Last winter, there was a Saturday night when I was working on an essay and my college roommate and her friends swept me away to go get dinner and hang out with them. At dinner they asked one girl they had been friends with since August what she liked to do. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I’ve thought about being into photography before, so who knows?” They all seemed to agree that photography was her kind of thing.
Later, we ended up in someone’s dorm room, where three of us (including me) settled on a bed while another two sat on a table next to the bed. There was a girl on the floor working on an art project. Photography Girl opened up her friend’s computer, got on Netflix, and started talking about shows we might watch. “What about Louie? Do people watch that? Do you think it would be good? What is it, a drama? Comedy? Oh yeah, it’s, like, comedy. What’s it about?” She hadn’t asked me specifically, and the show is not something I’ve ever been interested in, but I explained the premise to her. “Okayyy,” she said before continuing to just like shout out names of shows. “Weeds? NO—American Horror Story?? ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT? DO WE DO THAT? IS FRIENDS FUNNY? IS IT TOO LATE TO WATCH FAMILY GUY? BOYS I KNOW LIKE THAT.”
All the other girls looked at one another for a minute with scrunched faces before agreeing that they didn’t want to get into a series that night. They decided to search for a movie. “Oooh, movie night,” one girl said. I stopped talking altogether and got under a knitted blanket because I was cold. It felt a bit too intimate in that context, but I was pretending I wasn’t there so that I could stay calm until I had an opportunity to leave.
“What is it, then? Horror? Drama? Comedy?” They continued to flail. You know when fish put rocks in their mouths and then frantically spit them out? That was what was happening.
“ANIME,” the girl on the carpet said, leaning towards us. The group ignored her and decided to go with Louie after all. It’s not even like they made a decision to watch it; it’s more like the show just started playing. They paid a minimal amount of attention to what was happening onscreen and started talking about how they might want to go to a party or to a club. “Are there even parties happening? Should we go to that club? Where was it that we went last week? How much was cover, again? Do we still have alcohol? Do you think we can get more? Maybe we should just go to X’s house, but I think he has friends over. You know what? His friends will probably just be chill and, like, doing weed. Maybe we should do that.” After two episodes of Louie had played all but unnoticed, they decided they would go to their friend’s dorm and maybe smoke weed, then take it from there.
They invited me but I said I had an essay to write, which I did, and I got away. As I wiggled out of the bed, they talked about how they didn’t like Louie. “I don’t know, American Horror Story seems more us.”
I keep on revisiting this night, each time with greater anxiety. The scene in the dorm room was especially haunting. It was like these people—friends and acquaintances—had no way of discerning their likes or dislikes, no inner compass with which to navigate entertainment or culture or information. Everything with them was vague and noncommittal. They liked going to clubs and doing karaoke, but beyond that they had no apparent interests. They were thinking about being into photography, felt like they could do something athletic, or were considering learning a John Mayer song on the guitar. They would do none of these things, because they didn’t have a camera or time for a sport or a guitar. They seemed at that moment like air particles, with no actual opinions to give anything they said or did weight or mass or gravity.
While I, unlike my ex-roommate and her friends, have actual legitimate interests (I’m into dance, theater, writing—see?), I still went to a college I knew I’d hate because I had no clue what I was doing when I was looking at schools and I did nothing to give myself one. Being around those girls brought out my anxiety about the air-particle-person choices I’ve made, and the ways in which I am like them makes me feel sick. I feel sick because I went to the same college as them and didn’t do anything I used to enjoy and spent a lot of time on the floor of my dorm room with the lights off, too afraid to go to class or go out to get food when I was hungry. I felt disconnected and like everything else was disconnected too, and I thought a lot about how scary that was and I tried really hard to make things connect in my head, even though I knew deep down that you can’t force connections. I got mostly A’s but I got a B in speech. Several professors told me that I was “exceptional” or going to be a “real writer.” One told me I was “one of those brilliant students who come along every few years,” which felt like shit because it was so clearly false. I am not brilliant; I am nearly air.
I want to vomit. ♦