Written by Jessie Panazzolo
Loneliness was sitting in the airport, cheeks stained red, raw from tears. Getting on the plane and smiling through the sadness to the air hostess. She noticed, for sure, she noticed, but she must see this all the time.
Loneliness was the fear I had sitting in the back of the taxi, if you could call it that, with the inside of the door missing and – was that the road I could see beneath my feet? The 4 displays of public urination out the window and the loud beeps of the street echoed through my ears as I clutched my bag.
Loneliness was that first night, barely sleeping a wink, listening to every noise outside of the hotel. Locking the door, but still feeling unsafe, apprehensive about my future that begins tomorrow.
Loneliness was being told that I couldn’t be their friends despite arriving on the island a day before them. I was working, they were on holiday. I had to keep them safe, set boundaries and be a good example. They could find each other in their shared hut, I went back to mine with a staff member wishing I wasn’t there on her boyfriend’s last night.
Loneliness was being told that it’s better to sleep with the volunteers in secret rather than be friends with them publicly. Watching my every move, wanting to impress despite the hypocritical rules, but feeling caught between their desires and my truth. Both could not exist.
Loneliness was trying to make sense of it all. Doing my research, leading my walks- head down, bum up giving every day my all. Nothing made sense and I was exhausted. Too much time alone and I should be with others, too much time with others and I am not doing my job properly. The writing on the wall said Be Better, an overt signal that I would never be enough.
Loneliness was when you all left for the mainland. After spending every day with you all, camp felt empty and so did I. I had conversations about those I left back home and thought about who I was and what I was doing. I ended up confused and silent for you to come back to. When your boat returned, I hid away- leaving you as confused as I was.
Loneliness was when you left for real. I had my performance review that day and lasted maybe one sentence before I balled my eyes out. Big sobs. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to play it cool and suppress it to no avail. When that song came on a week later, the tears returned. It’s not even a sad song, but maybe you took the happiness with you.
Loneliness was trying to tell you that he was harassing me. Handling my body as if it were an apparatus, appearing at my door and forcing me to vacate through the window. I was a mouse, he was a cat. You wouldn’t hear it unless it came from my male colleague. He didn’t want to speak up. My voice had no value and my body was an empty vessel made from levers and cranks.
Loneliness was us on the bench, you smoking, me watching the waves lap the sand. Realising that the boss may not have our best interests, but at least we have each other. People came and went, months in, months out, but you stayed on the bench and held my sanity.
Loneliness was my last night, what was a huge party for everyone else on their last nights was for me, solitary confinement in my hut. Crying myself to sleep, no recognition, no send-off sentiments or rum like there was for the others. What was meant for everyone, was never meant for me. I didn’t succeed. I wasn’t better. I would never be enough.
Loneliness was stepping off of the plane into what felt like a spaceship. Returning home, the toaster also looked like it was from another planet. Everything was drowning in technology and isolation. Nobody talked, blocked by the TV and their devices – two shields at once, blocking any connection. You’d think that after 6 months, we could sit unarmed- maybe that was too vulnerable. Too exposed.
Loneliness was going anywhere with friends. They sacrificed eye contact and conversation for phone notifications, they turned up the radio to drown out the voices. This was the true isolation, surrounded by people who had no idea what I’d been through and had no real interest in finding out.
It could have been frustrated conservationists.
It could have been poor conservationists.
But nothing felt as visceral as the loneliness.