By Gabrielle Izu
January 24, 2024
You choose silence and accept the self-destruction that comes with it, inviting it because you fear the “other.”
The silence on the bus was all that mattered. For two precious hours somewhere between Houston and Austin, all there was to enjoy was silence. Of course, there were the windows and the views that they held, trees flitting past in the dark blur of a January night. Yet that moment in a crowded Megabus only felt significant to you because of the silence.
Once you step on a bus, you enter a holy social performance upheld since the inception of public transportation: refusing to acknowledge the other passengers. The social contract understood by all is that you will be nothing to each other -- you will all leave and ignore the explosion of coincidence that brought us to travel to the same place in the same vehicle at the same time. You will be silent. Sure, you can talk to each other, but none of the words you say will have meaning; they would only add to the ever-persistent silence of two people addressing each other without caring to truly see the other. You will reduce each other to the here and now, confining the “other’s” existence to that one place and moment in time: the bus.
Somewhere between Houston and Austin, there was a Megabus. You were all going to Austin, and looked close enough in age. Everyone had left their family members in the Marriott Inn parking lot to board the bus after hugging them (awkwardly) goodbye. You all sat within inches of each other and would never exchange a word. But for those two and a half brief hours between Houston and Austin, You were united in the same purpose: to go from one home to another.
Home in college means you return every night to a bed that doesn’t quite feel like yours, or someone else’s. You go to party after party, class after class, listlessly pushing through the same hordes of people while cycling through each week. There are always things to unpack and paintings to hang up, yet it feels futile when you think about when you'll have to pack them up next. No matter what you do, the infamous “college experience” never feels like a home. It feels more like an agent of forceful change, one that seeps into every aspect of your life and makes it unrecognizable. You live there, eat there, and sleep there, all while feeling out of place.
When you do return home, you find that everything changed while you were away. You are no longer privileged to the safety you took for granted with your family. Things happen no one tells you about: the house becomes an alien environment you can no longer seek refuge in, and you don’t lay on your mom’s bed for hours to pour your heart out to her anymore. Each successive time you go to visit your family, you become more unsure of whether you are returning home or leaving your new one. You are alone. All is silent.
College is this focus on the “YOU.” It is YOUR life now, and you are the sole proprietor in charge of its successes or failures. Your dissatisfactions are entirely of your own doing. You become obsessed with regulating and controlling the “YOU,” trying to keep up when every aspect of yourself warps into something unmanageable. More people become passersby on a bus to you as your life sprawls out in incoherent directions.
Somewhere between Austin and Houston, there was a Megabus. In it, you wondered about your relationship with the passengers. You cannot see their faces; the bus is too dark now to really notice any definitive features. You can, however, see their silhouettes shift uncomfortably in their seats as they try to distract themselves with their phones or do their homework. The darkness doesn’t really matter, since you can still remember their faces from when you all boarded the bus in that parking lot somewhere in North Houston.
You knew one of them, a stranger who you did a group project with. He was a stranger you had no interest in getting to know further. You wondered if he felt the same way, if he was waiting until you could both pretend it never happened. Should you ignore him? Should you make him invisible? He’s sitting right there, and all it takes is a sentence.
“Hey, aren’t you in my Statistics class?”
But it is too late, and you’re uncomfortable with the idea of talking to him. He means nothing to you and can’t do anything for you. You have no mutual friends, and nothing in common. You’ve grown too accustomed to the silence, complacent in ignoring people that cannot serve you. Selfishness rules your life now, and with it you’ve contracted, become dull, and accepted silence. Sitting on the bus, you resign yourself. You think:
“What’s the point?”
You refused to see him. He became invisible. The silence won.
The “YOU” makes relationships tricky in college. It becomes easier to push strangers aside, devalue them until they become superficial, and use them for entirely selfish reasons. Once people become the things they can do for you, your life can finally be fully focused on the “YOU.” You wonder if this is what adulthood is: a persistent silence.
If adulthood is silence, then it is a two-sided dagger you simultaneously drive into yourself and others. In your childhood, other people were automatically intriguing to you, and you would jump at the opportunity to talk to a stranger on a bus. Now you can barely make eye contact with another passenger.
Young adulthood in college is about learning how to hurt in new ways. It feels like your life — who you are — is slowly fading into something unrecognizable. As with every phase of your life, you resist it, engaging in a futile struggle until you finally let it overwhelm you. The change is painful, but if you allow your pain and fear of change to dictate your choices, you lose the people you should have worked to keep in your life.
But the upheaval of young adulthood will pass. With its passing, the meetings, classes, and events you drown yourself in now will become forgettable. The self-serving justifications for your refusal to acknowledge the daily passerby in your life will sour upon the realization that you sacrificed the people in your life for no real purpose. Once the dust settles on your twenties, you will emerge on the other side with only yourself, and the people who you were lucky to connect with in the few moments you had together. There can be no higher calling in a life devoid of stability than to find people to hold dear and appreciate while you still can.
Somewhere in Austin, months after that Megabus ride, a man approached me in the middle of a dining hall. I was so caught up in trying to eat and leave as fast as possible that I almost blew him off — he looked surprised by how startled my reaction was. The conversation lasted maybe 30 seconds, generously a minute. He asked me if I was on a Megabus a couple months back. I said yes. He told me he recognized me, and that he wanted to say hi. We laughed awkwardly about the coincidence, and then he left.
I still wonder where he is now.
He was able to do what I couldn’t. He had no obligation to acknowledge me, but he did. When you begin to think of life as fleeting moments, having something as grounding as a stranger acknowledging that you are not just a passerby on a bus stays with you. It's refreshing to realize you no longer must assume you mean nothing to everyone else, and that everyone else means nothing to you. He approached with no intention other than to acknowledge; there was no ulterior motive besides wanting to have a conversation in passing with someone he shared a unique experience with.
At that moment, we were two children, acknowledging each other for that brief moment that we shared on a bus. Both in transit with no clear direction of where we were going, but finding comfort in the fact that we could see each other. ■
Layout: Lauren McCord
Photographer: Sophia Ma
Videographer: Shezan Samanani
Stylists: Bella Muñoz & Sachi Sooda
HMUA: Angelynn Rivera & Reyana Tran
Models: Jillian Le & Josemanuel Vasquez