It is 3 a.m and there is Advil by my bed. My phone is on my pillow. I have told four separate friends to text me when they get home, but I may fall asleep before they do. I didn’t know whether I was bringing anyone home tonight, but I made my bed just in case. I step out of my thong, check that my prox is by the door where I usually leave it, take off my heavy earrings, and collapse onto my bed. It is raining outside, and my hair is wet from the walk home. The room is spinning. I roll over. My phone vibrates against my cheek.
“Come to the U-Store with me. I fucked up. I need Plan B.”
The night isn’t over. I make my way back out, past people hooking up in the hall, stumbling home a little too drunk, emptying trash bags soggy with vomit. I smile knowingly at a friend who steps out of the elevator with a heavyweight crew guy I’ve seen in the dining hall before, but immediately text her to text me. I walk by the study-room where I blew a boy one night my room had been too messy to let him in. He’d walked me home, and I felt guilty sending him back to his dorm, and I’d wanted to. I only tell my close friends. We all avoid the room after that.
My friend meets me downstairs. I hug her even though she doesn’t like to be hugged. Maybe it’s me who needs it. It’s been a rough night. It is pouring and her umbrella breaks. We talk, though we have had this conversation before. I tell her I am not emotionally invested in the frat guy I kissed tonight. I see him with a different girl most nights but that’s okay. We will wave in the morning. I tell her I am not sad.
I have been at Princeton for three months. In the past few weeks, I have tried to be a confession box for my friends as they tell me about eating disorders, bullying, boy problems, social pressure, academic failure, sleep deprivation and sexual abuse. Some are thinking about transferring. I hold them to me. I want them to know that I am here. I give the advice I can. Sometimes I suggest counseling because I feel that I am not enough. I want them to give this place a chance; we’ve dreamt about this for so long. I don’t know whether their unhappiness is a result of the underbelly of the Princeton high-stress environment we were promised or whether high-stress kids bring unhappiness onto themselves. My friend sobs into my neck and I sleep with her, stroking her hair, shaking a little. The next day, I am asked how I like Princeton. “Oh it’s great,” I say. “I love it here.”
There are so many ways to be happy here.
There have been boys before, but not like this. I am new to anonymous hook-ups. “I feel like a placeholder,” my friend says. “Just there and willing.” I could be anyone when a boy comes up behind me. There have been nights where I kiss several people whose names I don’t know and whose faces I’m unsure of in the morning.
The U-Store pharmacy is closed now. My friend will go to CVS in the morning where she can be a little less identifiable, a little more forgettable. I buy vegetable gyozas and make sure to say good evening, have a great night to the man at the counter. I make eye-contact and I tell myself I am not embarrassed, though I remember I didn’t put my thong back on under my leggings and would rather not look anyone in the eyes right now. We eat beneath Blair Arch to get away from the rain.
1,314 freshmen stepped onto campus in September. Some had friends and support coming in, but others had to carve out friendships fast. The hook-up culture does not have to be yours, but if you choose to buy into it, there probably will be weird nights and bad nights and nights where you’ll end up unhappy at Studio 34. It is not a place to seek validation and it is not conducive to a sustainably inflated self-worth. I send texts throughout the night to let my friends know I am there for them; they do the same for me.
We are fumbling, not yet fluent in Street-speak. We are here to interpret it for each other. We ask our elders but no one really seems to know. I haven’t yet decided whether this is for me.
I walk home, dripping wet. My hall is quiet now. I step out of my clothes, Advil by my bed, phone on my pillow, and crawl into bed. The room is spinning. I fall asleep.