“Hey! So I know I said that we would hang out this weekend but I actually picked up a couple of extra shifts so I don’t think I’m gonna be able to… ah god I know, I suck, I really want to see you! But I really need to work and if we hang out after I get off then I’m just gonna be so tired and I won’t be able to drink, so… but I definitely want to see you before I go!”
As Carly sent the message, she wondered if she made a mistake. It took her five minutes to draft up the two-sentence statement, and another thirty minutes to actually send it after a pacing session in her room. The days before Korea were slowly decreasing (24, but who’s counting?), and the chores to be done and items to be bought and paperwork to be filled out before leaving were piling up by the hour. Making time to spend quality time with friends before leaving felt like a hassle — a distraction from the truly pressing matters that needed to be taken care of. Friends could wait — a visa application could not.
Of course her friends were important to her — and to be honest, she knew she’d be regretting avoiding them in a few months after settling into life in Korea and the homesickness began to set in — but secretly she was relieved every time an excuse like work or paperwork came up so that she could dodge their invitations and requests guilt-free. She’d always been an introvert, and the summer lifestyle was a certain type of bliss for her — no lectures in which to make small talk with classmates, no socially-mandated events at which to make half-hearted appearances, and, best of all, a room to herself — which she tried each year to cherish before the Autumn, and all it’s people-schmoozing glory, returned.
She threw her phone to the end of her bed and lay down on her back, staring at the ceiling fan with a missing bulb and the dangling basketball pull-chain leftover from her “I want to be a basketball player!” days. As she closed her eyes to escape the dizzying flicker of light from the blades of the fan, a giant brown mass appeared in her mind’s eye. It swirled and swayed, amoeba-like in its movements, and as it moved faster and faster, fragments began to break off. These fragments also swirled and swayed and spun, and after each fragment had made itself into a seemingly-infinite spiral, the colors grew brighter, and each fragment transformed itself into a face of one of her closest friends. She opened her eyes so she could roll them — could her brain be any more dramatic? She cared about her friends, and she knew that they cared about her, but the love that she felt for friends and loved ones was not a love that needed to be nourished by constant face-to-face contact. Of course she understood the importance of this type of contact, but she was perfectly capable of having very little contact with a friend for months – years, even – and still feel the same love she had always felt for them. She didn’t know if this ability was matched by her friends, however, and so, for not the first time that night, had second thoughts about blowing off her plans.
She wasn’t a hermit. She did enjoy spending time with her friends. A lot of times it was the preparation that was the hardest part — the getting dressed, the putting on makeup, the doing of the hair. More so, the commute to the meeting spot and the money she knew she’d have to spend on food and drinks and other miscellaneous 22-year-old goodies. Usually once she arrived and saw the familiar faces, she felt at (relatively) at ease and happy to be around those she cared about. There were times, however, that did not flow so easily and that served as examples (and excuses) for her “I don’t want to hang out with anyone” attitude.
You see her head was a very busy place. Impossible to turn off, impossible to escape. She had too much floating around in the ol’ noggin, and found it incredibly difficult to collect her thoughts and project them into one clear stream of consciousness. She’d learned to deal with this difficulty by having conversations and playing out realities in her head — her mind had become a television, broadcasting interviews, soap operas, talks shows, and sitcoms, all made of up characters from her everyday life and fake situations she pretended to control. But when she was around someone else, this person interrupted her mind shows and scrambled her thoughts again. The conversation didn’t flow like the ones in her head. She didn’t have as much time to think about her responses and the other person didn’t always respond the way she imagined they would. She being around people became anxiety-inducing and embarrassing. She criticized every moment of the interaction, even those interactions with her closest friends. She second-guessed every word and cringed at every reaction. The self-scrutiny became too exhausting for her, and she yearned to be alone again.
But she knew she would miss the company once she moved abroad. The hands she could hold, the laughs she could hear, the advice she could receive, the music she could share. She would miss the familiarity — the names she knew and the faces she loved. She had never lived alone (at least, not TRULY alone — she didn’t count her single dorm room during freshman year as she was surrounded by 30 other 18-year-olds within 50 yards) and she had never been abroad alone. She’d never been on vacation alone. She was known to see a movie alone and dine at a restaurant without company from time to time, but just hours later she would arrive home, to a house full of family or a college residence hall full of classmates. Throughout her senior year of college, the year leading up to the big move, she longed for the single studio apartment waiting for her in South Korea — the apartment without roommates or guests where she could spend hours alone doing whatever she pleased without being judged as a social pariah or accused of being minorly agoraphobic. She had, after too many parties and too many awkward interactions, convinced herself she was ready to be alone, but as each day passed she felt more afraid that she wouldn’t like it.