Thursday, September 15, 2011

City Goes To Bed

-| ten months ago |-

During the application process, my fellowship interviewer asked me if I had any questions for him.  Not wanting to be the "Oh, you've already answered all my questions for me, sir." kind of interviewee, I pulled the first [admittedly unoriginal] question that came to my head:

"This year is supposed to change your life, so what was the most important thing you realized?"

Instead of answering in the proverbial "The world is smaller than you think," or "You never know yourself until you lose yourself," my interviewer deadpanned and said flatly,

"I just realized how alone I was."

-| one and a half months ago |-

At this point in my year, I'd like to take a moment to address something pertaining to this memory [and the chain of memories following it]: thus far, there was only ONE time I recognized this feeling, and it occurred on the second night in India [the first was spent waiting in paranoia until morning in Bangalore International Airport].  I laid awake in the plastic-covered bed provided by Samarthanam, my left ear under attack from the mosquito hovering around it, my eyes still bloodshot from jet lag.  At three o'clock in the morning, a malevolently tiny whisper asked, What are you doing here?

I swatted away the question, mumbled something about dance and community service, and tried closing my eyes.

You are SO alone.  The voice returned, riding on the back of the mosquito.  The only people who ever cared about you are half a world away!  The voice curled itself into a ball the size and texture of a marble, and settled itself at the base of my throat.  [Call it doubt, call it nerves, but the following morning I called it ignorance, given the voice disregarded the fact that some fellow schoolmates were not only in India, but in Bangalore.]

The first night and you're already a wreck.  The tiny voice reached from my throat and squeezed from behind my eyes, starting a miserably wet burning sensation.  I gripped the tiny Mickey Mouse [thanks for the going away gift, Sis] and bit my lip.  Maybe if I waited long enough, the voice would get tired retire for the night.

You really think you can do this for a year?


-| three and a half months ago |-

He, a freshman-to-be-proctor, sat on the floor of my bedroom, waiting for me to finish stuffing a cardboard box with posters, neuroscience books, whiskey glasses, and a silk smoking jacket I knew I wouldn't need after graduation.  It all belonged to him now.  He stared, amused, then laughed as I struggled to close the flaps on the box.  The conversation had run dry, and acknowledging this, he asked me if I was pumped for the next year.

"I think I'm more scared, dude."

He raised both eyebrows and scoffed.  "Why?"

"I'm going to be alone for a year.  And I know this is what I signed up for; actually, I think it's why I applied.  So it's going to be good for me, right?  I get what I want?  To be alone?"

As with so many people in my life, he didn't miss a beat.  "Look at you.  Look at who you've become here at Bowdoin.  You can't be alone.  It's not possible."

-| one month ago |-

Closing the door to our room, I looked to my roommates: one from Taiwan, one from Zimbabwe, and the newest one from Italy.  The United Nations.

"Friends," I boomed in my American accent, "shall we head out to dinner?"

-| two months ago |-

Bumper, AKA The Roommate From College, sat next to me in an empty Fuddrucker's.  I swallowed the elk burger, having a hard time determining the difference between this and a regular beef burger.  For the umpteenth time that summer, I answered the question: Are you ready for the next year?

"You're going to love it," he said, running over my concern and hesitation with a steamroller, "You know it."

-| now |-

I kid you not; it's raining [ah, symbolism].  No, not raining, but pouring.  The last roommate [Taiwan] is filling his suitcase, checking his flight itinerary, and for once I can hear my echo in our bedroom [Zimbabwe and Italy left in the last two weeks].  We're about to ceremoniously buy him his last cup of [5 rupee | 11 cent] Indian coffee, and it doesn't feel like anything will change.  Please don't misinterpret this. I think he's a great guy, and has been here to guide me around the city since my arrival.  My farewell has been and will be the same:

"Until we meet again."

Maybe it's because I've said as equally meaningful hellos and goodbyes in shorter periods of time, or maybe the hardest one I've had to do so far happened only four months ago, or maybe it's because I believe I'll see each of them again, but I've learned to not say goodbye.  Not only do I consider this a cynical way to end a brief meeting of friends, but also just too prophetic.  Of course you'll never know if you ever meet again.

I'll be honest; that voice is starting to whisper again, only this time, I won't have roommates to swat it away.  Feeling like I'm the only one in the room will be for real.  As mentioned, the fellowship highly stresses that we should fly solo, not get used to traveling with other wanderlusts, to live independently but share experiences with those who cross my path.  I can't tell whether or not having roommates has fit this criteria or cheated it, but I do know that they've made this first sixth of my year bearable [there's always someone to talk to at the end of a long and sweaty day] and at the least, entertaining [insert shenanigan concerning misinterpretation of English words] and educational [I've become proficient in the art of finding at least 3 different ways of saying something, so the accent barrier doesn't prevent us from having sensible conversations].  For that, I'm grateful to them.

Do I know what it's like to be alone yet?  I can't say whether it's possible on a trip like this, or ever in someone's lifetime.  You will always find someone, and that someone leads to someone else, and in the end it becomes one entertaining chain of meeting a person through another.  Some might say I robbed myself out of the solo experience by living with three other roommates [technically, the most time we spent together was sleeping no more than three feet from each other].  To these, I would say my roommates came and helped me realize something very important during my year, and thus couldn't have been a detrimental aspect of this trip.

Although I may try to be alone, it doesn't mean I will be.

[On My Own?]

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