi-trucks lay belly up in the snow, dozens of them jackknifed and abandoned. Everything is gray.

Snow blows across the road in plumes—like fog, like ghosts, like strange phantom tumbleweed—and the morbid part of you thinks that it’s every missing soul from all those abandoned cars you’ve passed.

And then the sun sets. You think it’s the sun but then you doubt yourself. It is an absurd shade of pink, a semi-circle clinging to the horizon as if it was birthed from the ground, not the sky. The edges are too perfect. The pink is too pink. For a second you think an atomic bomb went off, rupturing the sky into nuclear hues. And that makes sense to you for a night such as this. Sudden beauty slicing through the cold, damaged world. (Is beauty always marked by violence? Maybe. You’re not sure.) A TED Talk on climate change just ended and with the nuclear sunset and the graveyard of metal husks on either side of you, you feel like you are driving through an apocalyptic landscape, that after all the glory and tears and hubris, this is what the world has become, this snowy Nebraskan hellscape, this never-ending interstate of sudden abandonment.

You drive for five hours this way. You were supposed to make it to Denver, but your whole body aches from tension, from gripping the wheel too hard. You pull over early.

You don’t even make it out of the state.