When I was about nineteen years old I had a crush on this plain, tall and seemingly arrogant boy I knew from back in high school.
Actually, knew of is a more accurate way to put it. I saw him about five times when I was in form three (sixteen years old) because my school had this program we called Socials where students, who were male I might add, from the neighboring school would come to my school (or we’d go to theirs, depending on the term and what house you were in) once a term for snacks, music, conversation and a movie in the afternoon. Ha! Snacks and conversation makes it sound so fancy. And maybe in some respects it was. Because to date, these girls and boys remain some of the most intelligent people I have ever met. I would like to think our conversations had some semblance of this. At the same time however it was a gathering of horny teenagers, so maybe not so fancy. As you’ve guessed, this kind of mingling required some form of preparation. I happened to be part of a group of ten or so people that was responsible for ensuring Socials was a success. And this is how I met, came across really, Paul. Let’s call him Paul. He also was a member of his school’s committee. Apart from the obligatory meeting at the beginning of our meetings, Paul and I never talked. I doubt he even knew my name. He only talked to this insanely beautiful schoolmate that clearly didn’t fancy him. I think she only paid him attention to humor him and because all the other boys were too intimidated to approach her. There was something about her beauty that seemed (to me at least) transparent. She made me think of glass and air; delicate yet risky, like she could either crumble down or slash your wrists, save or choke you.
I spent most of these meetings snacking away, stealing glances and sometimes full on stares, at Paul and his date and very rarely brooding that no one seemed particularly interested in me. I choked the latter up to the fact that I was ugly; with my shaved head, loose skirts, preoccupied mind, hostile expression and docile esteem. And before you start feeling bad for me I’ll have you know that I was okay with it. Maybe not fully okay, but I didn’t go about my days wishing I was prettier. Even back then, I had this feeling that a pretty face wasn’t going to be what makes me stand out. Granted, I didn’t know what my defining factor was and God knows I didn’t have much in the way of evidence that I even had one. Now that I’m a bit older, I realise that everyone has a unique factor, like a marking on their soul that makes them irreplaceable and so stunningly, genuinely beautiful, it would be pointless to go through life wishing that your mark is a bit like somebody else’s.
I guess more than anything, especially at these meetings, I was just too busy trying to figure out Paul. How he absent-mindedly touched his brow when he was trying to make a point or tell a joke, how he seemed unaware of how strikingly plain he was. I often felt frantic on his behalf, watching him head over to where she was standing pretending not to notice him and acting surprised when she said hi. Girl please! Everyone knew that she was fully aware of the spell she had him under. I worried that Paul didn’t seem to notice that standing next to her only drew sharper contrast to their features, more so, how generic he was. I guess since we were both so plain, I has assumed his sense of worth would also be on crutches like mine. So when it was finally time for them to go, I’d watch him standing there, mouth twitching, hands shaking, wanting but trying not to hug her (it was against school rules) and it would dawn on me that he wasn’t like me. That he was confident. That he was brave and curious and care-free enough to want to touch glass, willing even to be cut by it. To take a leap of faith, plunge into air and fall face flat on emptiness.
This, I think, is what attracted me to him three years later. I had hardly seen him after high school but not a day went by that I didn’t think about his attraction to the glass lady. I wasn’t particularly jealous of her, if anything I was envious of him. Because by the time I was nineteen, my mind had become this dark, bottomless pit that I kept falling farther down into. Everything felt overwhelming and not enough at the same time and I had this incessant, sickening feeling that I was rushing to my death. I went through my days actively trying to slow my brain down. My brain wouldn’t let up the first few days but then slowly it would grind to a halt, a disorienting silence.
I enjoyed the inactivity only for a few hours. The silence eventually did drive me nuts and more often than not, I would find myself in a desolate park bench at one am in the morning begging my brain to work, to panic, to tear itself into pieces. Pain as I came to find out, was a lot better than nothingness. I was self-destructing and I knew it, the morbid parts of my soul maybe even enjoyed it. This isn’t to say I didn’t feel guilty. My stomach was in knots half the time and I almost always felt physically sick, constantly suppressing the urge to throw up. And so on some days I would go out of my way to have a good day; to enjoy a friend’s company. But as soon as I sat down to watch a comedy or have a conversation with someone, my mind would drift to my impending and seemingly inevitable death. And so I would force myself to take in the moments, to absorb the life around me; the laughter and the noise. Somehow I had convinced myself if I had enough supply of life, death would be afraid to get me, that maybe the darkness wouldn’t seem so suffocating if my mind trapped enough light. And then without so much as a warning, it would all seem so overwhelming, I would spend nights begging whatever agents of death to come take me for I had seen enough life.
On my more upbeat days, I realised the vicious cycle my life had become; how I was losing grip of reality, how dead I felt. And so on these days, I fixated on Paul. He had ultimately become my epitome of life. Which is to say I equated being alive to being willing to get hurt. And yes, the irony isn’t lost on me. I was hurting all right, only I was doing it because my mind was broken. Paul on the other hand, was willing to risk it for happiness, and dare I say, love. I often wondered what it would be like to have a conversion with a mind so whole (as far as I knew). Would his sentences come out in colour, rearranging the air around him, so that when he breathed it back in, it nourished him? As far, as my nineteen year old self knew, that constituted a sexual attraction. May I just say, to date, years after I realised what I felt for Paul was a bit too hazy, that it didn’t fit into a particular box, I’m still really proud of myself for thinking that curiosity about what goes on in someone’s mind was what I considered basis for a romantic entanglement. I have grown in some places and shrank in others, but the one thing that my nineteen year old self and I still agree on, is that good conversation which in a lot of ways is the hall mark of intelligence, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. I am forever grateful to my nineteen year old self, as battered, lost and green in all matters relationships and love, for clearing the path that enabled that realization. So on the days I’d fall, hands clutching at my chest, howling into my pillow, I’d whisper into the universe, sending my words out, hoping they reach him and come back tucked into the syllables, the secret to happiness.
So anyway, I was nineteen, in college, struggling to override this unwarranted guilt I felt whenever I ate more than two meals a day. See, in my head, I didn’t think I had done anything worthwhile with my life to deserve regular meals. As it so happens, I was standing outside my building, counting all the reasons, trying to convince myself that I deserved to grab a bite; I had gotten out of bed, showered, gone to class, not cried(heaven knows I wanted to) and even talked to a classmate or two. Surely, with how heavy my head constantly felt, doing all of these things was nothing short of an achievement. But then again, I was a student. To say I deserved a prize for honouring my obligations would be like saying living things deserved a trophy for breathing. This second train of thought made a lot more sense and I had just about turned, on my way to punishing myself, with a movie with stupid, mind numbing conversation. I hoped it would lull me to sleep before I got too angry at the poorly written script (but really at myself) and broke down wailing. And then I saw him, coming towards me. Maybe not me, I don’t think he saw me. Clearly, he had taken to working out and had grown some facial hair. Compensating for his plainness? I couldn’t say. What I can say however, is that standing there, staring at my feet, acting shifty and suddenly feeling so fretful, like a toddler in a supermarket who’s just been informed/ threatened by her mother that she won’t be getting her favourite doll, I wouldn’t look at him. Not even in stolen glances as I had done those many years ago. I couldn’t look at him. I didn’t trust myself to do it, not without getting pregnant.
So, I’m trying to venture into new, scary, uncomfortable territory with my writing. I’m trying to tell stories more and maybe get out of my head a little bit(nuts I know. Reality is pretty warped.) So I thought I’d do a mini series. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to morph into. What I do know is that I want it to highlight (at the very least) mental illnesses and sexual freedom (especially for women)
So here is an intro(partly fiction but mostly true) I couldn’t just jump into the deep end of fiction. Clinging to my truth I guess, is my way of staying afloat.
I’m hoping you guys can keep me in check, keep me writing. So please, feel free to shoot me an “hey pal. What’s with the rest of that story?” kinda email. God knows I get so wrapped up in the going ons of my head, I forget to write it down. Or it all becomes blasé, not worth writing about.
Please, do let me know what you think on the comment section or via my email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Title suggestions are desperately welcome.