It was 11pm on a Thursday night and Allison and I were at Target—our first escapade since she had picked me up from the airport. As we talked for the first time in months, I quickly remembered how loudly she often spoke, and attempted to match my volume to hers, consistent with the competitive nature of our friendship. It not only resulted in me miserably failing to keep up, but also in a blaring, unnecessary projection of our opinions on the University of Michigan and Cornell—and every other college we were considering going to—to the poor shoppers three aisles down.
Between breaths I could see out of the corner of my eye the glances from everyone around us. Some were curious, others bemused, and others abhorrent from the idea that two teenage girls were at a Target buying Peeps and Goldfish on a Thursday night when we should be at home studying. What were we doing? Why were we talking so loud? Where were our parents? No one would ever know.
And so that was our spring break—interrupting the peace of a subway car with our overly-loud laughs and stupid jokes and cringe-worthy puns and conversations about Omnibus and Physics and college, peppered with Allison’s “yikes” and my “fight me” and Veronica’s sighs and words of wisdom (she’s a good one).
Maybe one guy went home and told his wife about the three teenagers on the subway who were laughing too loud and interrupting his audiobook. Maybe the old couple next to us laughed and told their Bingo friends about the three lame teenage girls who were fervently working on a crossword puzzle all throughout the one-hour commute. Maybe the girl sitting next to us on that bench in front of Shake Shack told her friends about how we were telling the worst jokes and laughing about how our school was so ethnically nondiverse.
But ultimately, it didn’t matter how memorable we were; no matter what impression we made on the people around us, we were still simply quick, split-second observations in strangers’ minds. A flash. A tidbit. Fifteen minutes of sitting next to someone on the subway is a mere blink when compared to an entire lifetime.
It seems weird to think about how we are only tidbits in another person’s life. We are just as insignificant in their lives as they are in ours, holding as small of a spot in their memories as they do in ours. The person sitting beside me has her own dreams, her own aspirations, her own past and future, her own quirks and her own story that are completely unknown to me. And somewhere within her big, complex, entwined life story, there I am making a guest appearance.
Allison, Veronica, and I are simply snapshots and small memories; our stories are completely lost when looked upon from the outside. No one would have known that this was the first time the three of us had been in the same room for nine months. No one knew our stories.
It was our week, our adventure. Here we were in the midst of Manhattan, tired and battered from senior year, but ready to live. It was the spring break that we had counted down to ever since the End of the Year Gathering ended in June, since Allison and Veronica left California in August and September; it was the spring break we had furiously planned during our weekly Skype calls and ever flowing texts. We Veritas students thrived on countdowns and Skypes, painfully awaiting that time when we’d see each other again, and that time was now.
But how miniscule our story seemed in the grand scheme of things.
When the conversation lulls I take the time to glance at my surroundings. I saw it so vividly then, but now I don’t remember their faces. There was that man from India at the subway station, a woman chasing her toddler around the ferry, two businessmen sitting behind us at Chipotle, but if I had to ever pick their faces out of a crowd, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Perhaps the woman I sat next to on the subway was in the midst of her own grand adventure, her own happy moment. Perhaps the guy I accidentally ran into while trying not to lose Allison was on his way to stage a huge proposal to the love of his life. Perhaps the volunteer at the Bronx Zoo who took the time to give us a personal tour of the Madagascar exhibit had four PhDs and had already traveled the world, lived her life, and was now relaxing peacefully by helping out at the zoo on weekdays.
We will never know.
But with each glance, with each observation, with each small appreciation of another human being, we can begin to scratch the surface of this innate complexity of the raw humanity that exists in day-to-day life. As Veronica, Allison, and I walked into that museum, sat in that subway, and laughed in that park, not only our story existed but so too those of the people around us. And there, in that moment, was an abundance of complex life stories swirling around, interacting for that brief, instantaneous moment in time, and separating, never to converge in that distinctive combination again.