“Um, okay.” She puts one resolute dash through the word, and rewrites my answer. “So, do you just not like any season that much?” Her eyes flicker towards the professor, conveying that she’s waiting for our conversation to end. I can’t tell whether she’s aware of her nonverbal cues, shamelessly unveiling her thoughts like a show curtain opened too early.
“I don’t know, I mean—” I think of something interesting to say. I’ve always hated small talk, but my hatred has unfortunately failed to provide any sort of incentive to improve at it. “I guess I kind of like fall fashion. You know, sweaters and baggy jeans and things like that.” I actually hate baggy jeans—they always make me feel like I’m presenting myself to the world in denim pajamas—but she doesn’t need to know that.
“That’s cool.” She nods once, opens her mouth, and then closes it again. She starts to doodle on the side of her paper before moving onto the next question. “So, what’s your major?”
“I’m probably a creative writing major, or maybe something in communications related to journalism. Not too sure.” I give another placid smile, one with more teeth to seem genuine. I’ve been told I have an oddly soothing voice, and so I make my intonations more honey–like to seem nicer.
“Oh, that’s cool.” She says, drawing out her syllables. She quickly checks the time on her phone, about to click on a Snap before deciding the better of it. “So, why writing?”
“Um, I like to write poetry and short stories. But I also write articles, so I don’t know.” I try to avoid elaborating, as if every additional piece of information will be unwarranted.
“So, you’re gonna take a bunch of writing classes here?”
Well, obviously. “Yeah, something like that.” I raise my eyes from their set position on the questionnaire in front of me. My chem partner’s eyes are a clear–cut brown, a sharp tint to them that reminds me of freshly cut wood, the type with pricks left on it. She
has a well–defined eyeliner running beneath her eyes like a black river, coupled with high cheekbones and an edged jawline. The only feature of her that mildly calms me is her nose, so small it’s almost imperceptible, innocent—but even that disturbingly contradicts her general aura. She wears a baby–blue crop top with a smile emoji that emits a calculated sort of friendliness.
“So…” I realize I’ve been silent for too long. “What’s your major?”
“I’m doing a bioengineering major with a minor in computer science.” She smiles again, her lips stretched into a tight semi–circle. She looks into my eyes briefly, then back at our professor expectantly. I find myself mirroring her smile, but then feel as if my cheeks have betrayed me. I resume a normal expression and stare down at my lap. I’m wearing my favorite dark blue jeans, embedded with a black leather on the edges that makes me feel limitless.
“That’s crazy. I don’t understand coding at all. Java and all that. ” I let out a small laugh for her benefit. I’ve always felt that humor can diffuse any sort of awkwardness, like a soothing honey or salve. I could care less whether it’s at my own expense.
“Yeah, I mean, you’re—” My chem partner stops short, then looks at me guiltily.
An unreleased laugh flickers in her murky pupils, itching to be heard. She lets out the laugh, as if she doesn’t care about its reception.
I find myself smiling again—I have no control over my muscles at this point. “So you want to work in, like, pharmaceuticals?” I hate that I say like, which simultaneously makes me feel more approachable and more vapid.
The flicker in her laugh subsides. “Well, I’m actually not sure yet.” She pauses. “Wait, are you even, like, good at math?”
See, she says ‘like’ too—and she’s super smart. “I mean, I was good at math in high school.” The spunky part of me wants to ask her what she means by that question. “But it was just high school math, so I don’t know.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
We both look at our papers again. The air has altered itself between us, thinned to become more watery and slathering, popping at invisible places. I’m tempted to make sound effects in my head to distract me. “So, next question…”
“Okay, it’s just about 11:50, or 11:52, more accurately—Well, anyhow, class is over. I’m glad…I think it’s great that—I hope the questionnaire has helped you all get acquainted with your classmates.” Our professor seems to squawk as she speaks, ticking out words here and there as if each one requires effort. I wonder if it’s her first year teaching, if she’s naturally squeamish, or if that’s simply how all chem geniuses are. Her frizzy unkempt hair, teeming with whitening edges and coupled with foggy gray–blue eyes, make her seem like a generally disoriented person. Even her attire contradicts itself—she wears a bright red sweater with an evergreen business shirt and dark brown pants, making her vaguely look like the human version of a Christmas cookie. It’s February.
“Okay, see you!” My chem partner says. She actually smiles somewhat genuinely at me, which makes me inclined to like her despite myself. She would probably like me less if I seemed like someone who could compete with her.
“See you!” I pick up my laptop, notebook, and pencil slowly, rearranging things in and out of my backpack so I’ll be the last one to leave class. That way no one will talk to me.
“Thank you, professor!” I say lightly, wondering if she even hears me. I am, in fact, a good minute behind the last person to leave.
My classes are over for the day; I only have this class on Monday’s, a blaring 10:00 AM class which feels like both a blessing and a burden. As I walk back to my dorm I feel an acrid taste in my mouth, coating my tongue to the point of a slight itchiness like the aftermath of a spoiled apple.
It’s the taste that I always get when life mildly tires me, and so I hastily reach for my neon purple earphones in the back pocket of my jeans. They’re all crumpled, meaning that it will probably take me two minutes to even get them untangled. My dad—a true music aficionado, having led a semi–successful rock band in college—has always told me that wireless earphones are more practical. And while that’s true, I like to keep the quaint sentiment of wired earphones.
The minute I enter my dorm room my mom calls me, as if she can sense that I can talk. Which is weird, considering we call about once a week. I guess it’s motherly instincts. “Hey, mom.”
“Hey, love, how are you doing? I miss you!” My mother always opens our calls with the same words, a comforting familiarity. Her voice does sound more leathery this call, tired, as if she’s calling me to unpeel herself rather than unpeel me.
“My day was fine, what about you?”
“I had so much work…the numbers have just been off the charts today…but enough about me. You’re fine? You sound a little down.” My mom works in stocks, and so the numbers are always down in her world. The predictability of her response has become a sort of inside joke with myself.
I observe my unmade bed to find an answer. Inspired by a productive self–care habit I saw from a vlogger, I had intended to make my bed the past few days. I very consistently failed—I seem to lose all sense of time in the morning, as if we’re two separate entities in two separate dimensions. Or maybe time is mocking my lack of self–discipline. But then again, making my bed is simple, so my inability to make it is indicative. “I don’t know…my chem partner seems snobby. Like she’s judging me for my major. Which isn’t uncommon at this point.”
“She sounds annoying. I hated chem majors in college, they were always really conceited…But she can think whatever she wants. Her opinion of you doesn’t change your accomplishments or your mind, and it—”
“I feel like she thinks I’m some spoiled legacy who didn’t deserve to get into college.” I take off my shoes as I hold the phone, one foot helping the other, and try not to stumble.
“Well, are you a legacy?”
“No, but it’s like… Or maybe she thinks I’m from some privileged feeder private school, and didn’t actually have good grades or anything.”
I can see where she’s going with this. I feel a warm buzzing on the nape of my neck, and lightly massage it. I want to do something numbing, like painting my nails to basic pop music or watching Gilmore Girls. “I know I’m not, but you don’t get it. It doesn't feel that way for me. My feelings aren’t, I don’t know, objective or true or factual.”
“But I don't understand why you care that she’s judging you—if she even is.” “Trust me, she is. And it just…it just makes me uncomfortable.”
“Why? Aren’t you confident in your major, in your love of writing?”
I pause. “Of course I am.” I move the soft light pink strands of my furry blanket up and down, observing the colors slightly alter. I then rearrange the pencils on my desk. I always feel like I need to do something while on a call, or else I’m wasting my time.
“If you were confident, though, you wouldn’t care what she thinks of your major.
I’m sure if you judged her for her major, she wouldn’t care.” “No, maybe she would.”
“Listen, if you’re not confident in your major, then maybe you should change to something you’re proud of.”
“You just don’t want me to be a writing or communications major. You never
“That’s not true. You know I would want you to have a stable job, of course, but you know I support you in everything. The problem is that you’re always stressed about your major, liking something new every week. Maybe you’re indecisive because you’re not satisfied.”
“I feel like you’re psychoanalyzing me.” I say dryly. “So what? I gave birth to you.”
“That’s true.” I pause. “Isn’t it the stereotype that people in stocks aren’t emotionally intelligent?”
“Aren’t writers stereotyped to be lazy?” “I think I am.”
She laughs. “All I’m saying is, and you don’t have to listen to me, but why not experiment in college? You’ve always liked biology, sociology, maybe something with that? And remember how you loved physics with—”
“You don’t understand, mom. Doing anything in STEM in college is very different than in high school.”
“So, I don’t know if it’s… you know, feasible for me. Or realistic. I’m a writer who is good at writing, and that’s only if I feel like it. I just had to be good at STEM classes to get the grades for college.”
“But you were still good at it.” “I guess, but—”
“But what? It’s the same concept. Listen, I—” She sighs. I wish I could see her eyes to know what she’s thinking. But then again, I might not want to know. “Listen, I need to go back to work now. The numbers are crashing today. We’ll talk later, okay?”
“Okay.” My voice sounds small, almost slimy, as if it’s slipping out from underneath me. I wish I could manually strengthen it, lift weights to make my voice sound more articulate and well–formed. A voice that people would listen to.
“I love you, and I miss you a lot.” “Me too. Love you.”
“Bye, I’ll talk to—oh wait, I forgot!” “What?”
“You mentioned a boy last week? What was his name again?” My mom’s voice leaks a vicarious excitement which makes me want to hang up the phone.
“Oh, yeah, um…Henry. The French guy.” I let out a small sigh. “We haven’t really talked.”
“Oh, why not? I thought you liked him?”
I pause, trying to think of a plausible story. My mother has made it clear that I should be a “serious girl,” a girl who only kisses men that she dates—so I invent men every now and then to please her. And as a writer, it’s mildly entertaining to create an alternate reality. “I found out that Henry’s a bit, um…anti–semitic.”
“But we’re Protestant.”
I smile to myself; the humor of generational gaps will never evade me. “So? It still doesn't sit well with me. He said he thinks that both Jews and Muslims are snobs, actually.”
“I’m shocked. I didn’t know the French were so conservative!”
I’m pretty sure they’re one the most liberal democracies in the world. “Me neither!”
“Yeah, drop him.” She says curtly. As if what she says is exactly what I’ll do, even though I don't live at home anymore.
“That’s what I did.”
“So…You didn’t kiss, right?” My mom attempts to sound nonchalant, an attempt which sounds lackluster even over the phone.
“Of course not.”
“Okay, good.” She pauses. “So, what about any other guys?” “Not really.”
There’s a temporary silence, of either disappointment or pride. Maybe a mix of both. “Well, you should anyhow be focusing on school. No time for those types of things.” I can almost see her subtly nodding to herself, as if self–congratulating on her own parenting.
There’s also something called a work–life balance—meaning that school and a social life aren’t mutually exclusive. “Totally agree. Anyway, I have so much homework, so I have to go now.” To be fair, it’s not a lie.
“Okay, bye. I miss you.”
“Miss you. Bye.” I pause, waiting for her to hang up. She doesn’t. I take this to be her technological ineptitude, and hang up myself.
Instead of doing my homework, I check my phone notifications. I see a request to follow me on Instagram from someone I had made out with on Saturday at a party. I don’t understand why he wants to follow me; it’s not like we would ever meet up again.
I remember his tongue felt large in my mouth, all too insisting, as if I was just a vessel he wanted to thrust his tongue into. As he lowered his hands down my back I began to feel embarrassed in front of everyone surrounding us, even though there were about five other couples making out in public. I had suggested we go to the unofficial “make–out room” of the party, which was just a more isolated space that offered couples a semblance of privacy.
‘So, what’s your major?’ In between kisses, we found it oddly fitting to make small talk. Or at least I did—I hated kissing someone without at least vaguely knowing who they were.
‘Creative writing, probably. I write poetry a lot.’ He chuckles, but not mirthlessly.‘Why?’
I pause. ‘What do you mean, why?’
‘I don’t know, I think that poetry is pretty boring.’
I smile at his shameless genuity. He’s a Guatemalan–American frat brother, likely with enough Guatemalan culture from his parents to evade American norms of polite dishonesty. ‘Well, what’s your major?’
‘Hm, I think that Econ is pretty boring. You know, the stereotype of the heartless economists and all that.’ We smile wryly at each other. His big honey–brown eyes remind me of a cheerful deer, all sprightly and vivacious—He’s here for the fun in college, the anti–serious aspects before the grim onset of adulthood. And I respect how he’s not pretending to be anything else.
‘Hm. I really appreciate that.’
‘Oh, you’re welcome.’ We continue to kiss.
Twenty minutes pass. I lightly crank an eye open to check my phone. It’s 12:37 AM; my friends are probably wondering where I am.
I slowly unfurl my lips from his, letting our last kiss linger. He stares down at me, his lower lip jutted out innocently, and continues to stroke my inner thigh.
I move my legs to face forward, where I can vaguely make out another couple kissing on a couch across from us. Their tongues seem to be physically intertwined, their sweaty bodies greedily pressed against each other in drunken lust. I get that feeling of having stumbled into somewhere I shouldn’t be, like entering the wrong classroom or a different movie at the theater. I quickly avert my gaze downwards. ‘My friends are probably wondering where I am.’
‘Oh, yeah, that makes sense. We could leave and you’ll text them, I guess?’
‘I said I’d go back to our dorms with them, though. And you anyway live at the frat house.’ I smile, as if the decision to leave or not isn’t up to me.
‘Okay, um. See you.’ He gives me a peck on the lips, and I get up to go back to the party. My lips feel slightly sore, but other than that I feel nothing.
‘Hey, so where were you?’ My friend gives me a knowing look.
‘I saw him, he was cute!’ My other friend, a tall 5’10” ice skater who speaks as if constantly inundated with caffeine, hugs me enthusiastically. I laugh into her shoulder. I’ve always felt as if every inch of her has added an extra dose of energy.
‘Yeah, he was cute.’ I smile at the floor as the pink and purple strobe lights from above illuminate my hair, which has probably gone frizzy from the humidity of the party. I smooth down the top of my head. A thin splurge of vivacity edges through my veins, fizzling onto my skin to make itself visible like a tattoo. Suddenly I feel very much like a college student, unfazed and transient and sifting to wherever desired.
‘Yeah, that makes sense. But this party is kind of dead, right?’ My other friend—the most calculated one of the four of us—says suddenly. She hasn’t kissed anyone yet, and I wonder if she doesn’t find anyone in the party attractive or is genuinely bored. I wish I could reach the point of closeness with my friends to ask honest questions like that. ‘
‘Yeah, I agree.’ I give her a small smile.
‘Well, I heard that Sig Ep started throwing at 12:30.’ She says.
‘Okay, let’s go.’ I say. As we leave the party, I see the frat guy talking to another girl. She has straight long black hair and big doe eyes covered in dark eyeshadow, with a petite figure adorned in a lace black crop top that fits her well. They’re both smiling, their eyes throwing small beams at each other to indicate interest like a ping pong game.
We catch each other's eyes across the room, a searing second that enters my rib cage in lukewarm bursts. He looks away from me quickly, a steady burst of guilt emitting from his eyes.
‘You have nothing to feel guilty about,’ I want to tell him. I hate his guilt, his egotistical assumption that our twenty minutes of kissing have caused him to have some sort of emotional effect over me. I avert my eyes and follow my friends to leave.
I open Instagram, close it, and then open it again. He requested me four hours ago, which I feel is enough to wait before accepting him. I click the accept button, waiting for some sort of release or tightness within my chest. I wait one more minute, but my chest is placid, still, as if questioning what I expected from it.
You’ve really gotten good at this, I think to myself. You don’t even get attached anymore. Due to being a shy and introverted high–schooler who was hopelessly in love with a guy with a girlfriend, I hadn’t had my first kiss until the first week of college. And while my first kiss had me thinking that I had found my soulmate, the ensuing weeks of college thankfully taught me logic.
But I could instinctively feel myself starting to get less emotionally involved—ironically, the law of diminishing returns, which I remembered learning in my high school econ class. Theoretically, maintaining my heart meant less hurt and self–doubt in the days after, when it became clear we would never meet again. But it also meant that each interaction drifted into a gray sort of meaninglessness. Maybe I’m just a casual type of person. But that’s better than getting emotionally attached. Then again, I shouldn’t be dominated by the fear of any negative potential outcome. Not that it means I can’t—
I close my eyes for a long second, letting myself breathe in the simplicity of the still air, still walls, still moment. My body seeps into the softness of the blanket. I wait until I match the quietude internally.
I open my eyes. Everything looks dimmer, softer. My body unfurls off the bed, and I take out my laptop to charge. It’s at 43 percent, and I need it to be at least 80 percent before going to study on the tables outside. Though it’s more practical to study inside, the dimness of the artificial lights infuses me with a tepid gloominess.
The guy from Saturday just requested to follow me on Insta LOL. I text my best friend. She’s not in my main friend group in college, and so she’s the one I trust the most. I need to be calculating with my trust that way.
LMAOO but you didn’t even actually like him right? No but he didn’t like me either so IDK
Wdym of course he liked you?? I pause. My friend has never ceased to compliment me, and I don't know whether it’s because she’s a kind person or genuinely believes in what she’s saying. Probably both.
Yeah I guess he liked me in the basic sense but it’s not like it mattered what I said
What you said?
I mean I could have said anything or been anyone, I could have been stupid or boring or unfriendly, not that I was, but you know what I mean, he was just attracted to me, it wouldn’t have changed anything.
Yeah but you still had fun
I’m about to type “ofc,” but delete each letter slowly. That’s too eager of an answer: unfitting for one who did care in terms of pride, and even less fitting for someone who doesn’t. I mean that I don’t think guys like me for myself, or like, yeah. but idk
I debate what to type, knowing that if I send any given message I’ll solidify my thoughts, make them real. i just am getting kind of sick of kissing random ppl i guess
Umm r you going to stop?
I pause, not liking the immediacy of her question. Idk. it would be cool if someone wanted to actually get to know me if that makes sense? But im still having a lot of fun rn
Yeah i get that.
Yeah. I think of what else to type, so that our conversation doesn't end morosely. I don’t want her to think of me as someone who gets bogged down by generally exciting events.
Yeah its all g, don’t think about it too much. Yep. Dinner tn?
I smile. I’ve been told I’m a dry texter by my friends, so I’m starting to warrant digital enthusiasm when needed. But then again, my parents have semi–casually mentioned that I’m a stoic who seems to have no feelings, so I feel like there’s some sort of larger pattern that I’m missing.
I doodle on the side of the Chem reading I have due tomorrow. The chem class I’m taking isn’t strictly Chem, but about the history of Chem—meaning that it’s more history–based than actual science. In hindsight, I wish I had taken actual Chem. It would definitely make me feel smarter.
I sigh, stop doodling. I’ve drawn some sort of weird flower, expanded upon by edged–looking stems and loops. I’ve always wondered if my doodles portray some sort of deep insight into my psyche, but never bothered to look it up. I would probably self–analyze too much if I did anyway.
I put in my earphones and choose my Winter Forest playlist, which I always use when I want to write a poem. The familiar ache to write rings familiar within my fingers, urging me to paste myself onto paper like winding tree branches. I press play.
I write for an hour, letting my instinctual thoughts overpower any sorts of consciousness. They consume my brain like large rain clouds looming on mountains, dominating my fingers and quieting all else.
When I’m done, I stare at the lines in my dark blue leather notebook. I’ll type up and edit my writing tomorrow, when it’s been nestled in my brain for a bit. That was such a stereotypical creative writing major moment.
I resolutely close the notebook and gaze outside the window. It’s raining, which I don’t remember seeing on my weather app. Being my forgetful self, I lost my umbrella after the second week of college. I hope that whoever found it in whatever coffee shop I was in is happily dry and warm at the moment.
Luckily, I like the rain. Its ambivalent moods—tranquility, chaos, vivacity, and all else outside and in between—mirror me perfectly, as if the mosaics of human and nature have finally intertwined. But it’s not so much a mirror as it is a perfect imitation, some visiting replica fitting me so well that I forget to fit in within myself.
I sigh, needing a pseudo–dramatic effect for what I’m about to do. I open a career personality quiz on Safari. On another tab, I go to my college’s website home page, and click on List of Majors. I nibble on an apple to release the energy fizzling inside me. I begin scrolling.