The dream that left me behind

I knew I was almost at the end of my dream.

Almost. I’ve been in this dream and it’s variations so many times before, that I can tell that it’s ending, where the part about his history is revealed, where the promises are finally broken and where all hopes slowly die out. He would now start the fight, make those awkward statements and we would slowly begin accelerating towards a definite end.

Most of the ends would be sad, as the Weaver knew that the user’s runtime was nearing it’s end. Like every other common dream addict, I would wake up, frustrated and hungry for more, log in my required hours of dreamtime and sink into another misleading, beguiling fantasy. That’s the problem with addicts. We love to be lied to.

We are completely disconnected from reality, at least until the cruel Weaver counts down every millisecond unto the ending of the dreamtime. But then again, the Weaver is benign enough to let us refill our hours, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

I’ve dreamed many times, so many times that I think there’s a special circuit somewhere in the Weaver that saves runtime logs and dream-theme variations just for me. I can tell when the Weaver is being creative, or when it’s just borrowing another cliché.

Though, if it’s a question of creativity, I can’t claim much for myself either. Whatever the story is, whoever the background characters are, it’ll always be about him. He and I will prevail. Just the two of us.

The Weaver keeps me trapped in an electronic vortex of recycled emotions. A cycle that ends only until dreamtime runs out.

Different people deal with their first Weaver experience differently. The Weaver creates beautiful, credible, charming fantasies, which start off as mundane. By the time the story peaks, the viewer is completely in the Weaver’s reality. Before the viewer knows it, situations begin to go downhill, and soon enough, the viewer is rudely interrupted to ask for more dreamtime hours. A person can either be devastated by the end and never return again, or hold on to the illusion of further happiness and refill their hours. That’s how it works.

I don’t remember the last time I woke up for dreamtime hours. Could have been hours ago, or years. I don’t know. I don’t care. As long as the Weaver can serve my emotional needs, I will always be here. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know which dream I’m in. I’m a terminal addict, one step away from being the last stop before absolute assimilation. That’s probably when there’s no hope left for me at all.

But this dream is not like the others. I don’t know if the Weaver is malfunctioning or if I’m cascading into the last stage. Earlier I used to write down my dreams to get over my obsession. Today I write to record an anomaly.

I know I’m at the end of my dream. I can sense it. The fights have already started; the fairytale is slowly starting to show some cracks – all symptoms of the last stage of normal execution.

Usually, what would happen now is that things would get worse. Except that’s not happening this time.

We fought once last week, we argued about our relative differences yesterday morning. The veteran that I am, I know that this is the stage where I would completely be apathetic to his whims, remind myself that he was only an illusion, and that my dreamtime hours would be ending soon and just wait for the Weaver to finish the formalities before I woke up again.

However, this time, the awkward moments are being unusually spaced out. The disagreements are a lot less frequent. And that worries me.

According to prior experiences, we should have been angry this morning, continued on about yesterday’s issue, defended our stances to the effect where the rebuttals would get personal, and then started heaping insults at each other, till we knew that our relationship had shattered into many irretrievable pieces. That’s how it has been for all this time. That’s how it’s always supposed to happen.

In this dream, this morning, he showed immense reserves of maturity and forgiveness. We talked over what happened yesterday, he was patient, I understood what was expected of me, we soon arrived at a mutually agreeable solution and our relationship was just as strong as ever.

The surprising part is, that this is not the first time this has happened. After the second time or so, when this happened, I was telling myself that the Weaver was probably meandering around, trying to get a jaded viewer like me believe it’s immaculate lies.

No, no. This is the ninth time. The ninth time, the cracks in our relationship have shown and still, the Weaver hasn’t come to the part where it disintegrates completely. Usually, the dream would end after the third. At most, I have experienced four such incidents before the dreamtime runs out. But this has been the ninth instance and my wake-up call is extremely late.

I can somehow see through the Weaver’s pretense. Apparently, every relationship gets stronger with greater number of issues sorted out between them. I was completely numb the first three times, the fourth time made me want to laugh at the Weaver for its ingenuity. By the sixth time, I was beginning to grow fond of him. By the seventh I was truly attached. By the eighth, I was able to feel those emotions that every new viewer feels about the dream experience. I felt young again, and in my own way, I wanted to thank the Weaver for bringing out that part of me which I thought had died.

But the ninth time? By the ninth time, I am worried. I am scared. Either the Weaver has concocted some twisted torture for me towards the end or a cascade failure is in progress. I want to remember this dream, but then again I want the complete comfort of my fantasies.

I don’t know if this dream will let me hold onto him.  Though, some part of my mind, despite all these years of conditioning, is ignoring that, and holding on to him for real. I know it’s going to end.

Maybe, just maybe, this time, we will be together for real? The Weaver has never crafted such dreams before. So maybe this is not a dream?

It is so absurd to even suggest something so beautiful could be real…. and I mean really real, not just Weaver real.

I guess the more time I spent musing about this malfunction, the more dreamtime milliseconds I waste. Well, I paid for this, so I might as well enjoy it…

Personally, I hope the Weaver has crashed. If, after all these years of lies, I can finally sense the truth, then the Weaver’s circuits have truly evolved into something worthwhile.

But then again, if the Weaver has crashed, then how will I ever get to experience the pure joy of initiating another dream? How will I even wake up?

I don’t want to forget. I don’t. But I want to wake up. It’s just a question of time before I decide or more accurately, it’s just a question of dreamtime…

Ten Minute Obsessions

The following story may or may not be autobiographical. More about the male character who inspired the persona.

Pakhi was exhausted. She had a long, tiring, athletic day at school and she had never been more welcome to its closure. People were milling out of class when she returned, dusty and fatigued, to pick up her belongings and leave. Her hair was messy. Her clothes were caked with evidence of an afternoon spent playing matches in the fields. Her collar was unbuttoned, the school tie flailed around in disarray and her sleeves were rolled up to expose tanned arms. The ostentatious sports watch on her wrist beeped, cutting through the ambient echoes of the last few students leaving the classroom. Pakhi was waiting, in an empty classroom, anticipating the inevitable.

Despite her exhaustion, Pakhi grabbed her backpack, swept all the miscellaneous contents of her desk into it and ran to the school gate. Perhaps the heavy bag impeded her progress, but Pakhi did not want to return to claim it later. In any case, her haste ensured that she as at the crossing a few minutes earlier than expected. This was the moment she had been waiting for. The dust and pollution of the road swirled past her as the signal turned red and the dense traffic cumulatively screeched to a halt. Fellow pedestrians began to lead an exodus at the crossing, but Pakhi was not one of them.

Pakhi had not yet mastered the bravado it took to jay walk the busy road, especially with a backpack of that order of magnitude. The traffic would pause only for ten minutes, so she should have crossed. But she didn’t. Ten minutes of her life were worth it. Pakhi willed herself to wait. She could cross at the next red light if she wanted to, but she was not going to sacrifice the ten most important minutes of her life.

Bus no. 8472 was a very special bus. Unlike the other rusty, out-dated buses which squelched up fuel remnants and an obnoxiously nauseating quantity of smoke, it was one of the newer models that the city’s administration planned to implement. It traveled a fairly long and well-chalked out route designed to maximize commuter connectivity. However, all of these attributes did not impress Pakhi. She was vested in this particular vehicle for an entirely different reason altogether.

When the 8472 halted at the red-light, within minutes of its scheduled time, Pakhi’s eyes searched amongst it’s numerous passengers along the windows of the right side of the bus. The person she was searching for had thus far, always been a fan of scenery, sitting along one or the other window seats, depending on the availability. Sure enough, two rows from the back, he was there. He was leaning against the glass window pane, neck studiously inclined over a book, earphones comfortably nestled in his ear.

Ten minutes seemed too short as the bus soon whisked him away to his destination. But not before Pakhi’s hungry and observant eyes had absorbed his fleeting image. Those ten minutes would  be enough.

“I wonder what kind of music you listen to,” wondered Pakhi, remembering the undulating wire that connected to his ear.

“Nothing extraordinary. Just the usual heavy metal, punk rock or whatever,” he replied. He was right next to her, hands in mud-smeared pockets, shuffling around in the dust in his muddy school shoes. There was something disarmingly attractive about the way he seemed awkward. “What about you?”

“Actually, I prefer anything that doesn’t sound like noise. But occasionally, I listen to metal too.”

“Not all the time, no.”

“You’re one of the first girls’ I’ve met who would say that. I didn’t think you were one of those types.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” smiled Pakhi, trying not to stare too obviously into his eyes.

A loud honk from the incoming traffic made Pakhi realize that she was stranded in the middle of the main road. She scurried across, trying to evade as many vehicles as she could, without causing a major traffic disruption. Somehow, crossing over the huge, busy road, which seemed wider than usual, Pakhi told herself that she was crossing some large gulf of humanity.

Across the road and into the lane, all was quiet. Tucked away from common sight, and mostly obscured from view from the heavy traffic that passed by it’s entrance. Now, she contemplated the lonely stretch towards home. The alley was lined with houses and on a weekday afternoon, a very profound silence settled over it. Almost foreboding. Pakhi’s exhaustion returned gradually.

But at least she had seen him, and he had spoken to her. That’s what mattered, didn’t it?

“Rough afternoon?” he asked. He was back again, right beside her, a bit taller than her. Pakhi noted his dust-caked hair wave slightly under effect of the slight breeze that rushed past the lane. He was athletic, she knew. There could be no other explanation for how much dirt he accumulated on his uniform. Pakhi wanted to reach out and dust off his spiky hair, and she wondered how she might approach that without frightening him off.

Instead she found the smooth, polished door of home before her outstretched fingers.

She felt that she had forgotten to answer something. “Uhm, sort of,” she said, a little flustered at how rapidly she had traversed the distance. “You look like you’ve been through no less.”

“Hmm. I guess you know how it is,” he shrugged casually, meandering around. Pakhi couldn’t resist flashing him a smile.

Only the ebony staircase rails and the smooth marble floor reflected them back at her. Pakhi pushed up her glasses on her nose, not yet accustomed to the rude interruptions of reality. She needed to focus on what she was actually doing. She smiled again, but it wasn’t the same bright flash. It was more of a soft, melancholy half-smile. She wondered what the world outside her perceived her as: the tall, awkward girl who perpetually talked to herself.

“How was your day?” asked Pakhi, putting up the keys and sinking into the couch with a bottle of cold water. Currently the only occupant of the house, the silence reminded her of the busy mornings she left behind, and of the work she had pending.

“Pretty ordinary, “he said. “I mean, we had and classes as usual, a couple of games here and there. Some of our teachers are stressed out because we have tests next week and they haven’t yet finished the course material.” He got up from the couch, beside Pakhi and followed her around as she popped a plate of her lunch into the microwave. Pakhi’s attention was momentarily occupied by the fact that the difference between the quantity of lunch that had been prepared and the quantity that had been left behind clearly indicated that she was home alone for the entire afternoon. He was sitting next to her and continuing the conversation.

“Hey,” remembered Pakhi, from some depth of hospitality, “You want something to eat?”

“Nope. I grabbed a bite before I left school.”

Pakhi settled with her plate, listened to his stories, narrated her own, and laughed with the spirit of animated conversation. He could be so witty and charming at times.

Suddenly, the telephone rang. It pierced the echoes of Pakhi’s solitary laughter. All of a sudden, the world showed to Pakhi that she was being amused by an empty chair against a blank white wall. Reluctant, lost and feeling suddenly alone, she picked up the phone.

“Yes mom? I’m fine. Just finishing lunch.”

“You don’t sound fine. Is everything okay?”

“Just tired mom. I’ve got a lot of work as well. I’ll catch up with you later?”

“I’ll be coming home late, sweetheart.”

“That’s alright. I have my work to keep me occupied. I’ll manage. Love you too. Bye.” He was lounging on the couch, content and lazy, when she terminated the call.

“My mom checks up on me frequently,” she said, supplying an explanation for why she left her meal mid-way. Or had she interrupted one of his stories? “She gets worried when I’m isolated and what not. I mean, I’ve learned to deal with living alone…”

“But you aren’t really alone, are you?”

He had inched closer to Pakhi leaning against the wall. She could feel his breath and see his neck under his open collar and loose tie. She wondered what it would be like to kiss him.

“Not when you’re around,” said Pakhi, being the perpetual tease and twisting free.

He smiled a mischievously. It was a smile that stayed with her and followed her. He knew she was playing and he was welcome to join in.

Whether minutes or hours passed, Pakhi was unsure. But she resolved to settle down to her messy desk. She cleared up some space by haphazardly stacking up a few giant volumes on her table. They towered over her intimidatingly, a paper monster of problem sets and pending reading. Armed with a pencil, and a hope of some resolve, she opened her textbook, ready to annotate, when a soft chuckle interrupted her. He was still leaning against the wall, holding her gaze with those eyes that deluded her.

“Yeah, okay. So you’re a genius and you’ve aced all your tests. But I’m not. So go away and let me study,” said Pakhi testily.

He leaned forward, “Ever wondered that I could help you with that?”

Pakhi suppressed a chuckle. How was it going to be possible for her to focus when he was around her all the time? Once again, Pakhi was caught unaware by his eyes. She shrugged herself and shook her head. Why couldn’t she accept he was not real? But whenever her eyes drifted off the printed lines, he would appear to her. More so, his comforting presence did not let her feel so alone.

Pakhi decided to put some music on to help her focus better. She accidentally locked the volume controls to max and spent a few minutes scrambling around uneasily, trying to get them back to audible range before the neighbors put in a strong word about it.

“So you listen to this?!” he yelled indignantly over the deafening sounds. Pakhi hurriedly wrestled around with it until it was below lethal levels.

“How can you call this rubbish music and metal noise? Metal has meaning, it has depth!”

It struck Pakhi rather suddenly that he was being judgmental and more so, juvenile. She felt a bit sensitive to his criticism.

“Oh shut up and go away!”

And Pakhi was left behind in an empty room, in an empty house with the muted lyrics of home and hope and all the belongings of her room as the silent spectators of Pakhi’s delusions.

When the doorbell rang, Pakhi’s father had arrived. As he bustled around the house, made himself something to eat and drink and asked about Pakhi’s day, she realized how truly alone she felt.  Stop daydreaming, Pakhi! Focus on reality she complained for the umpteenth time. After the formalities of filial conversation, Pakhi’s father curled back on the couch with a novel and left Pakhi to her studies. For a while, Pakhi wondered what she should talk to her Dad about, if at all she could. But then, he seemed tired after a long day, so he probably needed the quiet. At about 9 pm, father and daughter had a quiet dinner, interspersed with a few minutes of the TV. Her mother rushed in an hour late, too tired for anything else besides the soft, undemanding comforts of home and family.

Pakhi stayed up late in the night, sensing his presence, feeling his glance, but she refrained from conversation. Her music player had already begun to churn out melancholy, sentimental songs. Pakhi could see disgust all over his face as the vocalist’s soft, gentle crooning caressed her headphones. Pakhi took her headphones off and shut it. The familiar silence crept back.

“You know, I should stop talking to you. I mean, I know I’m weird enough as, but if people start catching me talking to myself, my future’s in an asylum.”

“You worry too much. You talk too much. Maybe you should just let it happen.”

“What?”

“This,” he said, hands gesturing vaguely as he sat at the edge of her bed.

“But its not real!”

His expression hardened, “Who said so?”

“I mean, you’re just a figment of my imagination. You’re my best friend, my confidante, my constant companion. But in the real world, the world where I go to school, try to live a normal life, worry about tests, I don’t know you! I barely get to see you for ten minutes at some crossing when the 8472 comes by! The worst is that all this happens inside my head and I can’t do anything about it!”

“It’s real enough to you, isn’t it?” He asked. He sounded hurt.

“I’m not saying I don’t enjoy having you by my side..”

“You like me, don’t you?” he said, cutting her mid-sentence. Pakhi’s confused response wasn’t helped by his eyes at all.

“I do, but…”

“I’m here with you now, right?” He had moved closer.

“Yes, but…”

“Isn’t that what really matters?” His eyes. Uh-oh.

Pakhi finally resisted the onslaught. “But you’re not real!” She threw a pillow at him in frustration. It landed with a soft thud through the air. The silence, the misery, the complete futility of reality had returned. Now he’s upset. Now I’m alone.

He’s never going to know of my existence in the real world. We’ve spoken for twenty minutes in a span of nearly two years. He doesn’t know who I am, and even if he does, I could never find the courage to actually approach him. He probably knows me as that awkward girl who has a crush on him. The rumors were already circulating in school.

Pakhi cried herself to sleep and sank into the oblivion of twisted dreams. Even in that realm, he wove in and out of her sight, of her hope, of her existence.

Pakhi woke up and took a long, critical look at herself in the mirror. She looked tired. She felt barely rested. The first word that ran through her head was his name. She felt depressed.

“Sweetheart! You’re getting late for school!” cried her mother across the hallway. She came really late and she’s up before me. I can’t imagine how tired she must be feeling, wondered Pakhi.

“She’s right, you know,” said the dreaded, familiar voice.

“So, you’re back after last night?” asked Pakhi, feeling disturbed.

“You called my name…” He shrugged casually, as if that was explanation enough.

“Go away. I still don’t want to talk to you.”

“Whatever. Suit yourself.”

Pakhi finished wearing a clean school uniform and then tried to follow up with breakfast. Dad was awake and at home, so Pakhi hoped that they could have a lively entertaining breakfast? Maybe it would help her take her mind off someone? Besides the regular “Good Morning!” and her mother’s constant nagging to eat some more, nothing happened. Pakhi’s mother was tied up in managing breakfast and a frequently beeping laptop. Pakhi’s father hid himself behind the newspapers, emerging only occasionally to ask for a fresh mug of coffee.

“So much for conversation,” he said, whispering right in her ear. Pakhi shrugged involuntarily. She glared at him to make him disappear.

“Why are you staring at the window, Pakhi?” asked her mother. Oh if only she knew.

“Nothing, Mom,” said Pakhi, momentarily pacifying her.

“Well then, hurry up or you’ll be late!”

After several hasty farewells, Pakhi rushed for school.

Parents, commuters, cars and the ordinary pedestrians swarmed the streets. Pakhi was swamped with the sights and sounds of life. Even then, she felt a lack of companionship. As she jostled through people, dodged cars and succeeded in crossing the road, Pakhi felt the real world catch up with her, but she could not, she would not be able to let go of these helpless feelings.

Unfortunately, as she approached her classroom, meeting more tangible, real people,  her myriad desolate philosophical thoughts submerged into the background, threatening to return once she was alone again. She obviously couldn’t be seen as a pathetic, love-sick, more so lonely freak. So she plastered on a cheery smile and told herself that she was strong enough. She had to be strong enough. At least till the end of the work day.

It annoyed Pakhi to no end, that even when she was busy, even when she was with her friends, she could still sense his presence. During recess, during her free classes, she knew he was watching her. Or more so, she hoped that he would have been watching her.

Pakhi walked past a gossiping group of classmates to retrieve a book. She couldn’t help but eavesdrop. They were talking about him!  Unable to resist hearing whatever little information about him she could pick up from the real world, she tried to find an innocent reason for lurking around. Soon enough, she didn’t need to find an excuse to justify her unwarranted presence. Their conversation casually touched upon her, and her apparent crush on him.

She was stunned. They know! They all know! Despite her attempts to downplay it, they all knew! They laughed at the paltry amusement and moved on to other topics of interest. But it seemed more than merely trivial to Pakhi. She cringed at the mention of his name and at the memory of his watching, expressionless, silent face.

At the end of another day, it was time for Pakhi to redeem her cherished ten minutes. Pakhi soon found herself back at the crossing, waiting for the 8472. He was talking to her to make her feel less alone. He was trying to be audible over the din of the traffic.

“So all your friends know. Does that make it real enough?”

On its regular schedule, the 8472 rolled in and halted to a stop right before her. Her eyes customarily located him at the second-last row. He doesn’t even bother to look at me, she wondered and was ready to give up.

The impossible happened. It was almost as if the universe wanted to gift her only to be able to prove her convictions wrong. He looked up from his book, looked out of the window at the world outside and in one momentous millisecond, his real, physical eyes scanned through Pakhi’s expectant face. Before he knew it, that face had gone.

“No,” she said, wondering if she was talking to herself or to him. “It’s never going to be real enough.” Pakhi waited for the next signal, musing whether her dreams were akin to the dust that was rapidly coating her socks and shoes. In any case, she had a long, lonely walk back to an empty home. Was she ready to embrace that complete silence of solitude? Such was life. Or was it?

“Come on. You know you want to tell me how your day went,” he said.

Pakhi couldn’t resist. “So today….” she began, on the same cycle. Again.

Crossroads of shame

I have survived many self-revelations this month. But I have come across one that is slowly eating away at my defenses and therefore I am in a dilemma.

I have dug deeper into my psyche to understand why I prefer rationality over emotions, given that I feel my emotions intensely. Maybe this has something to do with denying my femininity all these years. I am tired of having my sensitivity abused, and so I locked away all these feelings knowing full well that my mental state would be a lot happier under the binding rigid rules of logic. My rationality and perception of reality forms a titanium-alloyed barrier between strong, damaging passions/obsessions and my true self. This compartmentalization has worked wonders to my self-esteem and to the general structuring of my life. I allow myself to feel happy or sad, but never overjoyed or devastated, because I will not let something so subjective affect me so strongly. I simply cannot be eaten away by the products of my own psyche.

When this academic year began, I promised myself that I would strictly put an active barrier in my mind to the possibility of romantic relationships. Given how awful my freshman year experiences were, I feel like the rest of my years in college will simple be spent in cleaning up the mess that I made in my naivete. Sincerely, I wanted to be able to survive one complete year in college without feeling emotionally swayed by anything that remotely implies romance, or even bordering platonic. The mechanisms I have developed have allowed me to live the other aspects of my life fully and well. However, a latent problem is cropping up a bit more frequently since the span of last semester. Let me deliver devastation right into your lap.

I’ve started feeling slightly attracted to a friend.

The sentence above alone does not capture the despair with which I write today. This is not the result of an arbitrary hormonal upswing. I wanted to write these passing feelings down in my journal. I thought then that I would close the remarks I had made with a comforting “This is probably the only time I’ve redeemed him from my bad books” and so on. What really unleashed the disaster was the slow horrific realization as I combed through my previous diary entries that I had been ignoring this growing problem for a while. There are many entries where I’ve tried to write off these feelings as something else. This soft-spot has been feeding on an incredibly large  reserve of pity, and mixed emotional boundaries. Every time, every single time I’ve delineated the large expansive list of why I cannot, why I must not and the nightmares of the past come back to haunt me.

At the core of all this, I just want to make him happy. Except I can’t because happiness comes from within.

Even now that I write this post, I am trying to reel in the fallout, telling myself to focus on work. But I desperately need an outlet. I need an external source of information to confirm, strengthen and validate the walls of my logic which are crumbling in the onslaught of a new discovery.   Having crushes has been something that has devastated my emotional well-being earlier and I have been so traumatized by those feelings that I am somehow at risk of punishing myself.

I am at the cross-roads of shame because I feel my safety mechanism against pain is hurt (by having a crush), and there’s the bewitching, unfortunately inevitable outcome that awaits me if I choose the path of action. I could not have been more certain of the fact that my “affection”, if it can be called is return. As it is, I don’t feel appreciated by my friends. But to expect someone as emotionally dysfunctional as him to regard me with a soft spot is expecting the infinite from nothing.

There is a beautiful, self-sabotaging lie that is singing to me that perhaps taking action on this opportunity could result in a golden horizon beyond the immediate obvious wreckage of my bleeding heart. No matter what the illusion, I don’t want to give into this. I have been scarred by this enough. Perhaps the very fact that I am even writing this here means that I need an external source to remind myself that I did not put in this much work into building my self-esteem to stumble upon something like this.

I am so incredibly ashamed and angry and disappointed in myself for even having these feelings, let alone conjuring ghosts of action upon them.

In my defense, the only thing I have to proud of is that nobody besides me is aware of this crisis. Being the alleged open book that I am, I have learned how to mask the feelings from the person who I want to bestow them on. How dare I grant myself the privilege to bridge someone else’s deep internal wounds because somehow I just want to see them happy. Is that pity? Is that affection? Given that I’ve never been reciprocated and I certainly won’t with this, why do I subconsciously seek out relationships that are unequal?

Hear my silent teary denial try to form answers to the rhetorical questions posed above. I’m waiting for the wounds of the past to scold me again. I need to remind myself that no matter what I should never ever take action, because the outcomes of all of these is a very obvious rejection, and I do not want to put myself through that degree of self-worthlessness again. I hope to someday look back and laugh at how absurd these feelings are, and not remember them with the terror that I experience now. I watch the shadows of my insecurities run through the streets alongside whispering to the stranded me, “You’re not pretty enough. You’ll never be worthy enough.” and I hear the distant patrols blaring over them. “You have not come this far to give in. Only you know what you bring to the table.”

Until the tears dissolve my fears, I have to continue to run away from this elaborate self-punishment.

The story of how I conquered a remnant of my past

I will unabashedly admit that I have done something brave today. I initiated a Facebook message conversation with a guy whom I was insanely, unhealthily obsessed for the last two years of school. Please excuse my naive self for believing that I was “in love”. 

This may sound terribly inane but allow me to put it in context. I did not just have a crush on this guy. I was literally, completely consumed with a burning passion for him and I have sacrificed many nights of sleep and nearly 20 months of my adolescence simply wondering if he will ever know of my existence. In retrospect, it seems as though having such an intimidating crush on someone who was so distantly acquainted with me seemed quite stupid. But somehow, I could never bring myself to get over it. After a while, it mellowed down to a sort of celebrity crush, the kind that leads to intense admiration from afar and serves as visual relief but nothing beyond that. I tried to get over my very chance emotional entanglement with this guy by telling myself that I was 17, and so what indeed did I even know about life or even about him.

I had spoken to him once, on November 4th, 2010. He was part of my scavenger hunt team and I thought he was rather charming. As events played out, my friends and peers were mocked at several checkpoints for random dares, such as coming up with pick-up lines, etc. My stupid hormonal heart went aflutter when he decided to ask me out. Since I am Maestro Supreme of masking my emotions, all my friends sensed that there was something more than just plain simple fun going on (at least with my mixed reactions) and therein began the endless rout of being teased and so on and so forth. As I studied in an all-girls’ school then, information spread faster than a disease vector in unsanitary conditions.

I very painfully remembered that I had forgotten to introduce myself to him. Not only that, as the day wore on, I took to being slightly mean to him, because I was so afraid that my obvious affection would show through and I desperately did not want him to know that I had, dare I borrow the cliche, fallen in love with him at first sight.

I was entranced, enamored, charmed, attracted, madly blushing and rather obsessed with this boy whom I had no possible way of contacting ever again. I didn’t have a blog, nor a Facebook account nor a Twitter account. I was literally non-existent online and email seemed too archaic and personal. I also didn’t have my own mobile phone. (quite a sheltered life, what?) Whatever I heard of him after came through to me via friends and of their friends. The press helped considerably as well. The genius that my object of affections was, he went ahead to win a scholarship awarded by NASA. I discovered that he even shared the same love of engineering and robotics as I did. In some way he was inspiring and awesome, and if it wasn’t for certain other unfortunate events, I was in a very real danger of staying forever charmed by this boy.

Something happened which made me re-evaluate my friends’ circle and discover that there were indeed some non-friends in that lot. Perhaps it was a combination of events, but it changed me rather deeply. One of my closer friends decided to start talking trash about me to the rest of the school, suddenly deemed me too uncool to hang out with and was greatly resentful of the fact that I was nominated to the student council over her. To make matters cumulatively worse, she started dating this boy knowing full well that I was deeply vested in him.

It was a harsh wake-up call, but I’m glad it came sooner rather than later. Though I struggled to deal with the heartburn and sadness of having to cut a toxic “friend” from my life, I was now also burdened with the fact that he would now forever remain unattainable. They broke up two weeks later, and in some sadistic parody, all the teasing had re-started and everyone assumed that I now had the fresh opportunity to try my luck with him. All the while, he didn’t even know me. Turns out my former friend went ahead and did or did not tell him of my existence. Indeed, it was a true soap-opera style lovesick drama that played out for a year or so.

For nearly a year, my obsession remained. I used to sit at the piano and compose pieces for him (all of which happened to be on C minor). I used to sit everyday at home and write these long letters to him, which were basically my diary entries just titled to him and musing about his life. I still have that hugely embarrassing portfolio of approximately 147 pages of penmanship. I even wrote stories about sending the letters to him and musing his possible reactions. But all day and all night, I could not stop thinking of him. It came to such a point that I could exemplify my situation only in a story. This was a work that is posted on my stories blog here.

As luck happened, I met him again on August 26th, 2011. It was a very fleeting encounter. I did not dare to meet his eyes, and I was mortified of presenting myself to him ever again. I could not find the emotional balance between detaching the fantasy version of him in my head and the very real figure before me. Nor could I find the courage to speak up and pretend to be normal. I earnestly wanted, oh I had yearned so terribly, to tell him of my feelings but when the opportunity came to see his face, I was mute. It wasn’t that I was simply mute, my social skills were completely paralyzed. I said hello to everyone in the room except him, in case he mistakenly assumed I was partial to him. I made an awkward fool of myself, and drowned myself in tears knowing that I had sacrificed a valuable opportunity.

Other things happened. We graduated school. I came to terms with the fact that I would never be so unguarded with my trust (work in progress) and so on. I came to the States. He went to what I discovered afterwards was Hong Kong and life went on smoothly. I assuaged myself by saying that perhaps it was a good thing we were not friends, even. Then he wouldn’t have had to be involved in the drama that ensued. Perhaps it was better still that we were not dating, because my self-esteem was scarred beyond repair and anyway, we would have had to break up because academics and priorities. 

I joined Facebook, finally and was talking to one of my closest friends from high school. She was the one who helped me through when my entire friend network was collapsing and she has rightfully earned the title of being my best friend. We were ruminating about the past and he cropped up in the conversation. On a daring whim, I hazarded a friend request and it surprised me to no end that he even accepted. I thought he would have forgotten me after a year. But he didn’t. I don’t know whether that made things worse or not. He remembers me being awkward and clearly not at my best.

The year moved on. I will now shamelessly admit that I do stalk him from time to time, when I find myself feeling low. I croon secretly to his charming images and fawn over them. Don’t cringe. I’m pretty sure everyone has that one crush in their past who still makes them feel all gooey inside. As it turns out, he eventually won a prestigious position on a geo-climate mapping project to Antarctica. His friends cheered for him all over his wall. I silently glowed with pride in the rare moments that his memory came to me.

Just a few days ago, he was tagged in a massively attractive picture of himself and I was reduced to fangirling about it to my high school best friend. I grudgingly admitted that I would never in my life have the courage to ever speak to him. Under some crazy influence of adrenaline and peer pressure I gave into the huge fallacy of sending him a “Hello”. Believe me, there could not have been a more lonely Hello in all the world at that moment. It simply sat there against that brutally white, empty background, simmering as it were, proving my obvious token of stupidity and bravery. I tried to think up of a million excuses to justify it. Eventually, it got to a point, where I literally turned my phone off for a while and avoided using the Messenger app. If I don’t look at it, it won’t bother me, I said.

For five hours I didn’t have to. When the sun finally dawned on Hong Kong, I got a reply back, “Hi. What’s up?” So familiar. So disarming that for the life of me I couldn’t think of what to say. I then banked on some of my courage. Come on. I’m an international Ivy League engineer. I can design machines. Surely, I must be able to handle conversation with a normal human being. I now declare with beaming pride that I managed 20 minutes of conversation with him. I asked him whether he really did go to Antarctica. He asked me for my source of information. I felt that telling him I stalked his profile would be a bit too obvious. So I employed my high school best friend as a scapegoat. To my immense surprise the conversation continued.

I could not flirt. I could not even be as funny as I wanted to. I just couldn’t. But I could politely ask him very academic questions about his project to Antarctica.So I did. We talked about constructing triangulating micro controllers, and how to use radio waves to log data between three different ships and how to manage interfering signals and so on. I mentioned largely that my curiosity was fueled by work in similar domains and asked technical questions for the most part. Nothing better to hide social ineptitude than talk of whether 2.4 GHz is a good frequency for one robot to talk to another. Here is an excerpt.

No guesses on who is the over-apologetic one here.

No guesses on who is the over-apologetic one here.

He was funny at times, open and sharing all the work about his project with me. He used more emoticons than I did. He was surprised with a “Oh? Nice” when I informed him of similar interests in robotics. But he didn’t ask me any questions whatsoever. I terminated the conversation very politely with a “Well, thank you for your time :)”. He replied with a “No problem. I should get back to work anyway.” And I know that we will perhaps have no pretext to speak to each other again.

But I conquered my fear. I was not a complete ass. I made my existence known. I wasn’t too intrusive. I kept it short and then I ended what I had started. This is why this is is important to me. I am one step closer to feeling proud of myself. I don’t know if we’ll ever be friends, let alone something more. I tried, that’s all.

Guys with feelings

This is the story I’m going to talk about: http://www.apex-magazine.com/karina-who-kissed-spacetime/

I read this beautiful story today. Honestly, I don’t even know why I think it’s beautiful. But the fact is, once I had finished reading it, I was crying and feeling very quiet inside. Perhaps the realization that a work of prose is capable of reducing me to this state made it so beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not neurotic. Really. I am sensitive and emotional, but because of several school experiences, I’ve learned to suppress those instincts till I’m in a space where I can be myself. So, I am far more comfortable with emotions than my cyberpunk-obsessed-robot-building-geeky-tomboy-dubstep-persona will have you believe. Perhaps that would be one of the reasons we could become friends; if you could see past that for who I truly am and understand that I am inconstant as I evolve.

The story is very simply about a young Indian student falling in love with a Russian senior at a university in Pennsylvania. Already there are several reasons why this resonates with me. I too am an international student in the United States. Through the narrator’s emotional experiences, it appears that space-time appears to rupture and the protagonist is in some sort of visionary limbo, where he can sense the present and know that the future is to come. They fall in love, or rather the protagonist does and he can even foresee the failure of their relationship and how much it will hurt him, but he will not let go for fear of not having tried.

The English is charming. Literally, there were so many themes and experiences that I have felt that were so sensitively portrayed that I was rather moved. The imagery is profound. The metaphors are deep. But these reasons are not why the story made me cry.  I have been suppressing some very important questions about myself and my relationships for quite a while and this story seemed to dig up something that I had been ignoring. I don’t know if it was for better or for worse.

Perhaps one of the things that struck me was that the protagonist was male. It seems massively surprising that human males (especially adolescents) are capable of expressing this depth of emotion. In part this stems from the extremely unjust social stereotype that men have to have their emotions bottled up somewhere in order to earn respect. But all said and done, it is a social stereotype that has taken me a very long time to digest. I have spent years of my adolescence coloring my limited knowledge of the male psyche with my bias, and only now that I am no longer as angst-ridden do I realize it was unfair. It was unfair of me to think that guys/boys/men do not feel anything, or that they do not share the same intensity and passion as girls do.

I was somewhat moved because this male protagonist proved to me that emotions, especially of love and security, transcend gender boundaries. As do many of the stereotypes in our life. But this was one that I was guilty of giving in to and to have this one simple story shatter it made me feel oddly humbled and sympathetic. Some part of my brain breaks the sudden deafening silence by saying that this is obviously a work of fiction and therefore whatever earth-shattering revelation I may or may not have had can be attributed largely to creative genius.

This is not to say that I never believed guys could have emotions or would have emotions. I mean, I understand as human beings we all share certain emotions and that for most guys, or at least most of whom I know, they tend to possess hearts under that cold/stand-offish exterior. Maybe I am being horribly hypocritical here when I say that they don’t exactly make these cores very easy to access. Personally, I have always been attributed with being warm and open. This is a behavioral trait that developed in school shortly after I discovered that my own recycled secrets were being used to spin stories about me. I promised myself that I would never ever abuse someone else’s confidence in me and I’ve been very good with that promise. This has led to me being the confidante of several people in my friend network. But somehow, very few guys if at all, approach me emotionally.

I used to think it was my fault. Perhaps I was too loud, too non-conservative in my views, too forthright in my communication? Perhaps I was <insert adjective of choice from immense list of descriptors>? After failing in several attempts to modify my own persona to make myself understand the male psyche, I arrived at the rather lazy and immature conclusion that the only reason they were not confiding in me is because they probably had nothing to confide in me.

Several things happened that have changed that remarkably, and even though I fundamentally know that this postulate is wrong, I get surprised every time something happens to disprove it. A brilliant isolated classmate whom nobody would have thought had a life beyond homework and coding secretly confided in me of his artistic endeavors. And he actually made a joke. To me. Which was truly, appreciably funny. At some level I am hugely pleased with him for opening up to me but at another level I’m disappointed as to why I had assumed something otherwise. A distant acquaintance has now become one of my closest friends, and actually bothers to check in on me more frequently than my own room-mate does. Another friend shared with me that the biggest reason for his depression this semester was the demise of a close friend in a car accident.

These people have shared in me, which means it is high time I abolish the archaic gender-based stereotype I (unconsciously, mind you) was propagating. Perhaps people will share their emotions with me when they’re ready to do so and if they don’t it’s not for any specific “fault” of my own. Again, kudos to a great story for supporting my decision to clear out what I knew was wrong.

How I (am trying) to rebuild myself: Relationships

It’s the winter break. There is no other sound besides my staccato typing and my breathing and the thermostat. The house is quiet. My mind is quiet. After a long time, there are no claws of fatigue trying to pull me down. I can now hear myself think and it is important to me that I figure some things out about my life. The year is ending, so I have ample opportunities for a fresh start. At least psychologically. I’m going to talk about a few things that I do that have literally helped me mold myself better.

Firstly, in order to make something better, you need to know the current state it is in. 2013 was a year of a little too many revelations about who and what I am and how I respond to different stimuli. With the assistance of a great psychotherapist, I have managed to find where I have disconnects in my thought and behavior. I’m not saying everyone has to go through that, but one of the key processes I have discovered in bringing self-improvement is being absolutely brutally honest with who and what you are. Also, if like me, you have an additional self-criticism feature turned off, you have to turn it off. At least for the duration of this process.

Secondly, we will now indulge in my second-most-favorite activity. making lists. Make a list of problems you want to tackle. You can make it on paper, or on your favorite task-managing app (this might be better if it has auto-reminders set in), etc. It doesn’t matter what the medium is as long as it is tangible and visible. I’m no expert in psychology but I find that if my goals are visible and present before me, I strive to work towards them better. So make the lists. As many as you want.

Disclaimer: This worked for my best friend and she sort of suggested that I get this method out there. Also, this is not supposed to be some definite astronomically accurate calculation which will tell you everything about life, the universe and everything. No, these are numbers that you create in order to help you get some idea of what your end goal is/should be.

Now I’m actually going to talk about the process, so bear with me. You’re also very welcome to walk with me. I am an engineer, so it’s easy for me to crunch numbers. I understand completely if you’re not a math person, but believe me, when the numbers that you have generated tell you something, you’re less likely to not believe it.

  1. Make a list of all the attributes you want to see in a prospective boyfriend/girlfriend/friend. Seriously, write all of them down. Even if they range from “Must not be a serial killer” to “Can play a musical instrument”.
  2. Adjacent to this list, write down how important each attribute is to you. Depending on how precise you want this to be, you can grade this on a scale of 0-10, or 0-100. For example, if you’re a person who really doesn’t care about a person’s background, write a small number against that. Whereas if it matters to you what religious/political affiliations a person might have, write a larger number against that. This scoring also should be consistent with “deal-breakers” about a person. For example, if you prize good manners above financial well-being and someone scores less against that, clearly, that’s not what you want. (As per your own data.)
  3. In the next column, jot down the name of a person you were interested in/are interested in/could be interested in. Score them against each of your criteria. Be honest to yourself in what you really think about this person. For example, one of my criteria was spontaneity. People are obviously more likely to be spontaneous when they have the time to be spontaneous, but I hadn’t quite considered that.
  4. Repeat the process for as many people as you want. This applies to friends too.
  5. Once that’s done, you can now calculate how each person works with you either by adding the totals and comparing the highest. Or, to be more fair, you can calculate the weighted average of each person. So this way, their score is more precise in the aspects that matter to you. Weighted average  = Sum of ((attribute 1 x value of attribute 1) + (attribute 2 x value of attribute 2)+..(keep doing until)…….(attribute n x value of attribute n))/(sum of all the values of the attributes). “n” here represents the last value. So if you have 15 attributes, n = 15 and so on. If you’re using Excel, like I did, use =SUMPRODUCT(<person score>, <value of attributes>)/ SUM(<value of attributes>).
  6. The numbers should tell you something about what sort of people you like, if you didn’t know that already. They will also somehow show how important some of these values are to you, which are more important, equally important, less important. If you were unable to decide whether to focus your attention on Person A or Person B, the numbers should tell you which one is worth more of your time.

So, there you go. It’s sort of like creating your own compatibility generator, except without any magic, or random rules or any arbitration such as the letters of their names and so on. I remember, back in elementary school, when my classmates had this weird game called FLAMES, which was supposed to determine relationship compatibility via some arbitrary elimination of letters. I’m not quite sure how the entirety of relationships that we have with people can fit into the meager category of 6 letters, but I guess at that age, it’s the closest approximation. This one, however, is custom-built, mathematically rigorous, and as my friend told me, “quite effective”.

I will write another one shortly about evaluating myself. As in, my strengths, weaknesses, areas I need to work on, areas I deserve to treat myself on and so on. If you want to follow me along that journey as well and maybe discover something that might help you or amuse you, please feel free to join me.

P.S: I don’t think I’m as grateful to me readers as I should be. Massive apologies. It’s my New Year’s Resolution to work on that. Thank you, everyone, for reading and for following me through this incredible transformation that has been 2013. I always believe, and my mother always tells me to, that the best is yet to come. Happy holidays and best wishes!