I see you and learn how to be

A boy is working on something tonight. I can see him from my room window. He is concentrating. This is one of the best things to watch: people who focus. On the floor above the boy is another boy who is also working on something and I wonder who is working harder and if that is even measurable and maybe one of the boys sometimes feels his heart beating inside him, beating , hit. I want to know what everyone is doing everywhere.

If I could, I would keep asking, “How did you spend your time today?” There are few things more intimate than knowing a person’s schedule. You might see her naked. Maybe you can hear them singing. I want to know what courses a person had. And how they got from class to class. And if it was all effortless and automatic, or if it was a big, big effort. There are things one cannot know about people. We get sketches from strangers and that’s all. Everyone goes a certain way. I like making impressions in front of my friends of people we know. They laugh and I wonder how I would imitate myself. I try in front of a mirror. The two girls move in the same way.

Sometimes I think I don’t know how to be human. Where am I taking my body every hour? When do I breathe in? How many grapes can I eat before my whole body is pounding like acid? I want to know how people do it, how they do what is alive. So I’m watching. Couples in cafes. friends in my room. strangers through the window. I see evidence of people doing it too – waking up and living. We don’t talk enough about existence. But in the window frames, human life is deified like art. I see you and I learn. i feel ok

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From my bedroom in Tokyo, I see my neighbors in the apartment across the street. There are a few characters I’ve gotten to know over the years. I gave them names. “The Protector” sits at his dining table for a while after putting his son to bed. “The Woman of Steel” gets up at 6:30 am and prepares a lunch box in her steel kitchen. “Hula Lady” started dancing one night. I also wanted to dance, to music I like, barefoot and with the city lights streaming into my room, because sometimes it’s unbearable to be sitting at a desk doing things that need getting done. I wonder who she’s cooking for. I wonder what it’s like to leave a light on – to stay awake so someone who is afraid can find you and walk to you in the light.

I don’t look with malice. I’m watching because I’m scared. Because most of the time I don’t know if I’m doing it right. I’m afraid I’m not always doing what I should be doing every moment. Because time has gotten the best of me since I was probably 11 years old. That’s when I first understood it as something finite and ephemeral. Now I’m 19 and I want to swallow all the time. All the time in my life I let it sit like a black hole in my stomach because what else do I do with it? how to care for it How do I exist in time? How will it hit me – how will I transition from all the things I’m doing right now to what I desperately want to do in the future? I lick up the days and nibble on the hours – minutes and seconds of seasonal time on my tongue.

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Sometimes I just stand in my dorm room before dinner. My shoes are wet from the rain. I could take them off, but my pants are wet too, and then it doesn’t stop. I’m waiting for my friends to come back so we can have dinner together. This will be our time. When I rush to class, it’s easy – that’s the only thing I have to do. I unravel when the choice of what to do is mine.

The Limelite store in town had a small banner that said, “Made a decision today,” as if it were an achievement. My friends and I laughed. We thought about getting it. I’m not undecided. I’m just wondering if my choices about what to do with my time are the best. Should I work or should I sleep? walk or cry I decide to wear a red sweater and I decide to have my coffee and read outside by the chapel. If it weren’t for Princeton, maybe I’d be somewhere in California and there wouldn’t be a need for sweaters, and maybe I wouldn’t be someone who reads. But I’m reading, and winter is coming, and I like this red sweater. This is the person I am at this point in time because of all the choices I’ve made. We decided not to buy the banner.

i love coincidences Unexpected people in ordinary places. Numbers in exactly the right order. “Hex!” moments. Things that seem like they’re going to happen because they have to. Signs you should be there to see it. That everything was right.

There are these guys over there behind my window, in the other building, in their windows. Maybe they know how to say focaccia. Maybe they know how atoms fit into cells. Or how to start Korean emails. Or what to do if for a brief moment after midnight in the bathroom at a party you don’t recognize the person looking at you in the mirror. Or why necklaces rotate around your neck all day and always need to be fixed, fixed, fixed.

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Maybe they know more than I how to be human. But none of that matters. We are all here now. I want to wave, but that would break something, and I don’t know what.

Ina Aram is a contributing writer based in Tokyo, Japan, writing for The Prospect at the ‘Prince’. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @inafinity and YouTube @inafinity.

Self-essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest writers the opportunity to share their views and lived experiences. If you would like to submit a self-assessment, please contact us at [email protected]

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