Beneath our feet lies an indescribably complex system of caves; spaces devoid of light, insulated from the above-ground world. Bats cling to ceilings for what feels like lightyears in every direction, ominously biding their time. The reverberating sound of dripping water, impossible to locate,  punctuates the oppressive silence. This cavern was discovered in the sixties; tickets now cost thirty dollars. A tour guide in a red branded polo with one of those tour-guide-headset-things tells us all about the history of the caves and everything that makes them beautiful.
Inappropriately loud Frank Sinatra music plays from the ornamental new turntable sitting against a wall in room 302. There is no record mounted; somebody’s phone is connected wirelessly to the player, in a presumed attempt to emulate a mid-century bar. Some poker chips lay scattered around the squatty little coffee table. A boy whose name I still do not know, probably nineteen or twenty, deals another hand while trying to keep Roza, the host of this little dorm room get-together, strung along in his rambling story about teenage life in Beverly Hills. She’s caught between a few conversations, but he clearly wants her only in his. Frustrated, he shifts his focus to dealing the cards.
    There are too many people in this cramped room for us to each have our own hands– Texas Hold ‘em is conventionally played with no more than ten players. With this being the case, we decide to each partner up, so that each of the seven hands is manned by two partygoers. Nobody pays much attention to the game except the guy Roza is sitting next to. The faster we play the game, the faster the cards are revealed.
    It is an empty, lonely world. A world where our knowledge that others even exist comes from images in our eyes, sounds in our ears, and sensations on our skin. At the intersection of these inputs, in our minds, we live all by ourselves.  There are no tourists in undiscovered caves– just bats, empty space, and dead or dying spelunkers who won’t make it back to the surface.
    The few moments between speaking and being spoken to are the most agonizing. Waiting for a response, waiting for an acknowledgement that your words are real and being heard and understood. A bat in a cave, screeching instinctually just to hear the echoes bounce back off the walls. A reminder of where we are, and that we even are in the first place.
    There’s an old man in an expensive-looking suit outside of a residence hall. His head is bald and shiny, his face speckled with liver spots, with an oppressive smelling cigar clutched between his teeth. He paces up and down the sidewalk, scowling at the sight of the trickling stream of peppy undergraduate students passing him by. He grumbles something under his breath about the damn kids before ashing the cigar onto the sidewalk and feebly strolling further down the street.
    Late at night, the world feels like a train set. Streets are empty, buildings smaller and dimmer, lamps shining down from above in their old-fashioned, quaint kind of way. Hoods cast shadows over entire faces, obscuring the identities of the lonely souls who cross each other’s paths. A thousand varieties of smoke work their way into their nostrils– a man asks me if I have a lighter.
    Back inside, the party is dying down. The alcohol is flowing from the cups into the bloodstreams, the words begin to melt together, and the barriers between the young patrons of room 302 melt. The turntable speakers have been turned down, and now softly play Blue Moon, the Billie Holiday version. It’s a sad song, and its calmness brushes over a room like sandpaper over a rough wooden edge. Someone, whose identity I doubt I will ever know, cries in the bathroom alone.
    Later, I ask my suitemate if he feels lonely, or if he ever has. “That’s personal,” he tells me in a defensive tone of voice. I tell him I’m writing about loneliness for a paper and he opens up a bit more. “Yeah,” he admits. He says it happens around groups of people. Specifically, hearing groups of people doing things. He recalls sitting alone in his room late at night, the sounds of a crowd of people on the other side of his bedroom wall returning from a party.
    Happy people, fulfilled people, and interesting people who lead exciting lives. They travel to beautiful, obscure corners of the world; they have places to be even into the deep hours of the night; they know the names of every person, every street, and every store. After a lifetime of learning from television sets, lessons and screens become inextricable. The subjects of our media are paragons of virtue; everything we should be. A TV shows Superman saving a hundred orphans from certain death– a phone shows a happy person surrounded by happy people.
When he’s done with his short recollection, he puts his headphones back on and returns to his remote computer science class. His camera is off, his microphone muted, and his pencil stationary on the desk adjacent to his chair. When we watched a movie a few nights ago about dreams shared between people, an animated one called Paprika, he remarked that his dreams have never been that interesting. He told me he hasn’t dreamed at night since coming to college. Where does his mind go when he’s on his own?
In a cave, surrounded by other bats in a flurry of chaotic flight, echolocation becomes futile. It can never be turned off, but bats learn to ignore it under these circumstances. Audial arrows flying in all directions, from a million bows that don’t know how to shoot. Confused screeches in the darkness that have forgotten their purpose.
    The lights are dimmed and people are getting sleepy. A few have started to filter out, either going to other parties or going to bed. The retro-modern atmosphere has been entirely given up on; a small wireless speaker sitting on top of the record player plays rhythm and blues music with smooth, watercolor basslines, like womb noises. The television is on, playing a reality show from the corner of the red-orange-lit room. The poker game is still in progress, though almost everyone has gone bankrupt by this point. I’ve given up on playing, with the majority of the room, but my partner has taken the reins of our shared hand. He’s doing very well, and it looks like he might win the entire game.
    But he doesn’t. The game fades into the all-too-human stench of room 302. The next hand is never played. Someone turns on an episode of Survivor, and we leave; we haven’t even eaten dinner yet. It’s late, so our options are limited. Burritos are quickly decided upon, and after a quick stop at our suite to change clothes, we head down the stairs en route to Thayer Street.
Booming, pulsating music explodes from the basement through the staircase as we descend. The basement is dark. Its inhabitants are sweaty and shirtless, their voices drowned out by the thumping of the bassline. Distorted grunts emanate from below: sounds of anguish, or sounds of delirious pleasure?
We eat outside and stargaze from the middle of a big empty grass quadrangle. There’s no end to the celestial bodies I see; as my eyes adjust, I can see more and more stars and planets and galaxies and clusters. Everywhere in the universe, all of the places to be born and all of the things to be born as. Yet here I am, wordlessly eating a burrito in the Ruth J. Simmons quadrangle in the fluorescent-cast shadow of a bronze Marcus Aurelius atop a horse.