There are some songs that remind me of making grilled-cheeses and feeling sinkingly alone. Anything off the latest Daft Punk album, Amy Winehouse’s “He Can Only Hold Her,” stuff by The Strokes. These are beats and melodies that call to mind the smooth, hard linoleum floor of the tiny kitchen in the taupe little prison-apartment I lived in last summer, and the hours I spent staring at books, the computer, the ceiling, the rug, the overly bright illuminated mirror, and, by extension, the desolately empty streets of Dinkytown in the summer, the aisles of strangers in the grocery section of the Target store where I got my bike spokes stolen, and the duct-taped seat in the corner booth of the Hard Times Café, where I’d occasionally treat myself to a two-dollar chai to enjoy as I sat alone in the window with a Wallace book. It’s less picturesque when you’re feeling your phone like a lead weight in your pocket, waiting for some indication from the rest of the world that they remember that you’re there and that you matter to them, for some unclear and inherently needy-feeling reason.
But I’m not there anymore. I’m back at school, where, when I need someone to talk to, there’s a warm hug around every corner. But the school year is almost over and I have no idea what I’m doing this summer. There’s this bizarre, stupid pressure here to get a big internship each summer that will sparkle on your resumé and give you a great thing to talk about in the fall and a nice profile picture, but all my plans keep falling through as I get denied increasing (alarming) numbers of jobs. These past few days, though, it’s been me who’s been letting plans fall through, choosing to sit alone in my dorm rather than going out with friends like I usually would.
It’s less that I need an outlet for my suffocating Teen Angst than that I need the companionship of my friend group on a regular basis. The hardest part of living alone for me last summer wasn’t saving money, or shopping and cooking for myself, or even minor disasters like getting in a car accident. It was the fact that I would come home every night and be alone, wake up every morning to an empty, boxy apartment, and watch a sad trickle of people wander in and out of the weights gym as I did my thrice-weekly coach-mandated lift workout as my only (near) human contact, besides the motherly smiles from my middle-aged coworkers. Though I kept myself fed, exercised, worked, and cared for, which I thought would be the hardest parts of living alone, it was the actual alone part that did me in. I’d wake up at 4:30 AM unable to fall back to sleep, feeling sick to my stomach, and berate myself for being “too emotional” or “needy,” unclear of the rationale behind my own behavior.
Perpetuating this fear is the fact that I will probably end up moving somewhere after college and having to live alone again, only for multiple years rather than a month or two. I have this strange overwhelming needfor other human beings that itches and aches and makes virtually zero sense to me, and all I’m left with is the ever-appealing result of lying in the middle of the rug, Cheerios strewn everywhere, texting every one of my friends “Hey how’s it goin” and hoping that someone will reply.
A quote that may be an old wives’ tale describes young John Lennon as getting in trouble for saying that what he wanted to be when he grew up was “happy.” I am pretty sure I want to grow up to love and be loved. I don’t think there’s an internship for that. As I’ve been watching my other internship plans fall through, though, I’ve been realizing that it would be okay for me to go home, spend time with friends and family, run my dog in the woods, and write. I can work at an ice-cream shop or running store and stop telling myself from within a swollen head that I need to be “the best” at everything, or anything, to have a future I can be happy with.
On second thought, I’ve changed my mind about the existence of an internship for love. It’s unpaid and starts when you first make eye contact with your mother on the day you are born. Some nights you work overtime, as a warm hug and listening ear for a friend who is struggling with a breakup, or making sure that someone makes it home safely between cars on the dark and crowded street. Some days, the work is light, a friendly chat at lunch or a smile on the sidewalk. Your promotions come from making new friends or volunteering or making a relationship work or having a child. Perhaps my desires to have a better GPA or fuller CV are taking away from my work on the love-internship. I seldom daydream about the car I’ll drive home from work in someday, or the house I’ll pull into the driveway of, but I do often wonder what faces and voices I’ll be coming home to. But an internship is a project, and I’m doing far better today than I was even a year ago. Perhaps my recent cravings for solitude are a sign of the fact that I’m gradually understanding the fact that love doesn’t necessarily have to mean a body in the seat next to mine. In the meantime, though, I should chip away at my schoolwork so I have time to see my friends.