Fried Chicken and a Breakdown
My back ached, my feet ached, my stomach growled…the last thing I had eaten was a Starbucks bagel… 12 hours before I had arrived at work that morning. It was actually supposed to be an off day for me, but oh well. I flicked the TV on and popped open my box of Zaxby’s “Wings and Things.” I definitely regretted ingesting that much grease the next morning, but I was too exhausted that night to worry about it. I scrolled through the TV shows, pathetically realizing I had watched way too much Hulu, because now I was running out of decent shows to watch. I switched to movies. Age of Adeline sounded like a good choice.
Five wings, five chicken tenders, some celery, two cookies, one piece of Texas toast, and a slew of french fries later the movie ended. The screen went black then credits rolled while some hauntingly beautiful piano score began playing in the background. I was curled up on the couch in one of those tired/vegetative states—you know, too lazy to get up and brush my teeth and go to bed—so I just laid there listlessly.
Without the movie plot to keep me distracted, I stared blankly into the dark abyss of our apartment. I say “our” because I have a roommate—just not that weekend. She is lucky enough to have a life here in Virginia, a couple hours away, but a life nonetheless. Close enough to escape.
I, on the other hand, have no one. I like to tell everyone I’m happy, but I’m really just pretending. Sure, I’m grateful for a million things, including my job. I love work. Work keeps my mind busy, and so I’m always there. I’m there on off days; I’m there even when my boss says, “Go home.” I wait around. Biding my time. Fighting the loneliness. I distract myself from dawn to dusk. I wake up, I work. I sleep. Exhaustion is my liquor. Exhaustion keeps me from feeling too much, from missing anyone too much.
This night felt different from other nights though. Perhaps, it was the movie that had brought me to a boiling point, right on the edge of overflowing onto the stove, hisss-ing as steam jumps up into the air. I tried to focus on the names of strangers flying up the TV screen, but all I could hear was the music, every piano note like a wrecking ball swinging against a dam, BANG, BANG, BANG, until all at once—it broke wide open.
My body convulsed as salt water flooded my cheeks. I shrieked and gasped for air but the loneliness relentlessly crashed into me, wave after wave after wave. My body wracked, my chest constricted; I was drowning. I wept, crying out to God, “Why God? Why me? I can’t do this! Why did you bring me HERE?” I was angry and the tears felt hot. “THIS ISN’T FAIR. IT’S NOT FAIR! WHY GOD? WHY!? WHY!? WHY!?”
I crumpled on the couch, unclenching my fists, watching as the blood rush back to my fingertips. I tried to breathe because I desperately needed oxygen. The waves kept coming, and I couldn’t seem to stop crying. A band of numb skin tingled across my face; I couldn’t even feel the tears anymore. My eyes were swollen, my lips pink and puffy, my nose red and wet, skin sticky with salt.
The memories came rushing back to me and I was overwhelmed with how much I missed my college friends. I remembered coming home from long days of clinicals, plopping down on our much comfier couch with my Zaxby’s in hand, settling in for another Family Feud marathon. I missed our little house that sat atop a shifty and steep, pothole-filled driveway. I missed screaming and having panic attacks every time we saw a cockroach. I missed opening the blinds in the morning and watching the first beams of morning light pour in through the tops of the trees as I sipped my coffee. I missed football season in Alabama. I missed good sweet tea and heavy accents. I missed the pace of life, always slow, like the long drawl on a “How y'all doin’ t’day?”
Some time passed, enough for the credits to have long finished. I turned the TV off, right as Hulu queued up another movie. I decided to text my best friend, who always has the right words for me in these situations. After explaining the terms of my breakdown, she said something along the lines of, “You’ve been lonely before, but things got better. This time is no different. It will get better.”
I knew she was right… but this is different from undergrad. This is online grad school and 13-hour workdays. This is sitting alone at church, eating lunch by myself at Chipotle and spending $9 I don’t have. This is never having enough clothes because the laundry always needs to be done. This is eating meals that look like snacks because I didn’t get to the grocery store again. This is nights spent alone eating greasy chicken, weeping into the silence, so much so that my face goes numb. For lack of better words, it just sucks sometimes. But my best friend doesn’t know that yet, she is still a hopeful college senior, longing for graduation, impatiently awaiting her journey into the real world. I can’t blame her though; I was the same way one year ago.
I sunk to my knees, resting my head on the coffee table. I tried to be still, quiet. I just wanted to stop thinking and listen. I had already yelled at God; now it was time to just shut up. His voice has never been loud or thunderous to me, like in the movies; it’s not even audible. In fact, it’s silent, but it has a presence that permeates through my being and wraps its arms around me.
“My child, I’m here.”
By 1 AM, the tears had long stopped. I was tired. I threw out the cold fries, flipped the lights off and crawled into bed. Sleep came quickly.
“Rest here, my child.”
8:21 AM the next morning. I could still feel the heaviness upon my chest. I still felt small waves of grief come and go. I tried to ignore the tingle that I get in my nose before tears come, because I didn’t want to cry anymore.
Merrrrm merrm—sounded two low vibrations beneath my pillows. A text message.
“Dear Jesus, thank you for Andria. Thank you for her love of you and her love for people and how hard she has worked to carve out a life of her own. But sometimes it’s hard to comfort Andria’s heart as she seeks friendship in this new phase of life.”
(I was definitely crying again.)
“She’s lonely and scared, Lord. Give her peace and bring her the right type of friends — those who will lift her up and walk with her as she walks with you. Show her just how much she is loved by you and all those around her. In your Son’s name, amen.”
A text from my best friend.
“My child, I’m still here.”
I took a deep breath and forced my feet out of bed. I opened the blinds allowing the light to pour in across my face. The apartment smelled like fried chicken still. I was off to church to sit alone again. I ate lunch alone. I spent my afternoon alone. I ate dinner, finished homework, watched TV alone and said goodnight to no one when I finally went to bed. But for the first time in six months I felt truly okay. I could feel myself letting go of the past I had stubbornly dragged across the graduation stage.
I’m learning that like the seasons, all things must get a little worse before they fully take shape. Winter drags itself out through March, all brown and mushy, but the sweet smell of spring is even sweeter because of it. The endless days of chilly spring rain make summer that much greener. Long nights become shorter and the air cools, but the leaves turn to the iridescent reds and yellows of autumn. Which all too soon are shriveled and brown, but only in time for that first pure, white, glistening coat of snow. Round and round, life to death and back again.
Now, I’m really going to bring this home by circling back to Age of Adeline. If you seen the movie, you’ll know all she wants is to be mortal. She longs to a live a life where aging and death exist, a life where she isn’t eternally stuck in one stage of life. None of us were meant to be in college forever, nor will I be in grad school forever, nor will you or I feel alone forever. Life is cyclical; we’re in one season, but only for so long. There are bad times and good times, sunny days and rainy days. So yes, my best friend was right, it will get better. When I moved to Alabama I was lonely, until I embraced where I was, and now I can only look back and smile. I think it’s high time I start embracing Virginia, so one day when I graduate with my master’s and move to a new city to start a new job, I’ll sit on my couch with my Zaxby’s and cry because Virginia will be a memory worth missing.