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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

at least i’m not as sad as i used to be by CJ Q. '23

i don’t keep friends, i keep acquainted

one

So I left, that is it
That’s my life, nothing is sacred
I don’t keep friends, I keep acquainted
I’m not a prophet, but I’m here to profit

people graduated a couple weeks ago and i didn’t feel as sad i was supposed to.

“supposed to”, i guess, i don’t know what that even means. when i was in high school i never felt really sad when the seniors graduated, because i know they’ll be around. many are going to college in plv or upd or upm or ateneo or ust or la salle, and these are all nearby. when i graduated from high school, i wasn’t really that sad either, because i was taking a gap year; so i would be around the area, you know, i’d be seeing people around. but,

this is supposed to be different, right? i am in studying in college in a big country, with my graduating friends flying to all the corners of the world. and i saw many of them, for what will probably be the last time, three months ago. but i wasn’t sad then. and i’m not sad now.

maybe it’s just the expectation that i’ll see people again. that i’d still bump into them in the future, that they’d be around. and in some cases, this is true; some of my graduating friends are sticking around mit for an meng, so they’ll be around another year. some are staying in the area. some of them will be visiting every iap for mystery hunt. and we’ll still be in touch over the internet, right? (well, we all know what it’s like to keep touch with friends over the internet now.)

maybe my emotions have been drained from everything happening recently. i only have a limited amount of emotions to give out, and a lot of it was the shock and denial of dealing with mit shutting down, and a lot of it is the anger and grief of recent events, that i just don’t have any left to be sad.

maybe the situation is just making me distant from everything right now. after all, i’m not just physically separated from pretty much all of my friends, but my headspace feels like it’s been divorced from them as well. i feel like nothing i do right now is real, and that time paused when we all left campus—

—because yes, i too left campus on that day, even if i still live inside mit. this isn’t mit, because mit was never a place. i’m swimming through a pool of thick glass, touching the surfaces of my life with five layers of gloves. i’m cut off from what i’m doing every day. i’m lost, in a metaphorical sense, and a meta-metaphorical sense, and the words don’t come out like they used to.

two

Turns out I saw them, a couple of days ago
They were laughing, and drinking
And smoking and singing on

i feel this version of the fear of missing out. like, we usually define fomo as the fear that your friends might be doing things or having fun without you, but this is fearing that you don’t have friends to do these things with in the first place.

and it feels like the kind of thing that two decades of stories and movies and social media and advice have set up within me about college, shaping my experience before even stepping foot in it. where are all of the deep, heart-to-heart conversations? those nights lying in the grass staring at the stars next to each other?

am i craving something that doesn’t exist? maybe reality really is just less romantic. maybe this is just the extent of closeness that is usual. after all, i have had my small share of late-night talks. but this explanation doesn’t sit right with me. part of me refuses to believe that this is all just a lie. it’s pointing at all of my other friends that it believes have closer friends than i do, it’s playing all of these past memories in my head, some of which i’m not even sure happened, asking me, taunting me, when will this happen again?

so here. maybe the reason i wasn’t sad about my friends graduating, and this is the more depressing thought, maybe i didn’t care about them in the first place. maybe i’ve just never felt like they were my friends, not really, not that closely. this time, a year ago, was around the time i left for the us. and i wrote this:

I feel that, in some sense, I should feel bad about leaving. Because I have so many attachments here that I’d be letting go of when I go to MIT. All of my friends from high school, and the friends I made through competitions, and the friends I made through hanging around the area, I’d be saying goodbye to all of them. And it should feel bad, but it doesn’t.

When I try to narrow down why, I come up with the explanation that I’m an outsider. Because the worst feeling is watching people have fun in front of you, without you.

and it makes this weird kind of sense. maybe the real reason i didn’t feel bad about graduating from high school, or going to the us and leaving all of my friends in the philippines behind, maybe the real reason was that i never felt that attached to them in the first place. maybe that’s why i didn’t feel anything; because they’re just acquaintances. all of them. just acquaintances.

is that all i’ve gotten, all this time? acquaintances?

three

And they said, “We would’ve seen you too, years ago
Had you stuck around or come out to a show”
But you was taken over by rock and roll
While we were laughing, and drinking
And smoking, and singing

i’ve talked about fun at length before. one of the common themes in fun’s writing is dealing with fame and its entailments. this is from at least i’m not as sad as i used to be. the setup is that nate meets some old friends, and the verse is nate’s friends telling him that he was doing music while they were having fun. some nights has:

(Oh, come on) So this is it?
I sold my soul for this?
Washed my hands of that for this?
I miss my mom and dad for this?

i like to imagine nate is talking about the vapidness of fame. i can’t help but draw a parallel. some nights, it feels like i’ve sold my soul to get to mit. not in the sense of pouring myself into academics or extracurriculars to the point of burning out, just to make myself look good in college apps. but in the sense of leaving people behind, burning bridges, preventing myself from being close with people, and becoming cold to the pain.

although my parents never told me that they didn’t want me to go to mit, they weren’t particularly supportive of it either. the story that comes to mind is from march 2018. it’s been five months since i’ve first run away from home; i’m a senior, and i’m graduating in two weeks. i’m visiting my parents’ place to ask for permission to leave the country to go to a competition, because i was a minor at the time, and minors were not allowed to leave the country without parental consent. and i have this conversation:

“So you came here to ask for our permission to leave the country, and then what? You won’t speak to us again?”

“Well… yes. There’s no reason to. I don’t see why I should.”

“But, what if we want to talk to you?”

Do you want to talk to me?”

“Well, yes!”

“I don’t. Can’t you please respect that decision, as a fellow adult?”

something inside me tugs at me when i read this. what have you done, it asks, that you have become so heartless, as to intentionally hurt your parents? what have you done, that your own academic pursuits have become more important than trying to make amends with them? is what they did really that bad as to justify not talking to them, ever again?

i want to make one thing clear. i don’t miss my parents. i don’t miss living with them, or talking to them, or hearing from them. i think what they did really was that bad. but there is a part inside me that imagines a universe when my parents were more accepting of me, and it is asking me these questions. it plays back this conversation in my head, and each time, i am talking to someone else.

it’s my high school teachers asking me: so we taught you, and shaped your academic interests, and you’re studying abroad now, and then what? you won’t speak to us again?

well, yes. there’s no reason to. i don’t see why i should.

it’s a chorus of high school friends asking me: but what if we want to talk to you? why can’t you make the time?

do you want to talk to me?

it’s the parents-i-wish-i-had, saying: well, yes! yes, we want to talk to you!

and then it’s me, putting each one of them down—

i don’t.

this is the part that tugs inside me from all directions. it feels like a black hole inside my stomach pulling my body into itself, collapsing from the weight of all the people i’ve left behind. it is retelling my high school narrative to be one where i am the character who leaves everything behind to pursue his dreams, hurting everyone in the process. i’m scorching my life, making connections only when it’s convenient, never letting myself become too close to someone, all for my selfish pursuits.

four

(Oh-oh-ooh-whoa, oh-oh-ooh-whoa)
At least I’m not as sad as I used to be

this isn’t a new feeling, that of not feeling bad about something. and this isn’t the first time i’m writing about this, this mourning of losing friends to time. and this is just going to be one of those things i’ll never get tired writing about, one of those problems i’ll screech about on and on, parang sirang plaka. like one of those scars that are just constantly brushed on, over and over, so they never fully heal.

and i can’t complain, right? this isn’t the worst problem in the world, not by far, not by a long shot. i just have to tell myself, over, and over, and over, that time rends people apart, and this is not the fault of either person. that i’m not a heartless monster just because i don’t feel bad about someone leaving. that my life is truly, definitely, genuinely better than it was two or three years ago, and i will never have to feel that bad ever again, and i should be grateful, because hey, life is better now, right?

i’m worried that none of this will make any sense. i’m worried that this whole thing reads incoherently. i like to think of myself as a good writer, but somehow, i really, really don’t have the words right now. i’ve read this over and over and over again and i don’t have the clarity of mind to reorganize this.

but i’m posting it anyway, because whatever.