| cobblestone (masculine noun) | /pave/
I have friends who have spent months traveling alone through South America and Africa, so you may scoff at my one-week solo trip through Scotland. But it was nothing short of a personal victory. Long ago, I had determined I would never be able to travel alone. It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s that I didn’t think I was brave enough to do so. I envied those men and women who could set off by themselves for weeks or months at a time. I so admired their fortitude. Me? I was a lonely coward.
But I did it. And, no, it wasn’t easy. There were moments when I felt so lonely I could barely function. I’d retire to my hotel room and cry. Most of the time, I felt invisible. I assumed that everyone everywhere knew each other, that they were all whispering about that strange, stupid girl sitting alone at the bar. I recognized these paranoid delusions and told myself to relish the solitude without self-deprecating.
I noticed I was often treated differently because I was alone, as if I was being penalized for setting off by myself, as if I needed another person’s presence to validate my own existence. There was that brief moment of confusion after having said, “Dinner for one, please”, a phrase I had been terrified to utter but to which I soon grew accustomed. A lone woman is a thing of wonderment, but society will tell you it’s a thing of pity.
But most of the time, my mind was too occupied with my new surroundings to remember the sorrows of home.The streets of Edinburgh smelled strangely of black licorice and lemon essence. Store fronts advertised homemade fudge and Scottish shortbread, woolen scarves and kilts, and whiskey and cigars. I enjoyed walking alone. I could stop for coffee or a pint when my feet started to ache; I could take my time climbing Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, not having to prove my physical prowess to anyone; I could spend hours marveling at the jars of pickled kidneys and uteri at the Surgeon’s Museum without feeling pressured to leave; and I could guiltlessly eat Indian food four (or five or six) nights in a row.
And as I made my way through the Highlands, whose hills were strewn with heather, I didn’t feel the need to share this experience with anyone. I selfishly cherished the billowy clouds perched atop the mountain peaks like birds on a gable; I relished my evening cocktail and the magnificent breeze as I cruised along the inky waters of Loch Ness. I treasured those moments as if they were something I could cradle in the palm of my hand and safely lock away for a later date. If only I could. I’d save them for those days when my grief felt insurmountable, telling myself that if I focused hard enough I could feel the cobblestone beneath my feet.