Often after I work out I have this bizarre need to go to CVS. I’m never sure why. There’s really nothing I need to buy, but I just want to see what’s in there, to make sure it hasn’t changed, the way my father does with the refrigerator. On this particular day I’m continuing the ritual, except some unseen greater entity, perhaps the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, or the big powdered donut up there in heaven, seems to have shat this fucking fairy dust called snow everywhere, and has turned down the thermostat to the setting that says “Steve Buscemi’s jowls.”
After I slip and almost eat it crossing 53rd, I lose it for a bit, and engage in the arts of the fine young vagrant who often seems to reside just two blocks south. I start to rant aloud to myself. “Why the fuck do people live here? Like, I understand that man is a naturally social being, blah blah blah—people obviously live here because other people live here. But what I want to know is, who was the first fucking half-wit who set up shop here, stayed a full year, and was like, ‘This shit right here is pretty good. This is definitely prime real estate; better take this from the Native Americans. They can keep fucking Florida.’ Like, in all seriousness, how did early settlers not figure out the weather? How did they not realize that the southern U.S., California—and maybe, like, Oregon if they’re feeling dreary—were the only places in which they should live? What absolute dumb shit thought this was a good place to put a major metropolitan area? People, man.”
By the time I’m through I’ve reached CVS, and I stop ranting, as to not appear, uh, afflicted or something. But I do keep thinking about why I continue to exist here. Like many UChicago students, I’ve thought about transferring, but I’ve never done it. I used to wonder why I never could, why I thought somewhere else wouldn’t be better after all. But after asking myself for about the sixth time why I hadn’t transferred yet, I finally pinpointed the issue, by asking myself a different question.
If not here, where exactly would I go? Regardless of whether we should, we here have an idea of our university as being the toughest, the deepest-thinking, the most worthwhile institution in the country. Harvard? Stanford? Harvard and Stanford are easy, for wimps and stooges. MIT? U.S. News and World Report says we’re better. Northwestern? Child, please. This nigh-ubiquitous notion on campus, that we’re just better—the best, in fact—makes it extremely difficult to transfer without feeling like we’re giving up, or checking out. Because, despite my dislike of my general experience here, and often of the student body, I kind of agree with that logic. If I transfer it’s not because UChicago wasn’t a good fit for me; it’s because I couldn’t handle the best, because I didn’t want to put in the work. Plus, look at all these other schools: They suck, right? Why would I want to go to any of them? It’s a strange individual who can be entirely miserable in a place and simultaneously think there’s nowhere better for them.
On good days I think I’ve stepped up to the challenge that UChicago presents, that all this intellectual stimulation and all the homework is good for me, that if I can conquer this I can conquer anything. I think I like the challenge.
On bad days I think I’ve simply gotten used to not being as happy as I could be—that I don’t realize I could be more joyful with a simpler life at an easier school with better weather, that my minimum expectation has simply been lowered. But, despite that, I can’t shake the thought that maybe I’m better off here, that this unhappiness is making me better, stronger. I fall back on that one thing Steve Carell says in Little Miss Sunshine about Marcel Proust, that the miserable years are really the good ones. I choose to believe that.
And on the worst days I’m just miserable. I don’t attempt to rationalize the misery, nor do I feel as though I’m any better for having been steeped in it. Those are the days that I want to up and quit—not even transfer, just walk away and live a vagabond life until I feel up to getting my shit together. But those are also the days that I tell myself that I’m not thinking rationally and that I’m better in the morning. “This really is good for me,” I say, usually to myself. “I just have to get through today.” And I think I’m right. But I’m really not sure.
As I complete the journey back to my apartment from CVS, still seething about the absurdity of the weather and the stupidity of early settlers, I stop in front of the steps to my door. In the snow on the ground, someone has written, “Why do people live here?” Underneath, someone else has written, “Because we can.”
“Well, that’s a shitty answer,” I think to myself.
“But I’m still not going anywhere.”
Liam Leddy is the blogger behind Vignettes and Hyperlinks. He is a second-year in the College majoring in economics.