Dear Sandra Gail Lambert,
The summer I moved to Florida, almost two years ago now, I called up my mother’s younger cousin, Kimber, to arrange a visit. We picked a date in late July or early August. I hadn’t seen Kimber, her husband, or her two daughters in probably ten years, when we all visited Disney together in 2007, so after driving two and a half hours up to Gainesville, we ate at local restaurants, watched movies in pajamas, and stayed up telling family stories. One particular event has become a running joke, a family legend: the visit to the La Chua Trail.
I recently finished A Certain Loneliness and I’m currently watching the love bugs dance around each other outside my window. One thing I really love about your book is how in tune the writing is with the nature around it. Not only that, but we get a sense of how a differently abled person experiences and writes about it. After taking a grad course that investigated the colonialist, classist, and ableist elements present in the nature writing “canon”, I’ve had to challenge myself to reconsider and reevaluate conventions of nature writing narratives. A Certain Loneliness has helped me to do so while also telling beautiful, witty, and sometimes terrifying stories about Florida’s wildlife and insects.
The form of your memoir has also resonated with me as an aspiring writer. Described as “memoir-in-essays”, each brief section, or essay, circles feelings, themes, and patterns that point back to the title. We see this come up in “Yielding”: “And I wonder about the people who detached from me, what might have been, what I’ve lost without knowing. I feel this present loss and those past losses, the ones I’d been oblivious to, in a flail of emotion.”
We see how the individual pieces, some a paragraph or two and some a number of pages, reach together towards the heart of A Certain Loneliness. These pieces defy chronology both in their varying lengths and in their organization. I love the brevity of the shorter sections. I love the play with flashbacks, memories, and anecdotes in the longer sections. As I read, I feel as though I’ve been granted an inside look at a writer’s process in revolutionizing form, one that pairs so well with the stories being told.
I will state for the record that I thoroughly enjoyed the La Chua Trail. Was I enthralled by the sight of the gators? Yes. Quite a bit. Did I love staring up at the trees winding above us, providing almost total shade in places? Absolutely. I was spellbound. Did the boggy landscape remind me of volunteering at the Dunes in Indiana? It certainly did.
But the heat. The heat, much as we tried to fight it, got to us in the end. This particular time of year, I came to understand, was the hottest and most humid in Florida. My Midwestern temperament was no match. While we weren’t bothered as much by mosquitoes (we also wore bug spray like a layer of clothing), we still ended up with bugs dive-bombing us as well as drenched clothes. And as Kimber, her mother, and I pointed at sunbathing gators, her husband and daughters inched back toward the car (we had also yet to eat that day). Kimber kept repeating how badly she felt bringing me to the park, but I loved every minute of it, even when we all sought shelter in a gazebo for some time, extremely dizzy from dehydration.
A Certain Loneliness is also about queerness and the body. Through stirring essays such as “The Laundromat” and “Sex Objects”, we come to recognize just how much common perception of differently abled and queer people marginalizes them and their bodies. In “Pride Goeth”, this occurs on a romantic level: “But I think of how, what with the braces and crutches or now the wheelchair, my body has often been an emptiness in the eye of the beholder.” We comprehend the tragedy of this as the narrator wonders what she will sacrifice when it comes to relationships in “Dehiscence”: “I’ve been visibly disabled all my life. What do I mean when I say that this time around, in a relationship, I’m not going to hide?”
A Certain Loneliness revolves both implicitly and explicitly about what is hidden and what is revealed. Loneliness, in a sense, is tied to what is hidden because it cannot or will not be shared. Many of the essays speak to this, and hope, in its moments, fixates not on an eventual sharing, but an embracing of loneliness, an acceptance of it, and a turning of it into a strength, a part of identity, a way to ask pressing questions from the deeply political to the conversational.
When the narrator elaborates on her switch from braces and crutches to her wheelchair, she notes the changes that come along with the transition: “Bathrooms were no longer to be taken for granted, so I learned to dehydrate myself before going out. Friends couldn’t have me over anymore. One of my customers cried when she first saw me using the wheelchair. No one knew how to hug me.” We hurt with the narrator. The writing allows us access to these feelings, these obstacles, and the shock. We are given a soul-touching glimpse into the narrator’s world. It is stunning and raw and vulnerable.
In the end, that weekend with family was too brief for me. I returned back to my apartment in Tampa, silent in its emptiness, devoid of the closeness I had just felt hours before. I knew no one else nearby in Florida. I’d have to wait a few more weeks to meet my future classmates. Until then, I’d have to try to make something of the days.
How do we live with our loneliness? I’m not sure. I don’t know if I could ever answer that question. But maybe in a way, loneliness defines us. It tells us who is important and what we prefer to hold close because it feels far away, or just around a corner. And, in time, when we can really share something, the intensity and pleasure of sharing seems all the more authentic.
Thank you for sharing your marvelous language and captivating stories with us. You have gifted us with an unforgettable work of brilliance, and I will carry these words with me for a long time to come.
With Deepest Appreciation,