FOR VALENTINE’S HERE AT ARGOT WE’RE DOING SOMETHING SPECIAL.
A WEEK OF STORIES, PERSONAL ESSAYS AND ART ABOUT BEING ALONE.
WE HOPE YOU ENJOY IT.
I have never dreamt more vividly than I did as a child. I believe the earliest dreams that I'm able to remember date back to when I was probably no older than three. They were mainly black and white, and at first a silent parade of shifting shadows, carried as they were on brittle synaptic waves still learning the language of imitation.
The dreams were still black and white when the presences began to appear, though now they shone more like a photographic negative – screaming white backgrounds and dark, loping figures with jagged movements. And voices, now; voices like the buzz of a single stinging insect hovering just a little too close to one’s ear.
Colours appeared in my dreams one by one: first yellow (a streetlight), then orange (nightmare sunset), then blue (first turquoise, then denim). Green may have been the last, and its appearance marked the first beautiful dream I can remember having. I stood, alone, in a cave of rounded green crystals, each one singing a different note and glowing when touched - sometimes brightly, sometimes softly. It is the first dream I can remember not wanting to escape. I sometimes still miss it, wherever it was.
My mind was not then, nor is it now, a restful place. But I grew familiar with it quickly, the sharp turns and buzzing mouths and oddly echoing images. I studied its corners and alcoves like well-worn hiding places in an attic filled with fragile and dangerous things. It was here, in the formerly alien terrain of my own personality, that I learned how to be alone.
I am watching an orange moon through the window of a long-distance train, and I wonder whether I’m still in the same province I had started in that morning. It wasn’t dark when I left the city, but it is now. And I know it’s “night”, and not just “dark”, because the lights in the carriage have been dimmed to a level that will allow most people to sleep. I mutter as I peer through the fog of my breath, cursing the little gently-humming lights and the distraction even their quiet company provides me.
Even my own reflection is too much company this time, flashing up in fractal sections against the glass. Even the open fields, just visible beneath the moon’s outstretched fingers, are too much.
I send a message to a friend of mine whom I know is also alone, though in a different way. I describe my journey to him: the shade of the moon with its halo of glacial vapours, the heat of the third-tier bunk I’m sleeping in, the jarring modernity of these trains compared to the ones I used to ride. I find I am comforted by the knowledge that he is alone, that I am alone, and both very far apart. I watch the sun rise, watery and grey in comparison to the rouged, flaming moon of the previous night, and see a single farmer bent over in one of those overwhelming fields. I consider how alone I have not been, and for how long. Shadows in the streets at night. Footsteps in the hallways. Breathing and typing every time you pick up the phone. Hello, everybody.
I haven’t been touched in months. I don’t exactly miss the invasive grabbing and poking of the summer months, when my fat foreign flesh was the subject of much haptic debate, but I note that I have begun to miss physical contact. I watch the last inky edges melt away from the day’s previous page, and wrap my arms around myself as my fellow passengers begin to stir.
A friend of mine once told me a story about a friend of his. She had been standing on an underground train platform on the fifteenth of February, the day after Valentine’s Day. As the probing headlights made their way around the last bend, a cloud of feathers pillowed up from the tracks – one or two at first, twirling in the breeze, and then more, and then a burst, and they’re not feathers but petals, petals, bruised and torn and thrust from the mouth of the tunnel like blood from a ruptured artery...
Rose petals. Were they dropped and mourned, I wonder, or callously discarded? I have roses of my own, and I will not discard them. On every fifteenth of February of my entire life, the petals of my own reflections have bloomed for me on the contours of my pillowcase, in the rhythm of my fingers tapping, in the indelible scent of rain on filthy concrete. In a crowd of people, I can decide that I am alone, and then I am. Solitude in my formative years taught me the freedom of introspection, and detachment is a delicious and sometimes destructive thing - but I will not relinquish it. And you can’t make me, because if you try, I will just decide that you are not there. And you can’t stop me.
Whenever the singular lack of singularity becomes too much, I place myself on that train platform, close my eyes, and feel the blissfully fleeting contact of rose petals against my eyelids – and I keep them closed, just in case my reflection in the train carriage window is too much company.
Naomi Porter-Lupu is a writer and translator who has plied their trade in countries around the world. A long-time professional foreigner, Naomi is not from there, but they probably speak the language. They currently live, for their sins, in Chicago, and their hobbies include knife-throwing and screaming-at-god.