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Where You Lived When You Ate Ice Cream Everyday

from My Life's Work by Ben Seretan

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The lonely person awaits any and all indications of their being valued, seen, or thought of by others - an email, a phone call, a like, a comment, a half-attempted wave from a coworker, a smile of recognition from a stranger on the street. Any explicit acknowledgment. These indications become a kind of illusory, hypnotic proof of the lonely person's worth - they crave these fragments of interaction and will go out of their way to receive them or will otherwise become sick to their stomach with desire for them, but naturally when they do finally occur the desire for recognition is not sated, if anything the need grows deeper, a more robust, more sincere form of acknowledgment is now needed to scratch the itch. A text message begets an immediate and sickening need for a conversation, a "like" begets an immediate and sickening need for a DM, and so forth. The deeper this person settles into their loneliness the more baroque and obscure these indications may become - they may find themselves checking otherwise useless statistics on social media, performing incredible feats of deduction in determining who was where together and when, or they'll obsessively think of petty excuses for initiating contact, something along the lines of, "ah, here is a reason I can reach out." Because the lonely person feels, more than anything, that the seeing of themselves must be performed in an authentic, unprompted way. A lonely person cannot demand attention or companionship - to do so is to potentially taint an otherwise feasible source of genuine attention, in other words attention that is demanded or outright delineated is cheap, undignified, lacking nourishment. The lonely person goes to great lengths to convince themselves that solitary pleasures are somehow better - or once again more dignified - than if they are shared with a companion, thinking to themselves that peace and quiet is valuable and necessary, a meal alone is an opportunity for reflection, an otherwise unoccupied bed is a chance for a good night's sleep. They lonely person will convince themselves that their own agency is of the utmost importance, that they are unencumbered by the needs and opinions of a companion, that they can do what they want on any number of levels - they can choose what to eat and when, how to spend an evening, when to wake up, which path to take, how to dress, etc without any mediation whatsoever, without any shame or judgment. The lonely person will believe this freedom to be so valuable that they will begin resenting people from their past that may have dared impose their desires upon them, how dare they, can't they see how wonderful these choices are that the lonely person makes? The lonely person will, through a slow process of delusion, begin to believe that they can both be seen, desired, and appreciated without being beholden to anyone. They will continue living their life as if it is monitored while failing to realize that the line has gone dead, they are telling a story and the call has been dropped long ago. The lonely person will, when they are in the company of others, talk too freely about things of no interest to anyone, they will be unable to stop themselves from indulging in hogging the attention of a group or any individual in the lonely person's sphere, inserting their own anecdotal experiences into the otherwise natural flow of conversation, often stopping the interaction cold. The lonely person will establish minor and unremarkable goals for themselves and, when the low hurdle is cleared, look around for praise, finding none. The lonely person will not realize the extent to which their own cruelty has played a role in shaping their loneliness, a condition they carry and sleep each night beneath.

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from My Life's Work, released August 30, 2018

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Ben Seretan Troy, New York

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