By: Simon Rich

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Semester Abroad

It’s the year 3013. Semesters abroad have become interplanetary. Take a glimpse into life on Saturn through the eyes of one dedicated college student. From Issue #007 of The Occasional

September 23rd, 3013

Okay, so this is, like, my diary or whatever. I wasn’t going to keep one, because it’s sort of annoying to remember to do entries, but then I started thinking, when Derek and I are old, we’re going to look back at this time in our lives and be, like, “wow,” so I decided, I’m going to speak into my transcriber every night before I go to sleep, unless I’m, like, you know, really wasted.

I guess I should start with the rocket launch. Derek came with me to the spaceport to say goodbye, which was really sweet of him, because he was right in the middle of a videogame. And I was, like, “Long distance is going to be so hard, but I know we can make it work, because we’re fully invested and we love each other,” and he was, like, “yeah.”

The flight was awful. I had to put my phone away during lift-off, even though I was right in the middle of texting Derek. Eventually, the pilot said phones were okay, but by then we were in outer space, so when I took out my phone it kept floating around the cabin, which was, like, so annoying. Eventually, I was able to finish texting Derek, but he didn’t text back, not even after I texted him again and also left him a voicemail and some holograms. And I started to freak out, because my semester abroad just started and things were already weird between me and Derek.

So then the pilot was, like, “If you go to the observation deck, you can see a view of earth,” and I really wanted to go, because seeing earth from space is supposed to be this, like, transformative experience or whatever. But there’s no reception on the observation deck, and so I couldn’t go, because I was still waiting for Derek to text me back. But he never did.

September 27th 3013

Okay, so, things with Derek have been really weird, but before I get into it, I guess I should talk about the program or whatever. I’m doing my semester abroad on Saturn, which I know is, like, pretty random. I was going to do Mars, but everyone was doing Mars, and I didn’t want people to think, like, “Oh, she’s only doing Mars because everyone’s doing Mars.” So on the form I checked Saturn. Anyway, classes so far are really easy. It’s a lot of Saturn history, which is incredibly boring, but there’s only two hours of lectures a day, and also the days here are two weeks long, so when you think about it, that’s really not so much class time. On the weekends there are optional tours you can do to see what life is like among the aliens (sorry, I mean, natives). I really want to do the tours, because I’m interested in other cultures and, like, that’s one of the main reasons I’m doing semester abroad is to get perspective. But I haven’t had time because Derek has been so weird. Which brings me back to things with him.

Okay, so, yesterday he finally sent me a hologram, but it was, like, only five seconds long and he did it at the dining hall so there were, like, bits of people’s arms and trays in it. And I was, like, if you can’t take the time to go inside an orb and send me a private hologram, how is this ever going to work?

September 29th 3013

Tomorrow we have our first quiz. It’s on the culture of the Narvians, who are our host tribe. I’m sort of nervous, because at Oberlin I get time-and-a-half, and I’m worried that the teachers here won’t know that I get that. Also, the reading is really confusing. The Narvians don’t have any concept of “me” or “you” (they see their tribe as a “single, living being”). So because of that, it’s, like, really hard to keep track of all the names.

Anyway, yesterday morning I sent Derek a text to be, like, “I’m freaking out about the quiz,” and I figured he would just ignore it, as usual. But he wrote back right away, saying, “you’ll do great,” and I was, like, oh my God, that’s so Derek. Just when I think he’s a total jerk, he’ll do something that’s freaking amazing and I’ll remember how much we love each other. In a way I think that this long distance thing is a good test for us, because if we can get through it, it means we were really meant for each other.

Anyway, I was so relieved that things with Derek were finally good again that I signed up for one of the optional culture trips. We went to Titan, which is like the biggest moon. It’s sort of cool, because it has all these underground rivers. But when I tried to text a picture to Derek there was no reception. Like, none. So I complained to Narvia, who’s, like, the alien lady who runs the program. And I was like, “I don’t want to be rude, but in the brochure it said there would be reception and I’m, like, trying to make long distance work with my boyfriend Derek and there’s no reception.” She tried to fix my phone by zapping it with her eyes, and it helped a little, but not really. And at this point, I was sort of freaking out, because even though Derek can be a total jerk, I love him unconditionally, and I, like, for real want to have babies with him someday, and that’s, like, actually something I think about, and I don’t want it all to end just because of my stupid phone. So I was, like, “Narvia, what’s going on with the reception?” And she explained that a war had started that morning between the Narvians (her tribe) and the Gorgons (who live on some other moon). It’s complicated, but basically, when they have their battles, or whatever, it screws up reception. So I was, like, “I know it’s not your fault, or whatever, but I just want you to be aware that there isn’t reception.”

September 30th 3013

So the quiz went okay, but I think I screwed up the last part because I was having trouble concentrating. Narvia made us turn off our phones for the quiz, so the whole time all I could think about was Derek and whether or not he was trying to get through to me. Also, I was really, really hungry. That’s the one complaint I have about semester abroad: I’m interested in other cultures, and that’s why I came to Saturn, is to experience new things, but I’m sorry, the food here is ass. The Narvians don’t eat meat, because they believe everything has “a common soul,” and I respect that, or whatever. But the fruits and vegetables here are totally weird. All they have in the cafeteria are these purple star-shaped thingies and these giant petals from different flowers. There’s one vending machine in the hallway that has Nutrigrain bars and that’s what I’ve been living on this whole time. Also, there’s no beer, only XanXan, which is made out of flowers (like everything here). I’ve tried it, and it’s actually not horrible, but it makes you really hungover. I usually only drink on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and it’s a Tuesday, but the quiz was so stressful and things with Derek are so weird that I think I’m going to make an exception.

September 31st 3013

Last night was the worst. I was doing XanXan shots alone in my room and watching old sitcoms on Hulu when I realized I’d forgotten to eat dinner. The thing is, though, you’re not supposed to leave your pod at night, because that’s when the Gorgons do their air strikes. I thought about waiting until morning to eat, but my stomach was, like, literally rumbling. And so eventually, I was, like, forget it, I’m getting a Nutrigrain bar. So I put on my suit, and floated down the hall, but when I got to the vending machine, they were out of blueberry, which is the only kind I like, and all they had was strawberry, which tastes like straight ass. And this was just, like, the last straw. So I called up Derek and he picked up, but he was acting really weird. And I heard voices in the background. And I was, like, “Are you at a party?” And he was, like, “No, I’m just hanging out with some people.” And I heard some girls laughing, and I was like, “Are there girls there?” And he was, like, “There are a lot of people here.” And I was, like, “I thought you said it wasn’t a party.” And he was, like, “It’s not a party.”

So Narvia came by and was, like, “You must stay within your pod. The Gorgons are attacking.”

And I was, like, “Listen, I know this isn’t your fault, and I don’t want to be rude, but in the brochure it said there’d be nightlife and there isn’t any nightlife, like, at all.” And she apologized and said that the war had escalated, and that the Gorgons had started enslaving and torturing the Narvians, and because of her antenna, or whatever, she could physically feel it when her fellow Narvians were being tortured, because that’s how her species has evolved. And I was, like, whoa, too much information, but of course I didn’t say that, because I didn’t want to be disrespectful of her culture. So anyway she made me go back inside my pod, but by that point, Derek wasn’t picking up his phone.

I would never admit this to anyone, but sometimes I wonder if Derek and I are even compatible. I mean, I love him with all my heart, and I know he loves me, even though he’s never, like, said the words, or whatever. But the thing is, we have pretty different interests. For example, he’s really into full-immersion virtual reality first-person shooter games and I’m really into, like, relationships. That’s the whole reason why I’m majoring in communications — because I want to work for a non-profit when I graduate and try to save the world. I know a lot of people would say that’s a crazy pipe dream, and I should just give up, but I’m, like, you only live once and you have to seize the day or whatever. There’s this quote I saw once on my friend Karen’s yearbook page and I liked it so much that I put it on my yearbook page, even though I knew everyone would be, like, “you copied that from Karen,” but I was, like, who cares, I like the quote. It goes: “shoot for the moon, because even if you miss you’ll end up among the stars.” When I first saw that, I was, like, oh my God, I’m going to freaking cry, because I freaking love that. I try to talk about this kind of stuff with Derek, but it never works, because he doesn’t like to have deep conversations. All he wants to do is play his videogames, and break his kill records, which are, like, really high, but so what?

I’m trying to decide now whether to text him goodnight. I kind of want to, because I miss him like crazy, but also part of me is, like, he doesn’t deserve it, because I’ve sent him goodnight texts for nine straight days and he hasn’t written me back once. I don’t want to play games, though, because I don’t believe in them, so I’ll probably just text him what I always text him, which is, “Goodnight, XO, I love you.”

October 10th 3013

Derek broke up with me. That’s why I haven’t been recording new entries, because it happened four days ago, and since then I’ve just been crying.

We’d been out of touch for a few days and then he called me out of the blue, and I was excited, because he never does that. It was right in the middle of a quiz, but Narvia was distracted, because there was some big Gorgon/Narvian battle going on, and her eyes kept rolling back in her head, so I was able to sneak out into the hall.

So the first thing Derek says is, “I want to talk to you about something,” and my heart immediately starts pounding, because, like, he never wants to talk about anything. So I’m like, “what’s up?” You know, trying to sound casual, and he says, “I think we should do an open relationship.” And so I’m, like, “Where is this coming from?” And he’s like, “I don’t think long distance is working.” And so, by this point, I’m starting to get mad, because it’s not my fault long distance isn’t working, it’s his for not making an effort. So I blurt out, “if you’re going to be weird like this, what’s the point of even dating, why not just break up?” and he says “fine” and hangs up. And I’m, like, “Did what I think just happened actually just happen?” So I call him and text him and leave a voicemail and a hologram and I even send him a telepathic message, even though they’re expensive, and my plan doesn’t cover them if I’m roaming, but Derek never responds. And finally I realize, “oh my God, it’s over. Derek Kleinbaum and I are no longer a couple.”

So for the next four days, I don’t leave my pod, not even to go to class, and eventually Narvia knocks on my door and I’m, like, great, just what I need right now. So I let her in and I expect her to lecture me about schoolwork or whatever but instead she says, “Please pack your bags. The rocket leaves in one hour.” And I’m, like, “what?” And she’s like, “Have you been watching the news?” And I’m, like, “No, Derek broke up with me.” And so she explains that the Gorgons won the war by rounding up all the Narvians and destroying them with a heat blast. And I’m confused, because she’s a Narvian, but she’s still alive, and she explains that she survived, because the lasers couldn’t permeate the school, but all of her friends and family died, or whatever. And I’m, like, “Oh my God,” because that’s freaking horrible. And I start to feel really bad, because all this time I thought we had nothing in common, but now that she’s lost her tribe, and I’ve lost Derek, and both of our worlds have come crashing down, I realize we’re, like, the same person.

So I’m, like, “I think it’s time for some XanXan,” and she waves her antenna like she doesn’t want any, but I just ignore her and pour out two huge shots. And we start downing shots, like, one after the other, and I’m, like, “I know what will get our minds off things, let’s play ‘Never Have I Ever!'” She doesn’t know how to play, so I explain the rules and say, “you go first.” And she’s, like, “Never have I ever seen so great a genocide as the one the Gorgons inflicted on my people.” And I want to be, like, no, you’re supposed to say fun stuff, but I don’t want to make her feel bad, so I just nod and take a sip.

We finish the bottle and I get on the rocket, and that’s where I am now, just riding back home through space. And the pilot just said, “If you go to the observation deck, you can see a view of earth.” And I didn’t look the last time, but this time I kind of want to look, because who knows when I’ll get another chance? So I guess this is the end of my diary, because phones don’t work up there and I want to go up there. So I guess I’m just going to turn this thing off and go up there. Okay. This is it. I’m turning this off. I’m doing it. I’m going up there.

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