Saturday night I had what I can safely say is the worst dream I’ve ever had in my life. I dreamt that I was falling out of control. That I was becoming the person that nearly everyone I told I was going to school in California feared I would become: California embodied. A sort of hippie-ish (don’t think I am), pansexual (pretty sure I’m not, though that chair over there is looking pretty fine…just kidding!) druggie (your love is my drug; also, occasionally alcohol) who was into organics (I hate them), yoga (can’t even touch my toes), bumming around and surfing on the beach all day (I can’t swim) and psychics (we can’t even understand the past — how can we begin to guess at the future?). “We knew you wouldn’t last! We knew you couldn’t make it so far away from home!” the voices chanted. I feared the reproach of my parents, as they nodded disapprovingly over what I imagined was my drugged-out, sexed-up and over-psyched alter ego.
And as soon as I thought I didn’t want to see their disapproval, they disappeared — or rather, I disappeared. I was sucked into a vortex, into cyberspace. I suddenly couldn’t prove that I, or anyone I loved, existed. I had digital evidence of them — I could see my mom’s emails and text messages, see my friends’ Facebook pictures and updates and hear my father’s voice on the phone — but none of that was tangible. Because I couldn’t see and hear them in the immediate, because I couldn’t physically feel their presence, they ceased to be real.
And in a sense both of these things came true — aspects of both my nightmares manifested themselves to some degree in my conscious life this past week.
While I was able to pick up the phone and speak to my mother and father Sunday morning, the reality of the distance between New York and San Francisco set in for the first time. I couldn’t just book a flight and go home for the weekend, or even for a week — it was too expensive. Nor could my parents — ideally both of them, along with my little sister, but even just one of them — fly out to stay with me for a couple of days. From January through now, and until June 10 or so, they really only exist to me through Gmail and my cellphone — we don’t even have Skype working yet.
I’d always boasted — to my friends and to my family — that I had not yet felt homesick at Stanford because I loved my family and knew we’d all be there for each other when I returned home in June, and because Stanford was one of the places where I was most comfortable; yet, here I was homesick for the first time and sad that not everything was working out as I’d planned.
And up until this week, I’ve felt like I had the whole New York City-Stanford thing down — that I perfectly embodied how to pack up, leave your friends and family, move 2,500 miles across the continent and live a happy and successful academic and social life. The whole “work hard, play hard” mantra seemed to fit both my identity as a fast-paced, hardcore, go-get-‘em New Yorker and as a happy, content and (to use my favorite California lingo) “chill” Stanford student. When I was picking schools, my parents warned that they wouldn’t be able to visit me as a family and that I wouldn’t be able to come home whenever, if ever, something went wrong.
And nothing went wrong, nor did I think anything would, until this Wednesday night, when I wound up in the emergency room due to naïveté about baked goods combined with something that wasn’t your love or alcohol.
I haven’t ridden in an ambulance in recent or even distant memory; nor had I ever been in the emergency room without my parents. Beyond the immediate questions of insurance costs, University repercussions and, of course, my health, I had the more remote thought that I never wanted to get sick enough to ride in an ambulance or be admitted into a hospital again. I hate the amount of sickness and suffering that is concentrated in hospitals.
Hard as this might be for me, it must be harder for my parents, who have virtually no control or immediate knowledge of what happened. So to them I say two things: (1) I’m sorry for making stupid decisions and, pardon my language, scaring the shit out of you; (2) thank you for treating me like a young-adult — like a semi-autonomous college student — and not like a high school kid so far.
As far as the broader context for what I did to wind up where I was last night, what I’ve learned from the ordeal so far, how I judge myself the situation and what comes next, I’m not so sure.
Kristian’s looking for two candidates to serve as his parents and physically chew him out on their behalf and then give him a big hug. If you’d like to sign up for an interview, message him at kbailey ‘at’ stanford.edu. (Listen to “The Bends” by Radiohead if you didn’t get the title reference.)