Photo Credit: Cleo Guerrero

In the first months at Yale, I stumbled, tripped and gargled the words of others. In my room, cupping my hands around tea that burned my tongue, I panicked about gazes I thought were heavy with intent to hurt, reviewing interactions that had strung me as tight as rope. I was heightened with the desire to protect myself, and so I judged others by the metric of if they expressed their love the same way I did, to say the same lines I’d traded with my closest friends at home. When the interactions here didn’t fit into the skeleton of a vocabulary I’d gathered, I froze, shutting myself off from people who I thought felt no regard for me, interpreting each puzzled conversation as a mystery I would never access.

Arriving at Yale, I grappled with correctly interpreting the various ‘dialects’ of expression that ebbed around me. Between the nebulous core of what people meant and the battalions of their words, I’d spend so much time attempting to pry them open and peer inside, but fell painfully short each time — coming up with interpretations based on my own past. When I floundered with hesitation, I tried even harder to understand every word spoken, to match the smoothness and brilliance of everyone around me, but the smallest hesitations would settle in me as a cold expression of their disappointment in me — a gaze shifting away, a sentence lapsing into ellipses, in my most stiffened days.   

This anxiety crescendoed as time passed. I irrevocably believed that I didn’t belong in my suite, and these other girls were ready to leave me behind at any moment. In rooms half-past midnight, their casual jokes and quickened laughter and empty, quiet moments read to me as a lack of concern, and my paralysis made it more and more difficult for me to let my guard down. I cocooned myself in my own descriptions of what friendship should have looked like. Even meticulously planning out text-scheduled meals after my classes, I felt disillusioned and disconnected, unsure why I couldn’t break past the wall of small talk.

Lately, I’ve been learning to exist in space. Rather than sharing a meal, I want to knock on more doors, sleep on more beanbags; I’ve asked all my friends to share their locations with me so I can come to their rooms and watch the snow drift outside together while we play jazz. Observing people in their natural state, sans the pretense of interaction, allows you to see more of their dimensions. The people I’ve become closest to here, I don’t remember becoming friends with. We shared space; we shared vulnerabilities, unpacking and knowing by heart the unspoken complexities of whatever had transpired in a room; we fell asleep on leather couches together over steaming rice and glasses of wine and television shows still playing their theme music; we cried together — perhaps by accident the first, second or third time — until we began to seek each other out, hoping for that spark of warmth that we have learned to nurture together, our backs shielding it against the wind. 

There’s no need to force yourself to be vulnerable or authentic, to reveal shards of your secrets in the desperate gamble for others to listen to you, like you are rewriting your life with each Blue State coffee. Sitting in the Koffee? annex on a rainy afternoon, my friend tells me, “Love is a verb, not a noun.” Beyond munching on Trumbull’s pad thai once a week next to the fluorescent-green plants, I’m hoping to gradually view people in their wholeness, to appreciate the unique actions by which they express their love. Co-existing is special. To allow them to turn away to say hello to their roommate, to watch their faces crumple with fear and light up with hope, especially when it’s not defined in an interaction with you, is like watching a sunflower turn heliotropically towards the light above. I want to see what their sun looks like.

My suitemate tells me  the definition of her upbringing is her grandmother making her family fig jam on the slopes of the snowy Venetian mountains. I also observe, however, the way she makes space for others in our daily lives: her room and the small gifts she brings for each of us, her face hopeful and sharp. Here is how you analyze cause-and-effect; here is how you do a character study. Follow their gazes to see what drapes their world in chiaroscuro, the radiance that thaws their seams until they spill out. It takes time and listening to allow silence to build. I used to be so terrified of the fact that people’s faces were like fluid mosaics, never fully knowable, shifting and clicking like metal machines. 

Yesterday night I accompanied my suitemate to the piano school, so I could write while she played. We arrived, the white underground walls bright. Before she sat down to play, she recognized her friend’s playing from across the hallway, Chopin thundering out relentlessly. He was preparing for an audition, he told us. “My teacher told me to stop playing and take a walk,” he said. “Keep it a mystery to myself.” 

How lovely it is that faces are unknowable, puzzles that we might never fully unravel. The most beautiful thing about loving someone is learning to speak their language. It is the very conscious action of learning that allows us to hold people in our hearts, rather than a static state we attain by accident. 

There are visuomotor neurons in our brains’ parietal cortices that fire when we are fixated on something manipulated in the light. I want to stare endlessly at your illuminated words and listen for something that might never come. I want to say this to everyone I know: I love you, even if I don’t understand you fully yet. Nothing is lost so long as we remember it together, an understanding that passes between us in the light.

Sarah Feng  is a first-year in Trumbull College. Contact her at

Sarah Feng is an associate editor for the Yale Daily News Magazine. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a first-year in Trumbull College majoring in English and Cognitive Science.