I moved into my dorm on a spotless Sunday afternoon. After sharing a tearful goodbye with my mother, who had an especially difficult time dealing with my leave for school, I immediately started to search out the friends I had made in group chats in the months leading up to my arrival. We all had something in common, whether it was being gay, people of color, low-income or maybe just a love of anime and Lana Del Rey. It was supposed to be our week and yet, right from the first day, nobody seemed that enthused to meet up. It was lethargy that, to my utter disappointment, would define Welcome Week.
NYU meant something to me that I realized it didn’t mean to other students. It meant an unexplored experience of freedom — a liberation of my entire self. It wasn’t just about the fact that I could stay up as long as I wanted or sneak a Mike’s Hard back into my room, it was about the way I could move about in my very own space, with decorations that made me happy, filled with the scents that made me happy and most importantly, filled with the whimsy of newfound friends that were supposed to make me happy. These desires may seem insignificant and small. But growing up, I didn’t have a parent or friend that supported unfettered self-expression. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over, and I was shamed for my love of things old and delicate.
Rewind to earlier that afternoon, I was bubbly and busy affixing to the wall dusty plaques and clocks I had thrifted, much to my mother’s dismay. The only comfort I felt was in the thought that I would make friends who would tell me how cool I was and how my aesthetic is perfect. I kept thinking back to all the lame meme jokes and group conversations that kept me up at night. They never showed up. I spent the first day trying to bring those relationships to life, but only a couple of people were as eager as I was.
I tried going to a wine night a couple of floors below me. This would be it. I was sure of it. We sat in a circle and ingested the artificial pleasure only the soft red liquid could provide. My stomach turned, but not from the wine. It’s not like I would have ever admitted it, but I was scared that someone was going to ask me to pay for it. Yes, it would have only been a couple of dollars, but I had just purchased everything for my dorm, so my bank account was emptier than the conversations we were having over corner store wine.
But the next week would be the best of my life, right? I would kiss strangers and find out how I like my martinis and get lewd looks from other boys and befriend pretty girls and host them in my room while we did edibles or something else to rid ourselves of inhibition. It would be an adventure straight out of “Palo Alto” or “Lady Bird.”
Yet, the following days consisted of the same awkward encounters with people I had met online. The Welcome Week events NYU provided weren’t nurturing friendships — they were boring. I went to a concert at the Brooklyn campus and even casino night in Kimmel. I wandered around these events with my friend, both of us cross-faded for the hell of it. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have relied on substances to facilitate social interactions. It’s not like it helped, anyway.
The worst was when I had absolutely nothing or no one to keep me busy, when I would just watch people live out my dreams for me on Instagram or Snapchat. It seemed as if everyone else was set in their friend groups. Every species of clique coalesced around me while I stood alone. Packs of rich hillbillies, internationals, fake communists, techie incels, you name it, there was a group that formed at some point within the first week. Maybe I let social media brainwash me into thinking everyone was having more fun than me. Perhaps despite the apparent access to (social) capital my peers had, they too spent evenings lonely and worrying about the future.
But some things were out of my control. I heard from other students that Welcome Week parties hosted at clubs were catalysts for proper social interactions. I couldn’t afford them (they’re dominated by straight people anyway — no harm done, I guess), so they were out of the question. I got invited to explore the city, but I knew these excursions weren’t free as they always required MetroCard swipes and almost invariably ended with lunches or dinners at incompatibly fine restaurants.
I couldn’t give up. I didn’t get this far by letting frustration get the best of me. No matter what, I still had my interests. I still had my passion for writing. I joined the newspaper, this newspaper. I had always spoken with kindness when meeting new people, no matter who they were. I credit my affability with being the biggest reason my social life bloomed, even if it did take a semester or two. I made friends with some beautiful women that make me feel beautiful, and we’ve had a couple of misadventures.
As the cooling days welcome me back to NYU and I decorate my room with wooden crosses and old floral prints, the most I have to make me feel content in my freedom is that no matter how long it’s taken me to get here, what matters is that I am. And as long as this is true, I have a potential to be and see and do what I want. Surely, I won’t let anyone, or anything, take that from me again.
Read more from Under the Arch’s “The City of Dreams and Disillusionment” Issue. Email Alejandro Villa Vásquez at [email protected]