Only yesterday, I was sixteen years old, fresh out of high school, clad in a black t-shirt, flared jeans, and blue Chucks. I navigated a strange new world far from the home I’ve always known and shared a tiny bedroom in a dormitory with a girl from the South who spoke her native tongue with those whom she shared it, none of them minding that the person on the opposite bed understood none of their laughter, their fears, their anger. We were each given a bed, a closet, a desk, and a floating shelf. The bed was reminiscent of hospital beds in a horror video game my father used to play, and thus evoked in me a slight terror.
Every day I would walk to class and back to the dormitory, passing by my favorite street, usually. In June the fire trees that lined it were at their most beautiful, ablaze under the end of summer sun, scarlet petals dancing in the warm wind before descending to the ground, only to be smushed by passers-by. We don’t have sakura in this country, but at least we have this, I thought.
Back then, I was convinced I was destined for greatness, until I flunked Natural Science I—the first of a few failures, or many depending on what counts as failure. One day, I sat on a bench by the Academic Oval after Spanish class and wrote a poem: La Soñadora. The title was in Spanish, but the poem itself was written in English because I also nearly failed Spanish and thus could not then nor now write in the language. I hung the piece of notepaper on which I wrote the poem outside my bedroom door and listened as other girls read it out loud, with some scribbling kind words of appreciation. I basked in words of praise. I always have.
I thought—no, I believed I could write better than anyone I knew, but this was before I was sent out into the world to discover there were people my age who thought of things I could only dream of imagining, much less put into words and lay down on paper. This realization hit me even harder—to a point of destruction where rehabilitation was no longer possible—two years later, when I studied poetry, shortly after which poetry no longer flowed out of me.
Yesterday, fourteen years later, I gained a greater understanding of how to be aware is to suffer, and thus concluded that my happiest days were those I spent blanketed in the comfort of youthful naïveté. Isn’t that what we are always told by means of an old adage: that ignorance is bliss? And if heightened consciousness only brought forth anguish, should one who desires enlightenment then be branded a masochist?
Acknowledging that there is and will always be someone and something greater than you is simultaneously humbling and mortifying; no different from gazing up a clear, moonless sky at two in the morning, in a place with no artificial light, and all of a sudden overcome with a sense that you are not watching, but are instead being watched by a universe far vaster than the mind has the capacity to visualize. You are but a speck of dust in an ancient, seemingly infinite universe. And like pedestrians unwittingly squashing fallen flowers of fire trees, aren’t we all merely passing by this corner of the universe?
We are but transitory, yet we obsess over fixity. We wish to be remembered long after we return to dust, so we craft a life we deem worth preserving, in writing or in art—a mere illusion of unattainable immortality and, I dare say, an act of self-importance.
My disdain towards humans continues to grow like a potted succulent sitting on an ideal spot on a windowsill. Our endless search for passion, meaning, and purpose, and our idealization of a life built around these only further divide an already disconnected species, segregating the victorious from those who have failed. We are at war with one another—we are at war even with ourselves—not realizing that all wars are a war against humanity at large, and triumph is meaningless if it benefits only some, much worse if it benefits only oneself.
Only yesterday, I was sixteen and did not know any better. I paraded the streets clothed in pride in my achievements, not knowing that ten years later they would amount to hardly anything, and that meaning in my life would be rooted in its impermanence and the looming of my mortality.