My sophomore year of high school I ate too many donuts. When I woke up realising my stomach was twisting, I called out instinctively for my parents. They woke up immediately, trailing after me as I leaned over the toilet.
My dad kneeled behind me, pressing his hands to my stomach to add pressure every time I heaved. When I asked him about it afterwards, he told me that the part he hated most about throwing up when he was little was the emptiness that he felt afterwards. How his stomach would go from distended to suddenly hollowed out.
Eventually, my parents tucked me back in bed, gave me some tomato juice and a kiss on either cheek.
But what I remember most is thinking about how in two years I would be going to college. It wouldn’t be sensible to have an instinct to need them anymore. I promised myself that I wouldn’t throw up again without my dad there. It’s a fact of my life now; I’ve made it a joke.
I feel like throwing up, I say.
Maybe it would make you feel better, someone inevitably responds.
No, I don’t throw up.
If you keep doing that you’re going to throw up.
Don’t worry, I don’t throw up.
After taking the booster on Friday, I kept complaining about being nauseous. One of my friends said to me, Oh no, I hope you don’t throw up.
“No,” another friend said before I could get to it, “Ana doesn’t throw up.”
“Do you want to hear something cursed?” I asked. I told them about my dad, and how I had been fifteen the last time I’d thrown up — six years ago.
I tried not to feel anything about my friend knowing how I end my sentences.
Sometimes, people joke about knowing how to speak my language (always: cursed, shrimp, rituals, bento, scarf, ache; recently: worm, cringe, yeah) but language is never digested alone. It belongs to them as much as anything else we share.
I’ve written about this metaphor (THE BOOKS) before, technically, but I’ve never shared it out-right. It’s a story about two people, in love but breaking up anyway. There’s a fear in one of them that all relationships end, that there is a peak to happiness.
As they break up, he talks about the books they share. How — especially if they didn’t break up then — they’d forget which books belonged to whom, and they’d get all mixed. When they inevitably did break up, that would be their last argument: who keeps the books?
I thought about all the things that I’ve shared with others: my words, my room, my bed. I thought about it the other day as I went home from Simmons —
(I’ve been trying very hard to stop using the word “home” for New House because I know the consequences of settling in. Because that’s what you do when you make a home with someone: you share.)
— I meant to call my mom, but instead I plugged in my earbuds and listened to “Fast Car” and cried.
It was the first song that showed up from the playlist I was listening to. It was a blended Spotify playlist that I have with one of my friends. God, I’m so stupid, I thought. Don’t we realise we’re leaving in a couple of months?
I said to the same friend the other day, hm, I’ll orchestrate a situation for you to meet my dad, and then he won’t be a stranger! I got halfway through planning a scenario in my head (maybe a video call?) before I realised. My friend will likely meet my dad the first time at our graduation.
I stopped planning.
I’m leaving soon.
On a Wednesday, I laid in bed with my sorority big and we fell asleep intertwined, like we had the night they asked us to leave MIT. Stupid girl, I thought, didn’t it hurt enough the first time?
Sometimes, the kids joke that I could just take a fifth year, but it’s more complicated than that. Graduation is in six and a half months; soon is arbitrary.
Even if I took more time, even if I tried to hold on just a little bit longer,
I’m leaving soon.
I wrote an unpublished article a couple of months ago titled “I am not a good person.” It’s more of a list than it is an article. Written somewhere in there is an admission that maybe good people don’t really exist. That maybe no one can ever be entirely good or entirely bad.
I am not a good person:
- I wanted to add a song from our Blend to one of my writing playlists, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.
- I’ve been pausing, sometimes, before sending texts. I’ve been more careful with sharing insignificant occurrences in my life.
- “Doesn’t it hurt? Doesn’t it ache? How someone can carry the knowledge of someone else on themselves. And will you want my imprint on you, the same way I carry yours? I don’t know. I can’t help but feel like I am betraying you, somehow, by writing this letter. I keep writing, Isn’t it a burden, sometimes, to be trusted?”
- My friends keep telling me that the kids need to grow up eventually; they need to learn how to make their own mistakes; I won’t always be there to help them back up. Selfishly, I ask the kids to stay little. Sounds like an unsustainable model, one of them responds. It is; but I’m not ready to let go yet.
- “I have been unfair to you. I’ve been distant, hoping it would prevent me from growing too attached when I can see graduation approaching. The truth is, we are both going somewhere, and I’m nervous, nervous, nervous about where that is.”
Forgive me for being a philosophy major, but relationships — for me — have always been about choices. You choose to love, to —
(Sometimes, I want desperately not to care about things. So I don’t. This too, maybe, should be on that list.)
— linger, to carve out a space for someone, to… to stay. Love is not something that is solely felt, but something that needs to be chosen.
Over the summer, I did a philosophy UROP with my advisor. One of my first readings was Sartre’s Existentialism is Humanism:
“But in reality and for the existentialist, there is no love apart from the deeds of love; no potentiality of love other than that which is manifested in loving; there is no genius other than that which is expressed… In life, a man commits himself, draws his own portrait and there is nothing but that portrait.”
Sometimes, I send one particular sentence to people: no love apart from the deeds of love.
Ruth responded back to me once, after I’d messaged her about how quickly relationships pass by, hmm thinking about the deeds of love and how impermanence demands choice.
Whether I want it or not, I’m leaving soon. It’s going to force me to choose.
There are a couple lines in an admissions post that I read when I was still deciding whether or not to apply to be a blogger:
“There’s the feeling of lying in bed and not wanting to get up. Of looking at your to-do list, seeing only three items in it, and only digging up enough energy to do a tenth of the first one. This is malaise.
These are the feelings that my therapist asks me about during our sessions. These are the feelings that my friends ask me about when I talk to them. These are the feelings that I ask myself while lying in bed at night. I roll these questions in my head and I answer, not as much as I wanted to.
Have you packed your things? Not as much as I wanted to.
Have you gotten any work done? Not as much as I wanted to.
Have you said your goodbyes? Not as much as I wanted to.”
Dissecting emotion, CJ Q. ’23
My high school teacher wrote in my yearbook:
“The great irony of any communication intended to articulate and encompass the totality of a period in the life of two people is that no words can ever possibly complete the task well enough. Yet at the same time, the task demands to be taken up.”
Will I say my goodbyes? Never as much as I want to.
I am not a bad person; it’s more complicated than that.
I am afraid of what my love can do to me.
I am afraid of the consequences my actions will have for me.
The very first article in this column I wrote:
What had love felt like before my sexual assault? My sophomore fall, I was terrified that something fundamental about me had been twisted.
February 2nd, 2021
I wondered if I would ever love like that again.
I fall in love too easily; I’m anguished by the thought that someone could weaponize it against me once more.
There’s a paragraph, a couple pages into a John Green book,
“For me anyway, to fall in love with the world is to look up at the night sky and feel your mind swim before the beauty and the distance of the stars. It is to hold your children while they cry, to watch as the sycamore trees leaf out in June. When my breastbone starts to hurt, and my throat tightens, and tears well in my eyes, I want to look away from feeling. I want to deflect with irony, or anything else that will keep me from feeling directly. We all know how loving ends.”
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What a line. We all know how loving ends.
I’m at my sister’s apartment for Christmas this year.
Sometimes, I’ll wake up to my mom or dad moving a blanket to cover me, tucking the ends in under my chin. Or, I’ll be shaken awake to a cup of coffee pressed into my hands, my cheek still dented from the pillows my sister laid out for me. Or, less often now than in my childhood, I’ll wake to the sound of people singing in the kitchen.
When this happens, my chest is full of something I usually call love, but is entangled in gratitude. And briefly, I remember what I longed for my freshman year. And briefly, I think, no one is going to love you like this again.
I don’t want to say goodbye.
I disagreed with Ruth the other day. I texted her about how cake and baking and yearning belonged in the same box to win an argument. I expected the same easy agreement that we normally have (an echo chamber, we sometimes call our DMs).
No, she said, the thing is baking is not a one-sided affair, and that’s what makes simping different from yearning. Yearning is for things that are or could be.
No, I said, yearning needs to be meaningless. Like a loop — loop yearning.
She said, But the loop exists because of uncertainty! If you knew, one way or another, you could move on. But you can’t, because there’s one question you’re refusing to ask because you cannot predict the answer.
What? No. I said. Yearning is like… an unspoken agreement. You can’t ask because you know the answer, but don’t want to hear it. The point of yearning is the hopelessness of your state — existential longing.
No, she replied again. If you knew for sure why would you – why would you stay? And continue to suffer?
I thought about that John Green line.
It made Ruth sad to know that there are feelings I choose to have which aren’t pleasant. But it’s not about suffering; it’s not about martyring myself. I told her, it’s about Camus, and existentialism.
I reference The Myth of Sisyphus more than I should. Here’s a summary:
Sisyphus is a character in the Iliad. He chains up Death to escape the inevitability of his own death, but is instead punished by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill as his afterlife. The story is meant to evoke futility; Sisyphus is forced, endlessly, to complete a meaningless task.
The human condition is just like that of Sisyphus: there is boundless suffering and, after that, the certainty of death.
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide,” Camus starts. What is the point of living? What value can we ever reach?
Camus did not believe in God; he concludes, like the other existentialists, that there is no objective meaning to human life. The search for objective meaning is absurd — a hopeless state we cannot abandon.
But that all doesn’t matter. It is in our freedom that we find meaning for our actions, specifically because they are our actions.
The main precept of existentialism is this: “existence precedes essence.” What it means is that we are born before we “are.” Sartre says “I” don’t even exist before I make a decision. This is the value that our decisions, our actions, have — they define us.
Camus’s last paragraph in The Myth of Sisyphus has always resonated with me:
“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
And maybe it’s time to admit something. I’ve been omitting the last bits of the things I’ve been sharing, if only because the conclusion is always the same.
From THE BOOKS: The characters move in together and discuss the layout of their new apartment — two bookshelves, on each side of the TV. They mix their books.
From the blogs:
“It’s called vulnerability because it comes with the risk of being hurt… It’s called vulnerability because you are admitting that you want something, which, by its nature, means you’re admitting that you’re incomplete. That you’re imperfect, and flawed.
And yet! And yet, this is something we already knew. We know that no one’s perfect. We know that everyone’s fighting battles. And yet, it is still so terrifying to admit our weaknesses, so mortifying to be known. To fully know oneself includes knowing one’s life from the shoes of others, and we can only do this by opening ourselves to pain.”
Dissecting emotion, CJ Q. ’23
From John Green:
“We all know how loving ends. But I want to fall in love with the world anyway, to let it crack me open. I want to feel what there is to feel while I am here.
Sendak ended that interview with the last words he ever said in public: ‘Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.’
Here is my attempt to do so.”
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I am not a bad person.
- I’ve added that song — “Theme of Mitsuha” — to one of my writing playlists. It’s there, woven between Rebecca Sugar’s “Time Adventure” and Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.”
- I send the texts anyway. Do my friends know, I wonder, that what I’m saying is ‘I miss you; I’m thinking of you,’ that I want to linger with them if given the chance?
- I keep writing, Isn’t it a burden, sometimes, to be trusted?… And I think about how [they] have felt better because of the sacrifices I’ve made, the trust they place in me; I don’t regret those decisions. And I think about how you asked me, if you don’t regret your decisions, why are you so scared of people doing the same? And I think about how you told me, maybe it isn’t about not making those sacrifices, but allowing them to choose when to make their own. And I think, Moral agency: isn’t it a burden? Of course it is. And a privilege.”
- I’ve been writing a letter to the kids I care for now and the ones that I’ll grow to care for in the future. It is not easy, but “I have gotten much, much better at facing my fears head on. Here are some feelings that I’ve found are normal and, hopefully, some guidance for how to get through them.”
- “I always want my letters to have an overarching theme. I was thinking about how much of this letter is really about choices, and about how what I’m really scared of is you leaving me. In a year we’re all gonna graduate and maintaining these relationships is going to stop being a habit and start being a decision… I love you. Please, stay with me as long as you can.”
The last time I saw Ruth before break, she was carrying a printed out, folded copy of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. I didn’t comment on it, one of those secrets that were hidden in plain sight.
I thought about sacrifices; I thought about decisions; I thought about that conversation about yearning and what I responded to why I stay, even though I know how loving ends:
“Because it’s worth it.”