Lately, I've been waking up every Monday morning, eyes half-shut and hair too tangled to even consider combing, with one firm resolution. This weekend, I tell myself seriously, I'm not going out. I'm locking myself in the cavern of my basement. I'm going to turn off my cell phone (or at the least refrain from looking at it for an hour or two) and put on my yoga tape. I'm going to sit cross-legged in sweatpants, pull up an empty Word document, and let myself spend hours in the world as I write it. I close my eyes and smile at the idea. By the time I sit down to eat breakfast, I can hardly wait for the weekend to come.
And on Friday, when I find myself hunched over a half-drunken pitcher of sangria and plate smeared with sour cream where a stack of nachos had existed mere minutes before beginning their journey towards digestion, I remember my resolution. The bar, with its loud lights and speakers blaring Top 40, doesn't look anything like my basement...
"What's wrong with me?" I ask my friend who has started to slide her fingers over the empty plate, gathering up the last bits of guacamole to pop into her mouth.
"Nothing," she says immediately. I look at her with disbelief in my eyes. "Really,” she adds, wiping her lips with my napkin, "I don't see anything wrong with you."
Even though her voice is genuine, I groan anyway. The cycle of week-long drudgery followed by weekend debauchery has proven itself to be in full effect.
It’s a pattern I thought I had broken. After spending the past year teaching English at a university in Medellin, Colombia, I thought I had left all my bad habits behind. Waking up early for daily runs and going on solo backpacking trips into the mountains, I felt healthier than at any other point in my life. I had learned how to live without a cell phone. I had adjusted to spending weekends in my apartment, watching movies and getting to sleep by 10 p.m.
The peculiarity of living abroad is detachment from the usual markers of your identity. Oceans away from your everyday social network, the relationships you normally use to define yourself become frustratingly useless. No longer are you your parents' child or your best friend's friend. You are tasked with the responsibility of inventing yourself from scratch, and with that inevitably comes loneliness. One of the first things people want to know about strangers is where they come from. If it seems too abstract, if people can't place you in their understood scheme of time and place and love, many will be reluctant to befriend you. We are creatures of habit; we like what we know. I grew accustomed to countless nights alone.
I was nervous to come back to New York, where I knew I’d fall prey to old vices. It seems strange that here in the city, where I have plenty of people to remind me of who I am, where I live in my parents' house and always have someone to call for advice (or late night escapades), I feel lonelier than I ever did in Medellin. I peruse my Facebook aimlessly, check my phone compulsively, and browse through my email for hours at a time, waiting for something to happen. I go on dinner dates with friends and leave my cell phone, face up, on the table. I attempt to start conversations via text that end soon after hello. In Colombia, there were no old flings to text at 2:00 a.m. on Friday after realizing that not only had my favorite bar been packed with droves of high schoolers, but also that nobody had hit on me all night.
Back home, it’s much too easy. Within a month of landing, I've already woken up twice in his apartment.
"After all of this time," I message him, "I'm still contacting you. Why?"
But the text doesn't give way to the desperate severity of my voice. Either that or he doesn't take me seriously enough to heed it.
"Lmao. Wanna come over?"
Looking up at the Empire State Building, I can remember the appeal of the world's greatest city. Even if you were born and raised here, New York is big enough to allow anonymity. I could sit at Union Square and watch hoards of people march by without recognizing a single face. There are endless opportunities to be alone.
But I haven't been alone since I've been back. Instead, I've surrounded myself by groups of people, having drinks at hours at which I should be sleeping. As soon as I touched down in the States, I already let what the blogosphere refers to as FMO, or fear of missing out, get the best of me. But I was missing out, at least in the physical sense (I haven't deactivated my Facebook a single time since the day I created it at 16 years old), for over ten months while I was in Colombia. What makes me so anxious about it now? What could possibly be happening to my cellphone that makes going fifteen minutes without looking at it so unbearable?
Over Mexican food and sangria, my friend always has the right answers. Nothing is wrong with you. Nothing is happening. Learn to live in your old world again, where the constant, unending buzz of cellphones and computers never turns off unless you turn it off yourself. Learn to stay out of restaurants and bars every weekend—they'll still be there for the next. The city never sleeps. But you definitely do.
Friday is here. I wake up from frantic dreams. The morning unfolds in panes of gray light, a cat outstretching her paws. I begin making breakfast, on instinct, and wonder how long I can tolerate myself, how much time I'll let Stephanie see Stephanie today.
I take a deep breath and sit down to write.