Illustration by Joaquin Kunkel

‘Tis the Season to be Jolly

And soon enough my wise roommate sat my empowered behind down and explained to me that craving constancy of affection is only human.

Dec 11, 2016

Bonheur. Madame Garnault dropped the French word meaning happiness like an early Christmas present into our stockings of vocabulary. Suddenly, 11 faces in Elementary French 1 weren't looking quite as drowsy at 9:15 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. After 13 weeks of riveting dialogue between Thomas and Robert about what kind of apartment they wished to inhabit on Rue Lefroid, I wondered if this was the natural progression of events. The word bonheur could only be learned after all the logistics of language and expression had been efficiently established.
My sophomore year had begun on a similarly efficient note. I was determined to be resilient. My efficient establishment of the self was all that I hoped for, as I dragged three cardboard boxes weighed down with clothes and memories from freshman year, all by myself, feeling like the new poster girl for women's empowerment.
The past summer had brought me rest, rain and retrospection. I spent each day disappearing into children’s literature with a glass of perfectly frothed mango milkshake prepared by my mother. It took me a couple of weeks to fully realize my rejection of adulthood, but at some point while flipping through Little Women, I understood that it might be time to concentrate on my own bildungsroman.
My problem with adulthood seemed to stem from the fact that I wasn’t having as much fun as I thought I would in college. A lifetime of being sheltered had brought an unholy lust for late nights spent driving around cities, for streetlights and strolling past bars that beckoned with live music. Jazz or the blues, either would do, as long as an interesting conversation could be found to drown it out. I concentrated on not being accountable to anyone, not having to worry about someone else, not having my mother worrying about when I’d be back home or how I was doing. I could slip out unnoticed and return when I liked.
This was thrilling for about two months until I realized that it’s a bit of a blessing to have someone so interested in your well-being. It’s a sense of security and importance, of love that can only arise from another person’s concern for your welfare. At college these people are your best friends or your roommates or, perhaps, a partner who wants to know where you are and how you’re doing. For most people, these relationships are built up over freshman year and then reinforced for the rest of their college careers.
As Saadiyat troopers though, we’re different. We establish relationships in a new environment and then spend three months in different parts of the world. Our only point of contact with people that we have grown to love and be dependent on is a quick Facebook like and a comment on a post checking in outside the sixth wonder of the world.
I’d decided then not to ask anyone for help with my boxes on the day we moved in for sophomore year. And neither would I ask anyone for help when I had a sunstroke on a film shoot in the desert nor when I had a doctor’s appointment and would have really liked some hand-holding through it.
I was preparing, already, for the departure that would come. I was trying to preempt heartbreak by not attaching myself to anybody too strongly. Fortunately, the nature of living in the small Saadiyat community means that there is no way to go about your day without bumping into people whom you will grow to love. Happenstance has its way, so whether I liked it or not, I was being distracted through film crises by laughter, I was scarfing down Koshari in Egypt with my best friends and I was brought green apples during sunstrokes. And soon enough my wise roommate sat my empowered behind down and explained to me that craving constancy of affection is only human. Meal swipes may be what get us through the day but relationships release joy into these moments. The chronic state of missing, that we often find ourselves in as we’re flung across the world, is just a birthmark of having memories so enjoyable that we wish they could be prolonged.
I’ve learned bonheur just before the week of final exams sets in, just before I leave the little world I've set up for myself over the last year and a half, for another year and a half. The changes will be big and I’m sure to grumble quite a bit when I return and find that the salad bar has changed yet again. Still, I leave secure in the little world I have on Saadiyat and I’ll welcome the discomfort of detachment as a birthmark of bonheur.
Riva Razdan is a contributing writer. Email her at
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