There’s something about everyone having their bedrooms right next to everyone else’s. It doesn’t create a sexually charged environment per se. But this living and sleeping next to each other makes people feel accessible in a way that I didn’t feel they were in high school. During high school I went home – after class I got on the subway for twenty minutes and rode from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Here, everyone is already home; there’s no subway to take at the end of the day. It makes me feel that if I don’t see someone, it’s because they don’t want to see me, not because they’re a bridge away.
I wish I were better friends with the people in my classes. We must have overlapping interests to be in class together, and I’m sure I would get along well with some of them. Is there some way that seminars can foster a greater sense of community? We get into one room, there are only ten or fifteen of us, and we talk for hours but often we aren’t really talking with each other, we’re talking to each other or to the teacher.
The moments when academic formality break down are my favorite moments. In my class “Friendship,” taught by Heather Love, we do pedagogical experiments, and for the most recent one we had a discussion via a group chat. We used this group chat to converse without knowing who was saying what, nor who was the teacher. It became really personal really fast—someone revealed that his/her first sexual encounter was not consensual. And people weren’t afraid to say things; they typed incomplete thoughts, bounced off of one another’s thoughts, asked each other questions, challenged one another, disagreed.
I wish we could all reach this level of intimacy face to face, without having to hide behind anonymous usernames. A classroom is a place to learn, yes, but can’t it also be a place to care about each other?
A year ago, my friend paraded into our kitchen in a Modi-style vest buttoned up to his chin. Let’s play Vild Vild Vest, he said, a boozy night of card-games while wearing vests. I didn’t own one at the time and couldn’t partake in the festivities, but I have acquired a number since coming to Princeton. In the mornings, vest- and pearl- clad, I wonder what happened to the long sienna feather earrings I wore most days of high school, and when exactly I started wearing heirlooms to the gym.
I fuck up with my mouth a lot: I’ve been Verbatimed twice already.
It is dark and I can’t see my toes, or his. I am looking for my shirt but don’t want to touch him accidentally. I hit my knees against the wall, my elbows against his desk.
“Where’s the light switch?”
“On the southwest wall.”
In daylight, I finger the bruises blooming on my body.
Early in the year, a boy blows smoke into the night and tells me that freshmen care too fucking much. He means me. I consider this: I probably do care too fucking much. I try to care less, but I still don’t.
My friend drives me through the streets of Brooklyn to show us her school. I look out hoping to see floating mousseline skirts, berets and manicured beards, but the masses are huddled together, dark and New York-like, and the snow is pounding on their fur-lined hoods. My friend throws a careless hand toward the dusty townhouses. Do you think they’re beautiful? I squint at the crooked phone poles that line the main streets, threaded by loose dangling wires. I don’t. Not really. Maybe an emotional connotative sepia sort of beautiful.
The boy is disappointed. I didn’t want to dance with him. He throws a beer at me the next time I see him.
I hold my friend to me. She has had a hard day and I don’t know what to say. Platitudes won’t cut it, and I’m still trying to stitch moments of last night back into a coherent whole with the help of Snapchats. I have a boy’s Sperries in my bag. He left them in my room last night and made his way back to his dorm barefoot at 5am after locking himself out. I feel like laughing, and I shake slightly as I pull my friend’s head closer to me.
When my professor asks the people in my class whether they experience flow in some creative pursuit, I hesitate. I could answer yes: I can think of times when I’ve lost myself, immersed myself, in an activity. I could say math, the subject I excelled in in high school, but here, I’m in 103 and the two classmates in front of me are engineers. They respond math, and it makes sense. One of them speaks of equations, the other of puzzles. I feel a sudden uncertainty as my turn to answer approaches. I could say track, the sport I did for four years and twelve painful seasons, but the girl next to me is on the Water Polo team and she has already said sports. So, as my turn approaches, I manage to mumble, “um, no,” overwhelmed with discomfort at the instability in my life the question seems to reveal. I hear my classmates continue to describe their flow in art, instruments, sports and academics, and I feel a deep frustration. These fifteen students, a microcosm of my freshman class, seem to have it all figured out; they each have some special, wonderful talent that they pursue passionately and relentlessly. And then there is me.
Many times, I’ve said something and had the entire class (instructor included) stare blankly at me. Just yesterday, I felt deep pride at, what I thought, was a thorough, complex analysis of the different distributive justice theories we had learned in my freshman seminar. My professor responded by saying I had perhaps misunderstood the theories. Sometimes, I expect my classmates to respond and back me up. Other times, I sympathize with their confused looks, as I’m not quite sure what I just said myself. It’s scary, but it’s good. Because I could sit in class in uncomfortable silence, nodding my head at what others say, or I could accept a few things. One, my fellow classmates, especially my fellow freshmen, are most likely as intimidated by the idea of speaking as I am. Two, I lose literally nothing from speaking. In fact, I gain a lot. Maybe a point or two in participation, best case scenario. Three, there’s a tremendously versatile gray area of answers that are between the perceived notions of “right” and “wrong.” That is, there are many things to be said that can contribute to a conversation. Worst case scenario, you’ll smile awkwardly at your professor like I did.
On my first day at Princeton, someone asked me, “If you’re Mexican, why aren’t you brown?” I grew up in a kind of bubble, where teachers reminded us incessantly of what was appropriate to say. The term “politically correct” did not exist in my high school because there was no need for it – anything that wasn’t would create discomfort, and many anxious looks. So, when I heard someone directly question the color of my skin, I was taken aback. I even blushed. But his question was one I had heard so many times; with the same implications as every other time my ethnicity was questioned. My discomfort, then, was not only a result of his question, but of my own misconceptions of what is appropriate, or inappropriate to ask. This person was not looking to accuse me, nor personally offend me, but he was simply curious. I think that’s something that is important to understand. I’ve been asked that same question maybe fifty times after that first day, fifty other kids who had a preconceived notion of what Mexican is, a single image. I’d like to think that none of them have malicious intentions, but that they experienced confusion, and asked for clarification. After all, isn’t that how we learn?