Me, You, and Soup

Prologue: Me, You and Soup

Once upon a time, 3.8 billion years ago, before girl dinners and Amazon must-haves, we were each a small, insignificant, trivial part of the prehistoric grandiosity which we now call primordial soup. 

How wonderful! Being in a perpetual stew of water, complex organic molecules and other non-carbon compounds, no burden from worldly responsibilities, just carefree states of being in a reality where tax evasion and Kraft mac and cheese don’t exist yet.

But like all affairs in this universe, nothing ever stays the same. Principles of evolution dictate that the very fabric of our existence, or the existence of anything for that matter, relies on change. You hear that?


Let that sink in for a second.

Over the course of 3.8 billion years, the molecules in our primordial soup gave birth to some of the very first preliminary forms of life: protocells, much simplified ancestral versions of a single one of the trillions of cells which each living being today is composed of, capable of storing information in its pitifully small amount of DNA and producing even more pitiful chemical reactions. Protocells paved the way for bacteria which evolved into even larger bacterial colonies, sea-floor dwelling plants, tiny fish, small bugs, bigger bugs, even bigger trees, reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, mammals…and alas, Homo sapiens!

Congratulations! We’ve arrived at the present moment! Well, omitting some very disastrous epoques of extinction, climate change, disease and galore. What’s next? 

The answer is, none of us know. One day, Homo sapiens will cease to exist, becoming just another archaic species, once thriving upon Mother Earth, now completely wiped from the face of the planet, replaced by a new species, more intelligent, stronger, better in comparison to us by ten fold. And everything else that happens from now to our inevitable day of extinction? No one knows. 

Pure uncertainty. Even our most accomplished, most well-read scientific experts can’t give us a promising, near-definite answer given their access to the unimaginably gargantuan amounts of existing scientific studies and data which allow them to tap into the past, and given their understanding of machine learning and concerningly rapid paces of technological advancements that should give them a good idea of where we should be at in a hundred years. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Human life now is but a highly evolved, intricate model of primordial soup. Our primordial soup leaves us with one lesson: everything changes.   


Interlude: Primordial Vomit

The morning of the first day of college sophomore year, I woke up from a sickening, deep nausea accompanied by a deep discomfort so revolting that it pained my chest and head. In the past month, I’d accumulated a hoard of anxiety for a particular class (the culprit’s name: Accounting 101) even though it was the first day and nothing bad could happen. 


Thirty minutes before my mandatory presence in a Steinberg-Dietrich classroom was to be required, I found myself situated in an Asian squat directly in front of the single toilet in a three-bed one-bath college dorm apartment, right elbow placed upon the toilet seat to prop up and steady my head, which was so horrendously close to the plethora of bacteria and fecal air emanating from the open toilet in an effort to contain the vomit that was inevitably about to explode from my organs. 

Oh, here it comes.

I threw up. 

Once. Nothing and everything. No remnants from last night’s meal (tomato egg over rice). But every other possible liquid and half-digested mystery chunks that had resided within my stomach found itself streaming in an inhuman, off-putting yellow potpourri into the toilet bowl. The taste was battery acid, bitter as it burnt my throat, causing me to retch so hard my eyes watered, tears overflowing the bounds of my lower eyelids still crusted with a couple of eye boogers that I hadn’t had the chance to wash off my face yet before going to class. I’d never cried tears out of both eyes simultaneously, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything. Hold on not done yet. 

Twice. A bit better but that chest still hurts. If my stomach had a conscience, it was vacillating between whether to call it a day or expel more of the vomit tha- 

Thrice. Breathe. Cough it out. You’re alright. What a champ.



I’d unintentionally clenched both hands a the toilet seat for balance which had touched innumerable ass cheeks. And I was going to be late for class. 


Part 1: October 23rd, so it begins

I trudged home after class had ended around 8PM. A million, tiny internal thoughts were quarreling over each other, each engrossed so intensely in their arguments that it all sounded like static. If I intentionally chose to eavesdrop a particular thought I’d be able to hear it clearly with the rest being background static in my head. I could simply choose to let that thought go; it would fall back into place within my mental static sea. Somewhere amongst those thoughts, “Dancing Queen” from Mamma Mia was playing faintly on repeat. The song echoed off the inner walls of my cranium, and while I summoned all my energy to make it shut the fuck up, the lyrics were miserably stuck in my head. 


Periodically, my internal dialogue gets quite noisy, sometimes as a result of accidental starvation after losing yourself in the ambitious constant-grind culture that Penn perpetuates. I was hungry.

I’d also been thinking about how uncomfortable I was with allowing the state of my well-being to become so easily swayed by intense worries of which assignments I have due next week, which exam dates are closely approaching or how awkwardly I’d smiled at an acquaintance earlier in the day across from Locust. I’m never in the present. I’ve rarely been able to feel what it’s like to be in the present.

Somehow, this needed to change. I spent the rest of my trek down the dimly lit Locust pathway pondering.

My initial idea was to approach this from an experimental perspective by making simple, unconventional changes to my life, changes that would shift my focus to the present, while documenting in a journal entry style on how each of these changes made me feel. It sounded like a good place to start, and I decided to set my final reflection date for December 2nd, right before finals season cranks up, so I’ll have time to reflect on the whole ordeal, however it turns out.

I’d reached the end of Locust Walk and began to turn north on 40th street towards its intersection with Chestnut Street, right past Acme and the ongoing administrative building construction that was once a Mcdonald’s. I could barely even remember that I was inside that Mcdonald’s just a year ago. Memory is such a funny thing.

When I reached my apartment, an inconspicuous vertical building extension situated on top of the now-deserted Distrito, I resisted the urge to seek sweet comfort under my comforters and rot away by  scrolling through Tiktoks to numb my mind of the impending nausea of doom and weight of academic obligations. Instead, it felt fitting for me to drop my backpack at the foot of my bed, climb onto my already-made bed with my dirty outside clothes, and assume a starfish position face-up that put me face to face with the industrial concrete ceiling. No airpods. No phone. If my roommate walked in at any moment, she’d likely be slightly weirded out at my dormant state but probably join me in my snow angel making position on my bed.

Laying there, I realized I had the time to think. So I did just that, reflecting on what was plaguing my mind.

Anxiety has taken away so much of my time from me and forcefully vacillated me back and forth between the past and the future. If I wasn’t lamenting over past regrets and mistakes, I was worrying myself sick (literally) about the future. Too many times have I found myself engulfed in grief when I reflect  and realize I’ve lost so many opportunities to enjoy the fleeting present moment simply because my mind became rooted in the obsession over past and future timelines. 

There’s no one to blame but myself. 

I have made attempts to live in the present, genuine attempts that still haven’t offered me any confirmatory emotions or eureka! moments that prove I’ve successfully done so; although I was physically living in the moment, I didn’t feel that I was doing so mentally. Up until this point, I’d believed that the tangible determinant which measured how well I’d lived in the present was the intensity of my memories; memories that are more vibrant, more detailed signal present moments more deeply cherished and vice versa.

 But now that I’ve stopped to really think about it, I’m not sure if that ideology is actually true. I thought back to when I’d visited Paris this past summer with one of my sophomore year roommates, Eileen. Upon arrival in this foreign country, both of us marveled incessantly at the buzzing city, receiving glaring side eyes from French sidewalk cafe-dwellers donning bright red lips, effortlessly chic outfits, and a cigarette between the pointer and middle fingers. The streets were the theater stage which they constantly scrutinized and the cafes served as seats in the audience. I was aware that Eileen and I were dressed in a grossly American style. Perhaps that’s why we received condescending looks towards our graphic sweatpants. Though I wouldn’t have permitted this sort of attitude in the States, I rejoiced in each and every one of these judgmental looks from the locals like it was godsent! For heavens, I was in fucking Paris! I had been studying the language for almost a decade, spare me the judgment would ya! I was in the very middle of the world’s fashion capital, somewhere I just might end up living one day. Where baguettes were a mere 1 euro of perfection in lieu of the overpriced $3.50 piece of stale shit I’d get from the Philly Panera which always left a subtle sour after-taste in my mouth.

Yet, now, about 5 months later, lying here spread-eagled, I realized, while laboring to pull memories of my Parisian days from my mind, that these very memories had become a bit foggy. Had I not cherished those moments enough? Nothing, no past laments, no future worries, could’ve dragged me out of the stubborn, pure joy I’d been engulfed in. But why couldn’t I remember everything now? How the bread tasted or how the sun felt against my skin and how it looked when it bathed all the buildings in the 18th arrondissement, adorned with neoclassic carvings, in a golden bath.

In falling too deeply in my thought spiral, I’d completely disregarded one simple fact: memories are destined to fade.

Which meant that my previously held ideology was incorrectly formed on an assumption that turned out to be completely wrong. One simply cannot define the extent to which one has lived in the present by the clarity of memories, even those of most cherished moments.  

If memory clarity isn’t a good measure of how well you’ve lived in the present, then what is? 

My stomach gurgled, interrupting my thought. 

Maybe it’s time to eat. I’ve been thinking too much.

Part 2: october 24th, plan of action main course with a cold beer on the side please

The thought of pursuing this self-experiment while also finding the answer to last night’s question made getting out of bed this morning a bit easier. While brushing my teeth before my 10:15, I perused through some ideas that had been marinating in my brain overnight and formulated an interim set of rules, small changes that would draw my attention away from the past and future, that I’d commit to following for the duration of this experiment, typing them feverishly into a fresh page in my Notes app as to preserve my ideas before they fled. Here they are verbatim:


  • limit time spent on phone unless necessary; otherwise you’ll miss out on things in front of you; the more you look around, the more you might notice things about the world around you that you might’ve never seen before
  • limiting negative thought spirals about regrets from the past or the past in general if it’ll throw you in a negative emotional state
  • try to stop anxious thoughts about the future before they worsen (like with exams, homework, deadlines, job apps, etc); the only thing that can help you is working on whatever is stressing you out. At the end of the day, it’s just part of being a college student. You will be okay
  • let things happen as they come; this goes for events, emotions, whatever it may be; you absolutely cannot suppress emotions
  • subject to creativity while in the moment: embrace spontaneity if it’ll allow you to experience the world more deeply

I wasn’t completely satisfied with the condition of this list, but time didn’t permit me to dwell in my thoughts any longer. Hastily, I spat out my toothpaste, and now purified of morning breath, I pieced together a presentable outfit from the first clothing items I spotted from the tops, jackets and bottoms sections within my closet. Subconsciously, it had registered later that for someone who is such a snobby, self-proclaimed fashion enthusiast and who takes immense pride in working within corporate fashion, my closet is quite bland. Monotonous hues of gray, blue, black and white with infrequent pops of color. I can’t say that I’ve ever been upset with the selection offered by my closet; it has just never come to the forefront of my thoughts that my clothing, upon first glance, serves little to no unique personality. Mac Miller sweats, ivory knit sweater, black puffer, and out the door.

My habitual instinct was to plug in my airpods, one, to block my ear hole entrances from the morning wind tunnels and two, mainly to keep my mind occupied on an otherwise bland promenade to class. Today was day one of my self-experiment. I at least had to try to resist the urge.

So I did. Made the walk past the 39th street Starbucks and past the Tampons, turning left once, right when I hit Commons and walked all the way to the entrance of Leidy. The walk was just that, nothing more, nothing less. I did not magically marvel at the world around me like some main character in an unrealistic ideal. Sure, the sunlight was enjoyable, but nothing particularly special from what I remember. The 60 degree air had entered my lungs with ease, and I had no indie pop or rap or house music to dictate the commencement of my day’s trajectory. Now in place of my routine morning Spotify tunes were just thoughts, each chittering rapidly after another. 

I didn’t eat before I left… maybe I should eat before I go to practice after class. I’ll just decide later I guess. Problem set due tomorrow night for coding, maybe I’ll meet with my friends for that tonight. Hm. Yep. That’ll do it. Nice tree. Hungry? Okay door, I hope she holds it open for me. Man. Should’ve known better. Oh yay! The gang’s here in class. Nice. Sit here. Yep. Look up. There’s Prof Levendusky. Alright. Focus. Why’s this desk for lefties? So weird. Can’t put my tumbler on there the same as the righty desk. 

As soon as class ended at 11:15, I headed over to Dig to pick up a bowl for lunch. I don’t frequently purchase meals now that I’m not on the dining plan and instead make efforts to cook as much as possible. But with limited time before practice on 31st and home at 40th,  it seemed reasonable for me to blow $15 on an overpriced, underfilled bowl of self-proclaimed healthy food. I chewed the various contents of my lunch, consisting of sweet potatoes, rice, chicken and broccoli, sans digital devices and breathing in a deep breath with each bite that I took.

Eating is strange. My teeth are grinding all this food into soft, mashy pulp. Why is it that this meal is palatable when the contents are whole and individual, sweet potato halves, broccoli stems, rice and chicken bites? If I were served a plate of the meat-veggie-grain mashy pulp produced solely from chewing my food for a couple seconds, I’m sure I wouldn’t even touch it. Would people still love me if I were composed of the same contents but took on a different form, just not as palatable?

I don’t typically eat nowadays for enjoyment, only out of necessity, sometimes regarding it as a hassle. But in this moment, I wolf down my lunch with such primal enthusiasm, complemented with nose and mouth inhales and all, and a certain fervor typically only reserved for wild animals. There’s peppercorn somewhere in the chicken. I don’t think that was intentional. Nevertheless, I tasted it. Thank you.

On the way to the rink, I remained committed to the music-deprivation, concentrating on licking every crevice between my teeth as I walked so I wouldn’t have to embarrass myself smiling and talking to others with broccoli florets lodged right between my two front teeth. It happens to everyone, but I feel that, in the past, I’ve been more embarrassed about it than most. Maybe this is true. Maybe this is not true.

After surmounting a suspicious set of stairs leading to a shaded underpass and turning right around a corner, I’d reached the front doors of the rink, two inconspicuous glass doors lined with a metallic black frame. I suppose if I’d ever lost my vision one day, I could still get to the rink without getting run over, without tripping on the stairs, passing the left and right lined fecal-matter-reeking, sweat scented hockey locker room shitholes before reaching the modest figure skating locker area at the very back of the rink building with faultless ease. I’m proud to admit how well I knew this location. It means I’ve cared enough to know how to get around even in the unlikely scenario that I lost my sight. Each time I come back, I rediscover what keeps me coming back over and over and over; it’s a perpetual unwrapping of the same gift, over and over, despite already knowing what lay beyond the wrapping paper.

Out of habit, I plugged in my airpods, knowing fully it was a violation of the regimen I’d set in place this morning. Unless it wasn’t? 

I found my Spotify playlist titled “cursive walking” amongst the rows of carefully curated playlists I’ve created over the years of my teenage angst; this one was perhaps the most tame out of all of them. Pressing play, I had no clue which song would come on. 

Piano and Spanish guitar. That’s El Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge. Perfect.

As much as I hate for the state of my emotions to be dominated by the music I listen to at certain times, it works to my advantage at others. I’d found my locker spot in our modestly sized locker room, situated right in the middle of the row of lockers lining the concrete wall. 

Open the locker door. Take out my skates and my hard blade guards. Along with my leg warmers. Don’t forget the gloves. Close. Sit. Unlace and lace. Roxanne! YOU DON’T HAVE TO WEAR THAT DRESS TONIGHTTTT Roxanne! YOU DON’T HAVE TO SELL YOUR BODDYYY TO THE NIIIIIIGHT. Ankle pads on. Heel lock in my skate boot. All good? All good. Lace it all up. Cover with the leg warmers. Now the hard guards. Good. Deep breath. To the side boards.

Last year, a woman named Tessa Virtue graduated from Penn with a master’s degree. This same woman happened to be a pairs skater with fellow partner Scott Moir, and the two had skated to this very song together back at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, bringing home the gold medal for Canada. There’s an overwhelming consensus that their performance was absolutely sublime, demonstrating passion on the ice rarely seen nowadays in pairs who generally prefer skating choreography with higher technical skill difficulty over artistry. It’s all about the points nowadays, never the joy of the dance! When I rewatch the pair’s old choreography and listen to their 2018 Olympics program music, I like to imagine that I have at least half the amount of talent they do. Some days I jump a little higher, spin a bit more smoothly, and dance across the ice during practice a bit more than usual, channeling the same joy they once shared together in competition. 

Today seemed to be one of those days. My skate boots felt good. So did my ankles, my knees, my entire body. I skated three or four laps around the rink, letting the boundlessness of the frictionless ice surface engulf me whole. To be able to feel this level of liberation is such a privilege; I wish for everyone to feel the same. To fly through the air when practicing jumps, to listen to the way your skate blades rip into the ice and to survey the aftermath of your practice in the patterns drawn on the ice with your blades, knowing exactly which curve, which loops, corresponded to which one-leg spin, to which sophisticated footwork pattern. At the rink, worldly obligations are nothing but an afterthought, the aftermath of a dream you can’t quite remember. If you think long and hard about your exam next week or your coding problem set due later tonight, you begin to wonder if they are tangible tasks you must complete or just a figment of your imagination. Do they even exist at all? None of it matters. 

As beginner skaters and seasonal rink-goers know best, remaining balanced on the ice requires channeling a colossal amount of core strength to keep your flailing arms from causing your feet to completely slip out from under you and put you in an ass plant. Today, I’m practicing choreography. I’ve always envied the Olympic skaters who dance across the ice with the same ease as ballet dancers on ground. Why can’t I look as graceful as them? Well, probably because I don’t train for hours each day. I hadn’t realized that it’s much more difficult to dance on the ice. That is, not even considering the sheer thinness of the blades which we skate on. Lose focus and you’ll easily meet your fate of tripping and body slamming the ice. There is no other choice but to immerse yourself fully in the art. Thinking about assignments awaiting you outside the rink is simply not an option. 

I am by no means anything but an average skater. I did not compete in nationals in my childhood nor did I suffer under a former Olympian Russian coach for more than just a couple years. My focus was on classical music, in hopes of giving music school auditions a shot. Growing up in a Chinese-American household meant that in some form, your childhood extracurriculars were already chosen for you by your parents, with some of the most common activities being piano, tennis or Kumon; I was not spared from this fate. Though I’ve developed a genuine appreciation for the dedication my parents demonstrated in pushing me to learn instruments and take up sports to keep myself in shape, I can’t help but occasionally remember that figure skating was one of the only sports I chose without external influences or cultural pressure. I had watched, as an elementary school child, older, more powerful, more graceful girls practicing on the ice at my local rink with such raw intensity borderlining fragility that I wanted to be just like them. Twelve years ago, my passion was born, now only intensified.

For the last 30 minutes of the session I skated in silence. I wish it was a decision I’d willingly made, but in reality, it was because my Airpods had died. I was one of five remaining skaters on the ice. The bold rips I carved into the ice with my blades echoed throughout the emptiness of the stadium stands, usually occupied by hockey fans during tournaments, now empty. I didn’t know I had the capacity to take up so much space. 

“Wanna come see what’s in the fridge real quick?” Ben had asked me mid-code. I smiled without looking up, finishing another line of a string of codes for our data science class.

“Yeah gimme a sec… there better be food though.” There were seven of us, six girls, one guy, each nestled in a different variation of the awkward study session hunchback position in the wooden chairs circling the large, vintage varnished wood table in one of the many liminal office spaces in the DP building. Donning a pair of black oversized headphones, Diamy wore a perpetual furrowed brow, biting her nails as she remained fixated on her computer screen. Maggie, the one in our bunch that probably paid attention in class the most, furiously typed away lines of code. Aside from my exchange with Ben, the room was near silent. No one talks about evening fatigue that hits at around 9PM, inconvenient right when you’re about to lock in for a long study session. It was a bit past 9PM and everyone was scrambling to try and figure out the code for the assignment due tomorrow morning. 

I had propped my legs and dirty 4 year old Air Force 1 frat shoes on the table, discerning what the difference was between loops and functions, before I temporarily gave up and headed with Ben towards the DP kitchen two turns away from the office the seven of us occupied. 

The truth is, it was easy for me to set guidelines for myself earlier today which state that I’m technically not allowed to feel anxiety when completing homework, and to approach deadlines with no emotions, only the action of doing my work. But if holding myself back from feeling the emotions that naturally come by me, is that even present living? The anxiety was already there. Granted, I should’ve started this assignment a week ago instead of 12 hours before the deadline.

Ben popped open the fridge door, allowing the yellow light from within, the only light source in the kitchen, to illuminate us and the marble countertops around us. There was nothing in there. Except four green glass bottles of Yuengling beer, leftovers in a black plastic container with a translucent lid and a can of diet Coke. We look at each other, with the same glint in our eyes. Great minds think alike I guess

“Can we take these?” I asked, though the sight had already set aflame my desire for a bit of mischief. 

Ben shrugged while glancing back at the bottles. “I mean probably not but who’s gonna know?”

“Pfft alright then fuck it we ball!” We snatched a bottle each and fled the scene. Present living sometimes calls for a bit of impulsivity. Who cares about the consequences?

As soon as we rejoined the rest of our group who had been laboring in emotional agony trying to decipher coding help from ChatGPT, they seemed to have noticed that we were up to no good. 

“Guyssss, GUYSSSS, it’s a Monday night,” teased Julia, the oldest of us. Something about her tone made me feel as if she disapproved but also wanted to further enable our impulsivity. The room burst into light laughter.

“Oh come on guys no one’s gonna find out,” I reasoned while attempting to copy Ben popping the bottle cap off using the edge of the table. After 3 tries, the cap came off, a bit of the beer spilling out onto the carpet floor in the process. 

Ben and I leaned over the table and clinked our bottles together with a “cheers!”, chugging a couple gulps as Elea threw her hands up into the air, nearly causing her Macbook to split into two. 

“God, this error message just keeps coming up. I hate this,” she mumbled, frustrated yet not surprised by the all too familiar hassle of debugging code, leaning over in her chair to pick up her laptop.

Maggie leaned over to Elea, taking hold of and squinting at her laptop screen as I forced myself to concentrate. Alright fuck. Around 12 hours. Fuck. FUCK. Lock in. The gulps of beer crashing down the constraints of my throat had reached the pits of my stomach, but I knew my mind would remain sober. Beer simply wasn’t strong enough, but the adrenaline rush of doing something borderline rule-breaking that whips my focus into shape. 

I began to type lines of code, strings that would load my dataset into the coding platform and more code that would help clean my data. I should’ve started this earlier. The anxiety is almost swallowing me up whole, but in the presence of friends, people I’d gotten to know well through mutual suffering in our class, I am not nauseated by this anxiety. 

First bug. Okay. Code chunk 3 won’t run. Alright. Julia can I see your code. Yes of course. Sip of beer. Back to work. Try. And retry. Okay still won’t run. Fuck. Retry. For an hour. Finally figured it out. Onto question 2. I’m anxious. Yes. Consequences of your own procrastination. But you’re alive. You will be fine.

At around midnight, I sprint walked with my groupmates back home, crossing my arms together and warming my hands under the warmth of my armpits. The seven of us, each bundled in our own combination of scarves, puffers of varying lengths and the rare beanie or two, braced through the piercing, thin air. It was only late October but already, the wind tunnels here were no joke. We’d collectively finished our codes and submitted them hours before the deadline, our hours of silent work interwoven with “how the fuck did you do problem 5a,” Tiktok breaks and conversations accompanied with laughter. The anxiety levels in that office room paralleled that of first time performers on the America’s Got Talent stage, and though it technically infringed upon one of the rules I’d set in my self-experiment guidelines, something tells me that our problem set wouldn’t have been completed this early on without it. 

I parted ways with the group, giving them my farewells before making a left turn on 40th and heading towards Chestnut. When I entered my apartment, I noticed that my roommate’s door was already shut, an indication of an early morning to come tomorrow. As I brushed my teeth and began my night time skin care routine, I reflected on my first full day in undergoing this experiment. Not bad. Keep up the good work I guess? In total honesty, I had felt nothing particularly profound today, no novel sensations that washed over my entire body, no new enlightenment, but I allowed myself to feel everything, the anxiety, the joy, all that came my way. As I spit out my toothpaste, I realized that I couldn’t remember all the details of the events that have occurred today. I slipped under my covers after having layered on my moisturizer, my toner and my serum in the bathroom, and for once, I drifted off to sleep with an emotion I hadn’t noticed before: satisfaction.


Interlude: On Deadlines

You’re freshly 18, trapped somewhere in the emotionless void between high school and college, staring at yourself in the long, long mirror, rocking yourself back and forth in a fetal position in your empty dorm room, the outer corners of your eyes stained reddish, stung by the salt of your tears. The fact that you’re alone does not help.

Your dried lips are unevenly wine-stained though you have not consumed alcohol. Upon closer examination, you notice that they’re bruises from chewing on your lips, every day. You smile. This is the first time you’ve smiled with joy in weeks. For all the wrong reasons.

It’s been exactly 23 hours since you’ve consumed anything at all. If you keep it up, you might be able to go away in peace. A crime scene with no blood and no weapon. That could take up to 72 hours. Or worse, even more.

You look to your right, where all your painkillers are stored in a woven basket on top of the bookshelf. If I swallow the entire bottle, would it be enough?

Now, to your left, out the window, onto the bustling night time street at 34th and Walnut. Too flashy of a way to go. 

Back to your reflection. You survey your mass of a body while sitting on the floor, wrapped in clothing thrown into the laundry basket yet fished out ten too many times. It’s been days since you’ve brushed your teeth, but the grime doesn’t phase you. Let them rot for all you care.

The only glint that exists in your eyes is not of life, but one of self-destructive indifference. It’s been long since you’ve felt. You can’t seem to remember the last time you cared. 

Breaking the staring contest with yourself in the mirror, you check the time on your phone.

2:51AM, it reads. 

Too much time. Back to your reflection. You’d think that you would see in the mirror your sinister alter ego tempting you to make dangerous, dangerous decisions. But it’s just yourself as you are. How unfun.

You give yourself three days. Nature will prevail regardless. If you become impatient, you know what to do.


Part 3: October 27th, on Saturdays, girls become men

In the couple days between my last entry and now, I’d been pretty committed to surrendering myself to the restrictions of my notes app guidelines. Still, undergoing this experiment gave birth to nothing life-changing as of this moment, aside from how I’d been anchored more deeply within my contentment. 

Today, Saturday, marks the peak of Halloweekend. There will undoubtedly be alcohol consumption. There will be drama. There will be booming music and unprecedented lines circling around frats, filled with desperate freshmen trying to prove their worth within the Penn social hierarchy by getting into frat parties. There will be putting on costumes and alter personas. There will be heightened emotions, perfect for me to soak it all in.

It was currently 9:30pm, not quite the hour to go out yet but rather to put on my battle armor. What do we have in store for tonight? Pitbull. I’ll be stealing the identity of a bald, Cuban rapper, completing my look with his signature sunglasses and eyeliner-drawn pedo stache, screaming “DALÉ” at everyone I pass by on the sidewalks tonight. I yelled from my room to my roommate in the room next door changing.

“NATTTTT I THINK I’M DOING PITBULL TONIGHT. TOO LAZY TO DO CRUELLA AGAIN,” to which she yelled in response “ALRIGHTYYYY!! I’M ALMOST DONE.” She’d mentioned that she’d be embodying an anime character tonight. I forget which one.

A flurry of knocks sounded at our apartment door followed by a collective, uncoordinated scream of “LET US IN BITCHES” prompting my light sprint out of my room and to the door. Eight girls, each at varying stages of getting ready, some in full costume, others with only one accessory on, flooded with excited chatter into the living room space where each sat down either on the couch (which fit 5 people at most) while the others found themselves a spot on another surface in the room (one on the carpet, another on the coffee table, while another leaned against my mini fridge where my roommate and I kept a modest stash of vodkas, wine, and a single bottle of Fireball).

“I heard SigEp is throwing tonight! We should go before the lines get long,” suggested Sexy Witch #1 to us over the wave of boisterous chatter, which immediately died down. I had already run over to my bathroom to put on my bald cap and was beginning to carefully draw on the most artful black-brown eyeliner mustache, fit for the Museum of Modern Art might I daresay.

“SigEp THEN KSig. They start at eleven I think, which is earlier than SigEp so we can just dip when Sigep gets too crowded,” recommended a higher pitched voice, which I presume must’ve been Sexy Cat. The group murmured in approval while my roommate emerged from her room and made her way to the living room, fully in costume with a bright yellow hat perched upon her unchanged hair, prompting another wave of excited commotion, turning on the living room speaker to blast pregame hits.

I’d finished my upper lip and chin staches. Time to put on the sunnies, leather jacket, matching leather shorts and the man persona. 

Stepping towards the living room where the girls were already beginning to take shots of vodka, an eruption of joyous screams sounded in approval when they all turned their heads towards me, and both my arms and subsequently, my body, were pulled down by the two closest girls to each side of me so that I’d find myself sitting in between them in the pregame circle. 

In the 30 minutes we spent in the apartment before going out, I chose to forego alcohol for the night, an unusual choice from my end. Sure, I could likely still enjoy the present even when inebriated, but, knowing it’s impossible to remember every single occurrence in the night, I wanted to remain sober enough to remember as much as I could. I’d been thinking of studying abroad in Europe next fall, so this could very likely be my last college Halloweekend. What is life if not one big incessant attempt to grasp the memories that will mercilessly slip through your fingers regardless?


“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I yelled in my roommate’s ear over the booming bass of Baby Keem in the SigEp basement. In the sea of dark figures whose silhouettes I’ve only been able to make out with the help of the flashing rave lights, I edged into a small corner next to a fan and open window with the rest of the girls I left the apartment with. 

“DO YOU WANNA DIP? KSIG MAYBE?” screamed Nat into my ear. I grabbed her arm, a response signaling the affirmative, and used my free hand to grab Sexy Cat’s arm, who grabbed Alice in Wonderland’s arm, and so on. Girlhood is forming a human chainlink as you wade through the sea of intoxicated Penn students, some busting their ass on the dance floor, others making out with each other viciously against the wall, in a crowded frat basement to make sure you didn’t lose one another. 

We made our way out the front door, down the stairs which we earlier prayed we’d even have the chance to make our way up, now awed at the even longer line waiting to experience mediocre frat music for the sake of living through college Halloweekend. Sexy Witch #2 was stumbling and giggling along with her #1 counterpart, arms linked together as we all walked towards the KSig frat house on Locust. 

On the way to our next destination, a couple of figures (namely a Barbie, a Pickle Rick, 2 Sexy Angels and a Beer Can Samurai) shouted “DALÉ” at me or asked if I was Pitbull to which I responded with an enthusiastic yes. I was proud of how well my low effort costume apparently looked judging from the quantity of “MR. WORLDWIDE MR. 305!” shouts from others. More importantly, I can randomly emote as Mr. Worldwide himself would without others thinking I’m an absolute maniac. After all, it’s Halloween and in terms of things that are socially acceptable this weekend, anything goes.

After about 10 minutes of dragging the more intoxicated members of our gang along the sidewalk, we’d reached KSig, which was, as I expected, barricaded to prevent the masses from breaking in and exceeding capacity. There’s a certain exclusivity to being let into a frat party that’s equally intriguing as it is stupid: when you’ve been let in, you feel pride, mentally scoffing at those who won’t be savoring the same privilege as you, even though the party you’re going into will likely be subpar, and when you’ve been told to take a lap, you might feel a bit of annoyance, even embarrassment if you really think about it. In short, it’s really fucking stupid. I took a full scan of the building which had been covered in faux cobwebs and flashing holiday lights, and for a split second I remembered the first time I came here two years ago during freshman year. Nat, back then a new friend I’d only known for a week, had dragged me along, convincing me that it’d be fun to go frat hopping for our first Halloweekend. Though I’d never told her anything about the state of my emotions, I realize that she must’ve sensed something was off despite not having known me long enough to know how I was doing. She accompanied me the whole night, from inviting me to her sports team’s pregame to leaving her friend group to go to KSig with me, and holding my hand as we ran in the rain down Locust singing Michael Jackson songs while it was pouring rain in the middle of October. We were girls together that night. When I returned home then, I brought with me a certain contagious warmth from my companion, a second thought about my otherwise unmoving perspective on life. It had been long since I experienced compassion like that. I almost forgot what it was called. She would’ve never guessed that I was 2 days from the deadline I’d set for myself.

I was once certain I’d never live past 18. Today, I’m 20. I’m with the same girl at the same frat we went to during our first Halloweekend and 8 other girls, each having profoundly changed the trajectory of my life in their own ways. How lucky I am.

I stepped towards the barricade and to my surprise, one of my good friends was on door, who, upon spotting me even in a bald cap, greeted me with a hug and asked me who I came with to which I responded by looking back towards my group. He opened the barricade, greeting us all with a “have fun out there ladies.”

We could already hear the bass and make out the Rihanna song blasting before we went in and rushed to the center of the crowd, joining the flock of costumed college students jumping up and down with red Solo cups in raised hands over the crowd. The space was so crowded that a visible cloud of heat had arisen. In the all too familiar frat darkness, I could smell the alcohol on everyone. Tequila on shitty Zeus. A White Claw on the second Barbie I’d spotted tonight. I hated the sensation of sweaty skin rubbing on mine and laboring to breathe in the same musty air as everyone else. But I was alive! Oh, the joy of the dance, corny and awkward as it may be. What use are our bodies if not to use them to move and dance. 

Alice in Wonderland suddenly grabbed my hand and screamed in furious excitement, jumping up and down as the rest of the group joined her in screaming, some also taking a hold onto my arm. I heard the booming baseline to Pitbull’s “Hotel Service” long before I could realize that Alice in Wonderland had screamed for that very reason. The commotion we’d stirred had caused our surroundings to turn their heads and also realize what had happened. It seemed as if everyone had gained a hive mind as people took a step back and, in the dark, made the largest dance circle they could for me after recognizing who I was dressed as from my bald cap and skillfully drawn facial hair. I wasn’t a good dancer by any means but in the moment, it only felt right for me to shake it as hard as I could as the crowd raged.  


Part 4: November 11th, race day

Oh fuck what did I just get into. I was staring off into the paved concrete ground, both hands on my hips, kicking my legs forward, one at a time, but not too far or else I’d kick the people in front of me. It’d been a few weeks since I’d focused on present living. Since its commencement, I had slowly come to understand more concretely something that I’d always known: life has no inherent, objective meaning, but to create meaning as you see fit and to feel the emotion that comes with that meaning, what a gift! Does running a half marathon count as a source of meaning? We’re about to find out.

My airpods were blasting a familiar house music song, Peggy Gou I think. I glance to my left, my right, then turned around behind me, met by thousands of runners, each with their own race bibs safety-pinned securely onto their puffers, jackets, asses or legs; I belonged to this last category. I can’t remember the last time I was awake at 6am in Philadelphia, aside from pulling an all nighter a couple weeks ago. Armed in the black puffer jacket I usually only wear at the rink, a generic pair of black leggings, a slicked back ponytail and a pair of purple Brooks which were my favorites during my high school cross country days, I took a couple of breaths to calm myself down. I was, in part, excited, and partially anxious. Anything could happen during those 13.1 miles, let alone this being my first half marathon. A stress fracture from running too hard, throwing up, passing out, who knows which one of those fates awaited me long before the finish line? 

The announcer’s voice (a man in his 70s with a hint of a Long Island accent) boomed through the speaker system set up along the entire length of the road leading up to the starting line, reminding us that we had 2 minutes remaining until the 10 second countdown. From my position, over the heads of brunettes, blondes and a couple of brightly colored reds and blues, I could make out the entire front face of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rocky Statue against the pink skies. It was still too early for the sun to peek out from the horizon. The couple next to me were sharing a pack of energizer gummies in preparation. I was armed with nothing but the leftover rigatoni bolognese I’d wolfed down this morning and Justin Bieber blasting in my ears.

Once again, I heard the announcer’s voice and this time, the chatter of the crowd surrounding me died down, anticipating what he’ll say to us next. Everyone was holding their breath. The announcer gave his opening speech, welcoming us to the race course which were the streets of Center City, congratulating us for coming this far and giving his thanks to the volunteers. All right, almost there. This is it. I can’t believe I was crazy enough to sign up for this. What was I thinking?? As he neared towards the inevitable countdown, I felt an all too familiar uneasiness creep up from my stomach, washing up in waves, each bigger and more intense than its predecessor. Even in the cold, I could feel the heat radiating from my cheeks and ears. I caught myself breathing too irregularly and began to breathe manually. This is only a race. You’re only running. It’s not about the result. When I didn’t see any signs that the nerves were subsiding, I became a bit worried. The tension was expanding, pressuring the walls of my chest, and each breath I took worsened the pressure. Everything was building up. All at once. 

The countdown had started. At this point, I’d been so lost in thought that I didn’t even hear when the announcer said “1” over the speakers; I just ran as soon as I noticed that the masses around me had begun to move. As I made my way down the hill at an easy pace, the swelling anxiousness in my body remained just that, nothing more. The sensation was deeply discomforting and bothersome, and it was still at its peak. But it felt the way booming frat music sounds when you’re in the bathroom: still unabashedly present, but muted no matter how loud it gets. It can’t hurt you.

In the 10 minutes that passed as I ran, cautiously adjusting my pace according to how my body felt, the discomfort eventually subsided, a subtle reminder that everything in this lifetime is fleeting, including the negative. 

I continued running, never stopping, striding at a comfortable pace and accelerating every couple of minutes. My feet hit the curved road with ease, with a certain stability that could’ve only been built through months of training. The chilling morning frigidity that I once felt was now replaced by the warmth generated from my movement. What if I just looked straight up at the sky? I threw my head back, still running, curious to see what the space above me looked like. I don’t think I look up at the sky enough. The immensity of it. It could just swallow us all up whole if it chose to, this big, endless mass of dull pinks and vibrant blues with emerging clouds. To be alive and have the privilege of seeing this is such a gift.

Mile 2. Alright. Steady. During a long distance run, usually around mile 2 or 3 is where your breathing feels the worst. Even with my steady pacing, I began to feel the mucus building up in the back of my throat and my lungs struggle to keep up its regular oxygen intake. Oh god. Did I just not train enough? A flash of doubt broke my focus, and I slowed down my pace even more to allow my body to recover without stopping. 

The woman I’d been running alongside surpassed me, brunette ponytail swishing in the air as she left me in her dust. But this isn’t a race against her. It’s only for fun. What use is this life if not for fun? I allowed more racers, once trailing behind me, to surpass me as well during my minutes of running at a slower pace. Most were middle aged. I’m happy I’m young.

We were turning a long corner in the road, one that allowed us a fuller view of the Schuylkill River that coursed along with us. The heat of the rising sun bathed my entire left side, and my right side felt all the more bare. I’m surprised at the silence of races. No one is talking. All you can hear over the music in your headphones is intense mouth breathing and heaving, the occasional cough promising the possibility of vomit and the pit pat of running shoes against the blacktop. I wonder what everyone is thinking about.

As I settled back into my faster original pace, I fixed my posture which immediately alleviated the heaviness with which I breathed. My Spotify was now playing 2015 throwbacks and decided it was the perfect time to play “Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance. Not my cup of tea during a 13.1 mile long race but it’ll do.

Without the abrasive bassline of the previous songs, I could hear my strides more clearly. Newly paved blacktop sounds good on my feet just as it feels good. No haphazardly jagged bits sticking out. No worries of losing your grip like you’d have for gravel or wet roads. I was nearing mile 4 at this point, cruising towards the bright yellow, rectangular flag which marked yet another mile completed. About 9.1 miles to go. Good god, not even halfway. But this isn’t bad. 

Our course had taken us away from the city bustle and more towards the region of Center City closer to local parks and quiet highways. We’d been running alongside one, ginormous hunk of a rocky mountain, possessing a grey-ish hue to its uneven surface, clothed with moss and baby straggler weeds growing from the cracks. In surveying its body and curves as I continued my way along the race course, I realized that this mountain could not be anything else but a woman. Who else could stand here so proud, opening up her imperfections for the world to see, for the world to scrutinize, in all her beauty after years of being eroded by the storms that dared to come her way?

I’d been closely following a girl about my age, and decided that she’d be my randomly chosen stranger to help me keep track of my pace given that she doesn’t deviate much from the pace she’s running at right now. She wore her raven-black hair in a singular, long braid down her back which contrasted well against her mint Lululemon long sleeves. Curious to which brand of shoes she wore, I quickly glanced down to find that she was wearing Hokas. They looked comfortable. It’s strange. I don’t think I’d ever get to see her face unless she turns around or I pass her and look behind me. 

At mile 8, it had become a bright Saturday morning. I was listening to Drake when we made a steep roundabout in the woods. I couldn’t see where we were headed until after the left turn. The worst of the worst. Before me lay a long, winding uphill path, so long that I could make out the tiny figures at the very top of the hill, relieved of their temporary suffering, enjoying the downhill that followed. Now my turn.

I slowed down my pace until I was at a light jog, climbing the base of the incline. Not too bad. Breathing is okay as of now. Keep your feet under you, not too wide. This is hard. Keep going. Head up keep going. 

I’d finally reached the summit I’d dreamed of reaching just 5 minutes ago, now able to look down onto the wide downhill leading back to the riverside trail that I’d run along at mile 2. A tinge of nausea snapped at me, and in an effort to overpower that sensation so I wouldn’t vomit during this race, I opened my mouth. Ridiculously wide.

Breathing in the air as aggressively as I could. I stuck out my tongue, tasting the air. Lizards can apparently physically taste the air with their tongues. I hadn’t read anything about humans having the same ability, but what if I tried it out anyway. No one could see my face unless they looked back at me. So I kept my mouth ajar, tongue flopping loosely against my lips like a dog’s. I looked absolutely ridiculous. But no one here knows who I am. It won’t matter.

Strangely enough, I could taste the humidity in the air along with the faint aroma of trees and raw dirt nearby. It smelled like you just woke up in your childhood bed on a Saturday morning. You don’t have school tomorrow, and your biggest worry is if your recess days next week would be rained out. There’s a mourning dove out your window cooing, but you assume it’s an owl. You don’t know the sting that comes with regret or heartbreak yet, only simple joys found in putting on lip gloss and winning dodgeball during PE. 

Once I’d reached mile 12, I was still cruising at the same comfortable pace I’d found before, but I decided that now was the time to finish strong. There remained only about a mile left until the finish line, and I’d already completed the vast majority of the course length without it feeling like a huge burden laid upon me. It was 9 something AM from what I gathered in the millisecond glance made towards my phone screen in my hand. If there was any better moment to coast past the runners around me, now was the chance. I accelerated my current pace to one that rivaled my fastest pace during high school when I was in better physical shape, passing the braid girl with the mint green top. I never looked back to see what her face looked like. 

After a couple hundred meters, my quads began to cramp up. It seems that I’ve grossly overestimated my abilities, but now it’s too late to slow down. That would demolish my ego. This music is pretty shit. Time to change. I whipped out my phone in desperation and while still sprinting, I frantically typed in “Gangnam Style” and hit play immediately. 

The introductory bassline carries some sort of drug, one that suddenly triggered my body into what seemed like infinite stamina mode. I was ready to dance. And possibly throw up at the finish line if it meant that I’d feel the rush of the wind coursing through my loose baby hairs and sweat profusely in the heat of the glaring winter sun. 

I could now see the finish line fast approaching. So I passed the 40 something year old guy next to me in booty shorts and a gym headband. And the Asian woman with sick calves wearing a ¾ length pair of leggings. I ran until I felt the brick of nausea taking shape in my stomach. God I can’t believe this is the end. But shit my legs hurt. I think there’s a rock in my shoe. Nauseous. So hungry. So many people on the sidelines. I think I might cry. I’m so happy. BREATHE. Okay almost there. Music here is so fucking loud goddamn could they be any louder. 

I’d glided across the finish line in one long stride, and slowed down to a stop, heaving and gasping, hunched over in pain, walking slowly, feebly. The nausea had completely disappeared, but now every single muscle in my body had begun to seize up. 

Someone yelled my name from the crowd. I whipped my head around to my left, searching for the individual in the sideline crowd that had called for me. It was Eileen, my roommate from sophomore year I’d gone to Paris with.  

I let out a shrill shriek, startling the spectators that stood beside her, running towards her until we crashed into each others’ outstretched arms. Her warm embrace felt like stability against my fluid emotional state. Throughout the duration of the race, I’d likely cycled through over 10 emotions. Even now, as I’m utterly engulfed in happiness and pride, I still feel the urge to sob. I feel so…emotional. My period had just ended, so that can’t be what’s causing this. 

As Eileen took a hold of my arm to stabilize my hobbling in the grass amongst other race finishers towards the medal tent, she excitedly recounted how she’d been stalking my position on Find My iPhone for the past 20 minutes, searching for me amongst the finish line crossers, worried that she might’ve missed me to which I responded with equally excited chatter and began telling her what my last mile was like with a wide, toothy smile stretched across my face from dimple to dimple. 

It’s strange that I’ve lost most of my ability to walk considering what state I was in about 20 minutes ago. My quads, calves and entire torso had cramped up and ached so deeply that each step was one of agony despite not having had a stress fracture during the race. 

Eileen and I shared heartful laughs as I picked up my 3 medals from the tent, leaning on her for support, hobbling towards the water station together. Even laughing, my entire body ached. But without a doubt, I knew I was alive.

I feel so alive. 

I’m so happy to be alive. 


Part 5: November 20th, rage

Nothing particular had occurred the previous day to influence the way my morning had gone, but today was one of those days where I wanted the world to burn down.

Every single bit of it.

I’d thrown on a comfortable outfit consisting of a sweatshirt and one of two sweatpants I own to prepare myself for the bad day ahead. The material of the clothing was too much. I felt too much of it all. It was so constricting yet if I shed a layer, I’d freeze in the cold which would inevitably piss me off more. So I settled with the outfit.

In the bathroom, I attempted to tame the unruly strands which stuck out from the rest of my acceptable hairstyle. Even with water and too many hairbrush strokes to count, the strands poked out mischievously, almost taunting me for my inability to accomplish a single tiny task today. In frustration, I gave up. I’m going to be late for class. 

On the way to Williams Hall, I wore my RBF as battle armor, one that would strike a tacit understanding between me and a passerby who dared to make eye contact with me. Do anything to piss me off today and I’ll scream. I walk in a dangerously straight line down Locust, airpods plugged in but not playing anything, so I’d look more occupied. I’m feeling destructive today. 

How about we finish our walk down Locust by not moving aside for any men in my way. I read something, an article or post, years ago that highlighted how some men don’t move out of the way for others, particularly women, even out of courtesy, because psychologically they expect others to move out of the way for them. In hindsight, I’m not sure how accurate this scientific explanation was for this behavior.

I want someone to TRY bumping into me today, so I’d have an excuse to rage. The desire to feel anger this fully, this presently, was almost completely out of character for my otherwise relaxed demeanor. But it was part of the human experience and I was to not deprive myself of experiencing any emotions that came my way for the duration of the self-imposed experiment.

A tall, white guy wearing what looked like the typical finance bro, structured black backpack was in my path, heading towards me with the same speed as I was towards him. Looking up from his phone, he must’ve spotted the RBF as he made a quick swerve out of my way, and, upon my turning my head back in curiosity, swerved back to his originally planned trajectory. I trudged swiftly ahead, dodging a visibly stressed Asian girl walking with her arms crossed and head down. My first thought was that she’s also having a shit day. Onwards.

The next contender was an athlete, pushing his scooter along the wrong side of Locust towards me. Amazing. This is perfect. He’s got no phone as a distraction or excuse. Time to see what he does. 

We neared each other. I maintain the RBF, waiting for the moment he’d swerve around me as the last guy had done so. But that moment never came and my left shoulder clashed against his. For a split second, I felt the urge to glare at him and snap “watch where you’re going!” He turned around apologetically, but I’d already hurried off towards Williams. As much as I wanted to be an asshole, it still felt like a complete violation of my identity to do so to someone who hadn’t genuinely negatively impacted my life. It was just a bad day on my end. 

  Now, I’m sitting here in the study center situated just to the left of the entrance of Williams. I’m writing before my 1:45 French phonetics class and the sensation of typing feels grounding as I’m typing on a woody, solid surface so absent of emotion, only stability. I smell two day old ham. It’s a Philly Cheesesteak some guy in the corral next to me is eating. I can hear the crunch of his teeth gnawing through the toasted bread. He gets to enjoy a fulfilling lunch while watching some Spiderman documentary on his iPhone propped against the wall of the corral. Let’s not allow this to distract us from the fact that the stench is almost unbearable. The cheesesteak smells like a mixture of expired milk, sweat and a musky, deeply repulsive aroma. In my periphery, I catch him wiping his hands on his pants and resume hacking down the remains of his meal before crumpling up the aluminum foil which housed his cheesesteak, licking his fingers before rubbing his hands on his pants. Ew. This completely unassuming guy, probably my age, is less than one foot to my right. He has no clue I’m shitting on him here just because I feel a reason to be mean today. 

After my 1:45 and the subsequent 3:30 that followed, I dragged myself down the College Hall stairs, back into the cold air. At 5pm with no classes left, I walked aimlessly. There was no rush to get home or anywhere for that matter. But I needed to sit down. There’s something to be said about the fatigue that comes with standing vertically for so many hours in a day. I need to be horizontal. My center of gravity needs a good rest. 

I picked a bench near Van Pelt library, still within the scope of the public eye but less exposed than the ones on Locust Walk, set my backpack down on the brick pavement and spread my entire body horizontally along the length of the bench. 

I was once again face to face with the sky, a grumbling gray today. The sight of it humbles me, reminding me that my rage, however intense it is today, pales against the forces and masses which exist on this world that can easily wipe my being off the face of the earth. Breathing, as I noticed, was seemingly easier when you’re horizontal, and I couldn’t bother to figure out the reason. 

In freshman year, I took a music seminar on sound. Music, sound waves, the anatomy of the eardrum, anything that could possibly be taught to help you understand why sound was sound. The only piece of information I remembered from that class was actually not really a piece of information but rather an observation my professor made: each building, no matter where you are, has its own song, its own personality, its own vibration. The only way you could discern this sound from the sea of city noise is if you actually stopped to listen hard enough.

I wondered what Van Pelt sounded like. So I listened. At first I could only make out the distant, occasional swoosh, indicating when a car has sped by on the road nearby, as well as fleeting conversation bits from passersby. But underlying it all was a deep, ceaseless buzz, one asserting cold authority. I’d never noticed it before. Van Pelt was one gargantuan block of a building, and I found the vibration to be quite fitting to its owner. There was a secondary vibration, one with a more hollow auditory quality nearby. This one couldn’t have been Van Pelt. It seemed to have originated from the direction of College Hall, though unsure this was the sound from the building I left only moments before. 

The sky had begun to darken, and I’d forgotten that daylight savings set in. This potpourri of vibrations, layered on top of each other in dissonant harmony in this vast, vast cityscape was more than enough to ground me in my anger today. I felt validated. There was just as much chaos within as there was around me. 


Part 6: December 2nd, so it ends

“Y’all ready?” I asked the entire group of us waiting to get onto the ice. It was 10 minutes to show time, and we’d been allotted exactly 10 minutes to warm up. I received a collective nod and a couple of hesitant murmurs despite everyone wearing gleaming smiles, shivering in the chill of the rink. To that question, I would’ve also answered hesitantly. Anything could go wrong tonight.

One after the other, each of the 36 of us performers, fully dressed in our costumes and outfits, filed onto the ice as the crowd roared in excitement. I glided my way around the corner of the rink and turned around to survey the crowd. Oh shit. The stadium was packed like I’d never seen it for a figure skating show. There must’ve been close to five hundred people sitting in the inclined rows of seats, watching each of us take the ice and perform our warm up routines. I’d never noticed how massive the rink truly is despite coming here more times than I can remember in a week.

I scanned the crowd, looking for my friends, before they spotted me first, an entire patch in the huge mosaic of attendees letting out an uproar of collective screams, standing up and holding up colorful posters they’d made for me. I couldn’t help myself but double over in utter surprise, turning my head away from the crowd as I began to tear up, covering my face with both hands so no one could see the way my smile, cheeks, eyes and brows contort, laboring to keep myself from crying. Our tech team had switched the regular overhead lights to a purple, bathing the entire ice and all the skaters on it in a light magenta as the crowd let out a woahhh

I continued to make my rounds about the surface of the ice, gliding with ease as I’d done so hundreds of times over. Back outside edge. Prep. Forward edge. Jump. Exit. Stay on the ball of your foot. The green spaghetti strap dress I wore, adorned with two cascading layers of ruffles, was definitely not made for skating. But damn did the ruffles look cool as I spun in place on one foot, turning and turning so I could see the crowd, the clock to my right, then the opposing empty stands, the other clock, the crowd, the clock to the right, and again. 

The clock read 7:30, and some of us had begun to skate off to the backstage sideboards. I followed, snatching my long puffer draped on the rinkside and quickly putting it on to stay warm. The lights darkened, and Angie, the first skater, wearing a light blue dress with flowy princess sleeves she had borrowed from me, skated to the center of the ice, took her position and waited for the music and lights to start.

After, I’m at the other backstage entrance, stealing glances of the audience through our makeshift curtain, which was really just a black bed sheet hung over a pole. The number before us had just finished skating to “Super Trouper” from Mamma Mia, clearing and exiting the ice onto the other backstage entrance. I’m huddled with 11 other skaters, each of us buzzed by the cold and the adrenaline, slowly shedding our blade covers, jackets and gloves, and one by one, walking through the curtain onto the ice, taking our first position. At this point, my heartbeat had expanded to my throat, and the excitement overpowered all my other emotions that I couldn’t bother to focus on anything else except the joy of dancing on ice. I was face to face once again with the crowd, packed so dense that for a moment, while the lights darkened, I couldn’t make out any of their faces. It scared me just as it thrilled me. But I can’t mess up. Not tonight.

As the piano glissando intro to “Dancing Queen” sounded over the speakers, my face cracked into a wide smile as my muscle memory took over. You know what, I wasn’t going to trip or fall today. Right hand up. Glide to the right. Crossover. Bracket. Around fast to the middle. For a moment, I could catch a view of each of the skaters who passed me. Some wore concerned expressions, focusing on maintaining balance while turning from forward to backward on one foot. Others, like myself, seemed to have gotten lost in the joy of the dance. 

We moved into our next formation, two lines facing each other. I grasped my line partner’s right hand as we coordinated a one leg kick into the air before spinning each other around.

Night is young and the music’s highhhhh.

All 12 of us throw our heads back in synchronization, reaching our right arms for the stars, though in the rink, it was just towards the direction of the stadium lights. We quickly disband and perform our jumps around the perimeter of the rink before reuniting in the middle, clapping our hands together as the crowd followed our lead. Soon, we could hear the hundreds of claps setting a beat for the ending of our number.

You can dance, you can jive!

Having had no time between to recover from the skills we performed, all of us were gasping for air, hanging on just a bit longer to the end. 

Having the time of your life!

“Having the time of your liiiiife!” I sang along between gulps for air, moving my arms up and down in a windmill pattern while balancing on one foot. Celina, moving her arms in the same pattern to my left, must’ve heard my mediocre singing for she joined me, and before I could realize, the rest of the girls had joined along in this last hurrah. 

“See that girl! Watch that scene! Digging the dancing queen!”

And end pose. Don’t. Fall. Lights out. We’re done. You’re okay.

After our last bows, the audience descends on us from the stands and out onto the ice, and my own cheering group greets me with an aggressive tackle of love, a group that in my eyes are my chosen family. They held out the posters they’d made for me, allowing me to marvel at the intricate designs they’d drawn unseen when I was on the ice, now littered with flower petals. One had an anatomically accurate figure skater with accurate skate boot proportions sketched and traced over in bold black marker beside my name, decorated in bright red matching marker hearts and the words “you’re skating right into my heart.” I was speechless, touched and impressed at the same time, gathering them together in one big group hug, thanking them for coming this far from campus just to watch me skate.

I was greeted with a large bouquet of flowers, an arrangement of baby’s breath and sunflowers, from Eileen and Nat, who had wrapped the arrangement in a handmade covering cut out from a Trader Joe’s bag, taped together to keep the bouquet intact. Two of the people I love most. Thank you for coming. Thank you for all the love you’ve given me all these years. Thank you for allowing me to love you.

Lina had come to join us, bringing a bouquet of red and yellow dyed carnations. “So this is why you asked me what my favorite flowers were that other night,” I laughed as I embraced her and thanked her as well for coming. For being by my side.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder, prompting me to look back only to be face to face with Gloria and Jen. I let out a shriek as I tackled them, moved to tears by the sight in front of me. Gloria, an alumni now who I hadn’t seen in a year, had been the grounding rock of the figure skating club through times of conflict and drama, and Jen, busy with her senior year activities, hadn’t been to the rink in months, which I knew because her locker, situated next to mine, had remained unoccupied the entire year. Now, the two of them stood before me as I wrapped them both tightly with all the strength I had left in my arms. I missed you guys. So much. Gloria handed me a magenta rose and Jen a bouquet of red roses. Thank you both for thinking of me. 

I’m skating on the now empty ice. To any bystander watching me pace around the perimeter of the rink, soaking everything in, bouquets of flowers in the crook of my left arm and posters in my right hand, it might look like a lonely sight. The truth is, I’ve never been more fulfilled, knowing that the friends who came to see me tonight was, in a way, a physical reflection of all the love I’d given them through our friendship just as it was a reminder of the very same reasons I became friends with them. 

I glanced up at the clock which read 8:39. We’d booked the ice until 9. We have time. 

Interrupting my cadence of pacing and skating across the length of the open ice, I stopped at the very center of the rink, carefully laid my flowers on the roughened icy surface with my posters on top, and laid down beside them, both arms to my side. I’d almost forgotten about how cold ice is. Usually this sudden temperature change upon contact with my skin would faze me, but tonight, I didn’t flinch or shiver laying there. It had come to my realization that I had taken the same, vaguely starfish position I’d first assumed on October 23rd. Today was December 2nd, the reflection date I’d set for myself back then, one I’d almost completely forgotten about. Talk about poetic endings.

Laying there, I remembered the night I’d begun thinking about this whole project, agonizing over my apparent inability to live in the present. The truth is, I thought, over the course of these past weeks, I’d suddenly gain some sort of profound, groundbreaking epiphany I’d never known before, the one secret to living intentionally and meaningfully in the present without being pulled in a constant tug of war between past regrets and future anxiety. But the answer is actually quite simple.

The beauty of life, simultaneously the bad news about life, is that it never remains the same. You will never have the privilege of holding onto a moment for much longer before it slips past you in this large, large primordial soup of tiny people, places, human obligations and grand emotions galore. But that means that this too shall pass. When the bad days hit, they too, no matter how enraged you are at the sky above you and how helpless and pitifully insignificant you are in the moment, will pass, and become sucked into our ever-brewing soup of life. 

We are given bodies, hearts, minds and souls to feel and to share what we feel with the others around us. What a waste of a wonderful gift if we are not to use it to fully undergo the human experience, however confusing it may become. Sometimes nothing makes sense. Sometimes nothing feels right. Sometimes everything feels perfect. Would there be any meaning to this all if we were to deprive ourselves of indulging in the emotions that remind us we’re alive? 

“You okay?” shouted a manly voice from somewhere behind me. I hoisted myself onto my elbows which now bore the responsibility of keeping me balanced somewhat upright and turned my head back. Eric, brandishing two long brooms, stood at the other backstage entrance, about to skate onto the ice to sweep the flower bits that fell off from flower bouquets. I assume the other broom was for me. So I got onto my knees and, left foot first then right, got onto my skates until I was standing again. I picked up the bouquets and posters on the ice next to me, skated to the sideboards and laid them carefully on a bench, before gliding back towards Eric, greeting him with a big smile screaming “WE’RE FINALLY DONE!!” to which he responded by joyfully throwing his hands up in agreement, bellowing out a “YES WE ARE” which echoed throughout the empty rink stadium. 

Together, we sweeped up the ice, both of us still in costume. It didn’t matter that we were the only members of the cast cleaning everything up. 

Once every couple of sweeps, I’d look up to marvel at the sheer massive emptiness of the rink, the space around us. I couldn’t remember every detail that had happened since October, but I am content having felt everything to its full extent. There was no lingering regret of not having lived well, for I’d fearlessly embraced the rage, the emptiness, the joy and all that accompanies each of them. These past few months, this chaos, this insignificant significance, this whirlwind of emotions haphazardly rotating in and out of residence, felt like the death of something, something I couldn’t yet find the right words to describe. Yet, at the same time, I knew that it was, without a doubt, the beginning of something else.