Sarah Fye – Alone

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.

 

Whitney Booth – Just Me and Taylor

At our Feb 2016 theme “Alone,” co-host Whitney Booth delivered a delightfully funny “confessional” piece on her love of Taylor Swift and that time she went alone to one of Tay’s concerts…as a grown woman. 

Just Me and Taylor

In the last few years, I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself that I might otherwise always do with a friend, boyfriend, or a large group of folks. Going to the movies is a pretty easy one — I mostly want to be left alone  when I do that, anyway. When I used to travel alone for my job, I got used to dining out by myself — sitting at the bar is faster than waiting for a table and I would almost always end up having a conversation with someone. It took a bit of gumption to decide on it, but traveling by myself has uncovered some of the deepest joys I’ve yet to know in this life. 

Live music was one of the big draws that attracted me to Nashville twelve years ago, and in that time I’ve dragged a number of friends along with me to shows all over town. It’s obviously way more fun when both parties in attendance are equally excited about the concert or share a love for the artist, and that’s been the case a lot of the time, but not always. When I was dating someone for a long time, I got used to having a go-to concert companion. I knew that I could buy two tickets and we would both go and it would be fun, but when I was single again, that changed. Sure, I still had lots of friends I could call up and invite, but for some of the bigger shows I wanted to see, the tickets would go on sale so far in advance that it was hard to make any firm plans. 

I looked to my fictional mentor for all things hopelessly romantic, Ted Mosby, for direction. When Ted Mosby receives a wedding invitation, he RSVPs for two, even when he is single— it’s a bold act of hope that by the time the wedding rolls around, he’ll be in love, or at least excited about the possibility of love— maybe even with the mother of his kids. Following suit in pure Mosby fashion, I started buying two tickets to shows without a specific guest in mind —who knows where I’d be several months from now?! Pulling a Mosby felt like a way of breathing life into my hopes and putting those possibilities out into the universe — not that I was so hard up for a boyfriend, but it was nice to think about how much fun it might be to take a really great date to this concert ten months from now. And sure, I’ve ended up selling a lot of single tickets and standing next to a stranger, wondering then if this person might be my soulmate before quickly deciding “no, probably not.”

In the summer of 2013, I was spinning in a delayed whirlwind of Taylor Swift fever. I’ve never been a big fan of country music so I suppose it makes sense that she caught my attention at a point in her career when she was leaning almost fully pop. Like a lot of folks, I had decided Taylor Swift was a whiney girl whose subtlety in breakup anthems left us wanting. I hadn’t ever really listened to her until she dropped the single, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which I listened to approximately 26 times in a row one afternoon. It wasn’t until that year that I became obsessed with one song at a time until I was fully enamored with her Red album, which I had ripped from a 9 year old’s CD copy while I was working as her nanny. Taylor Swift would be playing three nights at Bridgestone Arena that September and a lot of my friends were going, but the tickets had gone on sale over a year before and all three nights had almost sold out immediately. There was no chance of me jumping in with a group of friends who had been planning on it for so long, but I was wearing that album out and was already experiencing serious anticipatory FOMO. I had to go. In a fit of Taylor-fueled excitement, I grabbed my phone, searched for a single ticket on Ticketmaster, and bought it.  

I hesitated to share my excitement with a lot of people because I knew I’d be met with the dreaded question, “Who are you going with?” At this point, I hadn’t been to any concerts alone. Many of my friends wouldn’t flinch at the news of my going out solo, but this was not my typical genre or taste and there was something inherently creepy about a 27 year old woman going alone to a Taylor Swift concert. With another adult who wears Taylor superfandom with pride? No big deal. With a group of kids squealing with excitement to see their favorite star? Not weird at all. Alone? At this show. A little weird.

But the night arrived and I had shared with a few trusted comrades just how out of my mind excited I was. I put on my red lipstick, chugged a Coors Light in my kitchen, and drove myself downtown. I gave myself a little bit of time so that I could have a drink at the bar at Merchant’s beforehand, so I parked in a garage and took my time walking down Broadway, smelling the cigarettes and spilled whiskey from ten thousand nights before, feeling the anticipation that hung heavy in the dusky downtown air. I ordered a cocktail at Merchants, all the while breathing deeply and reminding myself that there was nothing weird about being alone and doing something I wanted to do, believing that this would be a great night and that I had everything I needed — ticket, red lips, ID… well, almost everything. I sprinted back across Broadway, bargained with the garage attendant to let me out and back in without paying twice, sped home to grab my ID and tried again. I went straight to Bridgestone this time, directly to the beer line, which was delightfully short at this Taylor Swift concert, since her fanbase was still mostly underage.

Ed Sheeran was opening for her on this tour. I didn’t and still don’t care about him, but I have never experienced a surge of positive energy and excitement like the one I felt when I pulled back the curtain to walk into the stadium that night. Red blinking signs filled the seats, girls screamed at Beatles-Ed-Sullivan Show decibels — I’m not remotely ashamed to share that I teared up a little. I couldn’t remember a time when I had been in the presence of such genuine excitement — I’m not sure that I had ever felt the magnanimous joy and enthusiasm that filled Bridgestone that night. 

…Until about an hour later. 

I don’t know if any of you have ever been to a Taylor Swift concert, or if you have an idea of what to expect from a big stadium show like this, but I was not prepared for the level of sheer, nonstop entertainment and unadulterated fun that would keep me on my feet, dancing and singing for three hours straight that night. Say what you will about Tay, but I love her. She works hard, she shows incredible amounts of kindness to her fans, and during her concerts, she’ll give at least one breathy, impassioned speech about loving yourself and how that, with the love from your friends, is so much stronger than all the mean things that people will say about you when they try to tear you down. Oh, and she moves through the air on a floating pedestal while she does this— to get closer to the nosebleed seats! She’s amazing and seeing her perform live only magnified my admiration for her. 

The great thing about being alone at a concert is that, instead of turning to your friend who might not like these songs as much as you, you just look ahead, throwing your fangirl arms in the air and singing as loud as your lungs will let you because this is for you. You don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself. Sharing this with someone equally excited is, perhaps, the ideal situation, but I learned that night that it’s a close second. And it’s followed even more closely by a third option that I doubt I’ll ever find in a more truly joyful form than I did that night. My seat was in the first section off the floor, about halfway back from the stage — to my right was a group of four people about my age, with whom I hoped desperately to blend, and to the left was an eleven year old girl. 

She and I had shared some excited glances earlier in the night, but as Taylor moved through the stadium, dazzling us with her best songs, both old and new, our communication of squeals and claps and jumps-in-place cemented our connection. We mirrored one another’s dance moves, including series of dramatic, head shakes to accompany each “trouble, trouble, trouble”. She lost her mind when Ed Sheeran joined Taylor on stage for “Everything Has Changed’ and I lost mine when Taylor sat at her enormous piano and flung her hair back and forth in “All Too Well,” stirring my emotions and undoubtedly racking up a sizable bill with the chiropractor. During a set change, as Taylor spoke about love and loss over vague lead-in music for the next song, I turned to my new friend, leaned down to her level, and shouted, “DO YOU THINK SHE’S ABOUT TO DO LOVE STORY?!?” She did. And I cried at the key change. 

A bunch of my close friends were somewhere in the room that night. I could have easily texted them to meet up in the lobby after the show, but I didn’t. There were 19,999 other people with whom I was now permanently bonded by this magical experience—their energy would be impossible to forget and their screams would ring in my ears late into the next morning. I had made a new little friend who I would never see again. Love filled the room and spilled out onto Lower Broadway. But being in that sold-out arena, in that square foot of dance floor in section 104, in my body, with a belly full of expensive beer and a heart full of joy, I was alone. I was alone and I was grateful. I was alone, just like every other person that night who stood up, strong and sure, screaming loud enough so the person with whom she was never ever ever ever getting back together would hear.

Alone – The Understory and Next Theme

Rob McRay delivered another most outstanding understory at the end of February 2016’s night “Alone”. 

Tonight, in an apparent act of protest against Hallmark’s forced romanticizing of Valentine’s, we chose to spend this evening alone.

We went to a boring silent film with a hot chick, became possessed by the spirit of the 31-Alonefilm, and started a revolution all on our own—but we made permanent friends with a giant and his family.

We spent a last night alone in the city of love, crying over the quiche splattered on our fancy lady shoes, and Charlie Brown walked toward the Eiffel Tower…through the golden arches.

We went alone to a Tay concert, feeling creepy but excited, and lost our minds with an enthusiastic crowd worshipping an idol floating on a pedestal.

We went on a lonely bike ride, looking for someone with skin, and remembered the kindness of a German stranger, and paid it forward to a lonely woman looking for shelter…and answered each other’s prayers.

We entered the field of battle with our mighty talon, emerging victorious…only to lead our team again into enemy territory—and found ourselves alone, mortally wounded by friendly fire.

We sat alone, rewriting Anakin’s love story, compelled by some inner Darth Vader to make his story yet deeper—and found the words to our own primal scream.

We rode an elevator alone, running away again and again, seeking attention as a poor substitute for something more—but we finally found enough light to see our own beauty.

We took our first family vacation to the Disneyland of the North, anticipating the screaming nausea, but finding ourselves alone in the midway, lost in the strange world , finally finding our family in the fog, only to feel we are still in the fog.

We waited in line to destroy space nuggets at the skating rink, wishing for a date with our 8th grade crush…and contemplated the relative value of video games and coloring books.

This was our evening alone.


 

Thanks to Michael B., Bayard, Kate, Luar, Michele, Emily, David, Sarah, and Whitney for some excellent storytelling.

Join us next time on March 21st for our theme “Yes or No.” Have a story? Submit your proposal here. And bring a friend! It’s always free.

32-Yes or No