At eighteen I felt that I was being flattened. This great pressure on my head came down from a whirlwind year of cognitive development and a sudden exponential jolt in the quality of my education. In twelfth grade I was assigned, randomly, a series of incredible teachers. So incredible they truly had no place at my high school, which resembled a prison, an aesthetic that encouraged us to behave like prisoners. Drinking Malibu under bridges between classes. Snorting crushed up Percocet off the cafeteria tables (to add sparkle to our science presentations). To paint the most apt picture, when two of our friends had an argument in the smoking pit and one stabbed the other, it was widely accepted that the victim had it coming. It was an appropriate stabbing.
It’s my guess that the International Bachelorette program was installed to thwart this ailing (and long-standing) reputation at my school. So, in addition to an entire campus dedicated to people who had been expelled from all other schools in my town, White Oaks offered a reputable and coveted education program that drew in brainiac students and teachers alike from neighbouring cities.
I wasn’t in this program. But the teachers who were qualified to teach it also had to fill their schedules with pleb classes, too, and for the sake of unspoken democracy, they taught us with the same vigor and content.
By March of my final year of high school, I’d studied the entirety of the Odyssey and the Old Testament so closely that I had entire swaths of passages memorized. I’d written University level case studies on international business. When I consulted a lawyer relative for help with one of my law assignments, he said: if I could answer the questions they’re asking you, I’d be Glopal Subramanian.
All this knowledge falling from what seemed like the heavens crushed me outwards. Coupled with the first year of adulthood, and the sudden onslaught of respect and deference that comes with it, I felt like I constantly had to check the blind spots of my life that were conjured from my new creeping horizon.
It wasn’t just me experiencing this. It was most of us. And then we went to Punta Cana.
Remember yolo? Yolo was big that week. It may even have been the week Zach Efron got it tattooed. Bless his heart.
I don’t think I need to describe in much detail how eighteen-year-olds party at an all-inclusive resort. We drank watered down mamajuana from dusk till dawn. We nearly drowned every time we tried to swim. There weren’t really cellphones yet, so if one of us passed out in the room, we’d write the location of the next bar we were going to on baguettes that we’d teefed from the buffet. MEET AT LOS CANDIDOS LOBBY 10PM WEAR GREEN. So enchanted by the concept of “body shots” we were that we decided to extend it to all the small treasures of the resort, and as such, would regularly eat french-fries and tomato slices off each other’s stomachs.
Our friend Max had an enormous plastic mug that we called the “yolo cup” and would pass around in a never-ending cycle of hands. At one point its contents were beer, tequila, six crushed up Advil, some rocks, and a broken glowstick. I’m sure my blood still has traces of mercury from the yolo cup. Max is sober now.
After a few days of this bleary oblivion something began creeping along our ankles. A shadow. It became harder and harder to only smile when the bartenders would show us photos of their children to evoke higher tips. To walk across newly mopped floors with dirty sandals and see the cleaners begin again behind us with perfect diligence. To see hundreds and hundreds of full-belied and burnt-chested white people accepting the service of locals with grunts and huffs.
We left the resort one day for an “excursion” to a local Dominican coffee farm. It wasn’t my first-time seeing poverty. My parents had friends in the Caribbean growing up, and as small children my sister and I had both seen girls our age with no shoes pattering along dirt roads. But this was my first-time seeing poverty with my new flattered brain. I could not concentrate on the cadence of the tour guide’s voice. Wrong, wrong, wrong, my head pounded, the world is wrong.
That evening I stole away from my girlfriends to meet with Rabbi and Jack and Henry on the beach. The three of them actually were in the International Bachelorette program. Jack would go on to study Philosophy and Economics at York in the UK. Henry worked for Google for a spell. Rabbi vanished for years after one of our friends killed himself and then remerged as a stock trader.
All this to say I wasn’t nearly as smart as them. But I was pretty, and I knew a thing or two about post-rock and anime, so they accepted me into their cabal.
When I think back on it, I see us as kids. But the more precise understanding is that we were at the 5:00 am of our adulthoods. The sun was breaking along the coast of our lives.
We’d lay under the stars listening to Godspeed! You Black Emperor and talk. The daytime binge-drinking and total absence of nutrition made it easy to obliviate our egos by nightfall. We’d talk about the horror of class. About colonization and organization and guilt and Naruto.
I remember feeling the full velocity of how little we knew about anything. It was like every single one of the billion stars we could see was one thing we would never know.
I’m not positive, but I think from then on we’d go to the beach every night. I wouldn’t tell my friends where I was going. I think they thought I was hooking up with someone, which still makes me laugh to this day. Because I felt like I was going to some type of secret church, where all the hedonism of the day would melt away into the ocean. Sometimes we’d cry. I don’t remember why. Maybe we were anticipating the pain of losing our friend nearly a decade later. Feeling his spirit in the saltwater even when it still lived in his body.
Back then, at eighteen, I remember feeling a deep terror that I would eventually lose everything. That I would drift from all these people who were incredibly important to me. My memories, then so vibrant and sharp and imperative, would both blur and eviscerate themselves. In many ways this fear came true. I would go on to lose some of these friends in a manner too terrible to dream of. I would, in fact, not find a catch-all solution or holistic alternative to capitalism.
But I didn’t know that then. Then I only knew that in all likelihood things were going to be okay, and I was grateful to stand on the threshold of the rest of my life with Henry and Jack and Rabbi. It’s been almost ten years since we lay on that beach. I don’t think of them often, but when I do, the memory is deep and dense and what Homer would call wine dark.
As I age, I shed off these layers of life with increasing ease. There is less fear. I can, almost, look into the eyes of someone I love and know that it may be the last time we are together. For whatever reason. The oblivion of it all.
My mind has long stopped stretching. If anything, now, it bends inwards. I forget even the plot of the Odyssey. I’m not sure what China’s GDP is. I can only vaguely hear the voices of my friends in my head.
But I do. Hear them, that is. And I can close my eyes and see that night sky stretching over the Dominican. Now there are some stars that I know.