"Better Off Being Indifferent"
Updated: Mar 14
"Better off Being Indifferent"
It’s the turning away just at the moment of passing him as I walk off the bus to get off. It’s the looking to the opposite side before I come to reach his right shoulder, frantically making meaningless conversation with the girl to my left, seated and waiting for her friend to get back and join her. It’s the intentionally “forgetting” to congratulate him when he scores a goal in our match, instead high-fiving everyone else on our team, even the 30-something-year-old instructor I’ve only just met. Even the already arrogantly self-confident 17-year-old who always seems to find some way to brag about his prestigious high school MUN accolades.
In all this intentional avoidance, we only had that one conversation, that one initial moment that started all this obsession in the first place. The “bonne nuit” without any other words said. My one smile in response before I turned away to stare at the wall for 30 minutes and then went to bed.
I spent the rest of those three weeks thinking of something to say, thinking of some way I could connect to him. Maybe a discussion on soccer? On art? I didn’t know shit about painting or drawing or other visual kinds, only performing. Maybe I could compliment those crazy green shoes he wears or impress him with my ping pong skills when we’re all playing and he’s the most competitive, despite being the only adult surrounded by teenagers.
Instead, as it usually goes with my liking of people significantly older than me, and, often, in positions of authority, our only “conversation” took place when I walked outside the physical boundaries the counselors had established for us, us 16 and 17-year-olds who were seemingly too “incompetent” to walk about the park grounds unaccompanied. Rather than having those made-up stories in my head act themselves out in real life, I got reprimanded by him in his broken English. Initially flattered that he had decided to follow me in my whimsical endeavor, I soon became a victim to “you can’t just walk around without supervision,” his lack of fluency in the program’s official language disallowing him to fully express his anger and frustration at my irresponsibility.
So, I was relegated to an even lower level on the totem pole. It wasn’t just utter indifference he felt for me; instead, he actively held me in contempt.
That last night, as we all got off the boat and bid La Seine forever adieu, we said our goodbyes to one another, genuine farewells between genuine friendships mixed in with those disingenuous farewells to fake friends, between fake relationships. It was that ending camp sadness—that collective feeling that we were going to miss this place, even when it wasn’t always that good to us. That’s the thing about endings; you always look so fondly upon an experience once it’s over. You attribute it with better characteristics and exaggerate the relationships and, of course, the moments with boys. You have more sympathy for its bad parts, become grateful for all that you did have, all that you did get. Maybe it’s intentional; maybe you trick yourself into thinking that way. Maybe you don’t want to admit that those three weeks of your life were a waste and so you can’t help but mentally enhance the relatively lack-luster, and, sometimes, painful, experience it was. You don’t dwell on the fact that she didn’t invite you to become a member of her “exclusive” hotel room of eight girls, even though you knew you were better friends with her than--at least--two of the other girls who took the bunk beds above and across from her. You don’t remember how you didn’t have any place to sit that one night at the restaurant, instead having to make quick friends and seat partners with the socially awkward boys who always made us students late for snack breaks by their consistent stream of questions posed to the speakers. You didn’t want to seem lonely, and, thus, the target of the counselors’, maybe even his, pity. You don’t remember how you felt so stupid when you didn’t know that Lisbon was the capital of Portugal, as some French American so needlessly maliciously pointed out—the sole reason why, when you finally got back home, you took those online quizzes to improve your knowledge of European capitals. No, you just decided to brand it as “a good time,” a phrase that dissuades any nuance or complexity.
Whilst everyone partakes in the nostalgia, you try to get a picture with him, to acquire some kind of lasting memento, some kind of concrete material to look back upon and remember instead of the actual disappointing lack of contact. Something to aid you in forgetting that he didn’t know your name by the time the second week along. To forget that, once he did finally learn it, he spelt it with an “f” and not a “ph.” To forget that he never again looked at you the way he did that first night. Maybe it was a mistake, something you had entirely made out of nothing.
But with our lack of conversations, our lack of connection, our lack of anything, I could never request the picture, instead opting to just awkwardly stand in the outside of his group, taking advantage of my friendships to attempt to be welcomed into his inner circle. I couldn’t just casually approach him without reason, as so many others did. As those that actually knew him did. Once everything died down and there was no longer the buzz of goodbyes, I couldn’t do anything else but leave the dock with my friends, angry and incredibly unsatisfied.
It’s the not being able to simply take a stupid picture even though you are to leave him, and this entire country, the next morning.
In all your efforts to impress, to not ruin the moment, to not kill any mood, you ultimately don’t even get to ever know him, to revel in all that beauty and take part in all that gorgeous atmosphere that you first fell in love with.
By liking him, you’ve made yourself his stranger while those romantically indifferent to him join his network of close friends, his outer friends—at least, his “acquaintances.” You, the most partial to him, become the most unfamiliar.
Before I have time to wake up, he has already left on a plane back to his hometown, the earliest flight possible. I am to leave on the latest one back to Los Angeles.
Now, I only see him in pictures, but not ones I took, much less ones of us together. They originate from his public profile or from those he was tagged in by his actual, legitimate friends. I cropped the teenager out and saved the resulting image to my phone, him smiling wide with his arms around somebody’s back that I can’t remember.