She shuts herself in her bolthole to cry. No, to howl, yet again.
Her blank CV stares back at her. Name, Address, Phone Number. No worthwhile internships, publications, workshops, skillset…nothing. The document that was supposed to be an inventory of achievements was no more than an ID proof. She would have nothing to write in the Statement of Purpose either. She couldn’t prattle on about something she neither had nor was even close to figuring out.
Wiping off tears that were threatening to seep into her laptop keys, she runs to the bathroom and throws up. Bitterness.Regretful, bile-producing bitterness. Bitterness as she had never felt before. Bitterness at others’ success. Others, who’d been living life to the full. And yet achieved everything they’d ever wanted to achieve, apparently effortlessly.
While standing in the bathroom that now reeks with the stench of her bitterness and despair, she simultaneously fights twin waves: those of nausea rising within her, and those of (yet) another existential crisis crashing around her. Waves that overwhelm and recede by turns. Over time, she has learned not to trust the false sense of security that the ebb gives her. There are crises and dilemmas that never get resolved. That keep pounding back and forth repeatedly, leaving a changed landscape in their wake, only to come back and rearrange even that over and over. Never content with one round of destruction, never losing their lacerative force.
Her room looks like the product of naive idealism now betrayed. The decay had started long ago, of course. It was her last fortress against the dystopian law school that had drained every remaining drop of her passion. That made her run without giving so much of a hint as to where she could be headed. And when she refused to bow down, left her behind. But not before breaking her.
She does nothing as she watches those waves start to chip away at her sanctuary, her sanity. The usual casualty of that chipping, her space, alternates between obsessive order, when she manages to hide the debris left behind, and unhinged chaos, the natural state.
If there is hope, peering through chinks in the gloom, she is too embittered to see it. Too broken to believe that there could be chinks, to begin with.
Sherlock. Baker Street. Reichenbach Falls. Fanart. London. Pamuk’s Istanbul. Cloud Atlas. V for Vendetta. Orwell. Pride and Prejudice. Atonement. Marquez. Borges. The barrage of posters that overwhelms any entrant into her room: the texts through which she has configured her identity. An identity that makes sense only within the confines of this room, but one that nonetheless makes her feel alive. At least within the room where she hides. Reads. Writes. Thinks. Tries to feel. Cries. But mostly hides.
A room has no personality of its own. It’s only a block full of emptiness. Emptiness that still isn’t as absolute as the nothingness within, she thinks. Attempts to negate that emptiness are futile, because no matter what, you can’t paper over every inch of yourself with the things you love. The unsightly bits will peek through at unexpected times, and from unexpected angles.
She had attempted to get the room to reflect her personality by covering it with posters of texts that had made her. It was meant to be a sanctuary that played up her good bits and let her unflattering bits be. But with time, the room ended up revealing everything she had hoped to brush under. The layers of unspoken thoughts, unattended dust, isolation disturbed only by draughts or fumigation, cobwebs of dilemmas. Dust could be eloquent indeed; she smiles as she mentally quotes the consulting detective she loves.
The now-rotten food that her mother had so lovingly stuffed in her bags. Another stab of guilt at trampling over her parents’ unconditional affection. It’s not that unconditional, she indignantly mutters to herself.
The dust-covered certificates. Casual not-so-friendly reminders of her sense of non-achievement.
The unused medication. The unnecessarily neglected health.
The unopened suitcases. She never did feel at home anywhere. The domesticity lover who dreams of globetrotting, she snorts to herself.
The dysfunctional internet. Her disconnect from the outside world.
The ignored phone calls. The last resort of a kid who doesn’t want to disappoint her parents by telling them that she functions on a different cycle and is never awake when they call at 11 am every day.
The missing shoes and empty boxes. That her parents think she still has, when she has no hope of relocating them. Along with several other things she doesn’t have but they’d like to believe she has.
The desolation around her gets a tired look as she continues reading Virginia Woolf.
Existential angst had long since become a permanent state of being. She imagined she had come a long way in the last four years, only to find that her dilemmas hadn’t budged in the slightest. If anything, her indecisiveness had grown, and the necessity of disentangling them had become more and more pressing by the day.
She reads. Literature, fanfiction and meta analyses of her favourite show. Feels her heart ripped out because of her emotional investment in fictional characters. Silently rebels against being told how to spend her time: rebellion that only her parents notice, and that too when they see her grades. Unbidden, comes along guilt and seeps into the already fragile paradise that she had agonizingly built out of fictional worlds.
Such a disappointment.
“STOP!” she tells the accusatory voices in her head. They remind her of the gaping plot holes in her own life, while she is surrounded by people with well structured, predictable narratives: people of the same genre, the same narrative conventions, same style and tone even, differing only in names.
Did losing herself in fictional characters’ sorrows provide an escape from those of her own? Or did they just numb her senses for the time being, so that when reality intruded, she felt it all the more acutely? At least fictional characters have something more worthwhile to be angsty about, and their angst ends with the book, she thinks..
Guzzling down one book after another becomes an escape from the pressures of conformity, but she feels the urge to feel something, to work on something, to accomplish something, finish something for a change instead of getting disillusioned with it halfway and abandoning it for being worthless. Every career path seems nauseating and conformist; to be added to the ever-growing list of the things she knows she wouldn’t want. She doesn’t want to take another default decision; she knows she has taken and lived through the consequences of too many.
She reads to get cut, and words are the only lenses she knows. If they cut her in the process of enabling her to see, then so be it. That it would hurt could never be a reason for not reading because not reading was not seeing, not feeling. She wonders if it’s even volitional anymore. Sometimes, words are the only things standing between her and the desire to obliterate herself. Words of others, as literature, fanfiction….and words of her own.
In another life: she is well-settled in a career she genuinely enjoys. And that involves writing. Her parents are proud of her because of how she’s lived her life, and aren’t even a little bitter. They respect her choices and support her regardless. Where her college years weren’t a waste. And where she actually knows a bunch of languages that she can yap away in with ease.
Years ago, when she first entered law school, she had thought of it as a place where she could pick up valuable experience, whether or not it would culminate in a legal career. Fresh from the rigours of an unwanted, stifling gap year spent at engineering coaching classes teeming with people who had as little to do with words as possible, she thought she could deal with anything so long as whatever she was pursuing could hold her interest. She thought she had the broad contours of her prospective career figured out, if not the specific details. Something that involved reading, writing, critical thinking and (occasionally) evocative prose.
In another life, all of that comes to fruition. It’s real, not an unrealized possibility looming tantalizingly on the horizon. And her life isn’t primarily about dealing with the sehnsucht.
But it doesn’t take much to realize that this universe has little in common with that. That this isn’t fanfiction, but the hard non-negotiable narrative of her life. Where no amount of reparative reading would change the hard facts: she was lost, unproductive, aimless and underachieving, and the compromise finally revealed for what it was.
Volume 9(2). The Socio-Legal Review. Finally, something tangible. Not too late, she hopes.
The hard copy of the same got posted to her home address. The next day, her father called and told her it was well done and encouraged her to send out more articles for publication. She teared up, while berating herself for being an adult who nonetheless seeks parental approval.
Wishing she had something more worthwhile to be angsty about had been a careless thought she hadn’t devoted much time to.
8th April 2014. The phone call she wished she’d never been woken up by. The plane tickets she wished she’d never had to book; a journey she’d smugly assumed she’d never have to make.
She didn’t even get to see the body; it was through her family’s grief that the loss was made real to her. She only got tidbits and second hand accounts with which to construct the chronicle of her irreparable loss.
She wondered if she’d ever have the luxury of rebellion again. The words of the dead often get set in stone, particularly if the survivors are keen on enforcing them. The argument that had held only emotional weight earlier had now become even more impractical rationally, but its emotional resonance had shot through the roof. So amidst her guilt-tinged grief, the dilemma of rebelling against her dead father’s wishes presented itself to her.
An academic career seemed like one of those childhood dreams everyone toyed around with, but eventually changed course to something more achievable. Cornered by fate, the bitter irony of her alternative career choice stung her sharply, adding insult to injury. As if losing her father weren’t enough; she now had to bow down before corporate law and lose her sense of self if she wanted to keep herself and her family financially afloat.
She had never meant harm. Her aimlessness had never been deliberate, her dilemmas never something under her control. She knew that while she had been busy rebelling and being a somewhat callous daughter, she couldn’t have predicted her father would pass away before she’d get a chance to show him that he could be proud of the daughter he had, even if she couldn’t become the daughter he wanted her to be. But that didn’t stop guilt from infecting every mention of her relationship with her father, tingeing every memory she had of him, and threatening to become a permanent fixture in her thoughts.
Helpless, she turns to words yet again. While forcing her fingers to type in the name of therapy, she is drawn to the tempting idea of redemptive readings, even though the chances of eventual redemption are still less than slim. The future still looks bleak, and she feels her agency, so cruelly stripped away, won’t return anytime soon.
Introspective Incisions. Her blog that helped her cut deep sometimes, and was sometimes a hiding place for all the lies she told herself. The only chronicle of the gradual erosion of everything she had held dear. Virtual rants, that she could edit at any point.
Could the same ease of editing be a blessing, a way to choose a different past? After all, the past is what we make of it, how we choose to let it inform our present. She wonders what the Eliotian wordgames meant. Was all her time really unredeemable? Is it eternally present? Perhaps she should’ve named her blog Retrospective Re-insertions.
She had relied on writing to give her truth, only to discover that words were elaborate artifices that could only give a distorted picture of reality. To what extent was she willing to distort her retellings, so as to give value to the senseless tragedy that had altered the course of her life?
Earlier, when the dominant sentiment in her life had been existential angst, she had thought her room could bear the weight of her inconsistencies without bursting at the seams, and with its help she could too. However, as she looks at the rotten food, the unwashed bed sheets, the falling posters, she feels herself crumble along with the room. So she decides to trust words instead, mindful of all their limitations, but choosing to believe more in their possibilities.
The blog could be her imperfect Bildungsroman. Retrospective Introspections: making sense of things that happened to her and her actions in hindsight. Doomed to be fractured, inconsistent, contradictory or incoherent babble, because it mirrors who she is and what she’s gone through. The text feels the force of dilemmas that tore her apart, that pulled at her from so many directions and never left her whole again.
But put together, given a sympathetic reading, surely there was something she could salvage? She feels willing to reinterpret, be selective, fill in the gaps, if that meant that her present could be more hopeful; willing to write the fanfiction for the narrative of her life, even if those alternate universes would exist on paper alone.
The alternative was to let them be: contradictory, painful, long-winding and ultimately fruitless. But she is too much in love with those imperfect shards, those unrealized possibilities because they have gone towards making her who she is. She trusts the text to simultaneously reveal, and create a meaningful pattern out of the scars she so carefully hides.
Maybe, in some universe, they will amount to something greater than the sum of their parts. Till then, she decides to continue playing with words: the only mediators between what she sees and what she makes of it. Never accurate, always missing the mark, always somewhat tinted, but indispensable nonetheless.
Apoorva Yadav is a college student by day, literature junkie by night.