My instructor interrupts my staring contest with the concrete. I reduce the pendulum path of the sub I am eating to a gentle sway, straighten my posture, and finish the first crunch of my potato chip.
“Great! See you then.” She keeps walking, hair blowing west with the lake breeze, and I return to my dorm.
The proximity of the boom from the fireworks jolts the path of my blue liquid eyeliner. After a few mild expletives and a fleeting glare of frustration into the mirror, I dab a Q-tip in makeup remover and correct the imperfection.
When my right eye is finished, I try to catch a glimpse of the display. To no avail, I lean out the window to the point where a passerby may think I’m trying to escape a fire. The onomatopoeias become louder, but the vibrant hues and their cascading ashes remain out of my view.
Disappointed, I return to paint my canvas. Subdued red on the lid, shimmery white below the brow, and a bold streak of blue, sharpened like a butcher’s knife, along my lash line.
Pleased with the mediocre product, I sit crisscross applesauce huddled under a blanket, finish the second half of my sandwich, and wait for the fireworks crowd to return.
As the last hours of the first week passed by on the screen of my phone, I realized I didn’t have any friends. There were a few people with whom I made small talk at meals, but most of my free time had been spent with headphones in my ears, an electronic screen lighting my face, or a curler pushing my eyelashes to their aesthetic limits.
I found friends eventually. We shopped together, drank lattes together, played Cards Against Humanity together, assigned each cherub a Pokemon together, improvised a scene in which Mickey and Minnie Mouse try to rekindle their failing marriage together.
But most days, I spent at least an hour, whether it be in my room or at Unicorn Cafe or among the American Apparel sale racks, alone. I contemplated everything, from why Nina Flowers didn’t win season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race to why people shoot up movie theaters, from my future as an investigative journalist to my future as a barista by day, second-rate Shania Twain impersonator by night, from my desire to become something to my instinct to give up. They were topics that were either too esoteric, too acerbic, too depressing, or too personal to discuss; these things could only be considered while waiting for my soy latte to cool off and listening to echoing indie rock.
Before I found a group of friends, I regretted all the time I spent alone. I feared I was wasting my parents’ money by not experiencing the program to its fullest. I wanted to have a social life, but I also wanted to go home.
I learned, however, that isolation isn’t always a bad thing. I may have missed out on a funny conversation or a trip to Whole Foods or a walk on the beach, but when I balanced my time with friends with my time with myself, I was at my happiest.
As I lay on the floor, trying to think of an experience essay that won’t be shot down by the editors and still be interesting enough to warrant five minutes of a stranger’s time and listening to Tame Impala’s “The Moment,” my instructor walks by, hair tied in a messy bun after a protracted Sunday of workshops.
“You coming?” she asks, punctuating the fact that a lecture starts in less than 5 minutes.