I kept my composure until I didn’t. Nothing in particular triggered it, I was just taking a shower. It came on quickly; I blinked, and then I found myself with my fists clenched against the wet tile wall, ready to scream. In a single moment, shaking under a stream of hot water, an entire month’s worth of pain and exhaustion and fear came bubbling up through my fingertips. I’d broken up with my partner of three years from home. I’d come out to my parents. I’d failed my first MIT exam. Looking at the evidence, it seemed like I’d hit the self-destruct button on my entire life, and I was angry about all of it. I’m never angry.
I took a box of papers and a lighter into the courtyard alone. I didn’t care who was around; one by one, I set fire pictures, notes, old journal entries, anything that reminded me of the things I’d decided to leave behind. As I watched the flames grow, it struck me for the first time that I really wasn’t the same person I was at the end of September. In September, I wouldn’t have burned things. I wouldn’t have felt the desire. Now, I felt a sick satisfaction as I watched the evidence of my old self reduce to ashes. For a second I thought to keep those ashes, but eventually I decided to bury them in the sand.
I walked to the Harvard Bridge with a friend to sink the things that wouldn’t burn. They told me about one of their ex-boyfriends, then let me rant about all of the things I didn’t see in my old relationship until now. We talked about our families. We talked about life. And after a solid wind-up, I hurled the two trinkets I had left into the murky deep of the Charles River. We enjoyed the view of Boston for awhile, then headed back in good spirits. Good. I told myself I was done being upset.
But I wasn’t done. Instead, I felt like I was walking through molasses the second I stepped back into the dorm. I should have felt better, right? But no, I was just… sad. I wandered through the hallways, dragging my feet and bouncing my feelings off of anyone who would listen. I didn’t know what to do.
“I don’t know, I just want to scream or something.”
“You know you can do that, right?”
After a few other people decided to join in, I let a loud scream rip. A few folks poked their heads out of their rooms, but no one seemed to be concerned. I didn’t feel any better though. I let my body slide down the wall and hit the hall carpet. Lots of people were trying to cheer me up, but I couldn’t shake it; I decided to slump back to my room in defeat. I sat down in my desk chair for a moment. It was a Saturday, and my friends were going on an adventure. If I went with them, maybe I would cheer up? So I got dressed, ran downstairs, and caught them just before they left. I followed silently.
This is where I decided to go back. The thought kept looping through my mind: I can’t do this, not right now. I turned towards East Campus and started making my way through the infinite with my headphones in.And this is where the first tear fell. It was the first one of the entire month, and I wiped it away. In the middle of psets and parties and rehearsals and hard conversations, I’d forgotten to let myself feel anything. I was shocked by how easy it was, going to the motions apathetic and numb. I didn’t even realize what I was doing to myself. I noted the lesson learned: MIT is a place of discovery and learning, but can also be a place of distraction.
I knew I failed a test, but I didn’t notice I stopped going to classes almost completely.
I knew that I was putting on a good face for my friends, but I didn’t notice I was putting on a good face for myself.
I knew that being on your own could be hard, but I didn’t realize that if you’re not careful, you can lose yourself completely.
I spent the rest of the night here, laying in my bed alone. I hadn’t done enough of that since I got to MIT. I wanted to badly to break down and start sobbing, but I couldn’t make the tears come again. A pang of regret hit me. All the times I held back my feelings because I didn’t want people to see the truth, all the times I buried my thoughts in physics problems: Did I kill the part of me that grieves? Did I starve it to death? Now nothing could stir that deep, free-falling, squeezy feeling behind my eyes that used to make me cry. That scares me.
But the evening hadn’t been a complete loss. I had friends, I had anger, and I had that one tear. Maybe I’d managed to let go, just a little bit. For the first time since September, I felt human.