How to do it alone

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Last Saturday night, sitting on a scarred wooden barstool, watching the dimly-lit room fill slowly, I tried to strike a pose that said, “I’m alone on purpose.” At first, I hunched over my Berliner Pilsner and studied the foreign vodka bottles behind the bar, but that felt too lonely. Then I shifted toward the still-empty stage and bobbed my head to the pre-concert filler music, but that felt too forced. I took a small sip from the green bottle and wished I’d come a little later, once the venue was already full.

In high school, I spent a lot of time alone. Yes, I had friends, and yes, I went out with them on the weekends, and yes, we were — and still are — close. But as a certified introvert, I soothed most of my teenage speed bumps by sitting on my bedroom floor and humming along to angsty, deceptively un-poetic garage band rock with feel-good overtones and a lead singer who was high on whine and low on lust. Think “All Time Low.” Think “Fall Out Boy.” Think “Paramore.”

On these evenings, I was completely happy.

I’ve had many moments, though, in the last two and a half years when I’ve missed my high school self. When I’ve huddled under my Urban Outfitters quilt and wondered if my suitemate is out with our friends again, if I’m missing anything important, knowing that I don’t really want to laugh with them at fat women falling through tables on YouTube and yet unable to tap into the same solitary contentment that I thrived on as a teenager.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being social. In fact, I get downright gloomy if I’m cooped up in my room too long. It’s just that I would much rather take my watery Tricolor Tortellini Soup with an off-syllabus novel than with a friend who’s thinking mostly about what she’ll say in section twenty minutes later.

I wanted my social life to be a choice again, not an inundation.

So last Saturday, I was determined to choose aloneness over loneliness, and I was determined not to let the fact that I was young, or female, or homesick, or introverted keep me cooped up in my room. I did a Google search of bars with live music, and after some YouTube sleuthing, I settled on Magnet Club in Kreuzberg where an indie rock band from New Jersey was playing at midnight.

Which is how I ended up on this barstool last Saturday night in a neighborhood of Berlin I hadn’t yet seen in the daylight with a self-imposed two drink maximum and just a hint of mascara. After a bit more wriggling, I found a comfortable, casual pose with my elbows on the bar behind me, beer in one hand, and I tried to tune out the voices in my head.

‘What the hell am I doing here?’ I wondered. ‘When will the band go on? Is everyone looking at me? Should I have told that guy I was traveling alone? I think he’s high on something. Are those people speaking English? I should talk to them. Thank God, they’re nice. I hope I’m not ruining their evening. Maybe I should find a more hidden spot against the wall over there. But someone might take my stool and then I couldn’t come back.’

Finally, after an hour, the premixed filler music faded and the whole dark room turned toward the stage. As “The Static Jacks” struck their first punk-pop chords, my frantic self-doubt shrank to a muted grumble, and by the time they reached the chorus, I had been transported back to my high school bedroom. Only this time I was drinking a beer in a club near the Spree in Berlin.

I was completely happy.

I stayed through the set and decided to leave once the second act, a French electro-pop group, took the stage. Downing the last of my second beer, I excused myself from the Aryan banker who’d been shouting over the music at me and I stepped back into the night. Once I crossed the iced-over river and boarded the S-Bahn back to Hackescher Markt, I realized that most of the voices in my head had disappeared completely. All that was left were the quiet conversations of young Berliners on the elevated train and the lingering strains of upbeat angst:

“And not tonight, not ever/Let me go/’Cause sometimes I just need to find a new way through the door/And I got no clue/how to do it alone…”

Well guess what, “Static Jacks.” I’m learning.

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