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I see you and learn how to be

<h6>Ina Aram / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Ina Aram / The Daily Princetonian

There is a boy working on something tonight. I can see him from the window of my room. He is concentrating. This is one of the best things to witness: people concentrating. On the floor above the boy is another boy, working on something too, and I wonder who is working harder, and if this is even possible to measure, and if maybe one of the boys sometimes feels conscious of their heart inside of them beating, beating, beating. I want to know what everyone everywhere is doing.

If I could, I would ask all the time, “How did you spend your time today?” There are few things more intimate than knowing someone’s schedule. Maybe seeing them naked. Maybe hearing them sing. I want to know what classes a person had. And how they got themselves from class to class. And whether it was all effortless and automatic, or if it was a great, great effort. There are things you can’t know about people. We receive sketches of strangers, and that is all. Everybody walks a certain way. I like to do impressions in front of my friends of people we know. They laugh and I wonder how I would imitate myself. I try it in front of a mirror. The two girls move just the same.


Sometimes I think I don’t know how to be human. Where do I put my body every hour? When do I take a breath? How many grapes can I eat before my whole body buzzes like acid? I want to know how people do it, how they do this thing that is living. So I watch. Couples in cafes. Friends in my room. Strangers through windows. I see proof of people who do it too — who wake and live. We don’t talk about existing enough. But in the frames of windows, human life is idolized like art. I see you being, and I learn. I feel okay.

From my bedroom in Tokyo, I see my neighbors in the apartment across the street. There are a few characters I have come to know across the years. I gave them names. “The Protector” sits at his dining table for a while after putting his son to bed. “The Woman of Steel” is up at 6:30 a.m., making a lunchbox in her steel kitchen. “Hula Lady” began to dance one night. I wanted to dance too, to music I like, with bare feet, and with the city lights streaming into my room, because sometimes sitting at a desk doing things that need to be done feels unbearable. I wonder who she cooks for. I wonder what it’s like to leave a light on — to stay awake so someone afraid can find you and run to you in the light.

I do not watch with malice. I watch because I am anxious. Because most of the time I don’t know if I am doing it right. I am afraid I am not doing what I should be doing at every moment all the time. Because time has overwhelmed me since I was probably 11 years old. This was when I first comprehended it as something finite and fleeting. Now I’m 19 and want to swallow all of time. All the time in my life. I’ll let it sit like a black hole in my stomach, because what else do I do with it? How do I care for it? How do I exist in time? How will it wash over me — how will I go from all the things I do right now to what I so want to do in the future? I lick up the days and crunch on the hours — minutes and seconds season time on my tongue.

Sometimes before dinner I just stand in my dorm room. My shoes are wet from the rain. I could take them off, but my pants are wet too, and then it won’t end. I’m waiting for my friends to come back so we can go to dinner together. That will be our time. When I rush to class it is easy — that is the only thing I need to be doing. I unravel when the decision of what to do is mine.

There was a little banner in the Limelite store in town: “Made a Decision Today,” it said, like it was an accomplishment. My friends and I laughed. We thought about getting it. I’m not indecisive. I just wonder if my decisions of what to do with my time are the best. Should I work or should I sleep? To go walk or to weep? I decide to wear a red sweater, and I decide to drink my coffee and read outside by the chapel. If not at Princeton, maybe I would be somewhere in California, and there would be no need for sweaters, and maybe I would not be someone who reads. But I do read, and winter is coming, and I like this red sweater. This is the person that I am at this time because of all the decisions I’ve made. We decided not to buy the banner. 

I love coincidences. Unexpected people in ordinary places. Numbers in just the right order. “Jinx!” moments. Things that seem like they happen because they have to. Signs that you were meant to be there to see it. That all of it was right.


There are those boys over there beyond my window, in the other building, in their windows. Maybe they know how to say “focaccia.” Maybe they know how atoms fit into cells. Or how to start Korean emails. Or what to do if, for a brief moment past midnight in the bathroom of a party, they do not recognize the person looking back at them in the mirror. Or why necklaces rotate around the neck throughout the day so they always have to be fixed, fixed, fixed.

Maybe they know how to be human more than I do. But none of that matters. We are all here now. I want to wave, but that would break something, and I don’t know what.

Ina Aram is a contributing writer from Tokyo, Japan, writing for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at, or on Instagram @inafinity and YouTube @inafinity.

Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their views and lived experiences. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at

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