Albert Camus wrote, “The absurd is born of [a] confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” Life, as we all know, is shot through with absurdity, absurd down to its smallest molecules, its tiniest fraction of a second. The task of making sense of being alive at all tilts one precariously toward meaninglessness, but on this organized, structured, manicured campus, coming close to the truly bizarre feels existentially threatening. Something about seeing the rules that structure our own lives—wear clothes, sleep in your own bed, pee in your own toilet—broken makes it harder to obey them. When people transgress these organizing schematics, those conventional and societally maintained structures of order and harmony, we must consider, for a second, that we are not necessarily godly creatures purposefully placed on earth to prosper but bone, muscle, tendons; masses of vibrating atoms, an evolutionary fluke, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. All of these millennia and millennia of society developing order and structure and boundaries can be upended by one naked body, one inexplicable voice. When these rules are ignored and bent, it feels okay. It’s only when you think about it later, after it has happened, that it’s like wiggling a block out if the Jenga tower of everyday life, watching it wobble your brain lights up as if to tell you: wrong, wrong, wrong.
Here are moments the Nass staff has had when one of our spheres—perhaps our most important ones—whether it was bed, autonomy, or home, was penetrated.
It was 9 a.m. Awakened, as I often am, by sunlight, I opened my door to go to the bathroom downstairs. Supine, to the side of my door, was a male form, blonde and muscular and naked. His hands were cupped over his genitals, his underwear crumpled by his head. His eyes were closed. I froze in surprise, but I had to pee, and out of some ingrained politeness didn’t want to disturb him. I stepped over him quietly and went downstairs.
As I came back upstairs, I saw his eyes were open. “Hey,” I said, “do you need clothes?” He blinked at me and smiled kindly. He seemed unembarrassed, comfortable; I realized he was very good-looking.
“Where am I?” He asked.
“This is Pyne,” I said.
For the first time, his smooth, sunny features wrinkled in confusion, as if it had suddenly dawned on him he was totally naked in someone else’s hallway, talking to a total stranger. “I don’t know anyone in Pyne!” Alarmed, he began to lift his hands from between his hips; I—anticipating what was about to happen—looked away; he saw this and resettled his hands more firmly.
“Well, that’s where you are.”
We were quiet in the pale early morning.
“Do you need clothes?” I asked again.
“Sure,” he said. “Yeah.”
“One sec,” I said.
I went in to my room. He was athletic and tall, so I grabbed the biggest T-shirt I had and—after a moment of hesitation—my most comfortable sweatpants, as I wasn’t sure if anything else I had would fit. I went outside and tossed them by his head. I realized that I’d have to leave him in privacy to get dressed, so I turned to leave. “I’m Susannah, by the way,” I said, “I live here,” and pointed at the number on my door. He smiled and said nothing. It was months before I saw my clothes again.
– SUSANNAH SHARPLESS
There is a homeless man reeking of liquor sitting on my front doorstep, nursing a beer with his junk hanging out of his torn jeans. He is going commando. He is a tomato-colored white man, with a trucker’s hat, a torn plaid shirt, and a gaping hole in his pants. He isn’t trying to flash anyone but he is so gone that he cannot really help it. It is the middle of the day and across the street from my house is a charming ice cream shop, where I once worked, that attracts a bunch of young school kids. This makes the sight of this man in this particular spot especially sordid. Kids donning Catholic school uniforms stand outside the ice cream shop with their cones, while the man crushes his sixth or seventh or eighth can of beer, legs spread wide.
My neighborhood has gentrified many of the old time dwellers out of their homes, pushing them into parts of the city with cheaper rent. But my city’s rough edges live on in this man. The parking lot where he normally hangs out has a large mural with a man reminiscent of Michael Jackson with two felines as its backdrop. This commando drunk man in front of me is part of a band of homeless people who ride around in shopping carts from ShopRite and A&P. Once, this group defecated on the wall of my neighbor’s home out of spite.
I ask him to leave and he grunts. For a second I am worried that he might lunge for me. I did not want him to remember I live in this house, that my mom was the one who called the police on him, because in a drunken stupor, he stumbled onto our porch and slept, and when my mom told him to leave he started jamming his hands through our front mail slot. But instead of clawing for me, he falls back into a daze and vegetates, while clouds pass by and the Catholic school children giggle and finish their ice cream.
– NICK SEXTON
The One Who Doesn’t Knock
A story from a friend: gifted with a single his junior year, he lofted his bed and decided, one night, to create a little den underneath. He hung sheets from his bed so that they reached the floor, put a comforter down as cushioning, set up his OA Crazy Creek and a lamp, and started to read his textbook. He didn’t mean to drift off, but the next thing he knew, his door was opening. He kept his door taped, but he didn’t have a roommate. Frozen with confusion and surprise, he stayed still, and listened to the intruder climb the ladder and get into his bed. He then was presented with a problem: there was somebody in his bed who was not him, but instead of showing himself when the intruder had first entered, he had stayed silent, hidden. Now he realized that that was pretty weird, and that being under his bed in the first place was pretty weird. He didn’t know what to do: the person’s breathing was slowing, and he or she was almost certainly falling asleep, and Todd was still frozen, embarrassed, and bewildered. Eventually, he did the only thing he could: wait until he was sure the person was definitely asleep, crawl stealthily to the door, open it and slam it shut, stand upright, and feign shock: “What are you doing in my bed?” he cried. “Who are you?” The kid—a sophomore in the middle of a frat hell week—apologized, dismounted, left; Todd regained his space.
– SUSANNAH SHARPLESS
The Fresh and Clean
A friend and I found the Blair study room empty, so we each took seats on opposite sides of the large table, and I began annotating my English reading. Presently, another friend wandered in and took a seat as well. Let’s call him X. X worked on a problem set for five minutes before I felt compelled to make a remark on the wifebeater he was wearing, which had a food stain on it that resembled the remains of Mathey’s watery marinara sauce. X looked at me, and then sniffed his armpits. “Shit, I don’t think I’ve showered in, like…” here he paused and counted his fingers, “…two days. Be right back,” X called cheerfully as he abandoned his homework and walked out the door. The Blair study rooms have these wall partitions that come up to your neck, and the large table I was sitting at is nestled securely behind it. Soon, the door banged against the wall, and in walked X. From behind the partition I could see that he was shirtless, but that wasn’t new – X is kind of infamous for walking around our dorm shirtless, because he needs everyone to know he loves his body. He placed his shampoo on top of the partition and started chatting with us. A minute later, my friend suddenly got suspicious and asked X, “Wait, you’re not actually naked, are you?” X only grinned silently. My friend leaned backwards in his chair to look around the partition, and quickly looked back. “Oh, yeah, he’s naked.” X stepped forward, and I, being the only female in the room, immediately shielded my eyes and directed my gaze directly onto my book while calmly asking him to please use your damn towel for god’s sake what if somebody walks in right now. A study room should be a safe haven from nakedness, a place where someone can study without worrying about their eyes getting violated by a friend’s genitals.
– MEGAN TUNG
The Big Spoon
After a night out during my freshman spring, I went home with a boy whom I’ll call gay Brad. Gay Brad, a stocky junior, shared both a double in his (cramped, bottom-of-the-draw) 1903 triple and a first name with his roommate, straight Brad—also a junior, also stocky. In low lighting I think the only way to distinguish them was by hair color: gay Brad was dirty blonde brunette, straight Brad deep brunette. Straight Brad and I knew each other, or, more accurately, knew “of” each other. The Brads must have had some system to regulate use of the double for hookups. My memory’s fuzzy, but I think the night in question, straight Brad had actually, seriously slung a white tube sock over the doorknob. This meant that straight Brad and his girlfriend, Sally (also a pseudonym), were throwing down in the dusty double, kicking gay Brad and me to the—you guessed it—common room futon (creaky springs, questionably damp fabric). So we all got down to business in our separate spaces, and nothing seemed amiss when we all drifted off to sleep.
In the wee hours of morning, however, it became clear that our Brads shared yet another thing, beyond name and double: they both were (are?) sleepwalkers. Ballpark 4 am, my Brad sleepwalked directly back into his bed, adjacent the content, snoozing, naked couple. A bit later, Sally’s Brad sleepwalked to the bathroom, dragging along the duvet and leaving poor Sally’s naked butt exposed to the elements. Straight Brad relieved himself and returned to the room, where in a haze, he mistook the naked me on the futon for Sally. He joined me on the futon as my little spoon. Maybe around 7 am, gay Brad awakened to Sally’s naked body and hastened to the common room to set things straight (in a manner of speaking). Groggy me awoke, clutching what I thought to be gay Brad, and at the same time noticed gay Brad standing at the door to the double. Suspecting foul play via a complicated cloning scenario, I yelped and clutched straight Brad all the more tightly. At this, gay Brad prodded straight Brad, and whispered, “Brad, you’re not spooning the person you think you’re spooning.” Another yelp, this time from straight Brad. Quickly things were righted, of course, but for a moment, Sally and I had totally switched Brads. It was all very Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Freshman year, my hall was half freshman girls and two quads of sophomore boy lacrosse and hockey players. This was before the days of keyless locks, and we would all leave our keys in our doors; we often went out together and sometimes when we came home our keys would have disappeared, only to show up in our hall’s oven. It was one of the lacrosse players; we all knew which one. One night, the girls who lived in the quad in the corner heard someone come in. A tall form appeared against the light—my friend, terrified, got up and locked the door to her double. From the other double, they saw the light in the bathroom go on, and then heard the unmistakable torrent of liquid that can only be an inebriated male peeing. He peed deafeningly for thirty seconds, turned, and left. The next day, as my friend told me the story over dinner in Wu, the urinator came and slid into our booth, sitting very close to her. He was with a bunch of muscular bros all clad in American flag gear; we deduced they’d come from Sunday Funday. He was drunk. “What’s up?” he said. We were startled, uncomfortable. My friend was giggling; I didn’t even crack a smile. He sat with us in silence, turning his head back and forth and smiling at us, until his friends called him back to their booth.
– SUSANNAH SHARPLESS
The music from downstairs, though muffled, is still audible when I close the bathroom door. I shut the lid of the toilet and sit down. The porcelain is cool against my thighs; I press my cheek to exterior of the tank and answer my phone. It’s Valentine’s Day, 2010. I am wearing a skin-tight pink dress and my teeth are stained black from the bottle of red wine I stole from my father’s basement. My mother is calling to check in. I struggle to keep the alcohol out of my voice, telling her that we’re on our way back from the movie now, that we’re going to bed soon. As my mother speaks, I let my eyes glide around the bathroom. To my right, a formidable bathtub lurks on gilded paws. I take in the photos on the wall: somebody’s wedding, someone else’s birth. My eyes halt on a mysterious, metal door with a single, high window.
Woozily, I stand and amble over to it, my cellphone still pressed to my ear. I peer through the window and we lock eyes: an older boy, a running back on the football team. He is naked, sitting on the bench in a small sauna. Wrapped around him, an equally naked girl presses her face into his neck. Over his companion’s shoulder, he grins at me, lifting his hand in greeting. For a moment I am paralyzed, my mother’s voice ringing in my ear. Then his companion turns her head abruptly, and I drop to the floor. Crawling across the tiled floor to the exit, I tell my mother that I will see her in the morning.
For the next year and a half, we will frequently stand shoulder to shoulder in the crowded cafeteria, waiting for our respective sandwiches to toast. We will look only at the toaster. He will not smile.
– OLIVIA LLOYD
I went with two friends to the Harlem Studio Museum on 125th Street. After, we walked downtown for twenty or thirty blocks on Central Park’s sloping walkways. The park is so huge I forgot I was in the biggest city in the United States. Instead of walking as fast as possible, staring straight ahead with unwavering bitchy resting face, I let my guard down and looked around almost fondly at this greener, more peaceful world. On a path that was within my eyesight but didn’t intersect with my own walkway, I saw a tired-looking man shambling along. I looked back at him because I glimpsed something moving in my peripheral vision. The movement was something brown swinging from his waist. I thought it was the end of his belt hanging free of his pants’ belt loops. But when I did a double take I realized it wasn’t his belt. It was his dick dangling rubbery out of his fly.
– EMILY LEVER
I came home alone at 4 a.m., Casino Night, or Speakeasy, or Formals, or something—in a dress, in uncomfortable heels—threw my jacket and shoes off and ran downstairs to pee. I went to the bathroom, propping my door, and when I returned, there was a boy in a tank and boxers asleep on my roommate’s chair. I shook him awake. “You don’t live here,” I said. He looked around. “No,” he responded. “I don’t.”
– SUSANNAH SHARPLESS
I’m not sure why we were naked. There was really no reason for it, other than the fact that it was summertime and our blood was running warm beneath our skin and the world that day was radiant. There were ten of us in all, girls who had met only a few days previously and were unlikely to meet again. Now we lay side by side, our naked bodies close enough to touch, the wind rustling through the branches of the birches overhead.
We were at a cross-country camp in upstate New York, where we had all been placed in the same cabin at the start of the week, and each of us was the only runner from her high school there that summer. Before the week was up, we had bonded hard and fast; when we woke the morning of the last day, we all agreed to go for a swim instead of attending the closing ceremony. Though it was already August, the lake was icy cold. From the water, the pale green hem of the shoreline was just visible, joined by only a thin warm strip of sand to the surrounding hills. It was on this that we finally stretched ourselves out, shivering, waiting for the sunlight to dissipate the chill from our bones.
I suppose it would have been natural at that moment to put our clothes back on, but nobody made a move. Instead, we lay there like a handful of bright pebbles, pearl and rose quartz scattered in the sunlight.
“I feel like a water nymph,” Lily whispered. A few of the other girls giggled, then lapsed again into silence. From across the lake, there was the sputtering of a jet ski, followed by the low bellow of a pontoon. After that, I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I heard was the voice of our cabin counselor ringing from the opposite shore:
She stood with her hands on her hips, livid and fully clothed.
Immediately, the spell was broken; we scrambled for our things. Days later, I still felt the hardness of lying there in the sun—the way the sun curled all our edges, how we splintered in the heat.
– HANNAH HIRSH