Molly Smith was going to find the Grand Theft Auto V strip club at any cost. It did not matter that she had a slew of in-game cops trailing her or a seven-hour dance rehearsal the following day. Our suite’s newly-acquired Xbox was hers for the night and hers alone. As her roommate, I watched, transfixed.
Even now, Molly plays GTA V, crashing cars into buildings and reveling in violent chaos, with surprising elegance. While I spoke to her, she unfolded one leg and stretched it forward, as if en pointe. It just makes sense — she’s danced since childhood, a fact that extends to her extracurriculars on campus, where she is a part of both Yale Dancers and Rhythmic Blue.
“It’s like a form of therapy,” she told me. “Every day when I’m running around, doing all the crazy things that a Yale student does, I can go to dance for an hour or two or three… or seven, on Sundays, and I feel peaceful again.”
Molly hails from Clermont, a city right outside of Orlando. She is also what I would call aggressively Floridian, but not at all in the bizarre, upside down Florida-man-goes-downright-insane kind of way. No, Molly is Floridian in that she wears her hair in beachy waves, dons star-shaped earrings and believes, ardently, in ghosts.
Not malicious ghosts, she clarified, but “comforting spirits.” Divine intervention, if you will.
In Clermont, Molly was a child-model-turned-actress-turned-filmmaker. You may recognize her, if you regularly browse 2013 Justice catalogs. Her recent films, social commentaries focusing on memory and perception, have racked up two Student Emmys, seven nominations and a YoungArts award. Her most famous, Dear America, a film about gun violence, prods the audience with the question, “Why must we sit and wait to be shot?”
I asked her about her start in filmmaking.
“I was at an acting workshop as a 12-year-old, and this casting director was going to come and watch us perform scenes,” she replied. “She was notoriously mean… and I was so scared. And I told the acting coach like, ‘I don’t want to do it. I’m scared of this lady.’ And he was like, ‘No. Go write a scene about someone telling you you’re not good enough and perform that for her.’”
It was at this moment that Molly discovered that the storytelling behind the camera would enrapture her more than acting ever could. Today, she remains captivated, not only contributing to but also judging in film festivals, as well as furthering her own personal projects.
“Now, I’m working with an editor and a post-production coordinator to finish up a documentary that’s very personal to me, about my life. About my relationship with my father. It’s called ‘Bridge for the Ocean.’”
“Bridge for the Ocean” is, at its core, a film about a daughter’s struggle to reconcile with her father’s conservatism. “We butt heads a lot, which is kind of what the film is about,” she said, “and so after [my gap year], I saw kind of the value of the things that he grew up on.”
At the same time, it conveys the story of Molly’s gap year in Green Turtle Cay, an island in the Bahamas and a place she has had ties to for her entire life. Her father, who first chartered boats through the Bahamas in college, began visiting the cay routinely in adulthood. Eventually, he started bringing Molly with him.
The people there, she said, are like her family. From them, she learned how to live on her own for the first time, how to cultivate family dynamics and honor the day of rest. Bahamian life was, in many ways, significantly more traditional and religiously oriented than what she was accustomed to. It was also much more languid, undisturbed by the reaches and over-saturation of flashy American materialism. During the day, Molly and her friends would take a boat out on the ocean and spear fish for their dinner. At night, the sky was unclouded by light pollution. She could see the stars.
“In the Bahamas, you could finally see what the sky really looked like,” she frowned, wistfully. “You weren’t clouded by… this fast-paced life and all these choices. It’s kind of like a step back in time for a moment.”
After three months in the Bahamas, she came back to Florida, a return that was, unfortunately, not as pleasant.
“There were a lot of times where I sort of felt like a failure,” Molly admitted, quietly. Like many Yale students, she is plagued by the immense pressure to reach perfection. And she felt she had made it when she was admitted from a high school that didn’t regularly see Ivy League acceptances. Her community, too, had erupted with reverence.
“But when I decided to take a gap year, a lot of people thought I dropped out. And I hated that,” she grimaced in recollection. “I was working at the mall, and I saw a lot of students from my high school, and they would be like, ‘Oh, Molly dropped out, and now she’s working at the mall!’ And, you know, obviously, that wasn’t true, but I felt like a dropout.”
And while she would constitute working at American Eagle as a valuable experience, it was also, like most retail jobs, indubitably distressing.
“There was actually a time where, like, a customer yelled at me and told me I was never gonna go anywhere in life and that I was a horrible associate because I messed up something on the register,” she said. “The general public is so mean. That’s kind of what I take away from it, but it was good for me to do that. I worked there for a year and a half, and I have a new appreciation for service workers now.”
Whenever Molly enters our room, she’ll either greet me with a nonchalant “Hey,” a cheerful “Eeeris!” or, my favorite — “Hello, baby bird!” More often than not, she’ll report the latest on Librex.
“I just, there’s something so honest about it,” she explained, giggling. “It’s people trolling each other and horny people on the same app, and I think there’s just something so lovely about that.”
I also cannot write about Molly without mentioning this: she has an astounding ability to replicate the exact inflection and strange, gravelly timbre of Lin Manuel Miranda’s voice. Ask her about her impression, and she’ll burst into song — “LIGHTS UP on Washington HEIGHTS UP at the break of day…”
If you ask Molly for genuine song recommendations, though, she’ll immediately resort to “Potato Salad,” written by her friend, Elise, whom she met at a music camp. It was actually Molly’s goal, for a while, to make “Potato Salad” reach viral status on campus, just by virtue of playing it for every Yalie that stepped foot into our suite. “The lyrics are crazy. It’s great!” she exclaimed. “What does she say, ‘Let’s drop some acid and eat potato salad?’ I think that’s fucking awesome.”
In the corner of Molly’s room lies a wooden shank, a gift from her FOOT leader. It’s only fitting that Molly owns this — like her shank, she is beautiful and terrifyingly sharp, an ultra-capable warrior princess. Our suite jokes, she could take the remaining seven of us in a fight and still emerge victorious. There is a highly-disciplined, but similarly unquelled ferocity to her.
Molly possesses sensitivity and softness just the same. She perceives, with staggering clarity, very slight changes in atmosphere and emotion. Out of the entire suite, she gives the most hugs, especially when she notices a suitemate in low spirits. And she is blatantly unafraid, as she puts it, to express herself. Maybe that is why we have such spectacular drunk girl moments: on one fateful Friday night out, following the momentous birth of our Snackpass chicken, Molly grabbed my face and crooned into my ear: “I’d go to war for you, queen!!!” This particular instance has stayed with me to this day.
Sober moments with Molly are equally as precious, including, but not limited to: Molly carrying me down a mountain after I had sustained an injury; curling up in our Target-kids-section bean bag chairs during a collective all-nighter; picking out sundried tomatoes, together, from our GHeav breakfast sandwiches; listening to Molly playing her original song, “Adults Are All Children,” on the Davenport piano. While I reminisced over these instances, Molly was cackling gleefully, as the purple glow of the GTA strip club finally saturated our common room — a shared moment of respite after a long, harrowing week.
It occurred to me, as I watched her fiddling with the Xbox controller, that our quiet coexistence as roommates, stripped of the overt displays of friendship, is likely what sisterhood is. To trust without experiencing inhibition, to give without demanding reciprocation. How can I look at Molly — incisive, arresting, precocious Molly — how can I look at her and not realize, I’d go to war for her, too?