they lay on the rug, curled up, with their head resting on an unraveled mess of turquoise yarn. it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s in your head, it’s going to end, these thoughts will dissipate, you will not feel so intensely tomorrow, just fall asleep, it’s going to go away.
the last time they coaxed themself into believing these words was witnessed by a glittery night. purple strobe lights, silver-gray smoke, the taste of pineapple. pink snow, soft clinks. they lay there, stroking the smooth iridescent surface of their lighter, wishing the colors were less explosive. they shut their eyes in protest but the kaleidoscope spiraling behind their eyelids gave them no respite. as their mouth went dry, washing away the bitter taste, their tongue was repossessed by a tingling like tv static. dark thoughts swirled within, and they succumbed to the erratic thump of their heart, the burnt air in their lungs. it’s okay. it’s going to go away. as the morning lured the moon down, the air lost its shimmer, and the hazy memories of the previous night forged a cold sharp promise to fill their absence. never again.
but this was different. this was reality, not recreation. real life could not leave their system; it was here to stay. so how could they know whether it was true? how could they believe it would be okay?
their walls were covered in yellowing pages of spiky handwriting, soft words that seemed to pour out of their fingers back when they were in love; no fresh ink, as if there was nothing pretty in their brain, now that they weren’t. they should have known that falling came with breaking, that reaching the peak meant that the only way forward was downhill. but this is not a shattered love story.
that was a long time ago. and long before, time began to build a fortress around their heart, strong, formidable, and in times past, impenetrable. the locks are rusty now, and rust is desirable, because rust means old, and old is familiar. rust means easy to break. so there was hope, sweet-talking its way through the cracks, transforming the little fractures into tendrils of gold and lacquer that zigzag across their heart. beauty is born from destruction. our universe is proof of that. the breaking is not something to hide.
so there is hope, for even their nightmares are stained with colors, and those encounters are not reason to fear the hues. for their ears still find melodies in the ringing. for while the words might escape them, their fingers are still so strong to sew them back together every time they fall apart. and it is with that knowledge that they can whisper with certainty. go to sleep. it’s going to be okay.
The neighborhood has complained about my mother going on walks at night within our gated compound. They knew I had just arrived from the United States of America (which has been a total shit-show of a country since COVID-19), so how dare my mum walk around spreading the virus she now definitely has, how dare she leave her spit and snot and other bodily fluids on every item of public property, how dare she be coughing so powerfully and magnificently that all of the (zero) people at a 25 foot distance from her contract the virus that I imported from the Greater Boston Area two nights ago.
My mother has obliged and will not be leaving the house so as to save everyone’s lives. Of course, my family actually understands science and is aware that for our neighbors’ concerns to have a valid basis, my mother would’ve had to have been doing much worse than walking at a distance of many, many feet from every other late-night walker. But we do not want to upset the complainants, because my family lives here (complete with recently developed social lives) and plans to for a while. Besides, it was kind of exciting to be reminded that there are actual living people in this dead community :).
They are watching your every move.
My grandmother is struggling to believe that I am here, finally here, but I will not come close to her until the 31st of March. We shared multiple little TFIOS-esque exchanges of “Really?” “Really.” and “Seriously?” “Seriously.” on informing her that she was to maintain a six foot distance from me at all times until my self-quarantine period had ended. Everyday she asks me twice or thrice how many days are left until my family stops being overtly and annoyingly anxious every time we’re in the same room. She holds up her fingers questioningly to indicate the days, innocently hopeful, and I always shake my head and raise the same fingers plus one or two more. The topic of most conversations my grandparents have with other elderly relatives who call their mobile phone from all over the country is the sheer ridiculousness of the younger generations, how it will not even allow grandparents to make physical contact with their granddaughters whom they haven’t seen in months. Little do they know that they are going to receive the squish of a lifetime from me to make up for all this b.s. at midnight in 10 days!
My incredibly touch-deprived self is enormously grateful for the cats in the house. Tiger, of course, has forgotten me and has hissed at me on 3 occasions already (truly the most tragic decline of a beautiful friendship). Dusty doesn’t care about any of us anymore unless she wants food or two minutes of cuddles on her own terms. But Mira! Mira, the IISc cat I’m housing for my friends until the institute switches back to in-person classes, is friendly and lovable, as well as lost and confused, so she actually needs us, and I thoroughly enjoy this fact. I will not go into the details of the thought processes that decided her name, but with my take on the same rules, her name should be X. Lo (like J. Lo), short for Extremely Lovable. I’m fairly certain that none of my cats are fans of my aggressively affectionate squishes and high-pitched verbal showering of love, but I am okay with being a part of these three one-sided relationships.
Was that actual “shortness of breath” last night? Was it coronavirus? Was it anxiety? Who knows. All I knew was that I needed some fresh air, and so did Mira, since we hadn’t let her roam outside freely yet. So, I followed my dad out the door that opens into our front garden at 8 AM earlier today, holding Mira close, and took a bunch of deep breaths. I like how my garden almost always smells like it’s about to rain, or already has, and I like how the idea of rain doesn’t upset me in my city. New England rain wants to slap you and hurt you; Bangalore rain wants to be your friend and take care of you.
All of a sudden, my dad announced, “Exercise!” and bent down to pick up a dried leaf lying on the path leading up to our front door. “Ek paan!” (one leaf).
“Don paan. Teen paan. Chaar paan,” he staccatoed with every leaf he added to his collection.
I shook my head and walked back inside to inform my mother about my father’s latest antics. Before I could begin my story, my mom relayed the events from even earlier that morning to me. She told me how my dad wanted to hang out on the terrace with her because the weather was lovely, but she was reluctant to do so because she knew he would spend a lot of their time up there looking at his phone. She did it anyway, and after making some conversation wherein he (allegedly) only pointed out a bunch of flaws with the scene on the terrace, my dad whipped out his phone, and my mum promptly decided to head back inside since it had begun to rain. “But you like the rain!” my dad protested.
The issue, my mum explained, was that my father was probably almost definitely only staying outside even if the rain was bothering him because he thought my mum enjoys the rain and he will sacrifice his own happiness and comfort for other people, and this is an incredibly annoying habit of which she has accused him many times in their 23 years, 2 months, and 22 days of marriage, and she didn’t want to be made to feel guilty about making him do things he didn’t actually want to do (even though she wasn’t actually making him, and he was doing them of his own accord, which is really his own problem). I think my parents are starting to run out of things to fight about.
She rolled her eyes at my conclusion and then we both watched my father fondly as I explained to her what he was up to in the garden. With a somewhat evil grin, she told me that she now had an irresistible urge to run upstairs to the balcony that looks over the garden, and sweep all the dried leaves on its floor off the edge and into the garden for my father to pick up. She ran up the stairs excitedly, cackling loudly as I described what was about to happen to my grandmother. My father heard me, however, and ran back into the house screaming “No!”, watching the bit of sky by the balcony with a smile he couldn’t hide behind his feigned annoyance and despair. The kind of smile that says “god, this woman is so heckin silly and I love it but obviously I can’t let anyone know that”. I joined my dad at the door and we watched and giggled as large piles of leaves fell with a thump on the path before us, startling Mira, who probably felt more lost and confused than ever. I, on the other hand, felt so at home. There is so much love in this house that happens without needing the actual words.
Speaking of love without the actual words, I remember coming downstairs around 5 PM every evening to find my grandparents sharing tea at the dining table as per their daily routine a few years ago. My grandmother needed dentures by this point but hated them and never wore them unless a photograph was about to be taken; she would not even wear them to eat and therefore stuck to softer foods. My grandfather would pour out a bowl of Haldiram’s All in One mixture (Indian trail mix, if you will) for my grandmother, and then painstakingly discard every single peanut in the bowl into a separate pile that he would consume later on her behalf. I have never seen my grandparents verbally express their contentment with each other, but they don’t need the words either.
My brother’s Grade 10 board exams ended the day after I arrived. He spent my first day back skirting around me with his hand covering his mouth every time we were nearly in close proximity. It always blows my mind that he is his own person now, with an actual brain, capable of forming his own thoughts and opinions on things it never occurred to me he thought about at all. The memes he posts on his Instagram story are hilarious, and it always hits me that he has His Own Sense of Humour.
Every older sibling is guilty of abusing their younger sibling’s innocence and ordering them to fetch glasses of water, TV remotes, and countless other things out of sheer laziness, until the younger sibling grows old enough to realize and vehemently protest against it. Now, with my quarantine, no one wants me to touch anything in general, so my brother has been dutifully bringing me cold water, cold coffee, microwaved Pop Tarts (15 seconds!), and plates of lunch to my door everyday – I don’t even have to ask, and he doesn’t even complain. I love him. That is why I ditched my plan to grade Discrete Math homework for my actual job that pays me actual money to earn fake coins on Club Penguin with him when he expressed the desire to spend time with me in some way.
When my mother built our house from scratch, she had my brother’s room and mine be connected through a swinging bookshelf. From my end, the bookshelf-cum-door opens into a little reading corner and indoor balcony attached to my brother’s room. This feature has come in handy, now that we practice social distancing but want to spend time together. After having a couple breakdowns throughout the semester about how I was missing out on my brother growing up and was losing time with him, I could finally spend an hour “with him”, six feet apart, playing Club Penguin and feeling warm from the nostalgia. We played Mancala, whose rules neither of us understood, and I wrecked him. (I am sure he would want you all to know that he wrecked me at the Dance Contest, which was annoying because you get zero coins if you lose).
Side note about Club Penguin: after it shut down, there came a rewritten version of the site (cponline), super fancy with extra locations and features and rainbow puffles and golden puffles, that I had forgotten about until recently. The reason I forgot about it was that I found another rewritten version (cprewritten) much closer to the original and thought the former one had disappeared (I was wrong). You get to be a member on both for free. Highly recommend during quarantine times.
Fun fact: cponline has a “mature” server in which penguins (often belonging to 21 year olds) can curse and not get kicked out. You can say the most atrocious things and get zero warnings. HOWEVER, if you mention “cprewritten” on even this mature server of cponline, you get flagged for using inappropriate language and are threatened to get kicked out. I think it’s hilarious that someone somewhere sat down and coded that into the game.
Edit: I do not want my last note to be about Club Penguin, so I will instead leave you with the promise that some day I will publish a post about the various ways in which people have dealt with the many breakdowns I have had in my life. I’ve been seeing a tweet or text post going around that says “I chose the wrong year to get my shit together”, because, you know, no matter how successful your attempts to stay sane in a lock-down situation during a global pandemic are, you can never achieve the same level of glory of having gotten your shit together without said lock-down and pandemic being present.
I really love telling my mom why this text post applies to me big time; I love describing to her in excruciating detail just how good my life had gotten in every way possible right before I was transplanted to the other side of the planet for an uncertain (but certainly long) period of time. She’s really patient. She listens and pretends to be excited and proud like it’s brand new information every single time.
- riding alone on the shuttle or the T, watching the lights of the city and the stations flashing past, being rocked to sleep on my way back home, my fingers numb from the cold
- shifting in my bed and pushing up against the pillow behind my back, cocooned in my soft blankets in the morning and in the middle of the night
- every time i nearly pick up two spoons with a plate of dessert that’s big enough that you know it’s meant for two people
- sitting in the common room with my over-sized jacket or sweater covering my body like a blanket as i study
- each time i take a picture of my face, but also that i hardly ever do anymore (no one asks)
- clear nights, dark, quiet nights, when the suburbs grant me a few hours with the moon and with the stars and with the special kind of silence that comes with watching them
- falling sick and feeling too weak to look for meds and to bring water up to my room and to take care of myself
- every confusing math problem i’m able to solve step by step, every sigma symbol, the way neither of those things scare me anymore
- western classical music and what it does to my heart
- the idea of actually being alone in my room in the middle of the night
- my $15 Dunkin gift card and the fact that there is one single Krispy Kreme outlet in the entire state of Massachusetts
- the view from the spot near Hillel, the view from Tisch roof, the view from my room, the view of the sunset while running to Aidekman at 4:30 knowing i’m late
- taking walks, crunchy leaves, crunchy snow
- the fourteenth of february, its loudness, and the way i don’t feel the need to shut it out
Sometimes, you have to wear an old, soft & worn loose shirt, put on a pair of fluffy socks, and turn on your fairy-lights. Wrap yourself up in a blanket under the soft golden glow of your tapestry and create for yourself the kind of environment that warms more than just your body.
Because sometimes, other people leave your life, and suddenly, it’s your own responsibility to help yourself rise from the darkest days. Alone and on your own. There is some fear around needing to do that. And there is also a lot of power.
Flashback that inspired a part of my Common Application’s Personal Essay (which I have been thinking about a fair amount lately, as it is a) part of the reason I have physically been where I currently am for over 7 months, and b) rather relevant to the trains of thought that leave my brain station past midnight):
Once upon a time, I called a friend of mine. Crying hard, somewhat distressed.
There’s an owl perched on the railing of my balcony, I said.
I want to be that owl. But I cannot be that owl, ever. I just really want to be that owl.
Excerpts from said Personal Essay:
as the slush and snow come down, i tremble lightly, craving the warmth of your fingers. it has been days since the hands of my clock changed their story, eternity since the taste of your body reminded me of love. just to hear you breathe would do more to give me life than air ever could, and yet all i sense is the coldness of the rain on my window. the sun crawls lower and the darkness whispers hostile words into my chest. and it begins.
suffering comes in stinging waves, washing upon my lungs, leaving traces of dust on my skin. in the quiet static outside of my reality, the world offers no hand. the raindrops tap tap on my window sill, they try but cannot keep up with the rhythm of my heartbeat. water races itself down the cold glass as i fight the deafening silence. i wonder why in such a situation my mind is so cruel to scream your name as some sort of haven, but perhaps that is the curse of love. you cannot separate the happiness from the pain. you must share one and conquer the other. together.
a tiny warmth flickers in my chest and burns on at your name. i wish only my smiles felt the need to keep you apprised of their presence, but so do my tears. for that i am truly sorry. to think of cool winds murmuring soft kind secrets to the trees, to imagine sunlight glowing past the leaves through the space in my fingers, to feel your eyes gazing upon me with the tenderness of a child’s touch: these are the gifts i grant myself during times of desolation. the human heart beats for a long time before it stops and vanishes all together. mine has never come so close to protection like you. perhaps that is terrifying in the way the very real possibility of one’s only home catching fire is terrifying.
i notice i’m clutching my hands so tight there are marks, as if i can hold us together though time has thrown us apart. the days have grown short inside me, and the night brings back to my mind your arms reaching for my waist underneath soft warm blankets like rays of sunshine seeping through the gaps in my blinds. i miss the way your eyes used to hold mine. i stare at my fingertips and the tiny slices in my skin feel like only they really belong to me. there is only so much i can expect. and so much i can hope for.
(but this time in America)
Walking down a residence hall corridor at 3:33 AM is definitely a weird experience (btw why do we say “walking down a hallway?” you literally stay at the same level. what is English). I should be studying for my Psychology exam that’s worth 25% of my grade; I should be making notes especially since Jennifer needs them, too. Four whole days before an exam? Maitreyi is preparing a full four days before her exam? This has never happened before, simply because no one has relied on her to make notes for a chapter before. There’s the loophole in her extreme procrastination – it will transform into not too terrible procrastination if someone else needs her to work. Why would I rather do healthy, useful things for other people than for myself, why will I literally not get lunch if it is not a meal I have plans to get with someone else (i.e., I will only go to a dining hall if someone is relying on me to show up, because who cares about, you know, feeding myself so I continue to live well), why will I stop myself from engaging in Unhealthy Behavior just so I don’t feel hypocritical when I encourage others to stop?
Anyway, my phone died and I’d needed to pee for a while but felt lazy and Pearson Revel signed me out of the textbook while I was mid-sentence and there’s a pack of Coffee Nut m&ms lying on the top of the dresser in this fake, tiny, second-floor Houston study room and I’m mad at Pearson and super tempted to try those m&ms but 1) I don’t know who left them there, and 2) I’ve never tried that flavour before; it sounds interesting, and 3) what if Mystery Apathetic@Chocolate wants the m&ms back, 4) I don’t really care about point (3) but what if I dislike the flavour and am stuck with it being in my mouth for a whole bunch of time until I can get breakfast? should I eat ahhhh
I couldn’t make that decision just then, and since I’d finally found something I wanted to do less than walk all the way to the washroom, I decided to go pee to avoid making that decision. On my (short, but it felt long, it’s late, my concept of time is skewed) walk to the washroom, I really noticed and appreciated just how weird and particular the aroma of residence hall corridors is. Sometimes they smell like various perfumes, sometimes like carpet and shoes, sometimes like what I think is alcohol, not that I can be sure bc my experience with it is very limited and I am just terrified of it. Other times, like Thursday nights and Friday evenings, it’s weed, and every other day, it’s a combination of remnants of all of these. Outside my Indian mumma-friend’s room, it smells Indian it’s like chai but maybe I make that up in my head out of expectation of what is to come when I step in. On some mornings, when I get out of the washroom after having brushed my teeth, the bit of corridor right outside my room smells like black coffee and that’s how I know my roommate has woken up. Either ways, it’s so strange that these smells that were totally unfamiliar to me three months ago now smell like Home(?)(am I ready to call this place that yet, I do not know).
In the washroom, I realized I liked tucking my shirt into my jeans. I like how it makes me feel but also it makes me uncomfortable to do that when I’m not super loving my body, so I decided I would prevent my not loving my body by leaving the m&ms alone. I remember that when I was still in school, a boy on my school bus made fun of another for having visible “stretch marks.” I didn’t know what they were, and a friend explained them to me; basically, they usually happen when a person’s weight changes and some of the skin doesn’t know what to do with itself anymore. She said the boy had lost weight. I remember genuinely not understanding what was so bad about having stretch marks! Why are they considered yucky, when they’re sometimes proof that someone worked hard to feel healthier and better about themselves? I wanted stretch marks. I was happy to see them the first time they became really prominent on my hips after I refrained from eating junk food and exercised regularly for four months in Grade 12. I felt good; they were a sign that I was right in thinking that I was finally being healthy.
When do you know that you’re starting to feel at home somewhere? Is it when, in the map if your mind’s eye, you’ve started replacing unfamiliar building entrances with people’s faces? And their carpets and blankets, shoe racks, and wall decor. Is it when your French professor knows you well enough to email you specifically before Thanksgiving break, telling you to “try to sleep a ton during break! :)” and is it when you start having opinions on kinds of cereal that aren’t sold in India? Three months ago I felt dangerously adrift, but now I feel only moderately adrift. I mean, I did finally use the Belgian waffle machine, and the terrifying toaster to make myself my first bagel with cream cheese, and the panini press to make my friend a grilled cheese. I studied in the Study Rooms of residence halls other than mine, pretended to study at one of the libraries once, and stood beside and talked to my friend while she spread out sheets under the pretty tree outside our Hall with her books and laptop out to study (super cute, and super movie-like, have always wanted to do). There’s a hundred things I haven’t done yet, of course, but I imagine each will bring this strange place a bit closer to Home in my heart. I imagine each habit and preference I acquire, like getting the apple spice cake with maple buttercream frosting on Tuesday nights, and the other side of my floor, will cement it.
I love the people here. I hate that they don’t know Indian slang, so I can’t say jugaad, or mug up, or bunk, or thappad, around them and expect even a semblance of cognizance on their faces. I hardly pronounce “dance,” and “class,” and “answer” the right way anymore and the new way feels ugly and rude in my mouth but I have no choice if I want to be quickly understood. They try sometimes to say my name right, and most of them really want to be able but struggle. No one really uses nicknames; everyone mostly just avoids having to use my name. Only one friend in my life really uses a nickname to refer to me often, to the point where I call myself it in my head. I miss him very much, and I’m mad that I cannot be in his actual physical presence right now, especially since it’s nearly 5 AM and I am awake and I used to fall asleep within 7 seconds when sitting next to him on the way to school. Anyway, the people here are excited for me to try new American snacks and worried for me to experience the Actual Cold New England Weather. They are happy to invite me to their homes during Thanksgiving break and more than willing to explain weird concepts like cold salads to me. They will run to me from blocks away if I feel like I can’t breathe and am terrified I’ll die, and they’ll let me cry for hours about real chai and food with actual flavour and my best friends from back home and my cat and my idiot amazing brother, and they’ll kick me out of my bed at 3:30 PM when I’m being an idiot, and they’ll bring me cheese puffs and other favourite foods, and they’ll make me exercise with them. There is very, very little I wouldn’t do for these people and I need them to know this. I’m so grateful for them and how much easier they made this transition for me.
I’m not entirely sure how I got here from talking mostly about Coffee Nut m&ms, but the mind goes where it wants, I guess. Where it wants to go right now is to sleep. Earlier today, I told my best friend that if one could marry concepts, I would marry sleep, and I will forever stand by that 400%. I have so much more to say, but I’m thinking thoughts at too ridiculously fast a pace at the moment, and it’s impossible to capture a lot of it. It’s also nearly 5:30 AM and I’ve begun to make a terrifying number of spelling errors while typing (except for those red-underlined words like flavour and favourite, WordPress, I refuse to abandon British spellings), so I will try to go to bed, despite having to be awake in another four hours anyway.
Good night, and thank you for being here.
PS – God bless the time difference between East Coast and India (who would’ve thought I’d ever think this) because how else would I not be completely and totally alone at these odd hours
there are some people who possess such a vibration that they can illuminate a room without physically being present.
the mere thought of you is enough to send rushing my affection; to set beating my heart; to command the taut, prickling attention of my entire being.
let me look at you.
let me hold your presence.
people build entire lives out of turning away. they turn away from sunrise kisses and clouds wailing and force their bodies into creaseless costumes and lock themselves up inside cement buildings with blank faces to match their own.
people build entire lives out of turning away, running, running, running, but not you.
you with your golden heart and the sparkle you breathe inside, dream inside, speak of and teach us without even trying. you trace the stars with your eyes and see more than black and white. you play verses on my skin and both fear and savor the confusing pleasure of it. you who have been made of something mysterious which exists only in the frequencies of everything beautiful the universe has to offer. you whose brilliance has shaken worlds where shooting stars make wishes come true.
you, the steady in this breeze.
washing away all my troubles until there’s nothing left but your storm and the lingering, peaceful scent of petrichor you leave behind.
we are sheltered tonight by an upside down carpet of stars.
underneath, you nudge music into my soul; I write the perfect melody to the rhythm of your heart. you sing; I smile (your every word is like a little love note spoken to me, but perhaps I’m just being sentimental). you stop time; I soak up the moment, inhale the colors, the vanilla, the erratic pattern of your breath, and then I turn to you – I cannot collect the stars in the sky, but I can have something so close when I look into your eyes.
your lips rarely part, but when they do, your croon beckons confetti storms from the darkest niches of my heart; they bloom with a mysterious magical quality and yet a comfortable familiarity (like how names taste, whispered right after first kisses).
and when you cry, love, the universe holds its breath.
I learned that sounds travel faster through solids than through air, so press your mouth to my skin; tell me stories of the places you were scared to have been. I will try my best to understand, and with all that I am, I will listen. eyes closed, heart open.
half of you and half of me. half of love and half of sparkle. half and half is whole.
yet I do not need you to be complete, for you have taught me to be it on my own.
tell me, honey. can I trust the hands of the clock to protect us?
. . .
Inspired by Allison Marie Conway
*TRIGGER WARNING*(?) A 17-year-old girl makes a mental list of foods she wishes to consume even though her Graduation Day Ceremony is in four days, she has to wear a saree, and she demolished a whole entire Oreo Silk after doing the same to a Twix bar less than 24 hours ago
- Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream/ Lemon Cheesecake
- Taco Bell’s Cheese Quesadilla
- Red Velvet Brownie (a CCN rant is overdue)
- Chianti’s White Sauce Spinach and Mushroom Ravioli
- Thai Green Curry with Rice
- Eliza’s Halloumi Pasties (should maybe stop watching MasterChef)
- Honey and Lays Belgian Waffles (yes, Lays chips, the blue packet, with waffles)