UNITED STATES--The kind of isolationism the Trump Administration is pursuing with its ‘America First’ platform isn’t confined to the national scope; isolationism is something we Americans practice each day.
On Thursday, in AP English, I sat in the front of class with an impatiently raised hand. It’d been a good five minutes I’d waited to be called on. My classmate had been called on from the back corner.
She is a basketball player, with eyes the color of sea glass. She has a nasally voice and in Honors last year had sustained a foundation-less animosity towards our teacher. She said it loudly, unabashedly.
“You are your everything,” she said.
I hadn’t been taking notes throughout the conversation. I took my spiral notebook out of my backpack just to write it down, and closed the notebook afterward.
The phrase has haunted me throughout the weekend.
It haunted me on Friday, as my boyfriend and I ate cheap takeout Thai food. He worried aloud about his MIT application, despite my persistent backrubs and vocal assurances.
It haunted me on Saturday, as I texted my friend at Swarthmore. She texted me only long enough to give account of her life’s past few months, but not to listen to my reciprocation.
It haunted me Sunday, on the way to Berkeley. I skipped the song my boyfriend was humming to play my own favorite off his playlist: Buddy Holly by Wheezer.
It haunted me Monday, too, when I reached out to my Miramonte best friend. She responded only to the questions raised about her commitment to Cornell University, and not about my seeking her feedback on my own application essays.
It haunted me, in other words, in all the instances where I found it true. You are your everything. While others can be your something, even your priority, you can’t escape from the permanent centrality of yourself, or, I think, even try to.
My boyfriend worried about his chances at admission to MIT. He didn’t worry about recognizing my efforts to comfort him. My friend at Swarthmore wanted to talk about her college life. She didn’t want to talk about my life at home.
I wanted to listen to Wheezer. I didn’t want to consult my boyfriend before changing the song. My Miramonte friend was interested in answering questions about her Cornell commitment. She wasn’t interested in answering those existing outside her own collegiate realm.
I’ve been thinking about writing this story about two former serious lovers who meet at a Whole Foods. The woman would have just lost her father to colon cancer. The man would wear a slate gray Ralph Lauren quarter-zip sweater, like the one my dad has, and search the produce aisle for a rare type of plum.
She would tell him the solemn news. He would accept it. Promptly, ten seconds later, he would ask her whether, on her way from the aisle with the make-your-own peanut butter machine, she had happened to have seen a label for Damson plums.
I’ve been thinking about writing that story for a while now. Something about the respective nature of grief. Something about how we suffer the same things, together, but how we suffer them alone.
That my classmate said, “You are your everything,” with such unabashedness, with such certainty seems a sort of license.
In America, the individual is a world unto himself. So, our foreign policy derives: not of a people looking out at a globe of people, but of a people composed of personal isolationists, or an island of smaller islands.