I learned in my first semester of college that privacy can be hard to find. I needed to get comfortable taking my bra off around my roommate or taking a shit knowing that everyone outside in the bathroom heard. But I expected that from my new home. I didn’t expect the lack of privacy in my personal life.
As much as I liked my roommate, it made me uncomfortable knowing she listened to what I said on the phone or saw me if I cried. I found this especially challenging when my dad called me on a chilly November night announcing he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be with my mom anymore. This ignited a storm of calls from my parents, each one using me as a conduit for insight into the other. During these long calls, I found solace in hidden spaces. This posed a problem, as few of those places exist in a first- year dorm area.
So, I took shelter by the graveyard across the street from my dorm. I found it close enough to walk to whenever someone called, but also secluded because, well, who hangs out at a graveyard at 10 p.m.? I sat with my back against taupe stone walls and listened through my phone to empty voices trying so hard to press their reasoning into my skull. Their hands pulled affirmation, truth and justification from my mouth while I just wanted the call to end so I wouldn’t be caught crying in a graveyard.
I stared at the stones trying to mirror back their faces while holding this crisis at arm’s length. I failed to realize that among the dried leaves and greying headstones stood the blatant fact that I kept returning to that place not for privacy, but to bury something: a wish that endured from long ago. Yet over the years, it began to slip away at night without any notice or alarm. However, this time, it commanded a conscious burial.
While I mourned the death of my happy, normal family, I also mourned the lost hope of having a family of my own. I felt cursed to the same fate as my parents. I took it upon myself to never let anyone know how hollow I felt. I never wanted my face seen without a smile and I wanted to appear like I held it all together. But my first semester proved hard. The cheery faces of my new classmates made me feel this enormous pressure to appear that way too.
I had to be fit, beautiful and, smart and feel wanted, but I felt more out of place. I encased myself in layers of wax, trying to hide the flaws I always noticed. My parent’s separation made me feel like a broken toy. I wondered if fate meant for me to have this kind of life that I got thrown into. I worried that I began to wander down the familiar path of my parents: college, job, marriage, kids, divorce. I thought of love as a well that would inevitably run dry. I carried these fears with me every day and failed to scrape them off my skin.
One night, my mom called while I lay in my bed. Tired, stressed and grumpy from calorie counting, I answered hoping she might talk about how my finals were going and not bring up my dad. Alas, she asked for any new information he told me. The thought of sitting out in the cold again chilled me. I decided lose my everything-is- okay-filter knowing very well my roommate was there. At some point during the call, my roommate left and my stomach dropped.
I hung up the phone and tried to quickly wipe away the tears that welled up. I wondered how much she heard. As my door opened slowly, I saw my roommate and our hallmate (both of whom I lived with the following year) peek in their heads. They sat on my bed and started asking questions. “What happened?” “Was that your mom?” But most importantly, “Are you okay?”
I started crying but played it off like I was okay, but the strangest thing followed my tears. My friends showed no indifference or judgement, but empathy, hugs and tears to match. This began a change that I’m still working through. I discovered that I fall guilty to the folly of a stone face. I tried so hard to make it appear like I felt fine and nothing was too much to handle, but inside I hurt and it got hard to hold myself together every morning.
I discovered that when we cut off our outlets, we drown in our troubles. Faces cannot exist as stones. They possess expression, and sometimes that expression can reflect sadness, anger or worry. Humans fail to carry the burdens of this world alone, we live as social creatures that need to rely on each other whether we want to or not. Since then, I worked on balancing how I share the load of my worries. And, although, it has been difficult, I now know that I am not alone. I’ll never be.