After an excruciating, but somewhat thrilling, third day of my first year of college, I planned on spending the evening binge-watching a show that reminded me of home. I decided to watch it in the shared lounge of my dorm, and not in my room, because I thought I might run into one of my roommates and wouldn’t have to be alone. This was the moment I should have realised what was coming. The inescapable feeling of loneliness that moving away from the only place you’ll ever love (and hate with the passion of a few burning suns), the only place you’ve ever called home, brings. I, however, hadn’t realised it. Instead, I switched on the TV and opened a bag of chips. Crisps.
The moment I tried to open the bag of crisps by tearing one corner of the packet (the way we always do back home) instead of pulling on both sides (the way you’re supposed to here) was another significant moment. That’s when I realised that it wasn’t the confusing directions, or the bad network calls with my mother, or the accents I don’t understand, or the newness of it all that would bring me to tears; it’s the fucking bag of chips. Crisps. Fuck.
That bag of crisps was soon finished, and my cooking skills end at pasta and instant noodles, so I decided to eat out.
By the time I dragged myself out of my dorm, McDonald’s was closing up. I continued the walk down Dame Street, hoping to find some familiar fast-food place open. And that’s when I saw it. “Ireland’s Best Seafood” in giant golden letters on a red board. A small chalkboard next to the door read, “Today’s Special: Prawn Curry with Rice/Chips”.
“Maybe I was so hungry that I couldn’t walk any further, or maybe I was just supposed to go in there that night, but I walked into Ireland’s best seafood restaurant, even though I’m vegetarian, and sat down at the table.”
Maybe I was so hungry that I couldn’t walk any further, or maybe I was just supposed to go in there that night, but I walked into Ireland’s best seafood restaurant, even though I’m vegetarian, and sat down at the table. The waiter walked up to me with a giant menu in his hand. Or a regular-sized one, I guess. They’re all this size here.
Seconds later I heard someone ask “You ready to order honey?” in a thick Croatian accent.
“Um…Yeah. I’ll have the Veggie Curry and chips?”
Soon the meal was in front of me. That’s when I realised that chips were what I’ve always called French fries. But what I didn’t realise was how incredibly hard it would be to eat this dinner alone.
I did realise, however, that it tasted … new. Everything did. Even the water. Three bites in I was ready to leave some cash on the table and run back to the relative comfort of my dorm room.
That’s when she walked by my table. Maybe she stopped and asked me if I needed anything else and if my dinner was okay, as that’s what she did with every customer, or maybe my loneliness was just so obvious that she saw it on my face and wanted to be nice.
The second she left to attend the other tables, loneliness hit me all over again because there had just been something about her. Something that made me forget what it felt like to feel dreadfully lonely all the time. I started to feel as though I might choke on it.
I tried to ignore it all and stabbed a chip with my fork, trying to take another bite. Seconds later she was walking past my table again. The choking seemed inevitable and I was so desperate that without caring about how pathetic I sounded, I asked, “Hey would you…um sit with me for a minute? I… uh… I don’t think I can eat alone.”
“Oh, of course. Well, I can’t sit because my manager is right there.” She gestured towards the counter and rolled her eyes. “I’ll just stand right here though. We’ll just pretend you’re ordering more food.”
She smiled softly then and asked if I was okay.
I told her I was. She could tell I wasn’t. So, I explained how I’d just moved here, and how I didn’t know anyone, and that I hadn’t realised eating alone would feel this weird.
“Ahh, it gets better I promise. I moved here a few years back. So I know what you mean. Well, I came with my ex then. But that relationship was ending. Ran its course.”
“Well, why’d you move here? For work?”
“Oh no, I’m a student. At Trinity.”
“Trinity huh? That’s a good one. So, Hogwarts, no?”
“Oh yes. Beautiful. The dining hall seems like it is right out of the books.”
Maybe it was the mention of my comfort books from eighth grade or the way she talked to me like she’s known me for years, but it felt like talking to a best friend. The next five minutes we were on the topic of our shitty exes, mine especially.
“Hopefully, I’ll find a nice guy here.”
“You’ll have fun by yourself too. It’s hard but you’ll learn to enjoy it. You’ll learn to be on your own.”
“Oh yes. Just be careful. You’ll find so many people here. Just weeks from now you’ll be going out with friends.” I’ve been working here for three years. But the first few months were hard. But then I found people. You will too. Might even find a guy soon. But till then enjoy this. The freedom. The spontaneity. You can go anywhere, see so much, make mistakes, kiss a random guy, have fun. You know? You’ll have fun by yourself too. It’s hard but you’ll learn to enjoy it. You’ll learn to be on your own.”
“I know you’re smiling but you look a little sad.” She smiled sadly too this time, and moved to my side to hug me.
After she hugged me, we talked for a while longer. Before leaving I told her I’d come see her again. This time with friends I’m sure I’ll make soon. The last thing we did was exchange names. She could barely pronounce mine, but said I can teach her again when I see her next time if she still can’t.
Maybe it was the older sister-ly advice she gave me, or the reassurance that it gets better, or the fact that she stood there while I finished my dinner, but I didn’t feel as lonely anymore as I walked out of the restaurant.
I haven’t since. And I don’t now, sitting here in my dorm room, and not the shared kitchen area, writing this.
A conversation with people like her and a bowl of curry and chips can cure a lot, even the feeling of adult loneliness. Next time it hits, know that it gets better, because as soon as I’m done writing, I’m going to get dressed to go to the same restaurant, with my friends from College this time.
Like I promised her I would.
Ps: I’m not saying this is an elaborate ad for the curry and chips that they sell but I’m not saying it isn’t either.