About last Saturday night: I was sitting cross-legged on the second-floor landing of an elegant rental house in the mountains of South Lake Tahoe, nursing a plastic cup that I hadn’t bothered to fill with anything and wondering if I was doing my youth wrong. Below me, in the kitchen, people with whom I had been affable all weekend were already several shots into the evening. They danced to Top 40 songs and occasionally erupted into peals of laughter.
I was persuaded to come on this trip months ago, when the long late-summer days exacerbated my loneliness. I was new to the Bay Area, newly far away from everyone I had loved. A snow-mantled weekend in the mountains, sharing a house with the other 20-somethings in my company, seemed like a good idea at the time.
It was not until we reached the mountains that it dawned on me that it would not be so easy. Perhaps unsurprisingly for California, most of the snow had melted. Flowers rushed into bloom, hasty.
While the others chatted about the ski slopes, my mind was unavoidably drawn to comparisons with the vacations I had taken with my family growing up. We stayed in motels. We took pictures beside monuments. Skiing—like tennis, or using “summer” as a verb—were upper middle-class concepts, out of our reach.
Moreover, I was alert to the ways that Tahoe reflected the strange privilege that we had accepted as part of these tech jobs. Everyone on this trip was fresh out the colleges with covetable names, granted entrance to the mythologized world of Silicon Valley. While the premise of the Tahoe trip was not luxurious—many of us slept in sleeping bags in order to split the rent, that was part of the appeal—the individual costs were still higher than what most people our age could afford. The trip was casual in the way that hoodies and six-figure salaries go together.
Sober and willfully distant from the others on a Saturday night, I wondered what cog in me was defective. I had come because I was lonely but persisted in being alone. From the second-floor landing, I watched the perfectly nice, smart, charming people who could be my friends. I watched them like they were an instructional video on how to be a young adult.
Holding my empty plastic cup to my lips, I recognized certain truths about myself, ones that would assure alienation this weekend, and probably for the rest of my youth: I do not care for alcohol. Given the choice between the party and the margins, I have a preference for reticence. I am friendly with most people but am guarded in choosing with whom I am close, trusting, wholehearted.
I am not saying that I was happy or unhappy about entering adulthood with an ethos that arrives at detachment more easily than belonging. Only that I had better find satisfaction in that.
And yet. Hours earlier, that afternoon, I had broken apart from the group for the first time. I had sat by myself at the lakeside and thought about my friends and family, whom I missed terribly. I had tried to memorize the prickling cold air, the panorama serrated by spires of pine trees. A part of me hoped that someone, anyone, from the group would join me. After a few minutes, someone did. We wondered aloud about the rocks that shimmered below the surface of the lake but mostly sat together, her quiet next to mine. It sounded like a beginning.
Sometime in the gradient between Saturday night and sunrise, the world resolved itself again. The paper cups found their way into trash bags, the weary bodies welcomed sleep. All as if to tell us: Someday, we will have to be more careful. Someday, not today, we will have to be wiser and less blithe. We drove back down the mountain as the sun rose, glancing off the creeks of snowmelt—the one light impervious to time, blinking at us from behind the evergreen trees.
I wrote this essay as a sort of assigned response to Joan Didion’s “Letter from Paradise, 21° 19′ N., 157° 52′ W.” (Yes, I assign myself things.) If you can find it in one of her essay collections, I highly recommend it!