Last week, I paused my Spotify playlist while I followed two strangers through Cross Campus. I was about to play a new song when I heard one stranger say to the other, “Imagine what it’s like to live here.”
They stood on the pavement and spun around to admire Berkeley and the expanse of trim grass between Calhoun and WLH. The second said, “Oh, there’s no way they don’t take this place for granted. I’m sure of it.”
Something felt funny when I heard this exchange. I felt guilty at first that I don’t think much about how lucky I am to attend this institution. I am lucky to work with professors I admire and befriend students who help me grow. We have a Gutenberg bible and van Gogh’s “Night Café.” We have gorgeous libraries with plush, paprika carpets and cozy bedrooms inside of literal towers.
By many standards, my junior spring has been a good semester. I became even closer to some of my closest friends. I went on a lot of inconsequential coffee dates. I wrote poems that don’t make me feel like cringing. I’m stronger than I was last year; I’m happier than I was last semester. However, I don’t know if I’d call myself happy the way I think I should be.
Last week, I called my mother. I told her some good news about my major that she didn’t really understand, and so I got grumpy. This led to a 45-minute conversation that involved some shouting. She said she didn’t understand why I seemed so displeased. I didn’t really know what to say. I think I croaked that things had been hard, and I was in the process of getting better.
My mother didn’t go to college when she was young. She quit school to marry my dad, and then she supported him through law school. When he left her years later, she decided to start earning her bachelor’s degree at the age of 37. I was nine, and my brothers were six and two. At the time, we lived in the suburbs of Boston. My mother took a full course load while raising three kids. When we moved to South Florida in 2006, she transferred to St. Thomas University, and graduated with a degree in sociology and criminal justice.
To keep things afloat, I had to help out around the house. I babysat my brothers a lot growing up. I was used to being responsible for other people and things. I had to unload the dishwasher and unpack the lunchboxes. I needed to make sure the boys actually showered on the nights when mom had a test coming up. My mother now works full-time, and my brothers are starting college and high school this year. My family doesn’t need much of my help. They can fend for themselves. The boys actually care now about how they smell.
For the past few years at college, I’ve only had to take care of myself. But somehow, that’s been harder than my old list of chores. Some days, I don’t want to get out of bed. Some days, I am scared of all the horrible things that have happened because I am afraid more awful things could happen. I am not yet ready to talk about those scary things on such a public platform. My world is so much bigger than it was before college.
There’s a part of me that wants to address those Cross Campus strangers and give them a detailed list: Here are my reasons to be unhappy.
I have some very compelling reasons. I have dealt with trauma! My childhood was difficult! I am allowed to be upset about those things. As a dear friend told me once, “When you feel so miserable and unsafe at Yale, all of its beauty and privilege feels like a big joke.” You can’t enjoy this place when you’re miserable.
I get angry with myself sometimes for not being happier because, unlike my mother, I am going to school at the expected time. I don’t have to worry about making dinner or signing field trip permission slips. I just have to manage my own life, as big and scary as it can sometimes be.
I’m trying to be more optimistic. I’m forcing myself to come up with lists of things to be happy about: when finals are over I get to see my cat, there are sometimes avocados in the JE dining hall, I’ve been listening to a lot of Shania Twain lately.
I’m doing it for myself and for my mom. By the end of our phone call last week, she said, “I just want you to be happy.”
But the truth is, as a human being, my relationship with my environment is allowed to be complicated — regardless of the admit rate.
Adriana Miele is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .