Finding Solace in Solitude at Eighteen
After hours cruising along the lone highway with nothing but my own thoughts, the bustling city centres that loom beyond exit signs seem ironically uninviting. Daunting, even.
It was a shivering autumn’s day when I tentatively told my friends at lunch that I wanted to buy a van. In between classes, those 40 minutes gave us solace from the dread of HSC preparation. Except my HSC preparation was less “How to Memorise 30 Quotes” and more “Top 30 Places to Travel to in Australia”. From the day I’d first said, “I want to buy a van!” the excitement swirled around my mind and squeezed into every crevice of my skull. Hours upon hours scrolling through Gumtree, Pinterest, Instagram, crafting the dream I had so long been waiting to enact upon.
“As if you’re actually going to do that. What about uni? You’re going to be by yourself. But like, what career can you get out of writing? How are you even going to support yourself?”
Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about how I would support myself. Save up, I guess? Do some freelance writing along the way? Fuck, you’re only 18 once. Maybe I’d even go fruit picking.
Every high school student knows the struggle of feeling like university is The Only Path. Everything else makes you a bum or a failure, “wasted potential”. And it’s not an unknown phenomenon that many find themselves subconsciously falling into the stock-standard “go to uni, get a 9-5, buy a house, have a family, and retire at 65 and spend the rest of your days gardening”.
I remember being 15 at family dinner one week when I absentmindedly said, “I don’t want kids.”
“You will one day,” my nan knowingly replied. Not to shit on anyone with a raging maternal instinct, but just think the world’s overpopulated.
With my van, what a lot of people failed to understand was that I craved the loneliness. I craved waking up alone and wandering around wherever I happened to have parked up the night before, immersed in the sounds of distant conversations and the stirrings of nature at dawn.
“What uni are you looking at Bridie? Any courses in mind? What’s your goal ATAR?”
These questions were a plague that ate away at me from the beginning to the end of my senior years. Not going to uni was absolutely not an option for 16-year-old me. Which was fair enough: no one had really told me there was any other option. I was researching new universities every week: Newcastle, Monash, James Cook, Flinders… escaping the monotony of HSC days by dabbling in dreams of spreading my wings and flying the nest, exploring a new city that I would call home for four years. Luckily for me nothing ever stuck — I never liked city life.
There’s a certain comfort to be found within your own company. It’s a safe space every young person needs, a space to grow and learn and find confidence in not always knowing the right answer. No eyes but your own to observe your mishaps and missteps. No ears to hear the whispered “Fuck!” as you spill half your washing up water down the front of you. It is meditative, to be alone.
More often than not the prophecy of isolation-driven insanity is fulfilled. But for now, I seem to be thriving. The lack of outside judgement. The freedom to impulsively turn right down that random gravel road and bump along through potholes with the windows open and the musty forest air spilling in, enveloped in the whisperings of the trees. It feels safe here.
I think we need to focus less on growing comfortable with ourselves, and more on finding comfort within them. Salty hair as crusty as the clothes you haven’t washed in weeks. The faint smell of curry and spilt beer on your blankets. Sand in your sheets and in your undies. Rotten veggies and spoiled hummus because you didn’t leave enough solar power for the fridge. The mistakes along the way that make the exasperated, “Fuck me!” as you fall into your camp chair at the end of the day all the more satisfying. Pulling up to a random beach and swimming with dolphins all the more sacred. The distant lullaby of rolling sets sending you to sleep all the more soothing.
I wake up and go for a swim. And as the sun rises over a distant horizon, and the water pulls in currents around my legs, I am comfortable in knowing that for now, this is all I need.