On the Morning of 27th October

Once I awoke I felt the cool air pool at my feet, as if dipping them in cold water. The end of the bed leads to an open window, outside the sounds of pitter-patter, the absolute grey of the sky beyond. It wasn’t your ferocious concrete grey, but the slight touch of impurity mixed into white. There was nothing beyond this tainted white, only an infinite expanse of uniform cloud, stretched over the sky like cling wrap over a Tupperware world.

I wriggle my toes, the edge of the blanket slips off the top of my knees. I turn over again before sitting up. The cool air wafts into the room when I open my room door, an intimate gushing in. I walk down the corridor and stand by the window at the end. The grey has seeped through into the suite, into the walls and onto me, washing me over with ash. I take a deep breath at the ledge, breathing in dampness. I hold on to the ledge, as leaves flutter in the distance, trees small when viewed from the ninth floor. The pulse of the rain quickens, a hushed conversation growing more intense as more secrets are exchanged. The dull sky speaks. The air channels in, cooling our endeavours once more. The buildings are less bright, less shiny, less perfect. In the distance things that were once clear and defined have been shrouded in mist and blurred. We, in turn, are made less perfect. Rain has a peculiar scent that is neither pronounced nor insignificant. She invigorates the land and as the land breaths we smell her breath. We are made to listen to her as she drowns out everything else. Walking to Foodclique, there was a devastating quiet that hung over U-Town. But then it wasn’t exactly quiet, not vacuous by any means, but the pounding of rain emanating background noise that cancelled everything else out, that made our voices rounded at the edges. She made our words and actions, already insignificant as they were, more so. Rain came in a relentless rhythm, which finally broke the surface in words that drowned out ours, like the loud relative during Chinese New Year, like the seminar asshole that just wouldn’t shut up. And yet, it marvelled me to no end, that no takeover should ever be complete as this, with the world ensconced in rhythmic fury and greyness seeping in like this was Pleasantville, that covered not only the world but also our minds, that made us feed off the lack of colour as if a drug. If dullness were a drug then what would this make us? Would it make us the addicts or the patients? The rain continues to speak, maybe she had the answers, but it wouldn’t matter either way. We couldn’t catch up to the pace of her murmurs.

Later I would take the lift up to the highest floor of my college. One thing led to another and I ended up standing at the ledge, arms on the railing. The land spread out below, lightly misted, like a last minute thank-you-note you decide to write before your time with someone is over. The mist accretes into the distance, the height plays tricks on how we see. I have run to that reservoir before. That is West Coast Park, where I had triumphed but then also failed. There were the roads that held me at 12 am as I stumbled back to college, drunk. I remember the footsteps we took out of those gates, onto that bus. It was a sunny morning but somehow the rain brings me back. These are the memories that are only conjured when a world is cloaked in grey, when background noise helps you focus and urges you to be calm, but at the same time screams at you to remember. And I remember. I try everyday to forget but the grey draws me in and I remember.

In Education it’s All about the “I”

I sling my JanSport bag over my shoulders and make my way to a classroom. I take out my books and turn on John Mayer. Studying gets underway. It’s 11pm and I aim to get things done by 3 am. It’s a sickening cycle. I’ve been at it for 3 days in a row and a big part of me feels like I can go on, whilst at some juncture of the night a feeling of utter helplessness wells up in my chest begging me to stop.

A friend messages me to ask about my whereabouts. He’s at Starbucks and he wants to study together. It’s no more than a 5-minute walk from the classroom. We would study together occasionally, and he would sometimes bring me to the Medicine Faculty library where we would just sit for hours chugging down books like an alcoholic to his bottle. It was all in the name of friendship it seemed. These friendships keep our time here sane, they say.

With all my books sprawled out, however, I was reluctant to move. I didn’t want the five minute walk to distract me, to pull me out of this rare momentum I had generated. I asked him if he would want to come over here instead. It’s pretty conducive, I added.

In the end none of us bothered moving. We were both settled down, studying, in our own separate bubbles of concentration. And in that moment it hit both of us that that was all that mattered.

The week passed with me trying to organise study sessions with friends but the more I tried to see the togetherness of this endeavour the more it escaped me. There was nothing really holding us united as students. Time and again our schedules would conflict, time and again we’d find some reason to tide it out on our own. There was no reason to be in the same room as a bunch of people hunched over, looking at their notes or laptops intermittently switching between Facebook and their essays, with different songs playing from different earpieces.

It almost seemed like we weren’t actually motivated by friendships but by how much we could accomplish in this set amount of time. If coming together to study was more convenient we’d do that, if studying apart was better off we’d as soon hop on. We made friendship seem like the whole point when it probably wasn’t.

The fact was this: that even when we were in the same physical space we were fighting our own separate battles, with our own unique strategies. You could say that peer teaching helps, that discussions are fruitful, that being there for emotional support is crucial. All that is fantastic, but at no point in our education has anyone stepped in to tell us that forming these bonds was ever necessary for our success. Our education has always been centred around the benefit of the individual. From bell curves to cut off points, from application essays to interviews the emphasis becomes that of me rather than us. Because a successful “we” makes for a mediocre “I”. If everyone was special then no one would be. And so subconsciously a part of us will always strive to stand out, will always try to establish ourselves above the rest, or at least make our mark on the wall as high as possible, to the best of our abilities.

All that isn’t tragic. To want to succeed is okay, I feel like many of us do at some point in our lives want to succeed. What is tragic however, is the possibility that we may never find fulfilment in the process. We want to succeed, and we want to be prosperous, but the fact is we have been squeezed through a system that heralds success as an individualistic endeavour, one that takes this innate desire for excellence and turns it into selfishness. We follow this blindly although we all know it’s an endless chase. We follow this path knowing that it wouldn’t, for one minute, make us better people but follow it we must, because that’s all we’ve ever known. That, to me, is tragic.

But not all is lost. Against this system we still try. We still gather at times to read together, to ask questions, discuss concepts. Sometimes we tutor each other and for little pockets of time lapse into conversations about the past. And for a few fleeting moments it all makes sense. But I can’t help but feel that this is all borrowed time.

Because our time together doesn’t seem to be the point at all when it probably should have been. The entire point seems to be our individual assignments and our individual transcripts, our individual study spaces and our individual drives to succeed. And then at 3 am in the morning with a laptop screen blazing and eyes tired you’ll feel it: the helplessness all over again. That you’re trapped. That even though you look brilliant on paper, there’s no one to really talk to, no one who will care to understand that feeling of human vulnerability.

The room may be full of people, but make no mistake: you are very much on your own.

The Words We should have Said, the Things We should have Done

 

The last two weeks have been heavy. A community has been in grief. It was difficult to describe the tension in the few days after the incident, just people walking around, blank looks on their faces, people trying to look strong. I for one, was at a loss because for once in my life words failed me. I didn’t know how to describe how I felt.

I have written short stories about suicide and death, grief and loss. I do these things not as a means to get closer to these issues, but to distance myself from them. I know very well that what I write is fictional, that though the themes might have played out before in different combinations it certainly hasn’t played out in the way I imagined in my head. I console myself in that way. Sometimes the sadder the story, the more content I feel writing it. It’s a balance between living in a world I know is made up yet keeping one foot grounded in reality. Finally when the story comes to fruition my feelings go full circle and I am pushed back into this world, the door shuts on my imagination and I am back where you guys are. It’s a perverse sort of pleasure.

The incident has forced me to view things from the other direction. It forced all of us to behold the facts, before attempting to imagine what might have driven someone to do what they did that day. Rather than a world of possibilities opening up, it felt like a heavy door had been shut, followed by a vacuous slamming sound that signalled the absoluteness of the act. I struggled to come to terms with it. All my attempts at imagining how this happened failed, and I am sure this felt the same for most of those around me. I didn’t write about this precisely because what I felt wasn’t something I had ever written about before. I only knew of the limited range of emotions in my head that I put into stories. How inconsequential all those attempts at synthesising grief or sadness seemed now.

So instead we did something very different. The first instinct for many of us millennials is to hide behind a keyboard when things got tough, but this incident taught us to do anything but. Instead, we began to reach out. we began to take each other seriously in real life conversations. We began to ask the important questions such as “how are you” and “how has it been”. We sought help in each other rather than in ourselves. Because in times like these it becomes evident that no one can make it through life on their own.

Because we don’t know if people want to be alone or not, whether they chose to or whether they were driven there by circumstance. We cannot assume that loneliness is our end state. Because it really isn’t. Loneliness is a progression to greater things but never the greater thing itself. If I had any regrets, they would come later on when I thought back about my interactions with the person. It always went back to not treating people better when we had the chance, of the words we should have said and the things we should have done. This doesn’t just pertain to the person in question, but to all the other peripheral and main characters in your life that come and go and whom you always assume are okay. But it doesn’t take so much effort to put our phones away and ask them about their interests and passions, about their struggles and stories. We die a little every day when we disregard the narratives of others, and to act that way is as good as feeling that way, regardless of your intentions.

Treasuring your life and living it to the fullest is not a selfish act, because living life to the fullest includes taking care of those around you and being present to the best of your abilities. As my favourite author puts it:

“People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies.”

In other words, we should reach out when we can, and learn to never leave things unsaid.

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I hope you’ve found a better place to be, and may we all promise to live our lives to the fullest; if not for ourselves, then for the people around us.