I’m in my room in my family’s home right now, on spring break. There’s a sense of comfort to this room, because it contains all the clutter of my childhood: my ten-year-old Dell notebook, still chugging along fine on Linux; my electric typewriter; my hundreds of books, not just the few I was able to bring to Princeton; my viola; some of the weird clothes I used to wear to school, many years ago; my big, soft bed that’s low to the ground and perfect for lying on, on my stomach, with a computer—or a book.
Because this time, when I come home, things are different. I feel adjusted to college now. I love college. And that’s not like it was my first two breaks, when I sat in my room all day on the computer, caught in this weird limbo between high school and college, not really happy with either situation. Before I decided I had to explain how I was feeling, I was sprawled on my bed reading (reading Norman Mailer for class, but still), something I hadn’t done in a long time. And before that, I was downstairs, sitting on the couch, something I used to very rarely do. It’s true, my cousins are visiting, and I wanted to socialize with them, but I find myself craving the community space regardless. Sitting at my kitchen table with my computer and idly checking Facebook, but in reality watching the action around me, is not too different from doing the same thing in the dining hall during my two-hour lunches.
And, you know, there was a time—a time not too long ago, maybe just a few weeks or a few months ago—when I would have regretted deeply that I wasn’t doing anything more interesting on Saturday night than lying on the couch babbling at my mom and my cousins about nothing. There was a time when I would have been deeply depressed that Saturday night meant time to sit and stare at Facebook and YouTube in the company of my family. But I don’t think that’s valid anymore. Maybe it is at school, a bit, when I wonder about how lame I am, but I don’t know. I think things are changing in me and around me.
This morning, I went to Target with my mom. We drove through my neighborhood, and the place where I’ve lived since 1999 looked so alien to me. I couldn’t believe that the sterile suburban streets with the identical houses and the Southern California chaparral were real, almost. I expect to see collegiate Gothic pretension, and lots of grass, and deciduous trees. I expect to see lots of college kids, not families with young children in minivans. It was weird. It was another planet. It was culture shock. And there’s so much you could say about that, about what a privileged monster I’m becoming that the stone edifices of the north end of Princeton’s campus are normal, but hey. That’s how it goes, man.
The world I live in now is so different from high school. I can’t begin to emphasize that enough. In the world I live in now, I am autonomous—and so it’s culture shock when my mom asks me to set the table. But in the world I live in now, I also spend a lot of time eating bad food by myself—and so it was one of the most wonderful experiences imaginable to sit down to our dining table with my parents, my sister, and my cousins, and eat Syrian food that my mom and cousin had cooked. It’s great to have family in-jokes. It’s great that, a while after dinner, my cousins and I sat laughing hysterically at The Muppet Show on YouTube. And it’s great that it’s ten minutes to midnight, it’s Saturday, and I’m not somewhere getting drunk. I don’t really care if people do that. I mean, I guess it’s a fine idea in theory. But it’s not me. It never was. Instead, I’m looking forward to watching my high school play quizbowl on Thursday. I’m excited about the cool shirt I got from the Target little boys’ dress clothes. I’m worrying about all the schoolwork and job-work I need to do. And I’m both enjoying the time spent with my family and looking to get back to my little fantasyland of stone towers and hardwood floors, long dining tables and famous professors, and the constant busyness and stress of doing fulfilling and engaging and stimulating work. I know I’ve been banging on a lot about this lately, but I’ve been trying to find a social circle and a way of life for quite a few years now, and I’ve never felt so fulfilled as I do right now. I haven’t been to the Street (Princetonese: Prospect Street, where the eating clubs are) in weeks, the longest breaks I take from working are for food, and yet I am so, so happy. Of course I’m glad for the break. Of course I’m glad for a real bed, real food, and the company of my family. Of course I’m glad for sleep and a slightly slower pace of life. But going to college has been the greatest thing that’s happened to me so far in my life, and it’s weird to see myself change because of it. It’s going to take a lot of getting used to, and I’m already worrying about the people I’m alienating because of it. But what can I do? Welcome to the rest of my life.