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By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Most of us are a mixture of extrovert and introvert and I’m no exception. I love getting out and meeting people, chatting and laughing, but, equally, I appreciate my time alone. I think I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve been lonely in my life, and not one of those times has been when completely alone. It's a feeling I equate with homesickness. Both feelings have an emptiness at their core.
One of the worst periods of loneliness was when I was about nine. I loved my primary school. I had lots of friends, including a best friend, Christine.  I worked hard and did well. Whether it was this that irked the girl who became my nemesis or whether it was the fact that her mom had rejected her and she was being brought up by her grandma, I’ll never know. All I do know is that she decided one day that she wouldn’t talk to me. Not only would she ignore me but she decided that every other girl in my class would also give me the cold shoulder.  She was a bully, I know that now, but, at the time, my nine year old self was puzzled and frightened.  I have never felt so lonely in my life, especially when my only ally, Christine, decided she’d better defect too.  For some reason I was too embarrassed and ashamed to confide in my mom and the situation continued for several weeks.  Eventually, one night my mom overheard me sobbing into my pillow and it all came out.  Mum’s angry march into school the following day seemed to solve the problem, and things returned to normal.  In some ways it was a valuable learning experience and preparation for the disappointments of the future, but I’ll never forget the emptiness and loneliness of playtimes and lunchtimes on my own, trying to swallow down school dinners and silent tears. 
Twice when I was young I was deposited with aunts and uncles whilst my parents had a well earned couple of days respite.  I remember both times vividly.  The first was when my younger brother and I were about four and eight respectively. My elder brother, aged ten had been sent to another relative - it was obviously agreed that three lively children would be too much for any couple. John and I loved my aunt and uncle, and this break was meant as a treat, but we didn’t want to stay with them.  I remember the feelings of homesickness that overcame me in waves, exacerbated by my brother’s tears and obvious unhappiness. Bravely, we put up a front for the times we were with my aunt and uncle, but in the privacy of our bedroom I hugged John as he cried, whilst trying desperately to hold back my own tears. As the older sibling I felt responsible for my baby brother. My loneliness was unbearable. Finally, I wrote a letter to my uncle, telling him we wanted to go home, and, probably glad to get rid of us, he took us back that night. 
The second time I stayed with relatives I was a bit older, about eleven. My cousin, Sue, was twelve and we’d always got on well so this trip should have been enjoyable. However, I hadn’t reckoned on the horse or the granddaughter, Heather, next door, both of whom were to send me into a spiral of loneliness and despair. Sue was mad about horses and had been riding them for years. I, on the other hand, was a townie with a fear of large animals. On day one, we cycled to the stables and Sue went out for a ride whilst I was left with a brush, some hay and a stinking, snorting, farting beast.  After tea I went to my room and cried. The following day, Heather appeared. Sue and Heather were already good friends and sadly three is never a good number.  As I sat on the back step whilst Sue and Heather whispered and giggled behind a bush I was transported back to those lonely days at primary school when I sent to Coventry. I retreated to my room and yet again found myself sobbing into a pillow.  I can’t remember now how I got a message to my mom (maybe a whispered conversation on the landline) but low and behold I was going home early. No more horses, no more Heather.  
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by family and friends. The times I’ve branched out on my own I’ve soon got chatting to someone and felt like I was part of the crowd.  Of course, there have been classic opportunities for loneliness over the years. On the whole, I’ve been lucky, but I’m always aware it could be just around the corner. 
My first day at secondary school, aged eleven, when I was the only pupil from my primary, a girl from another school spotted me on the tube, thought I had a face too old for my body and struck up a conversation (I only discovered the face/body part years later). We’ve been best friends since that day, and laughed and cried out way through the past fifty six years. 
At eighteen, I set out for Art College,  feeling nervous and sick. I knew I was going to be worse than everybody else. I wouldn’t make any friends, I’d be lonely and sad and have to come home. My mom and dad jollied me up the M1, tried to feed me at a service station (I declined - a first), and eventually dropped me at the Halls of Residence, in a huge room with five beds. Tearfully I said goodbye to them, and sat on my bed to await the arrival of my room mates. When I hadn’t phoned home after ten days (this was well before mobile phones appeared on the scene) my mom decided I’d probably settled in. I never looked back. Loneliness
Two short verses on the subject of Loneliness  by Jill Reidy
She waits, sad and sober  For his return  Glances at the clock Listens for attempts to turn the key  For the footsteps, faltering  Hand clutching at whatever it can find She tenses as the door slides open  He enters, tries to focus, fails Staggers to his chair and starts to speak  She listens wearily as he slurs his way  through some funny tale That makes no sense  Tomorrow he’ll be sorry Loneliness washes over her in a cold, relentless wave
He sits at a table for one Ploughs his way through lasagne  And an individual plate of veg Scrolls through his phone Desperate for connection Laughter from the party table  Interrupts his search Pierces the hollow in his heart  He closes the phone  Pushes away his plate  And pays his bill without a word Out in the street he stands awhile,  Staring through the misty window  Until the hole in his heart begins to heal
Thanks for reading.......Jill
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