I swear I don’t believe in signs. But what else do you call it when the first thing you see at college is a billboard flashing posters of not only your favorite comedian but also your favorite musical artist? Both individuals are coming to perform at this new place, and suddenly your logic-loving, destiny-hating mind is betraying you, deciding that of course this is a sign—a sign that maybe this foreign place might transform into a home.
All at once, I could envision it so clearly. The faces that seemed strange becoming familiar, and the twisting, confusing roads transforming into memories of late-night adventures. Somehow, I could already feel nostalgia, as if I could remember the future.
So, seven months later, when Carrie Underwood came to perform at Penn State University, I dutifully scored tickets 10 minutes prior to the show’s opening act. But there was a problem.
This hypothetical home—which had seemed an inevitable place of security at first—had, in the months leading up to the concert, become the exact opposite. Night after night strung together as I collected contacts and names and stories. I met people everywhere—in elevators and frat houses and dining halls. They would invite me into their world, teach me all about it, introduce me to their friends, and then I’d leave as quickly as I had come. “Meet as many people as possible” is classic college advice. And boy did I take that advice and run with it. But soon, running became sprinting, until I was going round and round in circles like a cat chasing its own tail. I filtered through a constant revolving door of people, places, clubs, and sports. Nothing seemed to stick.
So that’s how I found myself, on this particular Friday night, without anyone to attend the concert with. The person who was meant to accompany me had a last-minute engagement, and with 10 minutes to showtime, I couldn’t recruit anyone else. So, I had to decide … do I ditch the concert? Or fly solo? I hesitated only for a moment, then decided of course I had to go. To do any less would betray my younger self—the one who positively adored Carrie Underwood.
Let me take you back to that night. I stride confidently into the stadium, sporting a blue crop top, air forces, and a golden barrette. I look like the last person in the world who would be going to a Carrie Underwood concert alone, but here I am. I find my seat and instantly turn to the girl on my left, asking for her name and story. It was almost laughable how fast we connected. But by that point, I had become extremely well acquainted with forming instant friendships wherever I went.
An hour later, the lights dim, everyone jumps to their feet, and a booming drum electrifies the crowd. The floor vibrates as 100,000 voices sing in unison. Suddenly, I’m a kid on Christmas morning again, grinning with excitement every time my dad hands me a rectangular-shaped gift (because I know it’ll either be a book or a Carrie Underwood album). In the next heartbeat, I’m back in middle school, drilling tennis strokes for hours with her songs on repeat in the background.
And then I’m back in the stadium, having the time of my life dancing to “Church Bells” live. Three songs in, a more obscure, muted number starts playing. Like clockwork, all of the upper sections sit down. I am literally the last person standing. Right away, this sets off a million social conformity alarm bells in my head. But I know myself very well, and there is nothing that will stop my fun.
I have a confession. As much as I love dancing with other people, I can never completely let loose with them because I’m so focused on making sure they feel included—either by giving them my hand as a fake microphone, spinning them in circles, or just cheering them on wherever possible.
But in this moment, as every single person in my section sits down, all of that pressure is lifted. I am free. And I start to do more than just dance. I become a performer. One minute I am a cowboy casanova leaning up against the record machine, the next I am slipping something in my husband’s Tennessee whiskey that no lawman is ever gonna find.
Suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder, and a girl my age climbs over the seats into my row. She laughingly hugs me and says, “You’re having so much fun and my friends are being lame, so I’m going to join you here!”
Then we’re off, swaying and singing and twirling in our empty row, until another person joins us, and another, and another. Suddenly, a night I am meant to spend alone becomes one where I have the chance to bring people together.
Then the song “Two Black Cadillacs” starts playing. Instantly, I scramble up and over our seats into the now empty row above me—“Two Black Cadillacs” is my favorite song, and I need to have my moment. So, I waltz my way through a car crash, stomp a make-believe rose into the ground, and plot with my husband’s mistress over the phone.
It was the most magical, dramatic rendition I’d ever done. It was exhilarating.
That night lives vividly in my mind. Just take a moment and imagine it. Imagine going to a concert alone, meeting a group of people, and still wanting to celebrate by yourself.
You see, I fundamentally disagree with the idea of “finding” happiness. I believe you should make your own happiness, no matter where you are. At Penn State, I decided every day to lean into joy in spite of the overwhelming sense of unsteadiness I felt there. As a new transfer to Boston College, I now decide each day to transform nervousness into excitement as I eagerly pursue every opportunity BC has to offer.
So I’ll leave you as I always do, with a message of self-love. Do everything you can to fuel your own joy. Go to breakfast and inwardly cackle at how unhappy everyone looks shuffling aimlessly so early in the morning. Go talk to the Comm. Ave. bus drivers, and if you run into Peter from Ecuador, tell him Brooke says hi! Rather than waiting for some major milestone, carpe the living daylights out of every diem and create happiness in each wonderfully mundane moment.