The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay is titled “Closed Doors,” and was authored anonymously. POV is always accepting new submissions, so if you want to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to remain anonymous you can send us your response by signing into a second email account:email@example.com (password: kenyoncollege).
I spent a lot of time staring at the door, my first year here. It was black with the little plastic shield nailed over the safety instructions. My green towel hung on a silver bar that came uncomfortably close to my roommate’s towel on the wall when the door was open. It was a heavy door; when one of us accidentally slammed it, the whole hall would peak out their doors to see if someone was shot. That was one of the reasons I preferred my door to be closed, but not the most important.
Social anxiety isn’t about being introverted. It’s not about disliking people or being crazy. For me, it’s about all of the eyes on Middle Path.
My high school was huge, more than three times as large as Kenyon. I could walk through the hallways and be completely anonymous. Back then, I didn’t think much of it. People scared me, but there was solace in a crowd. There was always another diversion, something else to look at. And the people that I did talk to were special because we found each other out of so many. It wasn’t perfect, but I could function.
I chose Kenyon, in part, because of the friendliness of the student body. Because on my tour we accidentally stumbled upon a group of people studying and, rather than glaring at us, they all sincerely told me how much they wanted me to come to Kenyon. I was attracted to the attention I received as a prospective student, so different than from back home. I thought I could find a happier me at school. But that attention was the problem.
In all actuality, I probably don’t stick out much. You probably look at me, but barely register me. You go on with your life. But at Kenyon, I see you. I see all of you. I see you looking at me, head-to-toe. I see those vaguely familiar faces, the ones from orientation or your friend’s boyfriend. Everyone is someone. There is no anonymity at Kenyon and it kills me.
Don’t worry, though. It’s not you, it’s me.
It’s the ever-increasing voice in my head. All my own, it tells me that everyone is staring, that they can see through me. They know me and they can see all of the ugliness that I try so desperately to hide. Their eyes find all my insecurities. The depression and self-loathing that I could hide before is on display at Kenyon. There’s always someone there to catch you crying, which makes another pair of eyes you have to avoid, another section of campus you can never go to again. Another group of people who look at you in a different way, rejecting you without having ever spoken a word to you. Every whispering voice could be an acquaintance of an acquaintance, one who saw you walking out from the Counseling Center yesterday, one who looked over your shoulder to check your test grade.
And it suddenly hits you that you’re alone on this hill in Ohio and you’re not good enough. They can all see that—you thought too highly of yourself and now you’re going to fall. And everyone at Kenyon will always hate you for it, so why don’t you just stay in your room, safe behind the closed door with the green towel. That’s the only place you belong on this Hill. You’re not good enough to be with everyone else. You’re a fraud.
This year, my door is made of wood. It’s thinner and on Wednesday and Friday nights, I can hear my neighbors having parties. They laugh and cheer. Their high-energy pop music is a siren song. If I were someone else, someone better, I could open the door. I could stride over and they would grin, hand me a drink and they would welcome me there. If I were someone else, I could have the college experience I had dreamed of, that the movies told me I’d have.
But I tell myself that that can’t happen for me, and it’s safer to stay inside. I don’t want to drown. So I sit on my bed, open a book and try to ignore that closed door.