Thursday, April 5, 2012

Something We Can Do Better

At the very least there's something we can do better because when I walk across campus they avert their eyes and check nonexistent text messages and become very interested in distant scenery and even when I catch them looking and catch them not looking away and catch them with a smile they don't smile back, not usually anyway, and I know that it's because they're here because I don't do that at home at home at home I would stop to speak with a stranger for five minutes about the weather and our families and whatever is important to us in the moment and sure it's just a different kind of superficiality but at least it's a warm, human superficiality that nods to the fact that there are two people existing with worries and loves and hungers and they're going to see each other for this moment even if they never see each other again and you can make your comments about racism and homophobia and ignorance, I won't refute them, but when I brought my girlfriend to my grandparent's weekly family dinner they hugged her and said they hoped to see her again and they meant it, and even though they didn't know that underneath the tablecloth I stroked her nervous hand and used my fingertips to kiss away the knowledge that if I kissed her with my lips they would turn stormy and talk about God or, worse, change the subject entirely because did you hear that the Cox boy graduated from law school and, bless his heart, is now playing social with Wes Kivett who we all know has been heavy on the bottle for years but at least he's at church every Sunday morning and was at the Kiwanis pancake supper but they were kind to her because that's how they were raised and that's how I was raised and as long as we don't talk about unpleasant things we can pretend that they don't exist but here they know that the unpleasant things exist, they know and they see them everywhere like a house isn't just a house, it's where one or two or dozens of our sisters were raped and President Kim playing baseball on the Green isn't just President Kim playing baseball on the Green, it's a photo shoot cover-up to make the front page instead of the dozens of students decrying an unfair meal plan and that's just the way things are, the way things are, we don't like it but who are we to say otherwise will it be linked to our name and if it's linked to our name will it hurt our chances of getting a bid, a vote, a job will it keep us from being successful will we ever be successful because six digits isn't good enough if you can get seven so you better stick to that diet keep your hair clean not laugh too loudly join the right house know the right people work hard play hard and be happy about it because if you're not happy with this then there's something wrong with you, this is it this is privilege there are millions of people who would kill to have your looks, your skin, your mind, your education, your status, your life so if it doesn't make you happy you're an ungrateful fuck you're everything that's wrong with this place you should man up shut up and just get out of the way and THAT'S NOT RIGHT that's not how it works that's not how people are made we're all different and unique and beautiful so if you have a passion for consultingfinance, fine, do it if it makes you happy rush if it makes you happy hookup black out and graduate if it makes you happy, but if it doesn't then don't stand for it you can do better you deserve better you deserve happiness, yes you do, you don't have to prove anything or repay anyone you can just grow a beard be a teacher drop out get married kiss boys eat lasagna cut your hair wear tennis shoes study Greek say "no" say a prayer quit your thesis quit your job join the army write poetry wear makeup transfer and go to bed at 10pm every night if it makes you happy, but you can't go on doing those things that you 'should' 'ought' 'must' because when you pass me on the sidewalk you look away because you don't want me to see who you are or what you could be you want to be seen on your own determined terms but me passing you on the sidewalk isn't in the script so you look away and it isn't fine but I'm going to smile anyway because I'm a person and you're a person and for that moment we're together it's intimate, your castaway glance tells me more than you would in twosome solitude and I want to tell you back that it's not right for you to feel that way, that it's ok to hurt and be unsure and look at me, that you're so goddamn beautiful that there is another way that it isn't as hard as you think to smile back. But I understand because I stopped smiling when I came here and I averted my eyes and checked nonexistent text messages and became very interested in distant scenery and when I caught them looking I was terrified I'd quicken my pace I'd stumble and sometimes smile back but always too late for them to see it because everything moves so fast here that it's easy to miss a smile, a moment, a month and it's easy to not learn a thing in 10 weeks to not see a friend for 10 months to be too ground down and worn out to raise a whisper when shady politics play out across the front page to be broken by the load of unanswered questions and unquestioned answers and at the end of the day say "Fuck it I'm going out" because it's better to pretend not to be unhappy among strangers it's easier it's the scene and you'll probably lament the dominance of the Greek system at some point but not now and not loudly because at the end of the day it's easier to play pong than politics and if anyone thinks that the only thing keeping the system standing are it's richpowerful alumni with their fingers in everything and money where it counts then anyone hasn't witnessed the joke that is GLOS defending the upstanding principles of brotherhood and sisterhood when Giaconne comes knocking because another underage swimming recruit was sent to DHMC with alcohol poisoning and yes, I'm in a house, and yes, I love it, but if I thought the system were the cause of the problem rather than an amalgamation of its symptoms then I would tear my house down brick by brick and see all the others down, too, but the houses aren't to blame, I guess, any more than you or I because they're just the manifestations of their constituent parts and I used to not smile just like you and it felt low and dirty and ugly and sometimes my hands would sweat in my pockets because I knew they knew I wasn't looking at them and I knew it made them feel just as it made me feel when they didn't look at me and I didn't want them to feel that way I wanted to tell them that they were the most inspiring intelligent passionate people I've ever known, that they were beautiful and whole and graceful even in their gracelessness but they looked away so I learned to look away because we're all pretty socially awkward here and we all want so desperately to fit in that we'll ignore one another to do it and we do and I did but I don't anymore because it felt wrong and cruel and cold and that's not the way that I was raised and sure it's a different kind of superficiality but at least it's warm, human superficiality that nods to us in the moment, existing with worries and loves and hungers and at the very least there's something we can do better: we can smile.

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