Traversing the Spaces in Between
by Mary Sojourner
la·cu·na; pl. la·cu·nae (-n?) or la·cu·nas
1. An empty space or a missing part; a gap
2. Anatomy: a cavity, space, especially in bone…
A guy I knew forty-five years ago lives in Thailand. He somehow found my email address and wrote me. He’s still a lush. He’s still brilliant. He sent me a link to a Thai newspaper article. The site was no longer there. I wrote him back:
The newspaper article is gone. Those damn tricky lacunae. Lacuna has been my favorite word for a few years. Lacunae are a characteristic of the black widow spider’s web. People? By and large we are tedious in our predictability. The black widow spider isn’t surprised that she spins an asymmetrical web or that there are ragged holes in it. The web catches food. What more could a hard-working spider want? Found myself by luck and not settling for less, standing in the perfect place at the base of a little mesa on July 4 to watch the fireworks being launched from its top. Galaxies and luminous jelly-fish. Nobody singing about bombs bursting in air. My gratitude was doubled, for what was and wasn’t there.
What is and isn’t here. I am here. Three days in a row I’ve walked a loop through Bend, Oregon’s downtown, onto the path along the river, through a big impeccably clean park and back through the labyrinth of streets that leads to my house. It was on the first walk along the Deschutes — in the midst of families and couples and a wildly happy gang of young Goths — that I became aware that I was the only woman walking alone. I sat on a bench, watched the Canada geese and retraced my steps. I couldn’t remember seeing one other woman walking, eating, drinking coffee, sitting on a bench alone. Every woman I saw was with others: a partner/husband, a friend or friends, children, grand-children.
The next day I walked to the music festival in the downtown. There were bands and craft booths and opportunities to gorge on everything from Hawaiian barbecue to Marionberry shortcakes. I opted for the shortcakes and sat on a bench to eat and conduct an experiment. Thirty minutes later, I’d seen not one woman alone. I resumed walking, stopped to talk to a young woman jeweler. Her work was luminous and austere, our conversation was anything but austere. It was a moment of connection beyond age, a moment of luminosity fueled by our art.
By the time I returned home two hours later, I’d still not seen a single woman walking alone. I called my friend, I., and told her the results of my two-day experiment. We talked of the time 20, 25 years ago when more than a few middle-aged women knew they needed to take their lives in their own hands. We talked of the pioneering of that time, the moves west, the solo drives across country, the leaving home for a new home in a town in which a woman knew no one. I. said she would conduct her own experiments in the no-longer little Arizona town in which she lives.
I wrote my woman friend, B., this morning:
I remember when I first came west, camping at little camp-grounds and meeting other solo women adventurers. The streets and cafes of Flagstaff were filled with single women by themselves. I’ve seen one woman eating by herself here in Bend. I’m just being with this — though it feels troubling and sad. Then last night I had this dream:
*I’m with people in an upscale resort lodge in a vast wilderness desert that contains a deep canyon. I have no real connection with the people. We go off on a hike. We walk in the canyon which is floored with deep sand. The other people decide to go back to the lodge. I want to walk more. I walk on alone. It starts to grow dark. I keep walking.
Finally I decide to turn back. The sand grows deeper. The dark is the dark of a moonless night at the bottom of a canyon. I can’t see my way back. I’m aware that there may be drop-offs to the side. All I can do is feel my way. I keep walking. The sand gets deeper, up to the middle of my calves. I begin to be concerned. I remember that there is an easier way back. It’s off to the left and down a steeper, but much easier route on solid rocky ground. I take that route …
… and I am back at the lodge. The other people are there. I feel no connection with them.*
B., I remember decades of magazine articles and books on how to be an independent woman, how to be un-partnered yet rich in friendships, how to have many friends meet the needs that might have been met by a partner. What has happened?
Today I walk downtown again. There is a gospel concert and a smaller crowd. I sit in the shade and I watch. When the music is over, I eat lunch at a Thai restaurant whose big windows look out over the street. I watch.
I see one woman walking alone.
When I come home, there is a message from B. She too has moved to a new town far from her home. She writes:
I see women walking alone here a lot, but they are not at all friendly. I’ve met no one at all here. I have not felt loneliness in 20-some years. And it feels a bit like being one of those goose who fly in circles alone, crying out for its mate and its flock and I always felt an unspeakable sense of loss when I’d witness that kind of loneliness. I am a stranger in a strange land here … but I’ll continue to work and paint and wait and give the Universe the time it needs to lead me to the next step.
This post is a personal letter. I would love responses. What do you see when you walk out into your community? Who walks alone? And you — have you ever felt, or do you now feel, the imperative to take your life into your own hands? Alone? Please write and let me know how you fill the lacunae in your life: [email protected].
Mary Sojourner is the author of the novel Going Through Ghosts (University of Nevada Press, 2010) and the memoir She Bets Her Life (Seal Press, 2009), among her many books. She is a National Public Radio commentator, and is the author of numerous essays, columns, and op-eds for dozens of publications. She blogs at Psychology Today, and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.