I met all kinds of characters in college. My roommate was gifted at chatting up all the girls, my neighbor to the left never said a word and played DOTA all day, the guy down the hall was flamboyantly gay, and the guy to the right always filled up the dorm’s ventilation system with marijuana smoke. The last dude always had bloodshot eyes and never remembered my name.
I met a lot of girls too. Some liked to enter our dorm room without permission, some swore that they would never drink and became alcoholics, and some were so pretty that they made me forget how to talk. A lot of the pretty girls would death stare me because I often unintentionally offended them. I would say shit like, “Should you really be eating more Cheetos?” and “Your arms look quite big today”, with a stupid smile on my face as if I said something beneficial but was actually really stupid. I was undeclared for my major as a freshman, but I had a head start on “shit not to say to girls”.
All of us characters eventually developed reputations through our unique nuances of personality, and our reputations began to precede us as time went on. Cliques formed, and gossip ensued. All of us characters would hover around the dorm rooms, asking the other characters we could band with to ask questions like “Is he cool or is he awkward?” to streamline the process of socialization as freshmen at UCLA.
There was one girl that was particularly intriguing. She was known as the hot girl from a wealthy family that had straight A’s every quarter in a very competitive and difficult major. Her milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, yet she was humble enough to not be like “it’s better than yours”. She was quite a catch.
I ended up majoring in psychology partially because I liked reading people, and I read her as mysterious. I knew of her as the hot girl from the wealthy family with stellar grades, but there was something else to her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
We eventually started to have amazing conversations because she was intelligent, deep and introspective, which led to the conversations I loved the most. Usually, the first time I met pretty girls I forgot how to speak but it didn’t happen with her. I remember being in the workout room with her talking about the ramifications of social media and technology on human interaction or something along those lines and I forgot that I was peddling the stationary bicycle because time had passed by so swiftly and enjoyably.
A winter formal arrived and I decided to ask her to go with me. Fortunately she said yes, and I was excited to be her partner that night.
When we arrived at the venue, everybody was telling me how lucky I was to have her as a date and telling her how pretty she was. She had a way of interacting with people that was very likeable. Her eyes were friendly and glistened when she smiled. She always seemed to be laughing and was very good at small talk. It wasn’t so brief that she made you feel unimportant. And it wasn’t so long that the wind in the sails of the conversation was done blowing and both parties wound up standing awkwardly not knowing what they were smiling about anymore. There was an elegance about her that was impeccable.
As I watched her interact with all the characters that night, I couldn’t find anything wrong with her. And yet, the mysterious vibe I felt from the beginning had remained, hovering like a cloud that didn’t portend an ominous storm, but didn’t hover placidly either. The cloud was there, but hardly anybody seemed to notice because all of her qualities were so striking.
We talked, we laughed, we mingled, and we danced that night. After a couple of hours, I said to her: “I’ll be right back, I’m going to smoke a cigarette”. She responded with “I’ll come with you”.
The night view of Los Angeles was particularly stunning that night, or maybe it was all the kamikazes I had. I pulled out a cigarette, and just before I lit it up she said: “Wait…give me one too”.
“What the fuck? You smoke?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” she responded.
I lit her cigarette, and then I lit mine. As she inhaled the smoke in that moment, the glistening of her eyes which brought smiles to so many people’s faces had faded. Her own smile vanished as well as she looked into the darkness above the skyline.
Within her seemed to be a safe, a repository of thoughts and feelings that she had stored away beneath the cloud that loomed perpetual.
My early courses in “shit not to say to girls” had taught me to hold my tongue. I inhaled the moment as well, for a while. Clouds could only hold so much precipitation, however, and I couldn’t help but finally ask: “What are you thinking about?”
She hesitated for a long time while both of our cigarettes turned to ash, as if she was carefully analyzing the potential ramifications of letting out what she actually stored inside. The change in her face had already spoken volumes.
She thought and I waited. It wasn’t necessary, but I did care about her. I wondered if she sensed this.
Then she poured upon me some of the thoughts and emotions that she had probably held onto for too long. It was not a storm, full of details, and she was careful to merely drizzle what was necessary to answer my question of “what are you thinking about”. But the unveiling of her mystery had satiated enough of my curiosity and left me careful not to inquire any further. From my earlier courses in “shit not to say to girls”, I stayed silent.
The rest of the night went well. I called her drunkenly to ask if she ever considered dating me and she laughed. That laugh is one of the last memories I have with her up until this point because our lives soon began to diverge and we lived very separate lives, with separate characters.
I don’t know too much about what happened to her after college, but I did learn that night that not everything is as perfect as it seems. Everybody has their own unique habits. Everybody has their own unique personalities. Everybody has their own clouds.
Wherever she is, I hope that whatever she may be holding onto inside fades away with the façade she may put forth. She didn’t need it, just like the makeup she didn’t need to be beautiful.