Driving Through the Adult World

“Why do I feel like I'm choking lately? What am I looking for?” - The Black Suits

My eyelids squished sluggishly as I sat up on my bed. 13:56 – Isn’t it strange how one can wake up and half an entire day is already gone?

Then again, the days and nights are barely distinguishable. Peering out the window, I can barely tell the sun’s out. Herds of clouds mellowly enveloped the once-gleaming sky. A few rays of light slipped through the cracks, silently rebelling against the otherwise murky canvas.

What are my friends up to? Why is she in Maine? And he’s in Chinatown. Good for him. He must be having great food right now. I wish I am in Chinatown. I wish I am in Chinatown with him right now.

Why am I still in my bed by myself at 2 PM? Am I actually close with my friends? Do I have enough friends? What does it even mean to have enough friends? Am I lonely?

I grabbed the laptop off the desk next to my bed. In the corner of my vision, I saw a portrait of myself lazily sitting amidst scattered stationery on my desk. The man in the painting glanced into the distance, with the usual highlights on the iris that painters like to use to add depth. It has always felt like a cheap trick, a mirage to imitate the real deal. But, somehow, the man does appear more determined, more sure of what lies ahead of him.

Must be easy when you’re in a painting.

Still, Hannah is a great painter. I miss our painting meetings. … Has she kept the portrait I painted for her? How is she doing? I should ask her on Discord. Is she enjoying the Californian weather? It must be nicer than Boston.

I flipped open the laptop’s lid. Dozens of tabs leftover from the day before spawned into existence. Muscle memory took over as my fingers typed “” into the browser.

Loading… Waiting… Loading… I stared anxiously at my screen. No new messages from him.

Annoyance… Confusion… Relief..? It’s been days since our last email. Why has he not chosen a research topic for me yet?

Do I even want to do research? Maybe I should just take up that offer and become a “consultant” for a month, living it up in the “paradise” that is LA. But what even is consulting?

I want to do AI instead. Isn’t it marvelous that machines can have autonomy and intelligence? Yes, I should just stick with this AI research. … Or, should I? I'm 18. I want to travel to LA and live among the Hollywood stars, or maybe an impoverished artist dwelling in the gutters of Paris. What if I were a hacker in Peru singlehandedly tearing down scandals after scandals, a fugitive, a hermit, a hero among the people…

The mundanity flickered by, blurring and smushing into a forgettable lapse. Food, work, youtube shorts, work, a quick nap. 17:51 - I should go send the packages.

I strolled towards the Simmons building.

One of my favorite French words is flâner, which means to walk around aimlessly, aloof, dissociated. It would be improper to compare my machine-like movement with flâner. Each step replicated every other step from the time before and the time before then. But, the thoughtless steps freed my mind, and at last, my mind briefly enjoyed the luxury of flâner.

It’s really unfair that the sun sets at 5 PM in Boston. Then again, I can only see the withering trees and the gray-hued sky when the sun is up, so maybe it’s better this way. At least the winter solstice has passed, so daylight is steadily returning. Speaking of, is the Spring Equinox happening soon as well? That means the MIThenge is almost here. I should go! I should go with him... Does he even like me? Does he at least consider me as a friend? Could there ever be anything more...

I stopped in front of the Simmons entrance. My friend Alex arrived a few minutes later. We joked and laughed as we sauntered towards the car.

The boxes are heavy, but nothing that two MIT engineers can’t solve. Increase the speed to make up for the centripetal force. Change the angle to maximize the push and minimize friction. The boxes were heavy, but nothing that two MIT engineers couldn’t solve. Soon enough, they were in the car.

I had driven in Cambridge once before. The roads were narrow, the lanes myriad. The lines curved and twisted as if unassuming surprises eagerly waited on the other side — But I survived last time, so I will survive this time, too.

Under the veil of the starless night, droplets of rain began splattering on the windshield. I tapped with my right hand; the wipers activated; the scattered droplets were gone, and then they were back.

Flashes of headlights pierced through the darkness, incandescent light refracting from the rain, simultaneously bursting and fading in unison. The rain crescendoed. The gust washed across the car like a sailboat drifting above the abyss.

The red light turned to green. I unleashed the break. The balls of my feet plunged into the gas pedal.

A thump. An impulse. The unmistakable sensation of momentum.

I pulled aside the car. We stood in the rain. I was confused.

We talked to the man. He was nice. Alex took over the wheel. I was still confused.

How did I end up here?

I turned my head to the left. Confused. I saw Alex. I was no longer driving. He was.

I asked him what had happened. He said it wasn’t my fault – What?

Moments passed. I asked him again. The car stopped. He turned and looked at me: “You were not at fault, in any sense of the word.”

I was less confused.

Insurance Information. Photos of the front bumper. Police Report Number.

We grinned at each other, wrily, and we parted ways.

People have always told me that the twenties are the time to be confused, to explore the world, and to find the path that belongs to me. Well, I am still eighteen, two years away from the much-anticipated milestone of two decades, and I feel plenty confused already.

Little memories here and there, weaving into chaotic tapestries that are supposed to somehow spell out a bigger story, yet I don’t get to take a peek at the spoiler beforehand.

But maybe that is for the better, to endure the waiting now. The movie’s just beginning, and it would be a pity to spoil what lies ahead.

Or perhaps it’s all a lie fabricated for self-indulgence, the protagonist, a narcissist, desperately clinging to some non-existent grand finale.

Who knows? I'd have to watch the movie in full first.

The semester is starting tomorrow.

The lights are dimming.

I should go to sleep.

Good night.

Alex Fan
3:11 AM, 2024.2.5