Readers, I need your help: Relationships

Blogworld, I seek your generous assistance in the comments section. I need help in learning something about human interaction, introverts and college relationships. You are in for a long story, comprising of three characters (self included). Spoiler alert: includes my secrets to a successful relationship, unparalleled matchmaking skills and a guide to mathematical/engineering terminology.


Preface

Specimen A: The central antagonist is this guy who has been friends with me for about a year or so. We share several classes and have grown closer over time. He speaks an average of 5 words an hour and is not exactly the most articulate of speakers. He is often (painfully) awkward and the multiple pauses in conversations almost always makes me overcompensate. But I make him laugh and he likes poking fun at me, at my clumsiness and at my miscellaneous struggles with life, door handles and plastic bottle caps.

A has had a huge crush on the next important character in our story, whom we shall label B.

Specimen B: is a sweetheart. I met her when A was talking to her and couldn’t hide his embarrassment himself fast enough from the approaching me. B and I ended up being close independently of A, though we talked about him often. When A was still worshiping the ground B walked on, she was in a relationship with someone else. Therefore it took me months of encouragement to get him to cough up his feelings so that he could move on with her (and I would be spared the cheesy background narratives). I discovered later from B that A had this tendency to leave very dramatic messages such as “We need to talk. Let’s meet?” and end up talking about the “beauty of Euler’s equation“.

After nearly a semester and a half of pining over her beauty/her intellect/ everything which made her The Woman, he finally mustered the ability to confess his feelings. I particularly remember that night because B called me on the phone and narrated frantically what had happened at the same time that he was awkwardly messaging me on Facebook.  This resulted in an impressive diplomatic maneuver which resulted in the simultaneous pacification of both parties involved.

I learned that B rejected A.

B, who has spent most of her adolescence being bound to one relationship only, has never had the experience of declining a friend’s interest or asking someone out. She also considers A one of her close friends. A, who has had only one “long-ish” high school sweetheart is still coming to terms with rejection and also considers B one of his closest friends, and has a quota of speaking to 1.5 romantic interests a year.

They come to me for advice. I have not had a boyfriend and continue to uphold an impressive history of intimidating people with emotional honesty. Obviously I am graduating with honors in solving relationship problems. Call toll-free number 3141592653 and enter discount coupon WORDPRESS to get your free consultation.

B eventually re-acquired her mental equilibrium after having been “ambushed” by unexpected romance. I sympathized very deeply with A (having been in the same situation), so I decided to cheer him up by feeding him extraneous calories. He was unsure of how to proceed with talking to her and I suggested that they both give each other space (because I’m not very good at being a conversation conduit).

In the short span of a week or so, A deigned to inform me that he was now dating someone else. Dating. Not even asked out, but dating. If his story was to be believed, more than once. This person is a tertiary, minor character in the character in the story but let’s label her B+, because she followed B and because this is not an algebra problem.

I don’t know anything about B+ except for the fact that she outperformed A at the introversion game and is “extremely pretty”. They have been on numerous ( x > 1) dates and one very promising “Want to meet at midnight?”  request which resulted in a posthaste homework session in the densely populated Applied Mathematics library. Relevant relationship advice to prospective date-seekers: know your equations


Here begins the problem statement.

B+, as it turns out, is studying abroad at Hong Kong this semester. A has been complaining of loneliness and has been badgering me to “hook [him] up with one of my many attractive female friends”. Sympathetic to his situation and willing to comply, I asked him to choose a prospect (his tastes fluctuate wildly).

My match-making process is an intricate three-step procedure:

  1. I introduce two people with their full names in a well-lit public space.
  2. I bring up a topic of mutual discussion (classwork, weather, etc.)
  3. I flee.

Among all my achievements, being a good Mrs. Bennet is not one of them. The endeavor failed rather spectacularly, but it did not deter A’s ambitions to acquire a date before Valentine.  He begins to start asking questions about me. A very odd 1:30AM text message about requiring “a cuddle-buddy” was delivered to my phone, and it followed a long series of tangential evaluations of what I should be doing for Valentines’ Day. Subtly, the questions ranged from whether I was dating anyone currently (I am not) to which particular Valentines’ party would I be attending (The only thing I was invited for on Feb 14th was to submit my theoretical computer science homework.)

I usually like to eat meals with my friends because it gives me time to catch up with them without hurting too much of my study time. Casually, I asked to meet him in order to figure out, in-person, what was going on.

What happened next will amaze you. Or maybe not. It amazed me.

We began the conversation with worries of graduate school admissions and as the conversation progressed, he began to express more of himself: his favorite food, his favorite color, places he recommended I visit, etc. He also began to punctuate his sparse conversation with compliments of me, such as (and they made me somewhat self-conscious): how tall I am, how well I write, how nice I am to underclassmen and how pretty my handwriting is. Now you know that being tall, writing well, offering unasked but well-meaning advice to underclassmen and having good penmanship are skills worth complimenting.

In a separate but similar instance, he not only dressed for Chipotle, which is not a locale suited for fine sartorial tastes, but he had also put on cologne. Without loss of generality, he continued to talk of his favorite movie and how we should watch it together.We continued to text each other after that and a very weird thought occurred to me: A might like me.

But why should he? I’m loud, relatively more annoying and verbose. Am I just a replacement for B/B+ gone by? What is all this confusion leading to? Does he even like me? Should it matter to me? What do I do with our friendship?


Testing the hypothesis

“When a weird thought first occurs to a scientist, they either acquire data or perform experiments to test the results of the situation” -(self attribution)

I will not deny that the thought of being admired was flattering. Besides, I needed more meals with him to figure out exactly where all his meandering was leading to, particularly since the days to Valentines’ were ticking down. I had several long, worn-out conversations with myself about what I would do if the friendship was changing. I am not physically attracted to him but I also come from the school of thought which says that personality >> jawline. I was not going to ignore my years of painful rejection history to serve the same treatment to him, at least without a balanced, well-reasoned evaluation of the situation. Did I even have the time for this sort of thing? Why would someone as quiet even find a chatterbox like me attractive? Did he even like me or was he just using me as a replacement for the B/B+ who have gone before?

In the midst of the overwhelming confusion, I sought the assistance of fellow scientists (B included) to gauge the matter. They all indicated, with a confidence interval greater than 90%, that he probably had feelings for me. In aspiring to be a data scientist, I have learned that until the source data says something is true, you can never trust a prediction. While what they said confirmed my suspicions, I was not willing to accept it until A admitted it himself.

A proceeded to ruin my calculations by specifying most certainly, but also vaguely, on the day before Valentines’ Day that <a person like me> could never be his type. There was no more of that conversational luster or cologne or questions about personal interests. I felt very confused because all the data I had collected thus far said otherwise, and surely I must have done something overnight to be so aggressively friend-zoned. Not only did he do that, he brought up his ex and discussed his preference for girls of a certain stereotype in great detail.


 Aftermath

I shrugged my shoulders and tumbled on with life. A week passed during which I didn’t try to speak to him at all, and then I remembered that we were still friends so I shouldn’t be mean. This was a grave mistake. We ended up with “movie night” scheduled to happen in my room. My dorm room is located on the 10th floor and overlooks the Harlem Skyline. He wanted to sample the view.

What started as a very rushed apologetic explanation from him in semi-darkness, because the view couldn’t be seen properly with the internal light reflecting off the window and how he could stay only for 30 mins. We sat at opposite ends of my bed and this huge awkward silence appeared from nowhere, parked itself in between us and remained so heavy that I was sure the mattress bent under the weight. I wanted to make it go away, but it didn’t want to.

When you are living mysterious moments in your life, always cut through them elegantly using my bravery-inducing formula. 

  1. Decide that you want to straighten things out and be annoyed with all this mysterious cue-dropping subtlety.
  2. Rationalize this brashness by declaring that life is too short
  3. Ask for the truth. Up front.

In the semi-visible neon ambiance and from the far reaches of the other side of the bed, I looked up and said, “Hey, do you like me?” as though I was asking for the time. He denied it. He said I was “just a friend” as I always had been.

Then, as the said movie we wanted to watch began, we moved next to each other on the bed, in order to not fragment my laptop. His arm decided to navigate to my shoulder and then proceeded to my waist. The reason why I was so surprised is this: I know for a fact that A is the sort of person who hugs a person once a year. I was to discover that apparently grabbing someone on the waist and then letting your hand stay there for nearly an hour is also completely friendly.

Because I am singularly a very terrible person and because I had some remnant of disbelief as to his first response, I asked the question again. Cue the cringing that is the predecessor of all cringes in the world.

There you go, this is why I will never manage to get along with people. Amazingly enough, he denied it even after his arm had returned to its rightful spot by his shoulder, and he departed with a very tight, long and involved hug. That’s when I metaphorically flipped the table and decided that I had survived internship interviews which were more decisive. What resulted was a very long, awful conversation in which I learned that 21 year old human males have no idea what the evolutionary concept of emotions are about. Or maybe I don’t. I don’t know.


Please feel free to provide your input on what you think is going on. I trust that a group of articulated, wise , blog-maintaining folks like you have more experience in this matter than me.

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Jane Austen’s Emma/ Sonam Kapoor’s Aisha: In which I discover that happy endings can disgust me too.

On the rare weekend nights when the moon is already halfway across the sky and the Harlem skyline is still dotted with the lights of nocturnal overtime, I decided to lull myself to sleep with Jane Austen’s Emma.

To those who haven’t yet read it, don’t. It is tediously long and easily my least favorite of all of Austen’s works. As an Austen novel, I understand that there’s a special emphasis on dinners, manners, other people’s problems and gossipy village life. There’s also a focus on the marriage potential of every single lady of age in town and often it is inversely proportional to the number of young interested men in said town. I respected the book as well I could, given that these events must have been worth constructing a plot about in the late eighteenth century, when women really did not enjoy as much freedom in choice of employment.

Even with this wide margin, the book was getting tedious on several dimensions and I saw no reason why it had to be stretched out over three volumes. I was about to abandon it (and it would have been the first ever book I will have picked up and not read), when a friend recommended a different method of absorbing the story: The Bollywood movie Aisha. Based on Austen’s Emma, the lovely Sonam Kapoor proceeded to play a character that I intensely hated for the entire first half and then completely pitied for the rest.

Let me clarify. This is not a movie review or even a book review. Personally, I have nothing against Sonam Kapoor, as I rather admire her for being an expressive lady. But I am seriously displeased with several aspects that the movie highlighted and expected us to take for granted.

I could excuse Austen’s Emma for literally not having a life and therefore desperately seeking some form of amusement. But the Aisha Kapoor, the fancy rich girl who is too prone to pity anything that is mildly middle-class and views her amusement as “social service” was incredibly hard to swallow. Let me not even get into questioning her philosophy about love and life. She doesn’t have a job, lives almost completely off an extremely doting father’s money and spends the most of her days in malls and boutiques, when she could be making so much more of herself. The sort of idleness that makes my skin crawl.

There is literally a segment in the movie when she takes offense at Arjun Burman (The Mr. Knightley equivalent of the novel) calling her “shallow”. Please explain to me how she is not. Her cousin is declared pathetic because she is traditional and conservative. Dhruv Singh (Mr. Frank Churchill of the novel) is labeled boring and nerdy when he was trying to work hard, but now is declared “hot” because he opens the door for women semi-nude. She is jealous of the girl who is Mr. Knightley’s companion (Aarti Menon/Jane Fairfax) because her legs are long, she works with Arjun and she has a New York accent. She gets annoyed with everyone for not obeying her rules. She is selfish, self-centered and gets away with things that are downright objectionable.

Despite this, Mr. Knightley/Arjun Burman is miraculously in love with her.

A bold, brave, honorable and accomplished “true gentleman” in Austen’s words rendered well by Abhay Deol is constantly by her side, making sure she is always extricated out of trouble. All he gets for his friendship are her snarky comments at his female friends. All he gets for his love is the perpetual bickering that is not even cute enough for children, let alone full-grown adults.He has a life, hobbies, talents, manners and a job. It is boggling my mind to understand why a guy like him would settle for someone like Aisha.

There is another part of the movie when Aisha is stinging from some well-meant (and well-deserved) criticism from Arjun and she snorts into her pillow saying, “He’s just a Wharton graduate who makes money. What does he know about love and life?” Because this movie shows that obviously, Wharton alumni clearly have no idea what making good decisions are about. In the spirit of a world-class management education, explain to me why, after having an education that is so expansive and coming across people who are no doubt equally accomplished in an international environment, why would you settle for a spoilt child like Aisha?

Dude, seriously. get out of the screen and explain this to me. I study at an Ivy League university, I know what I’m talking about. What makes you think that all of the experiences that I’ve had here about growing up as a person will be nullified once I graduate?

The answer as the movie elaborately throws into my face is that they are childhood friends. They have known each other since forever, and she has been the one to “teach him how to laugh at life”. Now, I’m not denying that relationships do blossom out of well-maintained childhood friendships. I would have tried to be less caustic about the movie if they had just started dating. But no. THEY MARRIED. He literally made the best management decision of his life and decided to spend the rest of his life pandering to the amusement of the Aisha.

This is not something casual because of a physical attraction or whatever. Do you really think that marriage will make her more mature? Less self-centered? Less obsessed with the pathetic, shallow and materialistic things about life? Do you, Mr. Knightley, feel that your well-meant advice will be heard and do you really want to take on the additional responsibility of such a fragile temperament when life gets tough?  Also, how do you determine whom you marry as a child? The reason such instances are statistically rare is because people grow up and grow into wiser adults. Arjun/Mr. Knightley just lost all my respect by choosing her among the milieu.

The movie and the book talk a lot about class. About how to find people in your own tier. The Harriet Smith/Shefali Thakur character is made an example of. A simple-minded “lower-class” girl is taught how to live the rich life and forced to believe that she will find someone who is the son of a millionaire to marry her. Now, I don’t take much stock in these social stratifications. Because my “class distinctions” are based more on what comes out of your mouth and what you have to say and think than what you wear or the paycheck of your parents. The intellectual wavelengths of Arjun and Aisha are too disparate to be reconciled with love. I, for one, would hate to be trapped into marriage with someone who is incapable of deciding what to do with her life beside spending her father’s money.What of the class distinctions here? Why not marry the accomplished New York expatriate instead of this bumbling shopaholic?

I will finish up this rant with another about happy endings. To be honest, one of the reasons why I enjoy Austen is because I’m certain that there’s a happy ending. This has to be the first Austen book where I have despised the protagonist so much that I wished Mr. Knightley didn’t step in and “save her” from being single. On the other hand, maybe Mr. Knightley did us all a favor and stopped her from setting up other people’s marriages and not giving a fig for their feelings because she knows what’s best, don’t you know? Basically, this happy ending says that if you’re doing nothing with your life, try to get snarky, jealous and childish around your now-rich childhood friend and they shall marry you because of your astounding earth-shattering beauty and your supposed good-will fueled out of pity and not the genuine wish to see others do better.

Ugh. It’s too late for me now to deal with this. Emma/Aisha has ruined my night. I might as well sleep it off. Goodnight.

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.

Pets and lovers

I was still confused as to what I was supposed to do with Kayla. No, that’s not her real name. I just find it a more convenient method of referring to her. I think if I told anyone the truth about Kayla, I would instantly be famous and rich and shortly contacted with the suspicious people the government send along. You know what I’m talking about. Those tall, well-dressed fellows always with sun-glasses and really impressive badges. They also refer to you formally and look up on your criminal records. The unpleasant ones will also carry a weapon of some form as well.

So Kayla is an alien. Yes, you heard me right. No, I am not delusional. I was watching meteors in the desert, collecting data and looking for inspiration for a story or two. All of a sudden, one of the meteorites falls and we have visitors. There was the entire blaze in the sky, smoke on the ground sort of business. Hi. We’re these species who were just buzzing past and our engines failed. Just thought we’d drop by. Pun completely unintended yet absolutely unavoidable.

I apologize. I’m rambling. I won’t go into the details of how I found her and how I discovered that she didn’t know a word of any of the languages in the world and had this weird tendency to fuse all my gadgets together with her hands. I honestly didn’t know what I should be doing with her, as she refused to leave me alone and the authorities needed documentation I was unable to provide. I decided to keep her. Like a pet, albeit unauthorized. See, I’ve got a well-bred alien. Say hello to Kayla. Except that’s not how things worked out.

What was more, as I tried to make my back through human-populated areas to my residence, I discovered that different people perceived Kayla differently. Kids think she’s a harmless teddy bear. A really old woman at the gas station thought she was her son. When Kayla tried to explore some of the forested areas near my modest settlement herself, the forest ranger even mistook her to be a bear. The man went berserk as he saw me strap her into the passenger seat of my car. Well, it was late at night and visibility was poor. I was going to pass through his scrutiny looking perfectly normal with a bear for a companion. To me, she always seemed to be this really pretty girl whom if I had any guts at all, should have been able to charm with my supposed wit. But coming from the stereotypical species of social outcasts, I tried to look normal and be friendly without breaking a sweat. I needn’t have worried though. Aliens, particularly the shape-shifting variety, don’t judge.

For the first few days, she stuck close by me, listening carefully to every word that came out of my mouth. She watched me eat and learned that was how I derived sustenance and so on. In the beginning, I was obviously a bit intimidated by her. I mean, imagine a lonely writer that doesn’t get much company and all of a sudden there’s this gorgeous….ahem, guest that’s living with him. You’d guess he’d be a little awkward about it at first.

It was hard to remember that Kayla was an alien, especially since she looked very human to me. She was just quiet for the most part, had this weird look about her when she got hungry and stayed glued to the television or my laptop. When agitated, she would promptly fuse those devices and the next morning my neighbors would watch me throw out hideously mutated scraps of previously useful metal and plastic.

If I had known that she was actually learning the English language from me, I would have taken care to use my urbane sections of my vocabulary more often. Or watched better TV. Or read better literature than pulp fiction. I cannot describe the sheer shock when the creature you rescue from a mass of smoke from an extraterrestrial deposit in the middle of the desert starts spouting mixed up slang back to you. For those of you who host pet aliens with language learning capabilities, you might want to sit down somewhere sturdy before you make that discovery. You might not also want to keep liquids, sharp objects or tiny miscellaneous articles in your vicinity. They may not be hazardous to the alien, but they could be hazardous to you.

My thesis advisor chose this time of the year to be a menace again. He’s an astronomy professor, you know? It was because of his assignment that I was stuck in the desert in the first place. But since I was too busy boldly going forth where every thriller hero had been before, I hadn’t collected any data. My publisher was also after me for not having written anything substantial for the past few weeks. If I lost my job at the magazine, I would have to find some other way of supporting my thesis project stipend. I know it’s not glamorous, but you have to take what you get. Besides, you’d think writing science fiction comes easily to a guy who is an astronomer and has a background of physics, right? But with my alien baby-sitting duties, I was at a loss for data and ideas. Hey, if Kayla turned out to actually be hostile, I wouldn’t even be here ranting to you now. Helping her adjust to earth gravity, teaching her the ways of or highly complex society and so on takes more time than you’d think.

Anyway, it’s been a few weeks since she’s been around. We’ve struck this verbal deal, now that she speaks an entirely new dialect of English which I call “Universal Slang”. It involves me being her caretaker in exchange for her telling me stories. Never again do I have to bother about a writer’s block. My thesis is well on it’s way to completion thanks to the funding from my writing assignments. I even have a companion at home that knows all of my jargon well enough to seem natural at it. Everyday, after dinner, she sits down and tells me about her home world. I try to transcribe as much of it as I can, mostly because it takes a while to interpret what she’s actually saying.

The material that Kayla tells me is actually fairly normal. You know, family fights, romances, friendships and so on. Ordinarily, I would just copy her stories as is and hand them in, but then I realize I’m writing for a science fiction magazine and there has to be an element of other-worldliness in it. After I’m done editing the basic English, I add a couple of more tentacles to my favorite characters and they’re good to go.  The magazine is happy, it’s readers are happy, I am happy. I cannot tell if Kayla is, though.

When Kayla talks to me about her world, and I’ve heard a lot of it, believe me, I find it sometimes hard to remember she’s an alien. Most of the interpersonal interactions that she describes with people seem so ordinary. Honestly, if I didn’t tell you she was an alien and that her world was actually different, with a stronger gravity and so on, you could completely picture her talking about her life from some family here on Earth. It turns out they’re a liquid species. The atmospheric pressures on their world is so strong that they have no choice but to exist as one large liquid pool on the surface. When any one of them dies, they join the gaseous layers of the atmosphere. Due to their fluid nature, they are also interconnected mentally, as well as physically. Consider the orange juice on the table. Now imagine if it were alive and not orange. That is Kayla in her native state. Due to some form of telepathic projection people here on earth see her as whatever they think she is. I mean, the forest ranger had a lot of bears in his mind and when he should chance upon a random being in his territory, he naturally assumes it would be a bear. In his mind, Kayla = bear.

Why do I think of her as Kayla?

You’re giving me that look which says I am not describing the entirety of the situation to you, and as my best friend, I do happen to owe you at least that. Yes, she’s pretty. It’s been three years since my last relationship. I like having her around. I’m not going to deny it. Don’t smirk like there’s something going on. It’s not what you’re thinking. I don’t know why I thought having a pretty female companion in the middle of a star-watch assignment was a good idea. But it turns out, that’s  what I was thinking about because that’s the form Kayla manifests in around me. Nobody really knows what her true form is, though. For all I know, when I’m not looking at her she’s merely a puddle on the floor. It’s a bit like Schrodinger’s cat. I can’t really tell what state she is in until I look at her.

To be honest though, I don’t know what I feel about her. I mean, eventually she will run out of stories. I don’t know how to explain to her that I don’t mind having her around even when she’s not being useful. Also, I’m pretty sure she misses her own home from time to time. But it’s just not safe! What if a cop sees her as a criminal or something? I can’t take her back to the desert and hope that she somehow manages to evaporate herself into outer space. There was also this weird incident last week when a group of these teenagers from the nearby high school were playing around with her in the super market. I mean, to them Kayla instantly adopted the physical form of what that they had in their minds. They’re raging on hormones, so you can guess what the general tenor of Kayla’s impressions were. They got pretty obscene about it, though. But the incident proved that I can’t possible let Kayla out in public by herself.

I’m overreacting?! Of course I’m not!

Okay. Okay. Okay. I may have inadvertently allowed a molecule of jealousy to form inside me. A molecule, not any more. Stop gloating at me like you knew this was coming. You asked for this, that’s why you’re here. Look, this speculation is pointless anyway. We both know that if, hypothetically, there was anything between us it would still be one-sided. What could possibly come out of it? Eventually, I’m sure Kayla’s parent pool is going to want their puddle back. Besides it’s not like she knows what love is all about. She did describe similar concepts on her world, but they’re basically between liquids of their own kind. She’s learned how to hug, purely as a platonic gesture. She tries to attempt it sometimes on me, on the days I don’t yell at her for making my phone and my tablet conjoined twins. Yeah, it’s cute in a way. But she’s probably never going to think of me in that way. She may look pretty and be nice to me, but I still don’t know what her standards are, let alone whether they even have romantic liaisons.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going to stop now.

I have to finish a few more stories for the night, so I’ll probably be staying up even after you leave. Usually, they’re very spaced out assignments, but I’m going to the other Observatory next week, with my fellow researchers and with Kayla. They don’t know she’s coming. She’s asked me to send out a high frequency burst from the communications array. It’s supposed to serve a message to her people that she wants to go back home now. I’ll get over it, eventually I guess. It’s probably just a minor infatuation and there’s really nothing to it. I don’t even know her true form, you know? She’s just appearing to me as I think she would….

 A week later:

I’m sorry this is so rushed and I barely have time to explain it all. But Kayla left  yesterday and I just needed to be able to tell someone without being convicted. I didn’t know how the arrangement was, because Kayla said her puddles would not appreciate me messing in on them. When I woke up, she was just gone. There was no more of her voice, of wondering if my gadgets were okay, of reviewing any more story drafts. I just feel empty. Everything just felt empty. I’m feeling a bit angry with myself, because I shouldn’t be feeling so debilitated without her. Strangely enough, I actually miss her half-botched concoctions of swear words now. No, I don’t have abandonment issues. I can assure you with as much certainty as possible that this emptiness is just a momentary feeling and it will perhaps pass. Or not. Granted that I am an idiot over her, especially to even think I could have her with me forever, but you know I can’t help it.

I’m trying to focus on the Observatory’s telescopes, being actually productive for a change without having anyone else’s assistance in the matter, anyone else being the non-human…..forget it. Anyone else being Kayla here.

Someone seems to have tampered with the usual co-ordinates the telescope is targeted to. We’re watching a completely different part of space, now. I can’t help but think this is some sort of Kayla’s doing. It would be just her style. For all we know she could be leading me to her home. We did manage to locate a huge gas giant in that area. Highly dense atmosphere, rapidly oxidizing. The pressure forces some of the layers to liquid after a while. We’re observing this planet hoping to find some way to understand the nature of it’s crust. The others are assuming that the random motion of the liquid currents are caused by the heavy storms. I’m hoping it’s because Kayla’s pool is happy to have her back.

You know what she did right before she left me. She kissed me. I didn’t even know she could do that. When I asked her why, it turns out she was just following the behavior I had secretly expected of her inside my head. I will never be able to tell if she was pleasing me by nature or just choosing to be that way. But I do know this. I have the story of a lifetime and I’m going to miss her.

Romance, race and questions of identity

Sometimes I feel that my opinions or perspectives are less judged harshly when a fictional character speaks them instead of a true human being. But maybe it’s time to express a few of my opinions as personal, however unpalatable they might be deemed. I haven’t talked about romance for a while on my blog, and recently something has come across which has spiked my radar.

I decided to put one fine Monday of my summer to good use: foray the universe of Harry Potter fan-fiction. For whatever expectation I had of fan-fiction, this work has surpassed it completely and I must somewhat shamefully admit that I am addicted to re-reading this whenever I can. I don’t want to sound like I favor one fandom over another, but here is a Draco-Hermione version that actually does the characters justice. Bex-chan, the author of this fabulous work has my immense support and gratitude. If you are above 18 and you so dare, here it is: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6291747/1/Isolation

I have recently been trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be ashamed of secretly indulging in a good/turbulent/passionate love story every once in a while. Given that I have a history of severely shunning the feminine aspects of me and my awful, short romantic history, I feel that the appeal in reading a good love story lies in that I can picture myself as the female protagonist easily, and be assured of having my affections returned. After all, it is flattering to be admired, isn’t it? It is flattering to know that someone out there who is charming and attractive cares about you, accepts you for who you are, changes you into a better person and embodies perfection. Even if such a person is a work of fiction. Even if the high is momentary. For that period when you are trapped between pages of your escapism, the assumption of guaranteed admiration is enough.

So there I was, several chapters down and embodying the very spirit of Hermione, until I realized that the physical descriptions started to fail. My illusion began to fall apart because even though the romance between a Muggle-born and a pure blood wizard sounds tenuous, it is far more tenuous to assume that someone will transcend the cultural baggage that I carry from home and the ethnic boundaries that my tradition has established. How can I ever expect someone in the real world to adapt to the collection of dissimilarities that I am? At what point does the illusion become too lovely to be real and should I stop this stupid fragile heart of mine from nursing the notion that perhaps someday I will experience something similar?

At the other end of the spectrum is the Yellow Fever syndrome or equivalents. The idea that someone’s availability is dependent sorely on how exotic they are. There’s research on this as well, and it is encompassed by an umbrella theory called “Exotic is erotic” by Dr. Daryl J. Bem of Cornell University. This is the borderline racist territory that we, as human beings, are superficial to the point where we reduce a strong relationship to the mere fascination of the obvious.

I apologize if I sound like a pessimist, but too often I see this portrayed in real life. There may be many multiracial couples, but they are sparse in the Indian community that I interact with. There are many examples of Indian boys from back home who would unabashedly admire the blond girl in shorts and would even frequent many a frat party or so to “get with” her. But should they chance upon an Indian girl there, her reputation is ruined forever. She is no longer one of the girls that they can take home and show to their mother how pure/chaste/marriageable she is, even though they’d rather hook up with the blond girl that with her. My hope is that the “many examples” are not all, and perhaps even beyond the boundaries of race and ethnicity there are people who love other people for simply being people.

For a very long time, I had tacitly assumed that I could never be perceived as desirable by anyone who was not Indian, and even among them I was perceived to be as quite the oddball. But I have put in a lot of work on my self-esteem (namely by focusing my anxiety and efforts elsewhere), and I have realized that perhaps there is more than just beauty, more than even an attraction to a personality that boils down to a relationship. From the relationships that surround me, I know that a lot of what is love appears to be duty, sacrifice, teamwork and the tenacity to ride through the hard times. Even then, do I dare to hope that even some of the glamour of intense attachment will come alive from the pages and touch my life?

Perhaps it has already touched my life. Perhaps a corner of my mind is softly wrapping up the memories like delicate figurines for the one day when love will come knocking again. Until then, I continue to read and be overwhelmed with vicarious joy.

Reference links:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-pacific-heart/201304/yellow-fever-the-exotification-asian-women

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1002050303320#page-1

http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1996-01742-006

 

 

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.

Defining boundaries: Breaking up with a friend

Hear me out because this is not the sort of thing I do everyday.I made the cold-blooded, rationalized, well-pondered decision to tell one of my friends that we were not going to be friends any more.

I think I would have tried to reason with her why, but she was too busy feeling her feelings to hear me out. She feels very deeply offended by my actions and I am given to understand that she has been incredibly hurt. But I think that I have made the better decision for both parties. Let us explore the problem statement.

Problem: A formerly close friend and I have grown distant for the last few months. In the beginning of this academic year, we were very close and I sought out her company often. But she doesn’t actively seek my company any further and being a great believer of reciprocity, I decided to maintain the status quo. I am not the kind of person who will actively impose on another human being, especially for company.

Whenever I did hear of her, it was about her fan-girling about one boy after another. I don’t mean to say people shouldn’t do that, but my friend is under the mistaken impression that she will find “love” through her methods (to which I have some objections as well), and that “love” is likely to boost her own low self-esteem. I’m not one to judge here because I have suffered the same affliction as well. And I have grown out of it. But she seems to continue with her self-destructive tendencies, and it bothers me immensely that as a friend, I am unable to do anything for her.

I understand that I am in no position to claim that my philosophy to life is better than hers or anything of that sort. But I feel as though I have failed as a friend if I cannot help them overcome their own demons. Due to our extremely large differences in our life philosophies, and because I think I am mature enough not to ask her to change herself or anything, I have decided that it would be advisable for both of us to end our alliance. I am tired of feeling pity and disgust for the ways that she chases men, even though I respect that chasing men deserves to be her priority as much as being competent and independent is mine.

Very recently I discovered, quite by accident (since we haven’t been frequently in contact for a while), that the boy she is perpetually raving about is simultaneously dating two other girls. It was an awkward conversation because she personally hadn’t informed me how vested she was into him. I just got to hear it through all of our mutual friends. I had to break it to her, and it made for some awkward conversations, but I really wanted to get away from all of it. I asked her why. Why did she have to put herself through these emotional messes every time? And she gave me an answer that has taught me a very valuable lesson: “I couldn’t control my feelings”.

We were already distant then, and I was willing to let things drift because not only do I feel completely useless as a friend, I also feel that she doesn’t want me in her life anymore because I won’t tolerate her listening and talking about boys all the time. (She informed me afterwards that she was very offended that I would think her main interest would be something so superficial). That’s not the point. I’m not judging her interests. I feel that I cannot extend my compassion and understanding to her any longer. We’ve both changed as people (or maybe it’s just me), to be able to tell each other “I love you” honestly.

As circumstances happened, I was in a research panel with her new nascent love interest. We were discussing structural design and machine learning when all of a sudden she appeared from nowhere, claimed that she missed me and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to assume what her intentions might have been. But the timing of her sudden need to reconnect with me felt as though she was using me to get to him. Given the kind of stories I’ve heard from people who are close to her, who are not her haters, I wouldn’t put it past her to be like this. I was just so completely sick of her trying to use me, and that too for something as pathetic as the supposed illusion of “love” in an immature environment like college.

I evaded her response for a while. And when she came knocking at my door, I told her the truth. I’m not sorry if it offended her, because what she has been doing has offended my sensibilities long enough. I think she could be grateful that at least I let her know where we stand to her face instead of hiding it behind false smiles and hidden disgust. I don’t have to cringe every time I hear another incident of how “desperate” she was being. I don’t have to feel like I have failed as a friend for not helping her overcome her insecurities. Again, I repeat myself, I don’t want to say that she is wrong or reprehensible. To be honest, she hasn’t even done anything to hurt me. But I am tired of wasting my time and emotional energy onto her, hoping for a rekindling of our friendship. Even then, even if we went back to being friends, I would not put up with her constant chatter about boys.

I am tired of accommodating the large differences in our philosophies. She likes being the state she is in. I don’t like my friends to be like that and I have the right to choose that. Therefore, the problem is with my terms of friendship, and not with her. I deserve the right to have certain standards to uphold of my friends. She deserves the right to be/do whatever she likes. So the solution is to simply not be friends, because none of the other variables that are in play here are mutable. If she is no longer my friend, then I no longer have to feel like a dead-weight and she doesn’t have to feel like she has someone who is close to her who disapproves of her idea of fun.

I will still insist on being polite and civil, because I think every human being deserves that. But I will no longer have to cringe at the thought of how she may or may not grind up against a random boy in a crowd to boost her self-esteem, because she is not my friend anymore. I don’t have to deal with that.

 

2: A tribute to the last week of being a teenager

What are you supposed to feel when you discover that the person who has left you forever was the one who truly cared about you all this time? What are you supposed to feel when care, love and affection was right under your nose except now it has gone forever?

It feels like you will never be able to reconcile the fact that the one person who could have been everything was too weak to let you go. Blame destiny. Blame fate. If it was meant to happen, it should have happened. Blame yourself because you had to deny the affection, to gently, carefully reject a person because of reasons that you deemed were wise.

“Sorry, but I don’t think you’re actually attracted to me. You’re just projecting your feelings for someone else on me. You don’t know me well enough to like me. Our families would never be okay if we started dating each other. I don’t think you’re ready for a relationship. People shouldn’t be seeking relationships when they have to find inner stability first.”

I said these things. Some directly. Some indirectly. I thought my reasons were justified. I had other reasons of my own too. I was pursuing someone obviously incompatible and unavailable, because I was seeking some twisted form of internal validation. I too was lonely, and scared and investing all my effort into making this problematic liaison work. The scars of my first “relationship” will take a while to heal, and though it has been painful, it has been thoroughly enlightening.

In all those moments of pessimism, of pining away for what I obviously couldn’t have, of obvious, bone-chilling, exhausting despair, it never occurred to me that there was that one person who could, perhaps, meet all of those requirements willingly. Except now that person has died. He has left this world. He has left me with this overpowering eternal guilt that I didn’t know I had chosen to bear.

When his phone was retrieved after the incident, it had only five contacts stored on it. His mother, his father, his brother and me. I was the only person that was not family that he considered me close enough to him to think about me in his last moments.

I am left wondering. Even if I couldn’t have loved him, I would have devoted my emotion and strength to him. I would have been there for him if only he had reached out to me. If only he hadn’t ignored me. If he truly did care for me, why did he not consider reaching out? Even as a friend?

We had once gone on a date to a restaurant nearby. Just the two of us. Conversations. Him making fun of me. Me laughing along. Talking about things of all interest. He paid me a compliment, saying that I was a great conversationalist. He complained how I was under-dressed for the snowy weather and he joked that his birthday gift to me would be a pair of snow-boots.

It was my birthday yesterday.

There were no snow-boots.

 

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.