The young man sat in a terminal for a long time, simply thinking. His flight had been indefinitely delayed, and he filled the vacant time mulling over fragmentary memories of his first semester at college. His mind was fried from finals, weary with winter, and he longed for a smooth passage home. The more time he slept on the journey the less time he would have to dissect the peculiar pattern in the months that had just elapsed. It was distinguishable and yet indistinct like the wash of people milling past him toward their allotted gates and unknown destinations.
The young man hadn’t taken stock of his new life, and so “peculiar” was all these months were to him—nothing more sinister, nothing more romantic. He had hoped to procrastinate the examination of life at college a little longer, perhaps until he could no longer convince himself that the routine descriptions he gave to relatives of classes, dining hall food, and weather had been the real college experience with which he was neglecting coming to terms. The “real” had been a recurrent conversation amongst his peers that first semester, as if suddenly they were grown up and ready to cast the larger questions of life upon the canvas of a newfound campus in a classic case of first year existentialism. The young man had lingered quietly on the rim of these discussions that were no doubt driven by some adolescent insecurity.
He had not considered what it had been like to enact fantasies he’d dreamt up for years in high school. There had been no numinous moment, no second of clarity in which he felt he understood exactly what it all meant. All, however, was the problem itself; a vague, aimless, wandering word that held no authority over any of the young man’s experiences. Perhaps if he had joined a quirky student club, had not insisted on taking principles of economics, had bought himself a fake ID, had challenged his sexuality, or had fallen in love he might have found a niche in which to blossom. But he had kept to a straight, narrow path all the way up to this moment in the airport.
Still, he hadn’t felt anything. Even when the snow had fallen in early December, carpeting the campus in dustings of white, he hadn’t cared to spend too much time away from his books. What had it meant to carve new spaces? To be free? To change? How much had he changed? Would those who had known him before recognize something different about him, and would they comment upon it or simply keep the considerations to themselves? Would change be evident in the way he wore a coat, or would it be subtler, lingering in academic words he used to discuss newfound ideas?
Had friends changed? Would old flames rekindle on the spur of conversation, or would there be some withholding from boys-no-longer who sensed their old skins shredded? Would they meet in that spot they always had, or would there be some unspoken rift separating their pasts from the present?
Would home smell the same? Would he know its walls like a home he had grown up in? Would his bedroom be untouched? Could he meld into former habits, or had he become ridged and set in newfound ways? Did he have newfound ways? If he did, were they of his own making, or had they been brushed onto him by people from other parts? Would his family notice these abrupt changes in character, or would only he realize that he had changed? He would have to wait and see, he supposed.
The young man looked about the terminal. It was a sterile, bustling place, and he resented it. But was it not similar to the purposeful way so many students marched about campus? So many with self-important destinies to fulfill. Was he misguided to have firm opinions about a place he hardy knew? Was he misguided to have firm opinions at all? He was, after all, only 18 years old. Was that not why in all academic papers he was forbidden to write “I”? Because at such a young age, what did “he” know?
He glanced about the waiting room and stumbled upon a face he was certain he recognized. The inevitable mental tug-of-war ensued until the young man remembered he had seen her in a student play the week before last. She had played the supporting actress. He had read her short bio in the program and felt embarrassed about the amount of information he had retained. They went to the same college. Did that allow him to strike up a conversation with her? Shouldn’t it? He wasn’t sure. She was distant and self-assured, so contained within her own world that he dared not disturb it. Besides, she was older than he—a junior at the least. But wasn’t college supposed to be a time when age ceased to be a barrier to friendship? Wasn’t it? He wasn’t sure. Was it presumptuous to want talk to someone who was a complete stranger, a person whose only connection to him was the school they both attended? He wasn’t sure. The young man stood up and began to walk toward an uncertain destination.
Richard Whiddington is a Columbia College junior majoring in East Asian languages and cultures. Whiddy Banter runs alternate Thursdays.
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