in between lives
Everything about autumn feels like a slow exhale. Summer is the stress of shoulders up to my ears: a time of constant social obligations because no warm night can go to waste, renewed body image issues, and summer job responsibilities that consume life for three months until they disappear in my mind where memories go to die. Autumn releases me from all of that. It is going outside without being oppressed by the sun, lying on the grass without a jacket on yet. It is a sense of prolonged purpose. It is sitting in my room on the first day back at school, hearing a group of people in the hall, and smiling softly because I am not a part of the conversation.
The falling leaves inspire within me a strong sense of isolation. It is the opposite of “fear of missing out”—happy about missing out? It is the wash of relief from being free of social obligations on a Saturday night when I am too exhausted to go out. My freshman year, I had brief stints in at least three different social groups before slowly fading out until I was left with only vague tethers to one or two people in the groups. Each time, it felt liberating, a welcome form of exclusion. It was the exhale of my life once more becoming my own, the tension of a summer defined by constraints suddenly fading.
As a high school senior, I used to hear from college students that college would finally release me from the overbearing eyes of my parents, which is true. But they neglected to mention that I am now outside the gaze of anyone at all. Sometimes, if I play my cards right, I can sit in Jo’s alone at 1 a.m. on a Friday night and realize, this is my life that I control. No one is watching out for me. No advisor is telling me what classes to take. No group of people is judging me for eating a mini container of cookie dough ice cream at a table by myself, and being alone has never before felt like such a beautiful thing.
I suppose it’s hard, sometimes, when the social aspect of college is emphasized and even studied on this campus every day. Since we’ve arrived on campus, the Class of 2020 has been followed by the Squad 2020 Survey, a social sciences study conducted by Brown to track how our social interactions over the past three semesters have affected our health-related behaviors. In one section of the survey, you are asked to list the people who have had a presence in your life in the past 30 days. The survey gives you 10 spots to list the most influential people you know, and during freshman fall, filling them in was an easy task. Between ice cream socials and classes and too many clubs, you can acquire more acquaintances than you would ever want. By freshman spring, you may know who your friends are; the list shortens, but you feel confident about it. That was my trajectory, at least. Coming back this semester, my sophomore fall, I struggled to come up with even four people who have been around enough.
It seems woefully antisocial, I know. My mother reminded me on the phone to “not isolate myself,” to find people to fill my days with. I can’t blame her—she’s probably my number one fan and thinks I deserve a whole crowd of other people. But that’s not what I came here for. I, like many students at Brown, am here to be released from adolescent constraints, namely academic ones. It is no coincidence that the application to this school now asks “Why the Brown Curriculum?” Students come here to feel like they are their own selves—to be their own bosses, their own decision-makers, their own everything. I am here for the same reason, to be my own boss not only in my academics, but in every facet of my life.
College is the one time I am allowed to be peacefully shrouded in anonymity, and I intend to seize that. I am existing in the interim of years between public schooling and public life, between seeing the same people in the halls every day and working with the same people for maybe the rest of my life. In between lives where I am destined to be a part of something, right now, I am a part of nothing. Simply a blip in the center of chaos. An unaffiliated dot with maybe three friends, struggling my way through a survey, but holistically okay. That’s what all of those “nihilist memes” on Facebook miss: Being nothing does not mean you should give up now or long for death. Being nothing means I can be anything, or everything.
It could feel lonely if I let it. My circle is so small that it could suffocate me if I never poked holes in its fabric. But instead, on a muggy Tuesday morning, I can walk peacefully across campus while listening to Julien Baker, tap my hands on my thighs to the beat, look straight into the air, and exhale.