Lonely Lara sat on her hands in the middle of August, watching the couples with their babies and carriages stroll by. Toddlers chased each other in innocent bliss, a blissfulness that was but a blurry image in her mind, so that it more resembled a mirage. She looked at a father holding the hand of his daughter. She hated him.

Lara came to this park alone, as a sort of tribute to her misery. For almost a year, she would sit on this bench and indulge in masochistic envy and self-loathing. She brought a bag from work along filled with fresh paperwork to be completed in the coming week and clutched it to her bosom.

Once, two little girls had sat beside Lonely Lara for a brief respite. The smaller of the two was eating ice cream and looking intently at her. After a good bit of time, Lara finally returned her gaze and smiled, but the little girl only continued to look curiously, as if at a foreign object. Lara’s eyes had to hold back tears, and she hurried away to find a different bench. She always wore sunglasses to the park after that day.

Lara liked to put herself in the shoes of the mothers passing by and humor the thought of raising her own children with a man. There was an undeniable romanticism about it, but she would quickly scold herself for imagining it was anything less than capitulation. What did those women really achieve? How fulfilling is a life subordinate to a husband?

Lara watched in disgust as a man kissed his wife and donned a lazy smile. His wife looked back with admiration. She is no better than cattle. There is no freedom in a marriage. What would I be without my work? The same headlines filled Lonely Lara’s head when sitting on this bench – headlines printed on the narrative of her life beginning in college.

Lonely Lara told herself she wasn’t lonely. She had her work friends and a reading club she enjoyed every Wednesday. Her home wasn’t so empty thanks to two feline companions. Of course, things had been better when her parents were alive. It provided an excuse to see her sister, who seemed to only have enough time for her own children these days. She could visit, but being in her home with loud kids frustrated Lara. The only communication she had with her sister now was the occasional chat on the phone.

When the sun begins to set, Lara strolls back to her apartment only a few blocks away. When she arrives, Simon, the favorite of her two cats, greets her and demands food. Perry only comes running once he hears the jingle of the food bag. Lonely Lara then sits beside a large window in the living room which overseas the city. The ant-like people walking below give her a vague sense of company. Virginia Woolf, one of her favorite authors, had become a popular topic of discussion in her reading club, and she was excited by the opportunity to read her books a third time through.

Lonely Lara found that reading Woolf novels brought her back to her college days, when her worldview was shaped and made robust by inspiring female professors whom she kept in touch with long after exiting university. When she graduated with a sociology degree, her ideas about the patriarchal environment surrounding her were further cemented by the fact that work was nowhere to be had. This economy was designed to suit men alone. Her gravest concerns were vindicated when she applied for a marketing position only to be rejected in favor of a man whom she viewed as far less qualified than herself. Everything is a battle for a woman in this society. There are no freebies unless you are a man.

No bout of nostalgia was ever unaccompanied by memories of her time in the social scene around campus, where Lonely Lara used her female allure to make men yield to her whims. I owned them. All of her escapades blended into a singular event by which she was the master and men the desperate subordinates. However, Lara never felt a greater sense of conflict between shame and pride when these memories arose, and this juxtaposition of apparent triumph and inescapable humiliation made her dwelling on this period very short.

Lonely Lara went to bed more awake than she was in the day, lying on her back as if the ceiling was a powerful fixation. She twiddled her thumbs and took a deep breath that fizzled into a soft whimper. The alarm was set for the following workday, where she would resume her fulfilling career.

“Goodnight, Simon. Goodnight, Perry,” Lonely Lara said.

I am a strong, independent woman. I am a strong, independent woman. I am a strong, independent woman…

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