An Ephemeron Story (and I’m the bad guy, BTW)

I’ve had periods in my life where the ugly in me has really shown. This was one of my ugliest.

This story in particular has been sitting on my heart for a while, and I do this thing where I talk transparently to random people on the internet through blog posts. SMH.

Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

In other words, I know what I believe – or say I believe, or say I know it. And then I push my beliefs to the back of my mind when I’m clearly not acting in accordance with what I (say I) believe. Like how I acted towards J when I was fifteen immature years old.

I’m thinking, when I wrote Ephemeron, I did a disservice by only telling half the story – the part that didn’t incriminate myself. But then also, life is altogether too big to fit into one spoken word poem, so I forgive myself, and I’ll just tell the story here. Bear in mind that the poem Ephemeron is about multiple people/couples of people, and the story I’m about to tell involves only one couple.

I was in a best-friendship group for a full year with this dude called N. N is an amazing human being. He’s sweet, funny, kind and shares so many of my likes and interests. More than once, I have been introduced to a fascinating and enlightening part of pop culture, whether news article, piece of history, book series, music album or anything else. N was the best. (There is, by the way, no romantic charge here, as several people assume of all my Ephemeron stories. In any case, N is my cousin, and I have no incestuous interests.)

In our second year, the thing that changed was the introduction of an external factor: a girl called J. J was in the class right below us, so she was new. And she became, as far as I can metaphorically describe it, in everyone’s minds, the 3-D version of the thing I’d only been a silhouette of, among my friends; everything that I was but somehow better in nearly all aspects.

This was a period in my life when I had something of a snowflake complex. I made “weirdness” my god, and being “different” one of my ultimate life goals. Almost every time I got called weird, special or unique, I’d blossom with pride. (These were sad times, but adolescence does awful things to us in phases, you know.) The problem with J for me was how easily and effectively she destroyed my snowflake bliss by being too damn much like me.

People who were and weren’t my friends never seemed to tire of reiterating to me how similar they thought J and I were. I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase “You two are like the same person!” It made me incredibly upset. N had started spending way less time with me and far more with J. It was impossible for me to logically accept that J and I were equal, that we offered the exact same things out of our personalities or presences. If that were true, I reasoned, her arrival should have changed nothing about the actual dynamics of my life; the general reaction should have been more like, “Oh, you’re really cool, but we already have someone who does everything you could do for us, and we don’t necessarily need a duplicate, so we’ll just stick with what we’ve got.” (Foul thoughts, but I’ve had worse, TBH.) This wasn’t what was happening, though. In reality, people seemed to prefer her to me. That could only mean that there was something more that she was offering, which I didn’t have.

Back then, I didn’t have the (self-)knowledge that would allow me to name my affliction for what it was: intimidation. There were a lot of factors that contributed to my intimidation, and though I am no longer intimidated, there are some things I can’t yet pass off as completely false:

  • She was/is smarter than me
  • She read more books than me
  • She was/is prettier than me
  • She was/is better at making friends and dealing with people in general than I was/am
  • She had more musical talent than me
  • She was funnier than me, and kept my (then) friends more entertained than I ever could.

The list could go on.

I reacted in one of the most immature ways possible: going out of my way to be mean to her – out of no fault of hers. I almost wish (but kind of don’t) I could remember some of the nasty, unwarranted, malicious comments I threw her way during this time. I think it’s all so ugly that I’ve successfully managed to obliterate my actual words completely from my memory. Thank God for forgetfulness. But the snide comments were consistent. And there was some serious cognitive dissonance going on because every time I said something awful, the next second, my own brain would be like, “OMG that was evil and stupid – why would you ever say that?” And the shame would be acute, but consequently useless because:

  1. My pride wouldn’t let me acknowledge or act upon my shame in order to do something sensible like, I don’t know, apologize.
  2. I’d just go ahead and do it again the next day/next available savagery opportunity.

In this period, what was annoying me about N was that there were moments when it seemed like our relationship was returning to normal, when we could be ourselves again, when J wasn’t there. But it would only last for a few minutes because J had this uncanny ability to just freaking show up wherever N was, and whenever she did, N would rather discourteously leave me and ignore me for the duration of J’s presence. It completely baffled me how he didn’t seem to realize how he was hurting me.

I had one redeeming feature at this point in my life, though, and that was my ability to verbally articulate what was worrying me (in the instances when I actually knew how to define it) to the relevant persons. And so I told N of my woes. Sensible boy that he was, he agreed that something awful was happening with our friendship group (J was only one factor among the multitude of those fracturing us – but she was my personal biggest headache, because N was my favorite friend then, and shh, don’t tell the others), and it needed to be addressed. He even suggested we all have a meeting about it. LOL. A whole meeting, oo, imagine. Anyway, the meeting either never happened or was fruitless, and he continued to act oblivious to my pain – and I continued to be a serious prick to J.

I got increasingly bitter as a result of how good-natured J acted, actually. She behaved just about as oblivious as N was acting, and to me, that was honestly some BS. How can you come and steal somebody’s best friend, watch as she gets hurt, and be happy all through it? Even more annoying was how unaffected she seemed by my meanness. Like, at some points, it seemed like she was for real trying to be nice to me. See, it was not making sense. The thing about bullies (and trust me, I was a bully, just in a more subtle way than we see on American TV shows) is that they need you to be aggravated when they aggravate you, dammit! React! Cry in shame! Flinch! Show me that I have the power to affect your emotions, so that I can satiate my inferiority complex, yo! But she just kept refusing to drop the grace and retaliate. Nothing could have been more infuriating.

The world, or God, or whatever does the orchestrating, has a strange way of arranging the chess pieces of life such that things are sure to happen, whether good or bad. My divine orchestration came in the form of seating arrangements. My high school had set breakfast seating arrangements that changed at the end of every semester. Guess who I found on my table for a semester. Yep, that’s right: J. I had to see her face, sitting right across me every. damn. day. Unfortunately, my meanness went on.

…Until suddenly, one day, she’d had enough. It was during one breakfast meal. All it took was one of my stupid comments for her to lose it, and in about seven seconds, blast me for being so nasty when she hadn’t done anything worthy of such evil, tell me that she was sick of it, and that I better stop – and just like that, all my negative shame melted away instantaneously, to be replaced with positive shame, the kind of shame that actually incited me to repent and change my ways. It was like the breaking of a spell.

I surprised myself entirely with my reaction. Yes, I was ashamed, but it wasn’t my inferiority complex that responded to J’s tirade; it was the self under the complex, the one that had been suffocating, thankful for being spontaneously freed, who replied, “Why didn’t you do that earlier?” (Blow up on me, that is.)

And from that point onwards, it was an upwards process, fixing myself and coming to terms with my ephemeron in relation to N and J, both of whom are pretty awesome people, both of whom I am not particularly close to (anymore).

Is there a moral of the story? Maybe not. But if there is, maybe it’s something like “Yell back at your oppressors so that they can finally see sense.” But that’s probably not it.

Anyway, I hope I’m never, ever this ugly again. Low point. Very low point. Also, may God give me the strength to deal sensibly with fracturing friendships in the future. Amen.


Dark Heart & Mind #3 (Advice I’d give to a That Place-er)

Dark Heart & Mind [Files from between August-December 2015]: Releasing the hatred and depression of the last year, raw and beautiful. Don’t you dare tell me to edit or delete. Stifle me any more than I’ve stifled myself, and I’ll pronounce curses on you with my Ewe side.

Advice I’d give to a That Place-er

As I write this, I’m in my fourth year, and I do truly possess the knowledge that this post won’t be very helpful, since next to no one will read it anyway. But that’s alright. I felt a compulsion to write it, which I am currently giving into.

The target audience is any prospective That Place student, or any current That Place student in a class below Fourth Year. If you’re alum, this obviously doesn’t apply to you. I suspect most people will not even know how to relate to this, because, as I’ve been told, “I feel more” and my emotions and the lens through which I view life make certain experiences seem quite mountainous and turbulent to me, whereas for another, they might be viewed as mere anthills. But oh, the things That Place has put my heart through! In fact, let me stop and get straight to the point.

The first and most important thing I would like to say about coming to That Place is…don’t come to That Place. But, like everyone who makes mistakes they were warned against, you’re going to ignore me. So let’s go with the second most important advice I can give: remain healthy at all times, no matter the cost.

Your health, in my opinion, is worth more than anything else. Maintain it in EVERYTHING that you do. Trust me, in this place, it’s easier said than done – especially if you’re me. And when I say health, I mean it in every sense possible: physical health, emotional health, mental health, healthy competition (or better yet, no competition – ha!), healthy friendships, healthy relationships in general. I say this because That Place can put a lot of pressure on you – even before you get in. And when you do get in, it can be pretty scary when you feel like you’re the only one feeling strange or tired, or incompetent, because everyone else seems to be handling it so well. And then you put on your coping face and make it look like you’re comfortable too, unconsciously making someone else think that they’re the only person feeling uncomfortable. It’s a cycle. But honestly, more people than you know are fighting private battles.

Just because it looks like people are okay with their decisions doesn’t mean they are healthy for you. If 90% of your classmates do 10 subjects and you’re floundering, forget them – do 9 or 8 and be healthy. If your parents want you to do add math and the Us or Ds are unnecessarily destroying your self-esteem, drop that schizz. If your friends attend club meetings every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and you know you don’t have that kind of time on your hands, drop some. I don’t give a fly’s fart if someone else appears to be doing it all and more with ease – be healthy.

Listen carefully (and this part is hard, because even the hostel tutors may give you undue pressure which you will find it difficult or rude to resist): if you can’t handle all the dozens of thousands of hostel competitions – singing, swimming, athletics, volleyball, basketball, ISL, all the football cups, whatever – or if you know very well that they may have potentially incurable effects on your academics and/or your mental health, for God’s sake, resist the pressure and be HEALTHY. Develop titanium skin. Do not be shaken, no matter how much you are guilt-tripped.

The thing about these kinds of things is that people within the walls of That Place tend to act like it’s the end of the world, do-or-die. But the thing is, they are only “important” within these walls. I doubt whatever college you’re applying to will excuse your Ds or 2s because you were singing every night sakeof competition. And I doubt someone from, Whichever Other International School will give a toss about the size of cake you got at singing competition when you rehearsed for hours on end, lost, and cried for two hours – heck, they probably don’t even know what it is! Every time foolish things start to feel like they’re overwhelming you, just remind yourself, “It’s not that deep. Outside this toxic bubble, does it matter?”

That brings me to my next point: remember that there’s a world outside. People call this place free and unrestricting, but believe me, it can do more harm to your mental frame than you know. Things are magnified and escalated to ridiculous proportions, as if they concern the entire planet. That Place is microcosmic. Reminds yourself that outside exists, whether it means you need to roam about town every exeat or you need to listen to BBC every morning to keep up. When your friends start to act like the only alternative to prefectship is death, or like your friendship will terminate if you don’t vote them for SRC president or secretary of some club, or they start screaming at you because singing competition rehearsals aren’t going well…you just remind yourself that there is a world outside of That Place that doesn’t give a hoot about the things that distress your colleagues so much. Heck, think about poverty and world hunger, if that will put things into perspective for you. And no matter what, in the condensed chaos of school affairs, check yourself daily and do not lose yourself.

And so, that too brings me to my next point: don’t change; just grow. There are many things that bring out different, sometimes less admirable sides of a person. Whether or not they would like to admit it, monitorship/prefectship/presidency is one of those things. In their defence, it’s not easy to manage a group of people who insist on not being able to follow instructions for the sake of order and to be under the power of staff who make up rules and who use them for their difficult work like will-deprived puppets. People you’ve known for months or years may become jaded, quick, irrational, stressed; others may become lonely, consumed by academics, shrink in scope of thinking from a global level to a local-in-That Place level…some may lose interest in things that used to please them. And some people may step out of these four walls and be nearly entirely unrecognizable to their friends, because the containment has changed them so much. but don’t let it change you. But don’t let it change you; let yourself grow from the experience. By grow, I mean that anything that is added or subtracted from your being or behaviour should contribute to your benefit. When your friends intentionally or unintentionally leave you, grow into yourself, don’t become a bitter, malicious gossip. When academics try to overwhelm you and take over your leisurely reading time, pay no mind – read more so your mind grows in other directions and you learn how to rank things by importance without letting go of the things that make you healthy.

Never, for one second, assume that you are living in a society that actually works. Prepare yourself for the shock of injustice, and fight it when you can. When law enforcement doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to do things against the rules that do not harm or inconvenience anybody. It is a mistake to think that those appointed to enforce the rules obey them, as you will find our have found out already. Heck, the prefects are probably breaking more rules than you are. But there are injustices you can fight. The crossing of lines, the propagation of electoral propaganda, typecasting and stereotyping – stuff that matters. Rules you can’t help but break include those that you break due to the attempt to find a place to do all the world That Place gave you, without giving you time to do it. Whenever it is necessary, break the rules. Over and over again. After all, it’s That Place that will blast you for not doing the work anyway. They can’t have it both ways.

Care for yourself. You need to see yourself as relevant, and as important, because sometimes, other people will not do it for you. Shocking though it may be, the institution itself, for all that is said about it, is still just an institution, and institutions care about their reputations as a whole, more than they care about any particular individuals within them. The people it selects to represent them are not truly selected for their individuality, but for the way they will be able to represent the institution. But don’t let it stop you from caring about yourself as a person because they don’t. These four (or two) years may involve a lot of emotional turmoil. And when your colleagues and teachers are also experiencing That Place side effects, even those who love you more than most may find themselves too busy for you. Don’t let that make you think you’re unimportant. It doesn’t matter whether future students know your name or not; your existence is not dependent on how That Place sees (or ignores) you.

In times of dire stress, you may grow into hate with or completely tired of everything around you – the tiresome competitions, IGs, the dreaded IB, teachers may annoy you, classes may annoy you, classmates might annoy you. But be happy in the little things. Often, they are external things. Watch the dawn each morning as you go to pick up your towel from the drying line. The sky is gorgeous. As you’re walking at sunset, sometimes, stop and feel the kiss of the wind. Saturdays when your room door is closed and a sleeping spell seems to have been put on the whole school, revel in the quiet. When it rains in the night, smile at the torrential pitter-patter. No matter how small, there is always, always a reason to be happy.

When That Place gets too tiresome to think about, don’t think about it. Think about life. It’s bigger than the dreadful microcosm.


Dark Heart & Mind #2

Dark Heart & Mind [Files from between August-December 2015]: Releasing the hatred and depression of the last year, raw and beautiful. Don’t you dare tell me to edit or delete. Stifle me any more than I’ve stifled myself, and I’ll pronounce curses on you with my Ewe side.

The magnitude of my piss-off is so impressive I can’t remember having been this angry in such a long time.

It’s such a horrible thing when the people we love disappoint us with unfounded stupidity. I feel like I can never trust nor like anyone again. I neither appreciate the abuse of power, nor the unfounded creation of rules that don’t exist. Fourth Year superciliousness. Makes the Fourth Year prefects as bad as the [redacted] People Apparently Trained To Instruct who make up regulations about whatever pleases them. It is taking so much restraint (and a lot of failure) to prevent myself from bursting out in verbal rants.

I have never been oppressed so much as That Place has made me. Everything makes me angry. Everyone makes me angry. The environment is oppressive. I feel mentally and emotionally OPPRESSED. I need to graduate. Oh God, I need to graduate. I need to remove myself from the people who make me feel horrible. I need to remove myself from the microcosm that makes it seem like this small place is the whole world…

Right now all my hate is directed towards That Place. I hate it with such force that I wonder how I manage to last days after days in such suffering and unhappiness.

I would like to be on an isolated house on a hill. To be apart from people, to not have to suffer their company, processes and hypocrisy anymore. after all, how can you hate what you are never exposed to? I just want to graduate and leave, to emphasize that this place has no claim on me.

Before, I was unhappy because I felt like it had rejected me, like I didn’t fit even though I was supposed to. Now, I understand that I was never meant to fit in, and as such, I am the one who has rejected it. Even as I remain here for the final months that I have left, I have removed myself. Situational coincidence means I attend here, but my mind has denied it. I do not belong here. I have never belonged here, nor do I want to.


Dark Heart & Mind #1

Dark Heart & Mind [Files from between August-December 2015]: Releasing the hatred and depression of the last year, raw and beautiful. Don’t you dare tell me to edit or delete. Stifle me any more than I’ve stifled myself, and I’ll pronounce curses on you with my Ewe side.

What’s wrong with me? I’m tired of that question; as tired as I am of people not caring what is wrong with me.

What is wrong with me is everything that has been wrong with me for at least a year, every time someone has asked what is wrong with me. What can I say that is so new that you’ve never heard of such a problem before? And what are you going to tell me that is going to help my situation? Ultimately, the help, advice, comments everyone gives me, only amount to: “suck it up and deal with it, because I can’t offer you a way out.” And a way out is really the only thing that I want.

There is no point wasting so much time reiterating what is wrong with me, to people who will only tell me the same things. And, as much as sitting here and wallowing in my sorrow is unhealthy, I have no clue how to be healthy.