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Lithium Changing and waiting for it to hurt: love letter to my sophomore year

Jan. 4, 2022
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Finishing sophomore year was weirdly a punch in the gut. Really, it makes no sense, considering I went through so much of the last eight months on autopilot, waiting passively for normalcy to fall into my lap. I didn’t realize there’d be something to miss until it was over. I know that’s how the saying goes, but usually, I know when I’ll miss something. Two weeks before your flight is leaving, I’ll hold your face in the palm of my mind and try to remember where your freckles are on your face. When we’re walking through Central Park for the last time, I’ll spend the whole time wondering if I’ll see you this summer. When you’re leaving the state of New York in two months, I’ll try to cup our conversations in my hands and keep them somewhere cool and dark. 

Sophomore year was not romantic enough on its surface to deserve any of this preemptive missing. For most of it, New York was fucking cold and grappling with a number of COVID cases seemingly only ever-increasing in severity. I wore the same fur coat for much of it—the one with a cigarette burned into the left sleeve, which never failed to annoy me while wearing it. I wrote mind-numbing essays about NATO and special congressional elections and waited for New York to thaw, if ever, so I could please just walk around the city. Most of sophomore year was spent shuttling between my 132-square-foot dorm room and the dining hall and the same three bars on repeat. Sophomore year as elevator music, a waiting room: killing time until cases went down, a vaccine came out, it got warmer outside.

The point is, I walked down Amsterdam during my last night in New York listening to a song (I’m not telling you which one) and was surprised to find myself choking down tears. This is likely because, despite how much of the year was spent waiting, there was goodness. Freshman year was a nauseating, turbulent mess of establishing who I am outside my hometown. I never had a chance to breathe—I was too busy oscillating between partying until 5 AM and spending long hours in libraries. I kept finding myself in a circle of girls sitting on the bathroom floor, coaxing vodka out of our friends’ stomachs. I was constantly in motion.

This year, I slowed down. I microdosed falling in love by going on a series of beautiful, perfect dates which wouldn’t go anywhere thanks to a painstaking array of logistical reasons. I wrote essays I’m proud of, really, about philosophy and the giant squid diorama at the American Museum of Natural History and parts of my life I don’t feel compelled to share here. I declared two majors and felt sure of my decision. I ordered probably a hundred almond croissants and iced cappuccinos with brown sugar and cinnamon at Hungarian. I walked fifty blocks at a time just to see more of New York and realized I’d drunk-text this city if I could. Maybe that’s the biggest thing that happened this year: I became obsessed with New York. In her book The Lonely City, Olivia Laing says “the city reveals itself as a set of cells"—a repeating tapestry of psychics and bodegas. I love this repetition, how I can tuck myself away in any of the hundred different Thai restaurants or taquerias this island has to offer. It's about choice. It's also about anonymity, as I'm just one of a million different blonde girls standing at around 5'5" in Manhattan. Once I'm ten minutes from campus I fade into the background. I hope so, anyway. In New York, this is how things work: there is a whole economy of quick glances, all loaded with presumptions as we try to assume the lives of people we'll never see again. 

Perhaps because of my newfound love for anonymity, I’ve also learned the beauty of privacy. I have chronically overshared so much of my life online, and I’m finally practicing self-restraint. Some things are best kept sacred, maybe, or at least away from Twitter. Too many times I’ve refracted slivers of myself through the dizzying kaleidoscope of the internet, making stunted attempts at closing the gap between me and my idealized self: cool girl, funny girl, interesting girl with interesting life. I am now playing around with the idea of being a more private person, which is funny to write in a personal essay you’re planning on publishing and posting about on social media. Still, this is character development—I didn’t even tell you what song I was listening to earlier, after all. It helps that I recently discovered my favorite part of creative nonfiction is what goes unsaid. I love when a writer withholds information, refusing to give up certain names or details for our consumption. She doesn’t tell you about the people she’s seeing or what her favorite restaurant in New York is; she keeps those things for herself.

What I mean to say is, I’m changing! I am not invincible; I still feel ten feet tall when the right person calls me hot. I am still too forgiving and let people back in too easily. I still have wet dreams in which my knuckles connect with a certain boy’s flesh on the Upper West Side. I still have friends look over certain texts before I send them (in a process lovingly called “workshop”). Maggie Nelson said "do not make the mistake of thinking that all desire is yearning. I am not interested in longing to live in a world in which I already live" and Dasha Nekrasova said "to desire something is about lack; it almost depends on not getting it, or it’s about the distance between two things. I’ll want something very intensely, and I’ll think that that’s a kind of love, but really what I’m in love with is the liminal distance between what I want and what I can have." Despite my changing, I still agree with them. (And also, I admittedly am very good at wanting things I know I can't have and/or am very good at no longer desiring things once I have them.) The chase is the best part. So please do not text me back immediately and please don't give me everything I want. Give me something to lack.

Haphazard searches for validation and vindication aside, I am becoming more whole, I think, and more sure of myself as I move through the world. I tell people exactly how I feel, when I feel it, without mincing or minimizing my words. I am honest. I am fulfilled by my friendships and happy with who I am—so much so that when I look at essays I wrote last year, I can’t believe I was so insecure. I feel smarter and more thoughtful than I was eight months ago. Now, I’m just excited for the summer. There are ice cream trucks and people spilling into streets and New Yorkers filling the air like an aria. So no more crying on Amsterdam, I’ve decided. Just more nights spent downtown, watching the mechanism of nostalgia unfold in front of me in real time.

Illustration by Eutalia de la Paz