Penny lay stretched out on her belly on my bed, propped up on her elbows with her feet crossed at the ankle. Her feet swayed back and forth as she perused my father’s CD collection for the hundredth time. She studied the inserts that came with the CD’s while I studied her instead of the chemistry book in front of me. “Do you think your dad was lonely?” she asked without looking up.
“Why would you ask that?”
“I don’t know. It’s just a feeling I get.”
“He had my mom.”
“Yeah, but still. That doesn’t always keep a person from feeling lonely. I mean, no disrespect for your mom, but loneliness isn’t always solved by having someone around you. It can be complex and doesn’t always involve other people. It’s like . . . you know how the Eskimos have like fifty different words for snow? Well, I think we should have different words for the many different types of loneliness. Like the obvious loneliness of just being alone – that’s the simple kind. Easy to explain and understand, and in some ways not so bad because there is an explanation. But then there’s the loneliness you can experience in a crowd, when you feel invisible or disconnected. Or the loneliness of feeling left out, like being the last kid picked on a team.”
“What about the loneliness of missing someone specifically?”
“Sure. Or how about home-sick lonely? Or third wheel lonely?’
“Or forgotten lonely. Like the teacher says happy birthday to every kid in the class, but somehow misses yours.”
“Yeah, that really sucks.”
“Yes, I see that the word ‘lonely’ does not suffice,” I agreed.
“It doesn’t. But you know what’s the worst form of loneliness? For me?” She rolled over on her side to look at me. “The loneliness of being misunderstood. Ugh, that’s the worst, when someone doesn’t get you. At all. And maybe they even accuse you of having entirely different motives than you do? And nothing you say could even convince them otherwise, so you just accept that they have completely misunderstood you and you can’t fix it.”
“The loneliness of being misunderstood.”
“Yeah. I hate that. It’s why I don’t feel like I even have a dad. I mean, I have this man who lives with us and he’s my dad alright, but he doesn’t even know me.”
I nodded, unsure what to say.
“I bet your Dad wouldn’t be like that. I bet he’d be totally into you. I bet he’d try to get to know you.”
“We’ll never know.” I took the CD case she had on next to her. The Smiths. “I don’t think I’ve felt misunderstood to the degree you’ve just described. I had my grandpa and he knew me even better than I knew myself. Like some of those things on his list? It’s predicted I’d need help in certain areas. He got me.”
“It’s good to be got.”
“We get each other.” She smiled shyly.
And she rolled over on her belly and went back to reading.