A cold blanket covered Chris’s body in a small corner of a large room. Gripping the warm rubber casing of his phone, he opened Tinder. The app presented a picture of a girl with long hair and high heels smiling in a college dorm common room, her hands around another girl, also smiling. Chris stared at the picture. He swiped it to the right side of the screen. Below it was a picture of a girl with shoulder-length brown hair alone in a room smiling underneath an Instagram filter. He swiped it to the left side of the screen. He swiped the next picture to the left side of the screen. He swiped the next picture to the right side of the screen, etc. He didn’t think any words.
At 12:42 PM Chris looked at the time on his phone and resolved with conviction that he would continue swiping pictures on Tinder until 1 PM. He quickly flicked images off the right side of the screen, holding the phone with two hands and alternating the index finger he used to swipe. Eventually he slowed down, focusing on the images, reading the profile descriptions and reacting. He started to feel an aversion which coalesced into the thought that all the profiles had an oppressive blandness to them – the characteristics of the girls in the photographs could be fully captured by objective, already completely-defined categories: A certain weight. Hair of a length and color. Likes soccer, likes swimming. Likes to hunt, Harry Potter, American Horror Story, Breaking Bad, John Green, partying, “down to earth” guys, “adventure.” Goes to Mizzou, goes to Wash U, UMSL, SLU, Truman State. Reinforced with each profile was the despotic sensation that all human beings are hopelessly dull, that all emotion is trite (“loves [family/Christ/my dog]”) and that his ability to feel anything other than alienation around anyone outside of a small group of people he already knew at his university and maybe five people he followed on Twitter, was impossible, and if he ever lost these people, e.g. through graduating university or Twitter gradually becoming obsolete, he would be more helplessly alone than he had ever been in his life. Chris went to the settings for the app and checked the box for seeing male profiles as well, then went back and swiped through the photos more quickly.
Chris dropped his phone to the left of his body and stared at nothing. He felt frustration at his inability to react with a sadness that was constructive or fulfilling. Instead it manifested itself as a kind of paralysis. He thought “I am lonely” with sarcastic intensity. He thought ambivalently about Emily, Sofie and Jason. He thought about thinking about something, thought about he was thinking about that thing, etc. until he felt confused and anxious and sweaty. He made sounds to himself, then opened Tinder again. Many of the messages he had received called him cute or hot. A few others directly or indirectly propositioned him for sex.
Most of the messages Chris received were variations on “hi” and “what’s up” from guys. He felt almost uncontrollable anger. He knew that, if he responded “Not much how about you?” the boys would respond with something equally banal. He felt uninvested in expending energy on people who seemed, to him, inhuman and dull. He made a joke to a girl who took a picture of herself in a mirror about how much he liked her shirt with “backwards letters,” which she didn’t get. A guy with brown hair and glasses asked him what he wrote, referring to how he mentioned that he “liked to write” in his profile and Chris responded sarcastically. Someone else spelled out his words fully, with standard capitalization: “Hello, how are you on this fine evening? : )” to which Chris mocked by responding in a similar tone.
Chris felt embarrassment that the things he had just thought and done were selfish and cruel, and, as if reading them from a novel about a dysfunctional main character, thought about them as the clear, easily-solvable problem that was the cause of the main character’s vague and uncontrollable angst. Chris felt that if he were to try and explain why the things he had just thought and done were selfish and cruel, his explanation would make the feeling he was describing sound like “somewhat annoyed.”
At 1:21 PM Chris rolled over in his bed, refreshed his twitter feed, got up and walked into his kitchen. He started boiling a pot of water while thinking the tune to Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th.” Seven minutes later he grabbed the opened box of angel hair pasta and put a handful into the boiling water. Chris learned recently that angel hair pasta was not the same as spaghetti, which is what he meant to buy at Hy-Vee two weeks ago.
In Kids, there is a scene in the middle of the film in which a teenage girl who just discovered she carried HIV was in a taxi going home, crying, while the Taxi cab driver, older and with a European accent, noticing that she was distressed, reassuringly told her, after saying she was very pretty, that if she can’t figure out how to make herself happy, just don’t think. Forget about your thoughts, block it out. The girl with HIV smiled momentarily and started crying less, and the scene changed. Chris paused the film and cried after watching this scene and thought about it every day, usually multiple times each day, during finals week, month after he had seen it.
Bubbles of boiling water pushed their way through the pasta and burst through the surface, steaming Chris’s cheeks and impressing upon them a distant redness. He grabbed his roommate’s bright orange plastic spoon with a smiling face carved out of it. He held it in front of his head for a second, unfocused his eyes and matched the spoon’s expression.
Alex Wennerberg is a junior physics major. His twitter is @w3nnerberg.