It was 7:15am and I awoke to the sound of a muffled beeping, a chirp just loud enough to disrupt my REM cycle but quiet enough so as not to wake the rest of the hall. Everyone else was sleeping and would be for another few hours. I quickly pulled down the flowery duvet, before it was able to seduce me back into its rapturous delirium. Elsewhere, my peers continued to revel in their sleep, which I saw to be an indulgence. As I stepped my bare toes out of their cocoon and onto the cold tiles, their dreams lived continued. I wonder if someone down the hall was dreaming about me, if I had nestled my way into their subconscious, and their brain had built a story around my existence. I thought it doubtful because I hadn’t done much nestling into the lives, let alone brains of the people around me, but it was a nice thought to tread on.
As I stepped past my wardrobe any semblance of privacy granted to me by my ipod headphones and the plywood veneer of the wardrobe dissipated. This room, which was deficient of one wall, was not to be mistaken as one of those frank, open, loving places where roommates walk around in their underwear and tell each other stories of past lovers in the evenings. It was an uncomfortable collision of two separate spaces that just happened to lack a dividing structure. I looked over at my roommate, noting the absence of her obsessive, controlling, simple-minded, large boyfriend, who enjoyed throwing himself into the wall, further diminishing the structural integrity of the space.
When her eyes closed there was a goodness and innocence to her clear skin. Her dark and thickly defined symmetrical eyebrows framed her wide eyelids and bulky lashes, creating a first impression that was comforting, dauntless and pure all at the same time. I didn’t blame the brute’s obsessiveness, it looked like a face that you could melt into, a reassuring, well defined and outlined drawing that boldly stayed within the lines, like all her features had been fastidiously penciled in.
I walked into the bathroom and was greeted by an altogether different species, an image that was neither bold nor within the lines, it was a gloomy picture not remarkable enough to be tragic but too afflicted to be content. She was tortured. Her eyes were sunken and rather than their brilliance being highlighted by an outline of thick hairs, hers were surrounded by a purple sickly pigment. There was nothing shimmering about them, instead they gave the appearance of having been punched simultaneously with both an individuals right and left fists. That is also sort of what it felt like, like each night I awoke having endured another fight, manifested in the blemishes that encrusted by body and mind. The frustrating part was that while my other classmates were collecting bruises from bar fights, I felt the pain without the accompanying story. Without the college experience that I had heard my parents, the television, my cousins and music talk so much about. The bruises were not the result of an immature inflation of self-confidence or a naive experiment.
These marks would not teach me my identity or how to become an adult; they weren’t tales to share with friends and laugh about later; they were not the foundations or proponents of a legacy. They were, as they appeared: marks of affliction. The fights weren’t waged on the basis of lost love or a traitorous friend, they were waged to make an already small girl feel even smaller, and I was both the victim and the perpetrator. I was waging a war against myself, in a battle that no one could ever win. I gently ran a comb through my hair, the gentleness was partly because it was all my weak arm could muster and partly because I was watching my hair come out in clumps and fall to the floor.
I took my shirt off and ran my fingers down my bony and indented stomach, feeling my ribs poke through my thinned skin. Bones protruding where muscle and fat used to take its place.Despite seeing the reflection of my hair matted down against my forehead, I decided there was no time for a shower. I had already spent three minutes and forty four seconds admiring my emptiness, while my half-filled word documents were neglected. I had a 750 word essay on the pitfalls of technology due the following day, a calculus quiz that I was unprepared for, and a cogency analysis of an argument that I had yet to identify. My mind tumbled into the abyss of concern, over things which had little bearing on the world, but seemed, at the time, to represent the world in its entirety.
Fishing through the puddle of clothes on the floor I stood on, I pulled up a pair of pants over my legs and put on a sweater, with a lack of intentionality that I believed to be atypical of college girls fashion choices. I used to care. In high school I used to go through my clothes and catalogue all the pieces of my wardrobe to facilitate effective pairings. I even created and crafted my clothes myself, but now I had other more important outlets to focus my intentionality. Now, I didn’t care. When I experienced moments of feeling tired, dizzy, disoriented, or overwhelmed, which happened more often than moments of peace, I would imagine the red felt tip marks scribbled all over the page. I would take myself back to the moment when everything changed. The moment when everything that once seemed fixed and stable, collapsed. Before that moment, I had no idea that three innocuous digits could shake my world so drastically. Only in hindsight, did it cause me to realize how broken and shaken my world already was.
When I first arrived at school and stepped out of the car to be greeted by singing, costumed students it took every will of my being to hold back my tears. I felt the anxiety travel from my twisting stomach and surface in my tear ducts. I plastered a smile on my face, that probably more closely resembled a response to a dentists’ order to show all your teeth, than it did an expression of genuine happiness. The first week was an extension of that smile; it was a facade of enjoyment and ease from a tense and strained body. It wore me down and each time I tried to introduce myself to someone I was forced to silence the voice inside of me, drowning out the noise that reminded me that people wouldn’t want to be my friend, the noise that said I was nothing more than an object of criticism.
At the end of that week I was exhausted, worn down by my strained effort to appear excited and the all-consuming fear that I was incapable, inadequate, not intelligent enough to succeed here. And so, on my first assignment I collapsed all of my energy into its creation. An hour did not pass where I was not examining the status of development in Haiti. I jotted down notes from the shower and would only pause momentarily to grab food from the cafeteria before resuming my position crumpled over the computer and fitting bites into pauses between paragraphs. Since, these pauses had become obsolete.
When the study group dispersed and everyone headed back to their rooms at midnight I tiptoed into my dark room and listened to the snores of my roommate or the unidentifiable sounds of her and her boyfriend rolling about, and continued to type until I could no longer feel the adrenaline and cortisone rushing through my brain and I collapsed into an unsatisfying and hastened sleep. While others had simply composed a 750 word essay, my document housed thousands and thousands of words; these characters gave me comfort. They were an insurance policy of sorts; they served to reassure me that I had more than I needed, that I was in a better position than others, that I was prepared. It was a false comfort, a strategy I used to manufacture a sense of security and stability, by reminding myself of what I had always known to be true: that I was a master of words and that despite my ugly face my mind was beautiful.
A week later, the assignment was given back. He called my name and I walked to the front of the room to be bestowed my fate. I clutched the paper and folded over the top half without so much as a glance, knowing that I was not ready to read the markings. When I got back to my half-space of a room I opened the sheets and took a breath before allowing my eyes to meet the page. Tears fell in a steady stream for the next 3 hours. It was the breaking point beyond which I could no long sustain the strained smile. It was an affirmation of all of my worst fears. The one area in which I had always excelled and prided myself on was false; I was a fraud; I was inadequate; I was unworthy; I was stupid. When this destructive, cyclical drilling finally abated I vowed to work harder, to be better, and to prove to my professor, that he was wrong. Anything extraneous had to be cut: calls home, messages to my friends, food, any semblances of normality or sources of pleasure or enjoyment had to be abstained from. The narrative of most college students’ first year stood in stark contrast to my own. Sex, drugs, alcohol, partying and the freshman fifteen: for most it was a year of indulgence a year without foresight. My life, on the contrary, was operated by anxiety and stoicism.
And so I functioned for the remainder of the school year on thoughts that were always half-formed and a stomach that was barely half-full. I turned myself into a machine, a robotic creature void of emotions, human connections and satisfaction. Satisfaction was the enemy, I could never be satisfied, because that would stop me from moving forward; it would stifle me. I could not slow my pace, if I slowed, I would fall behind; I would falter; I would fail. So I led a life without fullness; a life where desperate hungriness and painful emptiness drove me forward; a life where an apple a day was sustenance not starvation. I surprised and impressed myself by how functional I became; how the gaping hole in my middle made me feel powerful and in control. I was surprised by how easily my mind could be manipulated, and how quick my body was to follow suit.