Her speech tires me. My friend is overflowing with feeling, but her effusing to me is effluent, contaminating the sympathy which her stories should—used to—invoke in me. Here I am, being asked for something which I for some reason cannot give. That unspoken request tugs insistently on me and I extend my sympathy as much as I am able but, still not having reached her, I feel it fraying, only leaving a film of emotional static between us.
As is often my impulse when my sympathy falls short, I deploy a dispassionate intellect—perhaps imagining it unfolding like a knife that will cut precisely through the film and fuzz. But urged on, it expands, distends, and so blunted and insensitive it descends into the conversation like a hammer. But an impotent one, because after it falls things remain the same: Here I am, being asked for something which I for some reason cannot give.
What I am being asked for is sympathy. There she is, overflowing with the art of her life where the actors are known not so much by their names as by their roles, where actions make up narratives which arc without regard to time or space. She spills her reality at my feet and urges me to swim in it—to see things as she sees them, to feel as she feels. But as her reality creeps forward and I push myself to just, at least, dip my toes in, there is a part of me that completely resists and binds me upright and still.
This is a reality in which I can’t bring myself to believe. I don’t doubt that the described events occurred—what I doubt is the way that they are recounted, reframed. As the conversation unfolds, as I observe the phrases used, the facial expressions assumed, they make me think of lines delivered by a character instead of a friend, and I feel myself being tugged along—led to the responses I should deliver from a script cobbled together from tropes and archetypes—the life we’ve been taught to live by novels, movies, shows. But I can’t do it.
As the school year faded and the structures which gave our lives daily shape by alternately hoisting us up or pulling us down followed it, it seemed that, as all the things I had spent my life on for the past year disappeared, I would too. And yet, still I remain. I continue to exist with nothing particularly pushing or pulling me besides a summer O-Chem class—which for me is less the pretest panic and more the quiet hours spent studying alone in a room behind a closed door.
Behind that closed door it is still. There is nothing else, no one else—only me sitting alone with my self.
Within our University—under its constant pressure of going through each day, each minute, each second, questioning—I suddenly crystallized. There was a pattern, a routine, a place, a role, a narrative, and life was simplified. The weight of each second lessened and, given a track, I sped down it. Life passed in a blur without regard to time or space.
The structures faded, the pressure eased, the crystals dissolved back into their original solution. Summer has not rushed by nor has it dawdled. It has been 58 days. Behind that closed door it is still.
It is difficult to hide anything when sitting alone with yourself. Looking back over the past year I see for the first time impurities in my crystallized self—where my eagerness to escape pressure resulted in planes perturbed and distorted under stress. I think about the delusions that rippled across the surface of my reality, the narratives I created, and those I subjected to them. I think of the persona I presented, the lies about my self I unintentionally told my friends, needing to believe in this beautiful, easier reality, even though our friendship itself was a pact to be true to one another. It comes roaring into my ears and without realizing it, I respond out loud—saying the words I wish I had said then, justifying the words I did say (I’m not like that!). But there is no one to hear me, and I cannot even convince myself—and so those words dissipate until once again I sit quietly, alone with only my self.
The things which gave our lives self-purpose and form just a few months ago were wonderful, important, vital. But we must be brave enough to exist without them. And if not with our friends, then when?
So, talking to my friend I think: We are friends, aren’t we? You don’t need to do this, to justify your feelings, to obscure who you are and how you are with stories and romanticizations. Here we are, so let’s be unabashedly honest about our selves with ourselves and with each other. Please, friend, speak truth to me, and I will do my best to follow.
Eleanor Hyun is a third-year in the College majoring in English. Summer Musings is a Viewpoints blog that publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays through September 26.