Last Saturday morning I was on a train, waiting for it to start moving towards New York, where there were several Rookie events I was planning to attend, and at some point I realized that I was calm. Calm? How could I be calm when I had spent most of the night before awake, running over directions and coaching myself on how to be as quiet and not-annoying and not-stupid as possible without being one of those people who just stand there fake-smiling through all social events? How could I be calm when I didn’t know where exactly Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is on a map, and yet that was where I was going?
I stared out the window at what looked like an unbroken tunnel of cloud and fog, feeling pleasantly in limbo, sitting in this vessel enveloped in a cloud, completely cut off from the rest of the world. I felt calm.
Which is maybe why I composed several texts to my brother but didn’t send them. I put my phone away and didn’t even look at it again until late that night, which is when I discovered that my brother had been genuinely worried that I had gotten lost in the city or that someone had stolen my phone and hurt me. This whole trip didn’t feel real, so I hadn’t felt a need to check in with anyone from my real life.
In New York I tried to hide by moving around a lot in small social settings, and, in larger gatherings, alternating between locking myself in the bathroom and stepping outside when I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of people around me. I talked to many people I had wanted to talk to, but I worried that all my hiding was making people think I was bored or that I hated them. Unfortunately the only way to maintain my calm was by keeping my distance.
It stormed on the way back.
Now that I’ve been back at school for a week, I feel stupid for the way I acted in New York and stupid for the way I’m acting here. I live in a small dorm with about 80 other people and am becoming known on my hall as “that person who kind of hangs around with that one girl” or as someone a lot of people apparently think hates them. I’ve been trying to find something to join, but I failed to make the literary magazine staff or to find anything else that might work for me.
This next thing is stupid, and it demonstrates a part of my personality that I don’t generally like others to know about—the part that becomes unreasonably emotionally attached to banal objects. But OK, so when I got home I cleaned out the backpack I’d taken to New York and was about to throw out the folded, crumpled piece of paper on which I had written my directions for the trip, then I changed my mind, I brought the paper to my lips, then put it on the windowsill. What a stupid gesture. But that paper felt like a guide to me, and an emblem of safety and ease. I tend to hoard stability and security, even when those things run counter to my best interests. I also hoard myself, which I know is the reason that, when my mother asks if I’ve ever made a connection with any human being outside our family, she expects me to say no. It is also the reason she will be right.
The worthless slip of paper sits on the windowsill getting bleached by the sun. I sit behind that same window becoming pale and estranged, detached from the rest of humanity. ♦