Truth be told: I didn’t feel much like going out this weekend. I’d have been happy to spend it parked in my hammock with a good book. Realizing this was perhaps the best opportunity to experience being out by myself – when I wasn’t feeling into it – I decided to go out anyway. Saturday night at 9pm, I arrived at Parkway Lanes, in St. Catharines, for my fifth date by myself.
It wasn’t busy; fewer than half of the lanes were occupied. I purchased two games from a young man, his voice cracking with fresh puberty, and headed to lane 14. As I laced up my rented shoes, the group of people three lanes down whispered to each other and laughed in my direction. As I got myself set up, the young man and his manager (who’d come out of his back office) stood silently staring at me. To be fair, I showed up for bowling packing a giant tripod.
I giggled to myself as I took some pre-game photos. Please excuse the poor quality. It was all dark and glowy in there and I am shyte with the settings on my super professional camera – it is utterly wasted in my unskilled hands. Hopefully you are still able to appreciate the amazing pants I chose to bowl in.
My first ten frames took all of 20 minutes. Bowling does not take long when you are alone. Also, I am terrible at it. I took a little breather, bought a 5-dollar bottle of “Great Value” water from the bar and started my second game. I expected I’d be a lot better after loosening up and shaking off the cobwebs. Nope. Still terrible. In an unexpected turn of events, I learned something quite unfortunate that evening: bowling is not fun.
I’ve done a lot of bowling in my day. Whether on dates or with large groups of friends, bowling has always been a go-to guaranteed fun time. Now, by myself and stripped of conversation, competition, or (especially) alcohol, I saw bowling with new eyes. The darkness, the loud music, the dancing strobe lights, the disco ball, the novelty of my glowing clothing – all of it speaking to me subliminally. You are having a wonderful time. Sure you are just trying to knock down some pins by hurling a ball down a long lane, but this is the best night ever. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
What a bummer. I did manage to get one strike, which I celebrated halfheartedly. I stretched out the time by playing in the air that blows out of the bowling ball retrieving machine thingy. But eventually I admitted I was bored and gave up. I packed my things and went to the bar to hang out and finish drinking my over-priced water. At the bar, a small crowd of what appeared to be regulars watched me as if I were about to grow another head.
The entirety of my bowling experience was met with stares, whispers, or laughter. And yet, I was unperturbed. I didn’t feel the typical animosity, defensive anger, or urge to explain myself. I felt comfortable allowing everybody to think and conclude whatever they wanted about me. For this I am pleased.
Still, I did feel a hint of something I couldn’t identify over all the strategic distractions. More than just disappointment for having discovered that bowling sucks, this was something else, something I needed to attend to.
I headed to a spot where I’d long ago been taken by a date who’d tried to salvage a terrible evening by feeling me up: a small bench atop a grassy hill. In the daytime, you can see that this bench overlooks a private beach on Lake Ontario. You can see clear across to Toronto on a sunny day. I couldn’t see a thing that night. It was so dark I could not even distinguish the sky from the water. With no visible horizon, I could have easily been convinced that the world dropped off at the bottom of the hill. I sat and stared into the darkness.
There had been a couple just arriving as I ended my last game at the alley. They took the lane beside me and flirted playfully. The girl worried aloud about the balls being too heavy for her so the guy set out to find her a lighter one. I could have told them the purple ball I’d been using was pretty light, but I didn’t. Instead I watched as he tested eight balls before returning with one that suited her. I turned away when they kissed.
As the sound of the gentle waves breaking slowed my breathing and eased my searching mind, one thought came to me simple and clear: I want that. There it was, the exact feeling I have been seeking to make peace with: loneliness.
When it came there was no fear or anger. There was no lump in my throat because there was no resistance. I let it wash over me and I began to cry. I sat in the loneliness for a long time, crying and breathing and feeling it. Then just as easily as it came, it passed. When it was all done, I wiped my face and smiled to myself. That wasn’t so bad.
I’m really glad I decided to go out anyway.