For most of my life, I’ve felt completely alone in the world.
I was never truly lonely in the tangible sense, and neither are most people. Every day, I’m surrounded by living, breathing human beings who share a similar conscious experience walking this Earth. Of course, this was a drastically different reality during the COVID-19 pandemic, when human contact rarely exceeded the bright display of a computer screen, but that is just a two-year exception of a lifelong rule. Yet, it’s especially ironic that on a college campus housing thousands of students, I only felt more alone.
Psychological isolation is not the same as physical isolation.
The worst feelings of loneliness arise at times when you feel unwanted, even when it isn’t explicitly said. Sometimes, in the context of an individual’s life, you’re nothing but an idle bystander to them — those who you might consider acquaintances rather than friends. Sometimes, you simply feel it in the moment, like you’re being socially sequestered to another corner of the room where you can no longer bother anyone else. Sometimes, you never stop feeling it.
It begins as a foggy cloud of doubt in the mind, slowly burrowing its way to the stomach only to further hollow out the gut. The feeling meanders back to the mind and all logical functions of the brain fade into obscurity. In truth, there will always be those who love and care about us, but in that particular moment, you would never believe it.
For the longest time, I’ve lived this way. I sometimes blamed others for these feelings, but eventually pinned the blame onto myself. There are, and will always be, occasions where the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy resurface, but they grew increasingly harrowing leading into my final years of high school.
Of course, as a man, I was initially reluctant to discuss how I felt. I was specifically hesitant to talk about feeling lonely, among countless other things. In fact, I’ve never said any of this to a single soul. I was confident I could solve the issue on my own.
So, did I?
Well yes, but also no. Chances are, the feelings of psychological isolation will never go away. It doesn’t matter who I surround myself with or how they feel about me. Everything is in my head. I can acknowledge it all I want, but apart from sticking my brain in the garbage disposal and implanting a new one, I’m yet to discover a better method of realizing my place in the world.
The feeling first went away when I joined my high school track team as a junior. Not only did I begin to feel as though I had a purpose, but I was surrounded by a group of people who I felt had my back under any circumstances. I walked away from track and field having learned many things, but I most importantly I learned how to act like myself. I no longer lived in fear of being ostracized for acting authentically, and I quickly began my transformation into a different person altogether, despite staying exactly the same. That was the first time I truly felt wanted among others.
My track and field “career” was short-lived, as I decided not to pursue athletics at Binghamton University. After covering BU track and field for three years straight, I can tell you that high school Joe, with two sprained ankles and subpar personal records, stood little chance at competing at a Division I program. So, I was promptly thrust into the college experience with no extracurriculars and nobody that I knew. Back to square one.
As everyone knows, many of the people you meet at college will stress the idea that you need to do every extracurricular under the sun. I decided to subscribe to that notion, so I took my one year of high school journalism experience and joined Pipe Dream to cover track and field. The Sports editors in 2019 ecstatically put me on cross country, for which I’ve endlessly pestered head coach Annette Acuff for phone interviews for the past three years. She probably doesn’t know what I look like, who I am or even what my name is, but I cherish the 20-minute long interviews we’ve had together. They are, after all, what helped make me into the person I am today.
Working at Pipe Dream is when I unlocked the realization that where you’re wanted is where you belong. At the end of 2019, former Sports Editor Justin Zion coerced me into becoming an intern for the section, to which I said, “Absolutely not,” soon followed by a reluctant “fine.” Apart from joining the track and field team in high school, I consider that the best decision of my life.
Our section was quirky, to say the least. Between hourlong bouts of laser-focused editing, the weirdest and most ridiculous conversations you can possibly imagine somehow found their way to the Sports desk. That’s the stuff I live for. I felt so welcomed among the three-turned-four of us, and I soon saw those late nights at the office as the highlight of my week among my extremely hectic schedule. After finishing my work two or three hours in, they would tell me that I was free to leave. However, I wanted nothing more than to stay.
The COVID-19 pandemic pulled the plug for Pipe Dream. Justin graduated in the winter of 2020, so I never saw him after that final day in March. I was never given the opportunity to say goodbye or thank him personally. However, I take satisfaction in knowing that he will be successful in whatever he chooses to do, academically or otherwise, simply by virtue of his incredible talents as a student and his dedication to his craft. He doesn’t need any thanks or validation from me — he has everything he needs to be successful at New York University. Yet, here I am thanking him anyway.
As influential as Justin was, I truly think that the Assistant Sports Editors Ed and Sam were the ones who kept me committed to Pipe Dream. They were unexpectedly fun to be around and oftentimes left me crying with laughter — somewhat embarrassingly, I might add. I quickly saw them as friends, but once we reunited in spring of 2021, they felt like family to me.
I never felt more at home than when I was accompanied by Ed and Sam. I dreaded waking up to attend Zoom University five days a week, but I felt nothing short of excitement for the hours of editing I was about to do with the two of them. The feeling was almost foreign. I hadn’t experienced anything like it since my junior year of high school.
Here I am now. Sports Editor. God help me. As much of a thorn in my side it’s been running this section, I’ve loved every minute of it. Now, it’s no longer just Ed, Sam or Justin. Twice a week, I’m surrounded by an entire Pipe Dream family full of people who genuinely enjoy my presence. Sometimes they don’t. Yet, in my head, I don’t experience that same feeling of loneliness that I’ve felt my whole life.
In Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” Odin said that “Asgard is not a place — it’s a people.”
I have no natural passion for journalism, or even sports in general. The people at Pipe Dream are what keep me motivated and always have been. I’ve since discovered that I do my best work and, most importantly, am happiest where others want me. I like to believe that’s where we all belong. The best versions of ourselves exist in the context of our genuine connection to those around us.
To those reading who feel as I do, or are similarly lost in some other respect, you’ll always be wanted and loved by others, even when you don’t realize it. It may seem hopeless at times, but your true place in the world is somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding it. I never thought mine would be as Sports Editor for a student-run paper at BU, but that so happens to be where I was brought to.
With this novel philosophy in mind, I’ve introduced our new roster of editors to what I had hoped to be a both professional, yet welcoming atmosphere. I’ll never be able to replicate the same feeling the 2020 trio gave to me, but I sure gave it my best effort.
Now with Jack, Ian and Carbs (not the food) having been successfully roped into this organization, I can finally move on past my three-year run at Pipe Dream. I have the utmost faith in the three of them to carry the section into future generations of Evan Drellichs and Tony Kornheisers. At the very least, I can rely on them not to burn the office down.
I’m ultimately led here, almost a quarter of the way through my lifespan. Thinking about my future, I honestly have no idea where I’m going to end up. My resume essentially boils down to a messy combination of biological science, sports journalism and a depressing summer working at an outlet store Häagen-Dazs. However, I think I’ve got an idea of where to start.
Joe Tonetti is a senior majoring in biology and is Sports Editor. He was previously Assistant Sports Editor from 2020-2021.