Tenx9 first-timer Sarah Fye took a step away from her usual standup comedy to deliver this moving story of her struggle to be comfortable alone, and the beauty she found when she gave it a chance.
In the year 1990, the five year old version of me was staying the weekend at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel with my family. My mama held my hand in the lobby while she spoke to the concierge when suddenly I decided it would be a GREAT idea to jerk away from her grip and bolt in my hot pink swimsuit and cover up onto the nearest open elevator. Before she had time to realize what was happening, the golden elevator doors were closing shut and the stark realization that I was about to be all alone in a historic hotel was quickly sinking in quickly. “Sarah!” my mama cried just as the doors fell together and up the elevator shaft I flew.
Completely freaked out by my own actions but thrilled in a way by the independent and adventurous turn my five year old life had suddenly taken, I rode the elevator as the lighted sign dinged, floor to floor. Finally, it stopped on floor five. As my eyes widened and filled with tears, the enclosed space opened and I was set free. Frantic, I ran to the nearest person I could find, a maid who was elbow deep in changing the sheets of room 502. I tugged on her white apron, and as she turned to me I burst into tears. Though she spoke little English, she knew exactly what was going on. I was returned to my rightful owner who waited on me with baited breath, scolding me at first, then embracing me, happy to have me in her arms where we both knew I was safe.
Quickly, this became the formula of my life. Running away as quickly as possible from any sign of comfort only to realize that regardless of my inherent independent nature, I actually hated being alone. And of course, this has become most apparent in my adult romantic relationships.
“Ending Up Alone” was always a great fear of mine, and the idea that I was “unwanted” came around early in life. I was a huge kid, not fat, but very, very tall for my age. I hit puberty before any of the other girls at school. I started my period for the first time in the fourth grade, and I remember sobbing in the bathroom floor, asking god why he’d made me an overgrown kid who just wanted to be young and careless for as long as possible.
Often my appearance left me tortured by the boys at school. One particular sad and lonely day, a very mean boy stood up in the middle of the cafeteria pointing at me and yelling at the top of his lungs, “Sarah, your last name is Fye, but you’re not!” I stood motionless as everyone in the room burst into laughter. He had meant that my last name was a new slang for “Hot” but that he and his friends actually thought I was disgusting.
As I finally grew out of my awkward pre-teen years and into a young adult, I found myself constantly seeking male attention…because attention felt a little bit like acceptance, and because acceptance felt a little bit like companionship, and companionship felt a little bit like love.
Fast forward to approximately one year ago, the night before a huge ice storm hit Nashville. Only recently had I ran away from the comforts of my almost five year relationship, and away from my former home of New York City, finding myself back in the arms of a guy I’d been in a tumultuous relationship with off and on for years. He was the perfect representation of the chaos my life thrived upon. He was there when he wanted to be but left me in solitude for long periods of time, generally long enough to feed both my independent spirit and my all of my insecurities about being alone, only to hurdle himself back into my heart with full force, making me crave him and then leaving me once more.
As the gentle sounds of Claude Debussy played from my ipod in my candlelit bedroom, he wrapped his long, lean arms around me and I began to wonder how much more of this erratic behavior I could handle. As a strong and independent woman as well as an extreme emotional weirdo, talking about feelings isn’t always easy for me. But for whatever reason at that very moment, I mustered up some courage. Rolling over and sitting up to face him directly, I looked him the eye and asked, “What do you think is better than me?”
He thought only for a brief second before looking up at me and saying, “I cannot think of ANYTHING better than you.” He kissed my lips and I fell asleep on his chest. The following morning, he walked out of my front door and out of my life. I haven’t seen him again.
It was in that moment I came to the realization that I needed to put myself on a dating diet. After all, it seemed I’d had some guy in my life in some way for about the past fifteen years: some guy calling or texting or not calling or texting or dating me or staying over or being my boyfriend or dumping me or taking a lot of my attention and energy for FIFTEEN YEARS! And still, there I was, single and clueless about the resolution to my problem.
I started thinking what I could do with all of the time and energy I spent worrying about men. About finding the “one.” About not being alone. After all, if I had pursued any other endeavor with as much gusto and as little luck as I have finding the perfect person, chances are I’d either already be famous or I would’ve given up being a performer a long time ago.
That was it. I was done with dating. I couldn’t take it anymore. And I couldn’t wait to feel what I would feel when I didn’t feel anything for anyone except myself.
For the first few months, it felt great! With no one to worry about but me, I found myself fretting so much less than usual. Detached from my cell phone and the wonder of whether or not he would contact me, (whoever “he” was at the former time), I felt an even greater sense of freedom and independence. I wanted to feel this free forever.
Then, of course, an obstacle. A very tall, very handsome man began working with me. The connection between us was palpable, but I quickly learned he was in a complicated situation with the mother of his child. While I felt a great deaI of adoration towards him, I couldn’t stand the idea of once more becoming attached to someone who didn’t have the ability to love me back. More importantly, I couldn’t stand the idea of being left alone again. So instead of allowing myself to be left alone, I did the only thing I knew to do. I ran.
Leaving my job and taking the summer to travel, I fled as frequently as possible. The times I spent alone in my one bedroom apartment in East Nashville felt like torture. I had to get out. So, I spent the majority of my summer bouncing from place to place. I toured doing comedy in Portland, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts and New York City. I took joyrides to Atlanta, Louisville, and Memphis. I flew out to Denver to stay with my best friend for two weeks, I traveled to Washington DC and Charlotte with the Chelsea Soccer Club fans of Nashville just because it was something to do to keep my mind off my single-ness, and I polished off the summer by taking the opportunity to stay at my friend’s beach house in Florida for a week.
Eventually I grew tired of living from my suitcase and was running low on funds, so the Sarah Does Summer American Travel Edition had to come to a close. I was forced to spend my time in the solitude of my apartment once more. I wanted so desperately to reach out to someone; to have someone to hold onto. But because I had built such a big wall…because I had isolated myself and my heart for so long, for the first time, reaching out for someone else wasn’t even an option. And for the first time in my entire life, I felt a very cold loneliness.
But instead of running away again, I took the last few months of the year to ask myself what was so bad about me? Why did I consistently need to pull all my focus from myself and pour all my love and attention onto someone else? Was I so terrible to be around that even I couldn’t enjoy the pleasure of my own company? What was it about me that had grown in such disdain for me? Could I learn to nourish, protect, and love myself without the approval of an outside lover who may or may not be worthy of my attention?
The answer was yes.
On Wednesday, I’m going out on my first real date in a little over a year. And though it’s taken quite a while to get out of the darkness of my own heart, I am ever so grateful for my time alone. Because even though my heart grew dark, there was still a bit of light within my soul. After all, you only need a little light for reflection. And if you peer into the looking glass closely and for long enough, what you’ll find is beauty alone.