Essays

Five years ago today

Five years ago today, I crossed the yard flooded with dirty snow carrying a person-sized suitcase that missed a wheel. As you can imagine, it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun to go up a few flights of stairs, wheel-less luggage in hand (I wasn’t strong then, not even a little bit), either. I would have learned the Finnish word for lift, hissi, written on the little doors on the right on every floor, just a couple days later. Later that day, I locked myself out of my newly-rented apartment which overlooked a little garden sparkling in snow like it was frosting. My friendly Dutch neighbor welcomed me then, a big guy with a knowing smile, and handed me beers as we waited for the housing service to provide me with a new set of keys. You were there as well, sitting on a chair too small for you (you were tall). You were wearing a blue t-shirt and a skinny light-blue scarf which you later told me was a man scarf. I wasn’t sure scarves had genders, but I shut up about it.

The first night on the town was also five years ago today, if I recall correctly. We all went to a random bar and spoke nothingness. Studies, jobs, plans. As I said, nothingness. I went out to smoke a cigarette and you came as well, wearing only your blue t-shirt and blue man scarf. I asked you, aren’t you fucking freezing? You said, actually, yes. Five years ago tomorrow we would be friends already. Five years ago and a few days, I was out on the balcony smoking a cigarette in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep; life abroad for the first time was too exciting. I was looking at the snow outside, falling, stopping, building new landscapes in the dark. There really wasn’t much else to look at. Some snow fell on my head and I looked up to see it was you, on your balcony. Sorry, you said. Later I would learn you did it on purpose, so that I would look up and see you. Why don’t we smoke on the same balcony?, I said. You said, actually, it makes way more sense.

It might sound as if cigarettes united us, and I can’t deny it. They united us like terrible things loaded with possibilities. Chances to ask for lighters, drags, smoking together, the whole lot. Chances to puff white clouds of smoke side by side in the middle of the night, in silence, while everybody else was fast asleep and we were awake, so awake, jolted awake by the palpable thrill that was being far far away, surrounded by snow, surrounded by strangers and foreign beers and man scarves, and cold air like knives on our cheeks. In those moments, we were so invincible. The moment when we were most invincible, I think, was when we walked on a frozen lake all the way to the little wooded island in the middle of it. I was so afraid the ice would crack and I would fall into the cold-ass water and drown. I almost wished we went back. But then we reached the little island and walked up the hill, and sat there looking at — you guessed it — more snow, but also ice, and stars. The city glowed in the background. It was beautiful. We probably smoked side by side in silence. Should we go back now?, you said after a while. And I said, not yet.

 

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Non-expert Advice

The art of talking to yourself when you are alone

There are a few personal behaviours that are often stigmatized: eating dinner alone in a fancy restaurant without looking at your phone, crying in public, peeing in the streets when you really have got to go, and many others. But among the ones that are stigmatized more unjustly, I find, is talking to yourself.

And I don’t mean talking to yourself in a spiritual way. I mean literally having conversations with yourself. This is the reason why we back off slightly when we see someone having a conversation with the air on the subway, before noticing with a certain relief that he or she is actually wearing headphones. Pfiu, we think, he/she is talking to someone after all. But why, I ask, is this uncomfortableness a thing?

Some could say it’s because the ones who talk to themselves are often the crazy ones. Ok, fine. At the same time, whoever lives alone will understand this: talking to yourself happens. The need to express yourself is there, but there is no one to share it with. And this is not a bad thing: it’s a simple human/animal instinct, I guess. Like singing in the shower or while folding the laundry. Why do we do that? To entertain ourselves, to give ourselves a background music, whatever.

In the silence of my home, I talk to myself all the time. I talk to my oven when it won’t turn on properly; I insult my computer when it crashes because it’s from 2002 and doesn’t know better. I say sorry to my chair when I bump into it. Ok, the last one is a little weird; I am sure my chair doesn’t mind. But the rest?

In the silence of an empty home, I find it just natural to make some remarks. Sometimes it comes spontaneously. Just about half an hour ago, I told myself the chicken and peas cooking in the oven smelled delicious, and then I felt stupid. Why should I? They do smell delicious, and my own self is aware of this fact. I am congratulating myself for not burning my evening meal.

So, lone-speakers of the world, unite. Speaking to yourself is cool, and it doesn’t mean you are crazy. And I haven’t googled it yet, but I am fairly sure that some scientist agrees that it is, in fact, the opposite of a symptom of craziness. It keeps you sane, and it helps when you really need to know your meal is going to be fine.

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