Letters from Andy: 4 (grad school)


The sophomore slump is fucking real. Things moved so fast last year, but now I'm having an existential crisis every Sunday. I think Pittsburgh is draining me of my energy. I haven't looked forward to a Thanksgiving break this much since my undergrad freshman year.

Speaking of which — your parents are hosting Thanksgiving this year, so are you gonna bring Cynthia along? I feel like at this point they've gotta know y'all aren't just roommates. Pretty sure my parents have figured it out, and I feel like it's impossible my mom hasn't told yours during one of their little hikes.

Research has been going really well. Like super extremely better than I ever expected. Yesterday I was chatting with Penco, the old M&I professor, and I asked him to take a look at my code. He thinks this might be really huge, like honest-to-God Nobel prize material if it turns out to be legit. He told me he would call some of his friends in Europe to verify this isn't just some bug in my model.

He's also super excited because of the telomere paper that Pebblecheck's lab recently published. You hear about this one? They say the findings might let them pharmaceutically slow aging within twenty years. Big year for Carnegie research.

I wish I could say I was excited, but to be honest I don't really feel anything. Arthur moved to Dallas for that Raytheon job, and we haven't found a new roommate to replace him yet. Mabel has been home for the last month for a family emergency, and obviously I told you how Clair and I are kind of on hiatus for the moment. So I'm just living in this big drafty house all by myself, in a big empty city with nobody I know.

This is probably really bad, but I've started smoking by myself multiple times a week. I just can't stand to be inside my own mind anymore, so I just travel to Schenley to get high and enjoy my solitary walk back to Bloomfield. I usually listen to my old playlists and reminisce about the good old days of undergrad. Even though I'm not sure they were actually that good.

It's honestly been harder to make friends than I thought. When you graduate, it's like everybody's social circle calcifies and it becomes impossible to meet people. I mean it's not like I haven't stayed in touch with my friends. I still text Sebastian pretty regularly, and I'm probably gonna visit Arthur over the winter break. But it's just different now. Sometimes I get in my car and drive through random streets in this city for hours, hoping that I'll find some new hidden location that will make me feel less lonely. It's silly, I know.

When I get bored of that I'll go on aimless walks through the campus and sometimes, for just a moment, I can pretend I'm still an undergrad. But of course, everybody from then is gone, and I'm stuck living with the ghosts they left behind. It's odd how the people and buildings that define your life get melded together in your mind. It makes you forget that people come and go within four years, while the buildings will stand for centuries.

I know you like to analyze my dreams, so here's one I've been having almost every night recently. Maybe you can tell me which planet is responsible. I'm walking down the main stairwell of Doherty, and when I pass the entrance to the physics wing I start to reflect on my undergrad years. But the staircase keeps descending, floor after floor, far deeper into the ground than Doherty really goes. I pass Sorrel's library, my freshman dorm, Sebastian's house, and all the places in the UC where Clair and I used to study together. As I go deeper, the basements of Doherty become a network of passages and shifting halls that unify every structure on campus. I get a God's-eye view of this underground labyrinth; the floor plans are laid out before me, and I understand with complete intuition how each building is connected. Every place at this school where I'd ever made a memory was merging, splitting, and reforming in a massive undulating fractal of hallways and rooms that made perfect sense. But the stairs keep taking me downward, deeper and deeper into the Earth.

After hours, I reach the deepest, dimmest, most isolated basement of Doherty where I find all the people from my freshman year who I don't speak to anymore. Everybody who had a formative impact on me is waiting there. Not just friends and classmates, though. Sammy is there too. The basement is lined with red bricks, and the air is so thick and hot that I think I'm going to suffocate. Behind them is a doorway that opens into an empty black abyss. One by one they all wordlessly shake my hand and walk through the doorway, until it's just me left. When I try to go back up, the floor tilts downward and I fall in.

That's where the dream usually ends — right as I'm falling through the doorway. But last night it ended differently. I closed my eyes and fought the urge to fall through the door, and all of a sudden the room became level again. I opened my eyes and the room was brightly lit. The walls were made of gray tiles, not red bricks, and I could feel a cool breeze passing through. I peered through the doorway and I saw that it let me exit Doherty onto The Cut. And it was a beautiful spring morning outside.

Does it mean anything? What do your Tarot cards say about this?

Here's to hoping it gets better.