After four years at Brown, I have amassed a list of the must-do things that I credit with having made my time so special. Treat it like a bucket list, treat it like a guide, or treat it like a nostalgic senior’s reflection on her happiest years.
Against all odds, make your first friends. You’re moving continents to be here, and you don’t know it but you’ve hit the jackpot—the international orientation will hand you your first friends in this place.
Take any chance you get to swap words with someone that speaks a different language. What’s your word for “king”? What’s your word for “goddess”? For “beauty,” for “sorrow,” for “monster”? Don’t be surprised when you discover how many words your languages share. You have four years to find them all. You’ve met Aaron and together you’ll build your own language.
When the girl from a city you’ve never heard of wants to take you down to Waterfire, go with her. Walk in the warm yellow glow, magnified a million times by the folds on the river’s surface. Look, listen, and learn—you’ve met Khushi. You don’t know yet why you see each other so clearly, why this feels so much like talking and so little like translating. You don’t know yet how lucky you are.
Go to the class that lives at the intersection of everything you’ve ever loved. Your hands are shaky, sweaty. You expect too much, and you can’t be prepared for all there will be. The class is called “The Experiment,” and what could be more fitting? Let the science and poetry roll into the grooves in your mind and over the surface of your tongue.
When the pink haired girl asks to sit next to you in “The Experiment,” say yes. Ask her what classes she’s shopping and don’t be surprised when your carts match up, class for class. Get boba between “The Experiment” and Intro to Neuroscience. You’ve found Kyoko—and what are the odds of that?
Take “Lost Languages” with Aaron and fall for it everytime he reaches behind you to tap your right shoulder to trick you. When your first snow falls out the window, you both run out of class into the cold and catch the flakes on your eyelashes.
Go to your first college party. It’s at a bar downtown and it’s for a dance show you didn’t go to. Khushi introduces you to the sweet boy who stands between you and the group of tipsy men. He leans down to catch your nervous mutterings about the crowds and asks, Do you want to leave? And then he makes sure you get home safe. You’ve met Naveen—and through him you’ll meet countless others.
Turn 19 amongst friends. Learn that you’ve taught them well—they make you the perfect cup of birthday chai. Look up at the smiling face on the tall body—this is Aanchal, she’ll be around for the rest of it, and you’re so lucky to know her.
Climb to the top of Macmillan at 6 a.m. Watch the sun rise on the day the world ends, everyone scrambling to fly, drive, get home by any means as everything you have built crumbles around you.
Watch your best friend’s heart break. Stand helpless as she takes herself apart. Hold her as she cries herself back together.
Now do it three more times.
Read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets for a class and fall apart with your best friend who read it for another class. Run right through the deepest blue together. Long for the world in which you live.
Fall in love with Thursday nights. First, on the copy couch with the other nervous new copyeditors. Then, once the world has ended, slip a secret “you look lovely” to your friends through the Zoom chat. Soon, you’ll move to a different office. Same cramped table, same efficient silliness, same room stuffed with tummy-clutching laughter, beautiful people, beautiful words, friends gone, friends fresh and new.
Steel yourself to say goodbye, to say thank you for all of it, to say it’s been so good to know you. Kimberly, Alice, Sam, Joe, Kathy, Tabitha, I feel so lucky. Eleanor, I trust you more than I trust myself. Kyoko, Olivia, Sienna, everyone, thank you for all the years.
Take a class from the other end of the world during the end of the world. Stare into the webcam at 4 a.m. Say what you think—tentatively at first, but then slowly become more sure of yourself—voice shaking from midnight coffee. Look to Aanchal’s Zoom window, watch her nod so you know you’ve made your point, watch the sun come up behind her. You’re in it together.
Take “Neural Systems” from across the globe. Remember that the brain is a beautiful thing. Hold onto the wonder of it, the magnificence of a million molecules that explain everything. Take every class Dr. M offers. Talk to Khushi and Kyoko in winding secret riddles littered with metaphor: Smooth my brain out, make her flat. Give me an amygdalectomy and give it to me now. It’s your basal ganglia, love. To me, you are Clathrin.
Fall in love. It’ll end, it’ll hurt. That’s what you’re scared of, that’s what’ll happen. Fall anyway—hard, fast, deeper than you thought you could, and fall back out. Your friends will try to hold you. Let them. Cling to them so tight you fear you’ll draw blood. You won’t draw blood.
Start to see how lucky you are.
Fill your living room with yellow light and friends. Look at how they smile, at how lovingly they joke; look at us, so happy. The Christmas tree is still up in April, we’re living the stories we’ll tell someday. Look around—they’re so beautiful. Tell them they’re beautiful.
When a friend comes to your birthday party in a slinky black dress and they look so lovely, tell them how lovely they look. When your friend asks to kiss you, say yes.
Sit on the floor with your best friends. End up on the floor of the hallway of the apartment you share. Put your bodies on the floor of your room when you’ve had enough wine to let the words come out all slick and slippery. Hold their hands cupped in yours, look right at them and say it all, say it out of you.
Watch your friends fall in love. Watch as you fall into comfortable friendships with the boyfriends and the girlfriends—you call them your friends-in-law. Watch everyone bloom, happy and warm, held like you knew they should be.
Go to every dance show you can. Scream your friends’ names till your voice is hoarse. Beg them to teach you to dance, pretend to blame them when you can’t make it look as good.
Learn that to you, love is the yellow-lit living room and couches stacked with friends. It is the midnight Baja’s run, the questions that make you think, the little things we each notice about the others. To you, forever is what’s already here.
Against all odds, the time has elapsed. The months passed even when you didn’t believe they would. The stories played out, and then got told over, and over, and over. You’ve lived it, it’s been so full of knowing, and you’ve been so, so lucky. Everyone you’ve learnt and loved is yours to keep.