A Blue & White
SONA WINK, BC ’25, Editor-in-Chief
ANOUK JOUFFRET, BC ’24, Managing Editor
VICTOR OMOJOLA, CC ’24, Deputy Editor
KAT CHEN, CC ’24, Illustrations Editor
COLE CAHILL, CC ’23, Issue Editor
DOMINY GALLO, CC ’23, Issue Editor
HENRY ASTOR, CC ’24, Issue Editor
ANDREA CONTRERAS, CC ’24, Issue Editor
SYLVIE EPSTEIN, CC ’23, Issue Editor
MUNI SULEIMAN, CC ’24, Issue Editor
WILL LYMAN, CC ’23, Issue Editor
MOLLY LEAHY, CC ’24, Issue Writer
JOSH KAZALI, CC ’25, Issue Writer
MADISON HU, GS ’24, Issue Writer
KELSEY KITZKE, BC ’23, Issue Writer
ANNA PATCHEFSKY, CC ’25, Issue Writer
ADRIENNE DEFARIA, CC ’26, Issue Writer
ZIBIA BARDIN, BC ’25, Issue Writer
IRIS CHEN, CC ’24, Issue Writer
HART HALLOS, CC ’23, Issue Writer
MADELEINE HERMANN, BC ’23, Issue Illustrator
MACA HEPP, CC ’24, Issue Illustrator
CADENCE GONZALES, BC ’22, Issue Illustrator
NAYEON PARK, CC ’26, Issue Illustrator
JORJA GARCIA, CC ’26, Issue Illustrator
VANESSA MENDOZA, CC ’23, Issue Illustrator
OONAGH MOCKLER, BC ’25, Issue Illustrator
AMELIE SCHEIL, BC ’25, Issue Illustrator
BETEL TADESSE, CC ’25, Issue Illustrator
Table of Contents
by Sona Wink
Laundry Night by Anna Patchefsky
Advanced Seminar by Kelsey Kitzke
A Near Miss by Zibia Bardin
Chivalry by Adrienne deFaria
Textbook by Muni Suleiman
Elevator Ride by Madeleine Hermann
The Ocky Way by Henry Astor
Crossword Companions by Madison Hu
Love to Feast on by Josh Kazali
When Silence Moves in by Molly Leahy
The Past and Pending by Kelsey Kitzke
A Love Letter From the Editor
Snuggle in, you're in for a great issue.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder: The Blue and White returns from its winter hibernation buzzing with new ideas and energy. Warm weather, too, pokes its head from its hiding place. Sporadic 60 degree days yield glorious panoramas on Low Steps—students conversing, reading, dancing, basking in the light. New connections abound between friends, lovers, and synapses.
Yet it would be an injustice to the month of February to forget that the vast majority of this seasonal period is neither sunny nor glorious, but instead cold, gray, and indecisive—posing a stark contrast to the declarative, committal, “warm-and-fuzzy,” brand of love that is promulgated on Valentine’s Day. It would be a further injustice to the student body to pretend that most of us will spend this infamous holiday falling in love on Low Steps. Valentine’s Day, in presenting a zealous ideal, serves as a reminder that love is, more often than not, quite peculiar.
Thus, The Blue and White’s Valentine’s Day issue strives to honor love in its most mundane, pervasive, and idiosyncratic manifestations. In Heart Bweats, our staff writers proffer miniature vignettes on unexpected moments of campus connection—including the rediscovery of the perfect Milano sandwich, the reunification with a lost wallet, and the blossoming of puzzling partnership. Josh Kazali explores how cooking acts as both a vehicle of connection and an object of adoration. In our satire section, Hart Hallos laments the political landscape of Valentine’s Day and seeks a like-minded mate.
To match the intimate nature of love, this issue leans into the personal, rather than the investigative, side of our writers' capacities. They do not stray from the heavy-handed power that love often wields. Molly Leahy reflects upon the challenge of articulating feelings in a family struggling with illness. A series of anonymous love letters from our literary section are dispersed throughout the issue: poetry, prose, and visual art exploring the more sensory, dreamlike, or heart-wrenching elements of love. Kelsey Kitzke navigates the end of an old friendship and the upcoming end of her collegiate career.
If this holiday feels lonely, there is solace to be found in the knowledge that we all seem to seek a love that is fundamentally universal. May this issue make you feel slightly more connected to something beyond yourself, as it does for us.
Illustration by Amelie Scheil
I do laundry on Thursday nights. I separate lights from darks, always dialing home to ask my dad if it’s really okay for my red, white, and blue “Born in the U.S.A.” T-shirt to go in with my whites. Transferring my load to the dryer, I drop my socks. Another resident of the building laughs. Her husband has lived in the building since the 1950s. She tells me how, f I listen closely enough, I can hear our neighbor’s talking bird. She recalls another student from the year prior whose mother would come into the city to do her laundry. I smiled, knowing that if I asked, my dad would do the same. — AP
Illustration by Nayeon Park
We meet on the shaggy green rug of my bedroom for the first class of BC4055: Queering Friendship. It’s an advanced seminar on figuring out what the fuck is going on between us. I joke that we should book a room in Hamilton (there’s too much history in Milstein). Maybe a chalkboard would help us dissect the boundaries of intimacy and the contextual complexities of “I think I love you.” We’re crawling out of our skin, lamenting how much easier it would be if we were straight. It’s absurd and strangely sweet and a touch tragic. It’s everything I never knew I needed to learn. — KK
Illustration by Betel Tadesse
A Near Miss
I had lost my wallet two days earlier and then found it again. I was serious this time about keeping track of it. But I was so late. I slipped it into my back pocket and, running down 110th to the B, it fell out. Watching from your window, you called out to me, but I didn’t hear you; too late, a near miss. You went downstairs, picked it up, went through its contents, then found me on Facebook and returned it. I don’t care much for the wallet, but it has a yearbook photo of my dad when he was 15, smiling dumbly into the camera through deep-set eyes. I look so much like him there. Thank you. — ZB
The fading sunlight casts my eyes amber. “Harvest Moon” wafts out of my open windows. I’m in the left turn lane, you’re crossing Broadway. I sit in a pregnant pause, waiting for a green light. You, a stranger, emerge in my open window, McDonald’s bag in hand,. My first thought is abduction. Yours is to announce “you’re so fucking beautiful” with a boldness I thought was extinct. From your jean pocket, a red camellia flower surfaces, passing from your hand to mine. The light turns green. “Harvest Moon” swells to its chorus. You watched me from afar, so maybe we’ll dance together again. — AD
Illustration by Vanessa Mendoza
There’s a shared joke in the first-generation, low-income community on campus that we all share the same 20 dollars. Tragic, especially in a city as expensive as New York, but true. One night after my work study job, I suddenly remembered that I had not bought and could not afford a book that was required for a class the next afternoon. With payday the day after, I texted a group chat of fellow FGLI friends about my situation. Thankfully, two hours and four Venmo payments later, I was able to procure the book early the next morning and read it before class. Sometime later, I pitched in on groceries for one of the friends who had helped me buy the book. — MS
Illustration by Maca Hepp
I part with you over the course of our 20-second-long, nine-floor descent. Hand in hand, sleep in our eyes, your lips on my forehead, and your sweatshirt under my jacket. We do not take closeness for granted. A countdown with each floor; the end is signaled with L, a ding. We share another moment in the lobby, then off I go. See you in 45 minutes for breakfast at Hewitt. — MH
Illustration by Cadence Gonzales
The Ocky Way
Since time immemorial, Milano Market’s H19 (chicken cutlet, bacon, blue cheese, gruyere, tomato, and chipotle mayo on a toasted semolina roll) had ruled uncontested as the greatest sandwich in Morningside Heights. A day’s worth of calories wrapped in wax paper and tin foil, the H19 sustained me through many a Butler Sunday. Until one day, it disappeared. There remained an “H19” on the menu, but it was different; wrong. I was crestfallen. Recently, I decided to tempt fate. “Can I get an H19, The Old Way?” I hollered over the chorus of crinkling paper and beeping microwaves. To my shock and relief, the gentleman opposite me fully remunerated my customer loyalty and restored my faith in my fellow man. “H19 The Ocky Way. Got you.” — HA
Illustration by Oonagh Mockler
Last year, Mondays meant Literature Humanities at 10:10 am and The New Yorker challenging crossword. One morning, I noticed the girl sitting beside me was sneaking peeks at the nine remaining blank boxes on my screen. I kept my gaze fixed on my computer, embarrassed that someone had noticed I was distracted and surprised that someone could see into my assumed invisible world. She scribbled something in the margins of her notebook, then discreetly oriented it toward me: egregious. Now as friends, I’ve gladly let her into my world, and have the distinct honor of being in hers. — MH
Measure for Measure
Anonymous Love Letter I
from when we were in love, or the semblance of it
I’ve never been to Malibu, imagine
high-arched plastic feet and watery
rum drinks, but I can do some thinking about it.
For you, I guess I can do some thinking about it.
When you say red convertible, convertible meaning
transcendent, maybe, or changeable,
I do some of that thinking I was thinking about,
spew out a horizontal (or is it horizontal?)
anyways, an orison. I don’t pray except in a poem.
That, plus a blush, not the “darling-I” kind spreading
over my face like sunburn from snow,
no, a grapey, succinct blush, Alcibiades
next to Agathon on the couch knees agape
but it’s not agapē between them,
the inclination to recline.
This is not a poem about sex.
This is a poem about sehnsucht.
Anonymous Love Letter II
Shedding the itchy bark, the years-old preservative around the four chambers of flesh that sit in my chest,
is knowing that all parts of you reside there.
I read that making someone feel safe is treasuring their lovability
at their best and at their worst.
I also read that bad and good don't really exist, but no one sits you down the day you are born
to teach you this equilibrium.
You teach me that there’s something in this air where everything seems
to be an equal and opposite reaction. That my reactivity is just as special as my smile.
I love you under, between, after, and in every moment of sadness,
And I treasure you every time I retract with laughter.
And I miss writing to you, so I thought that I'd sit down
and make my fingers do their dance...
My unexpected love (and I mean that the same way Con Dolore meant it), you still strike me like the first
time the angels unveiled you to me. You are a heavenly moment,
especially when yelling, because with every octave that your voice climbs I can see
you much better, clearer.
There is bark under our nails after every frost. It is hard work for us, to be a gardener and a tree.
Winter scurries in between your fingers,
freezing the remembrance of our old forms into breathing flesh.
I am a tree fully grown, my leaves don’t scrape the ground anymore, and I love all of you.
Love to Feast On
Not to be read on an empty stomach.
By Josh Kazali
Illustration by Jorja Garcia
Of the million different ways to say “I love you,” few are as succinct, simple, or immediate as food. It might come in the form of a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a briny plate of oysters (signaling ulterior amorous intentions), or a favorite home-cooked meal to show that you care. Undoubtedly, lovers around the world are scrambling to take those fickle feelings of the heart and put them on a plate, garnished to perfection. For those still looking for a last-minute recipe, this chef suggests a few dishes from his own life. They come straight from the heart, and into the stomach.
It was 5 o’clock in the morning in Tokyo and I was six years old. I had removed my pajamas—against my will—and been strapped into the back seat of my grandfather’s car. The sun had not yet risen over the unfamiliar metropolis. I felt groggy and disoriented, unlike my father who was wide awake. As a chef, his hours are so long that dragging him out of bed before eight is normally a near impossibility; but that day, he was fresh and full of energy. He had been looking forward to this day for a long time. When at last we arrived, we braced ourselves against the chilly morning air to find what we had traveled all this way for: fish.
It was a lot of fish, to be fair. Tsukiji Market was the largest wholesale fish market in the world until it closed in 2018. And we had the pick of the litter. I was surrounded by an aquarium’s worth of fish and other sea creatures, from little mackerel still on the line to massive ocean monsters twice my size. My dad was in heaven. He led me down row after row of cold, smelly buckets filled with wriggling squid and eels, until we arrived at the cream of the crop: rows and rows of bluefin tuna, hundreds of pounds each. They filled an entire auditorium, with glassy eyes so big I could see my reflection in them. Hundreds of people from throughout Tokyo examined these beasts, carefully considering what tender jewels of sashimi might lie beneath their gray skin. At the time, I was thoroughly unimpressed. To my father’s horror, I didn’t like fish. What was all the fuss about?
I was about twelve when I began to understand what drove my dad to wake up before the sun that day. We were at a seafood restaurant, and my dad ordered fresh ahi poke. I must have eyed those cubes of ruby- red flesh with more curiosity than usual, because my dad offered me a taste. “Give it a shot. It’s good,” he said. “And fresh.” I took the plunge and had a bite. As usual, when it came to food, he was right. Tuna is not fishy or slimy; it is subtle and tender. It tastes smooth and buttery, yet ever-so-slightly of the sea. It is unfussy, unpretentious, and pure.
For many, including my dad and now myself, food is a lifelong love. It means more than eating expensive dishes adorned with truffle and caviar, and more than declaring oneself a “foodie.” It means truly surrendering yourself to an experience, and opening yourself to new and unfamiliar flavors. It’s seductive, thrilling—and certainly filling.
College life incites a degree of dietary chaos: free-for-all wing night at the dining hall, hastily prepared cereal and instant ramen in the dorm, and increasingly daring and questionably sober late-night dives. At what price point can you still legally call it pizza? And what exactly is “white sauce,” you may ask? With the constraints of a slim wallet and the weight of essays, problem sets, and parties to attend, it can be difficult to find the intimacy of a family meal on campus.
“Friendsgiving” has long been the antidote to collegiate culinary negligence. Stripped of the awkwardness of political discussion and interfamilial drama over the dinner table, Friendsgiving provides a place for dear friends to prove their love for each other where it counts: on the plate. This semester, I was blessed with a dormitory convenient for cooking and hosting, so I invited as many friends as I could think of to bring warm tidings and food to share. Of course, the caveat to a potluck is that the festivities depend on the good faith of the guests: Pretty cakes and charming cheese plates are all fine and good, but at the end of the day people also need to be fed. After many text -threads and Notes-app calculations, the day had arrived and I realized that I needed to cook something myself. I turned to a well-worn, familiar dish: fried rice.
My fried rice recipe comes courtesy of my dad, a pantry-cleaner filled with oil and sweet soy sauce—this added flair makes it a semi-authentic Indonesian nasi goreng. It only requires one pot, which might suggest that it is an easy, low-effort dish. It is not. Fried rice is an intricately choreographed dance, a ballet of sauteed vegetables and tofu which must be timed perfectly so that the rice is crispy and the mix-ins tender and well-seasoned. For me, making fried rice is a séance in which I enter a trance-like state possessed by the ghosts of fried-rice makers past. In my starch-induced reverie, I could just make out the murmurings of guests who passed in front of me and said hello, although I was not there. I was swimming in cooking oil and sweat.
By some miracle of a higher power, the clouds parted and sitting before me was a pot filled with golden fried rice. Even more miraculous, the dining room brimmed with the people I love, chattering excitedly in anticipation of fall break’s brief parting. I remained dazed when people began to take their seats, and the table gradually filled with a beautiful, anarchic assemblage of food. Spaghetti alongside stuffing, beets in the mashed potatoes, some fancy-looking potato chips which someone contributed, a shredded chicken stew-type thing—I could not have imagined a more perfect feast.
The time we spend on campus feels like it disappears more rapidly than a fresh pot of fried rice (which is pretty fast), and eating habits can feel equally rushed—a Chef Mike’s sub on the go, the fifth John Jay salad bar amalgamation of the week. College can feel like something of a buffet; you get in line and grab as much as you can, before getting back to your table with more than your money’s worth. That night, it was a proper feast, taken slow. I savored every last bite.
When you fall in love with a dish, it becomes a steady fixture in your life. Whether it’s your bagel order (sesame, toasted, scallion cream cheese) or a treat you reserve for special occasions (Katz’s pastrami sandwich), familiar flavors run deep grooves into your taste buds. Falling in love with a person, on the other hand, is far less predictable. It is a capricious love; it constantly unfolds, expands, and changes over time. It whisks you up when you least expect it and takes you places you never thought you’d go.
Case in point: last summer, I found myself somewhere in continental Europe with a girl who, by an unimaginably fortunate series of events which I will never completely understand, I call my girlfriend. You can call her G. During my short trip, this person who I had only known for a few months opened a door to another universe, and the context in which I knew her completely changed. I saw her in her home, with her old friends, and with her mother. Perhaps the jet lag had put me in a daze, but one morning I awoke to realize that I was thousands of miles away from home, surrounded by people I barely knew. While I felt incredibly lucky to be there, I was also daunted by this unfamiliar terrain. This was a different game, one whose rules I didn’t quite know.
At the end of each day, everyone gathered for dinner around a long table filled with food and drinks and talked late into the night. I eagerly agreed to lend a hand in cooking for a few of these big dinners, not only to impress G’s family and friends (who were undoubtedly quietly evaluating my boyfriend performance), but also to ground myself in familiar tasks. Food, I found, brought me back home. When walking through a French marketplace filled with the heavy aromas of unpasteurized cheese and saucisson, all I could think about was walking through my hometown market with my dad, pushing along his cart of vegetables and making smalltalk with the farmers. Where I struggled to find the words to express my gratitude, perhaps I could communicate it through a bite of food.
On one of the last nights before my return to America, G’s mom asked me to lend a hand with the ratatouille for dinner. Like any boyfriend, I was naturally terrified by what could only be the highest scrutiny. Yet what could I do but accept? The kitchen, once my place of reprieve, now became the site of my biggest test. Luckily, I knew the rules of this game. Never have I sliced eggplant and zucchini with more careful precision and efficiency. My focus on the cutting actually relaxed me enough to make pleasant, casual conversation. As the minutes passed and the sound of simmering vegetables and crackling olive oil filled the room, I was struck by the familiarity of this scene: How many times had I shared unexpected conversations over a cutting board, playing the sous-chef to my dad? It’s as though he had been preparing me for that moment my whole life, providing me with a vocabulary I could use when words failed me. That night, the ratatouille offered me a voice. Rich, hearty, and warm—it said everything there is to say.
When attempting to capture something as mammoth as love, the English language can prove inadequate. Words are elusive and forgiving, and instead of offering a means for expression, they usually offer me a hiding place. Food, on the other hand, is honest. It voices something unconscious and uninhibited, something that simply says, “Mmmmm.” Love can be thought about from every angle, written about at length, but at some point, one must take a bite. With any luck, it will taste sweet.
When Silence Moves in
Reflections on health and familial love.
By Molly Leahy
Home: where the passage of time is marked by proliferating stacks of empty quart-sized Carvel containers in our kitchen cabinet. Mint chip ice cream is the only food my mom consistently eats. Other foods either make her brain dysfunctionally foggy or her stomach feel like it has knives in it. Often, she experiences both symptoms along with a strange amalgam of others.
It started with her eyes. Then her joints. Lungs. Muscles. What we thought would be a single visit to the eye doctor turned out to be years of visits: to hospitals, private practices, universities; generalists, specialists, functional medicine doctors, integrative medicine doctors; psychiatrists and psychologists. Everyone in the medical world says that my mom’s immune system is dysregulated, but no one can agree on why—only that it’s getting worse.
The last two years have been the hardest as her symptoms become increasingly unbearable. Tensions run high; and we never know what kind of day she will have. She slept the night before. We go outside. She is more energetic and hopeful. We talk about all the things we want to do when she gets better, all the places we want to go: Paris, Savannah, Buenos Aires. She may even crack a joke, usually about the absentmindedness of my teenage brothers. She seems good today.
But some days are bad. She didn’t sleep. She spends most of the day curled up on the couch, wrecked by pain. Our conversations revolve around her illness, whether anything’s changed, how she’s feeling physically and emotionally. We look ahead to upcoming appointments. We consider options. We try to be hopeful. This isn’t forever, it can’t be forever.
The most debilitating symptom of my mom’s illness is the silence. Silence from her. Silence from us. Silence at home.
Before she got sick, the voices of James Taylor, John Mayer, Vance Joy—and her own—would often greet me at the door. My mom loved using her sunflower-shaped plate, seashell bowls, and quirky cheese knives to create decadent cheese boards that friends and family would sit around and enjoy for hours. For a really good time, she’d break out Telestrations—and it never failed us. Most games would end in sore abdominal muscles and tear-stained cheeks, all from our roaring laughter. Before she got sick, my mom and I could talk about everything, losing track of time, commitments, thought patterns.
But attempting to recall how we had jumped from one topic to another is futile. Music isn’t played anymore. Telestrations sits buried in our game chest. And we find ourselves unable to talk about the one thing that is on all of our minds.
Silence has infiltrated our home: once a visitor, now a dweller. It signals the end of what once was—ease, comfort, joy in its most fundamental form—and the progression of what is: fear, sadness, and excruciating uncertainty.
I can tell when my mom is at her lowest based on the state of the kitchen cabinet. Sometimes it’s orderly, with neat, stable stacks of the red Carvel containers. Other times I open the cabinet and the containers avalanche out, swallowing me up.
I’m losing my life.
Our home is a container of its own. On the inside is my mom at her most honest and vulnerable: sick, isolated, angry. Stuck in a time loop of pain and confusion, she is unable to move forward with her life, unable to get answers. On the outside, life goes on and time progresses at a standard pace. Friends and family drop in but then they go, leaving our world behind and reentering theirs. No one but the six members of my family remain inside long enough to see the weight and darkness of illness on full display.
When my mom exits our home, she leaves the darkness behind. She changes out of her pajamas, puts on mascara and a smile, and musters the strength to be “herself” again. And she is. She is beautiful, with deep blue eyes popping underneath her dark lashes. She is engaging, with a gift for asking questions that make people feel sacred. She is fun. At a wedding last fall, she joined us on the dance floor, winning the night with our coordinated moves to “We Are Family.” To an outsider, nothing is wrong at all. Our closest loved ones are unable to comprehend the weight of my mom’s illness. Even we can’t.
My mom loves to feel like a person again. She is desperate to be herself again, permanently, for her sake and for ours. But being herself comes at a cost: the darkness is never too far behind.
I know that my mom puts up a front for us. I often wonder how tall that front is and what it’s hiding. For a few days around Christmas, it really felt like we had our mom back—like silence had finally moved out and, at last, we had a grasp on what once was. She played her favorite Starbucks holiday playlists. We baked monkey bread and went out for oysters (a Christmas tradition on my dad’s side). She even wore her holiday pins: a ceramic wreath and a silver reindeer, her late mother’s.
But once the holiday passed, she was on the couch for days, exhausted from expending so much energy trying to make it special for us. Exhausted from pretending like her body is okay. I know she felt sick during those days but said nothing about it, suffering in silence. Are you sure you feel up to it, Mom?
What can you do when you want to say everything, but all you can say is nothing?
My mom is silent about her illness when she thinks something is at stake. Usually the well-being of her family. She knows that home isn’t the same anymore, and family time, like her, has taken a different form. She worries that it’s her fault.
I don’t feel good. I’m so sorry.
I know that my mom feels these things because she is not always silent. Some days are so hard that she can’t be silent.
I worry that I’m the reason why my mom doesn’t talk openly about her illness. The truth is that I don’t know what to say anymore when she does. My family tries to be as supportive as possible in as many ways as we can, but lately it feels like we’re running out of options. Validation is not enough at this point. Neither are expressions of love and gratitude. I know what medications and treatments we’re trying, what doctors we’re seeing, what paths we’re considering. I know that the Mayo Clinic rejected her application. I know that she feels like a bad mom. I know that she’s scared. I know that it’s unimaginably awful.
I don’t know what’s happening to me.
I tell her over and over again that she is not a bad mom. I don’t know if she believes me. Often, our conversations just repeat what has already been said.
So we default to silence. I’m so sorry. But I wonder if those words are losing their value, and if the ensuing silence stings or if it communicates something else. I love you, I am with you. I wish I could make it say those things.
What do you say when you’ve said everything but silence stings?
I don’t want my mom to be silent. I want her to feel entitled to her sadness and her anger, her frustrations and her fears. I want her to feel that she can say what she needs to say, even when I don’t know what to say.
I don’t know how to navigate the silence at home and I don’t think I ever will. The only thing I know for sure is that when my mom is silent, it’s because she loves us.
The Past and Pending
Reflections on endings.
By Kelsey Kitzke
Illustration by Maca Hepp
I’ve been thinking about endings lately. I understand that Valentine’s Day is usually a time for celebrating love as neverending and forevermore—love that lasts, love that persists, love that never dies. But that kind of love hasn’t been prominent in my life lately. Instead, I’ve been seeing the end of things. I’ve watched friends’ long-term relationships wither. Often, I find myself confounded by the cessation of an important friendship in my life.
For now, I chalk it up to something between natural slippage and the implosion of our (individual and collective) tragic flaws: sometimes people simply flow out of our lives and sometimes important incompatibilities help spur the dissolution. I spent winter break wondering if we had spoken to each other for the last time—if it was truly the end—and came to accept that it probably was. When I graduate in May, I will say goodbye to a place that has carved out a corner in my soul.
Endings seem to be in the air, or at least on the horizon: endings that are forced, endings that are chosen, endings that have built inevitably, and endings that are sudden and shocking. I am told that I am in a time of transition. I am told change is natural, that it implies the beginning of something even as it necessitates the end of something else. But all I see are endings. Where is the love in that?
I spend a few days over fall break alone in my house. The walls are newly white and beige (my parents have recently repainted; the more boring the house, the greater the market value). Everything feels different in the most important ways: the appliances are brand new, all the photos are down. Yet for the first hour of my arrival, I wander around the house experiencing the most vivid sensory flashbacks I have ever had: the wiggle of my childhood dog’s body, the feeling of being dragged on a blanket down the hallway by my dad as a toddler, the beeping of salt trucks on a snow day, the trail of powdered snow at the front door after playing outside. Everything is rushing in to announce its imminent hollowing out. I must have loved growing up in this house growing up in this house. Or perhaps, I must love this house becuase I grew up. Sifting through storage boxes, I encounter the third-grade face of my childhood best friend, to whom I no longer speak (all slippage, no implosion). I remember the best moments of my recently ended friendship: I must have loved my friend; or, I still do.
In the wee hours of a balmy New Year’s Day in my DC suburb, my friend tells me she doesn’t think she and her boyfriend of two years will stay together past graduation. “Friends?” I ask. “I don’t think so,” she says. “It’s hard to be around someone and not be able to have the same intimacy you once did.”
Exactly a year prior, on the last night of 2021, two of my closest friends got in a cataclysmic fight (an explosion more than anything else). In high school, they blended into each other in the way only teenage girls can manage, which is to say in the best way: at once silly and childish as well as passionate and profound. I loved being a part of it. I loved watching them love. I loved learning how to love from them. In one of my warmest memories of the three of us, we try to smoke weed from a bong made out of a plastic water bottle in the woods behind my house. We are blanketed by snow; the bong fails; we go sledding instead.
That was my last snow day. A natural end in terms of both aging and ecological disaster. All slippage, all implosion. It is strange to be a young person preparing to enter a world that seems to be on the brink of collapse. Things are ending as they’re beginning. What makes youth bearable is that we are told we have time. In the face of heartbreak, uncertainty, insecurity, loss, and personal failings, there’s always the next day or the next year to do it right, to get what you want. But right now, I find myself paralyzed by fear. In the little time I have left, I might love wrong. Or, that I already have.
On Christmas, my mom and I got into a uniquely mother-daughter fight, a small stress-induced cooking tiff blew up into a question about my fundamental commitment to the family. Why couldn’t I be more present? was my mom’s question. Why would I be when it will be over soon? was my (curt) reply.
I am friends with my old Girl Scout leader, a woman some thirty years older than me. Sometimes I believe she understands me better than anyone my age (the perils of being called “mature” too many times before the age of twelve and taking it as a compliment). She’s an expert on local flora, fauna, and easing nervous young hearts and heads, making for excellent hikes. On one such outing over winter break, I was telling her about the end of my friendship when a young deer sprang across the trail, pursued by a dog going for its neck. After the attack, the dog relented and the deer remained still, dying. It was brief and brutal, yet unexpectedly bloodless: a demonstration of a clean, bewildering ending. Momentary implosion. My old troop leader pressed her hand over its body. Should we call somebody to put it down? But it died on its own. We suspect it was a heart attack.
Later, she pointed to the clippings on the brush where deer had eaten saplings, prevented the growth of trees and, therefore, a habitat for birds—birds which were crucial to the local ecosystem. While she traced the brush, I told her how the absence of my old friendship allowed me to grow the kind of love in other relationships that I was missing in ours.
A couple weeks into the semester, I go on a walk through Inwood Hill Park with my uncle. The park has a kind of natural richness that is hard to find in the rest of Manhattan, he tells me. We walk through the terrain, up and down hills and over fallen leaves, as I tell him I feel old. He says he didn’t feel that way until he was 54. I ask him when he will leave New York, and he says that there are a couple things keeping him here: work and a friend whose illness is progressing. He wants to stick around for the end, he supposes.
It’s disconcerting to come home and notice how old your parents look for the first time. (I was a later-in-life baby for mine so it’s an earlier-in-life experience for me.) When did they age like this? Where was I?
Since coming to college, I have left home countless times. Each time, I feel a little less like I am leaving my home and a little more like I am returning. And, for that, I feel guilty (in the generalized Catholic way). Maybe guilt is the wrong word; it’s more like a pervasive anxiety that I didn’t take advantage of the time I had at home and with my parents; that I didn’t love it enough. Each time, my train arrives at Penn Station, and I feel it move around in my gut as the 1 train juts back uptown. Did I spend enough time in the snow? Did I rub my face in it when I had the chance? Did I appreciate my friendship when things were light and bright and easy enough? Should I have sled down the hill behind my house one more time?
I suppose on Christmas my mom wanted me to love the end more. Love it. Not like it, or want it, or enjoy it. But love it: tend to it, care for it, give it attention, give it its due, don’t hold it, don’t rush it. To sit with something and watch for its heart to stop.
I have a bad habit of discussing graduation and post-grad life in terms of dying and being dead, which I suspect is horrifying for those around me. But it’s easier to imagine that I will simply stop existing than it is to conceive of the future. The older I get, the less certain I am that it exists. What I do know exists is sitting on Low Steps when it is a terrifyingly beautiful winter day and splitting open an orange to share with my friends as we joke around in the sun. My jacket rests on the stone and I know that this will end.
For the next couple of months, the city will oscillate between winter and spring before it will warm rapidly. I will spend my last afternoons, with a book or a friend, in the 111th street community garden. And in the sun, I will feel all the ways that everything is ending and has already ended. I will watch the gardeners toil, pull weeds, plant flowers, like a prayer to the passage of time. And I will leave. But first, while it is still cold, I will sit here and watch the snow melt.
Anonymous Love Letter III
I went to the little cafe yesterday with Anna to do some work. It was rainy and cold and the semester was rearing its head at us. When we sat down at the table, I looked over our opened computers and into Anna’s eyes to ask if she was okay.
We talked about how she couldn’t sleep the night before. She had spoken to Georgie, who, in her own way, had been falling apart. The conversation brought with it so many things, as conversations often do, and she spent a while wondering that night if she was going to stop breathing (I told her I understood. She laughed—she knows how much I understand). I listened to her quietly. In my head I repeated, “everything is okay, have faith in the okayness of everything,” hoping the vibrations of that voice inside me would somehow make their way to her.
We worked for an hour after talking. She emailed a potential therapist (that was part of the little plan we ended up devising) and I drafted an essay on the experimental dance show I had seen. At some point, we shut our computers. I told her about my night. I thought it might be light, or even fun: silly problems sometimes help. We could laugh and be that kind of angry that wasn’t heavy. I got a letter from Joey, I said.
She had been up to date on the whole of our little drama so far. She knew we had been sending emails and that they ended after I had sent my angry one. It had become too much to hold. I felt like he had given me something in telling me he had feelings for me, but as I picked it up, and turned it over, and felt that weight in my hand, he ran and I was left behind. And I would never tell him, but the world was more exciting when we did it together. And, to him, I took too long to say it.
Anyway, he wrote me an email in response. I let Anna read it, and she got angry. “He’s an ass,” she said. “This is brutal.” I found myself defending him: “But he is right! He is right about all of it! I left him, too. I was a coward, absolutely.” I started to cry. I told her he said that maybe I like to suffer.
At this point, Anna reached over our cold coffees. She grabbed my hand and held it. I told her he was wrong about that. I didn’t like the pain. I was terrified.
Through the tears that I wasn’t expecting, and amidst the story I thought would lighten it all, and in our little bookshop that we had come to love so quickly, I said, “I am so mad at him because I don’t feel safe loving him. And I love him.”
And, Mom, I don’t know why it is, or if it has something to do with you or something old and hidden away, but I do not often feel that I know how I am feeling. I fear certainty. I run from all of it. But this boy had been telling me for months that I was certain, and the second that I entertained the thought it all changed.
I called Bruno that night. He was sick and lost his voice so he listened as I spoke and texted me in response.
He told me that whatever I do next, make sure I am sure. With that I felt like I was being flung back to the beginning. I’m sure of nothing, and never have been. But he clarified brilliantly: Being sure is just being mostly sure. Educated guesses, that’s all it is.
I would like to trust myself, Mom. I would like to find a way to believe in my feelings. I would like to take pain seriously, but not indulge it. I would like to believe in love, but not fabricate it. I would like to not fake anything. I would like to be seen. I would like to be able to talk to Joey everyday. I would like to be able to be alone, to write, to make, to breathe, to take all this little living in at once, but also unbelievably, incomprehensibly slowly. I would like to change. I’m the only one that would look at all the evidence and still doubt it. But I’m not doubting it today, and I hope that, if anything, that isn’t momentary.
It is hard for me to speak to you casually. I am pretending while writing this that we are in the car together, alone, driving somewhere, and both of us have no reason to stop talking.
There is more to say, but there always is.
I love you,
Anonymous Love Letter IV
Our Funny Valentine
Why I Don't Share my Pronouns on Valentine's Day
By Hart Hallos
Illustration by Oonagh Mockler
Grooaan. It’s that time of year again. Pink and red flyers swarm the bulletin boards of Uris, Kent, and probably other places too. They advertise Valentine’s Day events, in gaudy bubble fonts, for every student interest imaginable: improv comedy, squash, lesbianism. My typical response would be an eyeroll and a generous chortle, but this year, something inside me whispered “Go!” Call it my naturally adventurous spirit or call it my inheritance from great-great-great-great grand uncle Columbus, but I decided to listen. Scanning the corkboard, an especially egregious flyer caught my eye. “Make the Perfect Gift for Your Valentine!” Scoff. Lemme guess, cookies? Zines? Probably not a single ice sculpture of a swan in sight. Even so, it might be worth it to figure out what the imbeciles who attend this school think constitutes the “perfect” Valentine’s Day present. I penciled down details in the ol’ moleskin and headed back to my discussion section.
I should have known how this would go. But, with a naivete that some have called tireless optimism for the human spirit, I arrived, weapons down, at the sixth floor Broadway Hall lounge. Some chump in a tightly-fitting NSOP 2018 T-shirt beamed at me. “Hi!! Are you here for the Valentine’s Day gifting event?!”
That would be a yes, I cooed in response. I gazed around the meager room as we waited for the masses to arrive: stacks of construction paper, old magazines, bottles of glue. Hm. Would we be making fake bills? Wrapping diamonds? Finding vintage Playboy op-eds to base our personalities around? Finally, the event began: “Welcome everyone! So we’re just going to go around, and if everyone wouldn’t mind giving their name and pronouns, then we can …”
I felt as though I had just been punched in the stomach. The rest of the organizer’s words were reduced to unintelligible murmurs as the room blurred around me. Pronouns?? We were going to give our PRONOUNS? That’s what this whole event was for, that’s what people came here to make, that was the “Perfect Gift for Your Valentine???” Are you fucking kidding me? I stumbled out of my chair, concerned cries sounding far off in the distance, and took the elevator down to the fifth floor lounge. On the door: a poster titled “Give Your Valentine What They REALLY Want This Year ;))” But inside, just another “He/him,” followed by a cabal of sickos grinning and nodding. And randomly a bunch of condoms on the table. Sweating, I took the elevator to the fourth floor, where I was greeted by “Is Valentine’s Day Giving?: A Panel Discussion.” Okay, I didn’t really understand that one, but same thing: “She/they,” “he/him,” “they/them,” a near endless procession. My whole body shuddered as I faced the only conclusion possible: Everyone wants me to give them pronouns for Valentine’s Day. Even worse, all anyone wants to give me for Valentine’s Day is … is stupid, washed-up, good-for-nothing pronouns.
What’s wrong with the good old-fashioned Valentine’s Day gifts? When did a timeless box of chocolates become “chauvinistic and weird?” An innocent teddy bear, “patronizing?” Jewelry, “part of the patriarchy?” There was simply nothing I could do or say to persuade these crazed leftists away from giving pronouns on Valentine’s Day. Any minute now, they’d create some new pro-pronoun-propaganda magazine and shove it under the door of every single student living on campus. That would be so annoying!!! And so, tail tucked between my legs, I descended back to the Broadway lobby and stepped out into this cold, conformist world.
As I embarked on the journey back to my W 113th street Enclave, I paused to take in the beauty of Low Library at sunset. I just know that if Alma Mater were alive, she wouldn’t ask me for my pronouns. She would care about what’s on the inside, which she would then use to sort me and my peers into three distinct castes based on the type of precious metal she found most suited to our souls. But until reason and logic prevail once again on this campus, I guess I’ll just take a photo of Alma silhouetted against the multicolored sky to post on my Instagram story. And yeah, I’m gonna add Columbia University as the location. Ooh—and there’s a new post from the IDF!! Got to make sure to repost that. Self-satisfied sigh.
Maybe this place isn’t so bad after all. I just wish I could find a community of like-minded thinkers: people who are down to don togas and sit spread-eagle together, a position which, due to the revealing nature of togas, would expose their testicles to the open air and, in combination with the lack of air conditioning in the room, create the faint but distinct scent of balls that wafts gently throughout the room—just as the Greeks intended. Then we could finally have some real conversations across the aisle. Maybe, just maybe, like-minded thinkers in that group could even get together and form a publication which claims to be open to all backgrounds and viewpoints??? But I’m probably getting ahead of myself. For now, I’ll just send a personal dating ad to the Columbia alumni magazine (yes, I’m still an undergrad, but I know the Editor-in-Chief). Here goes nothing…
Hope this email finds you well. Here is a personal ad to include in the February 2023 issue of the Columbia Alumni magazine. Also, what are we having for dinner? I’ve been craving Thai recently.
Benedict Baron von Dutch van Leeuwen von Transylvania Carnegie, III