freedom in quarantine, and a hunger for magic

Over the past year, I’d been tormented by a single something that had found its way into every one of my thoughts. It had nagged and tugged, begging to be considered, calling out sometimes, and whispering in others. For a long time I ran each of my aspirations and plans through it, and it made it difficult to see what I wanted my future to look like, and what I’m willing to do to get there.

Really, it wasn’t as dreadful as I make it sound, maybe not even at all. But I know that I didn’t really want it, but I had made it an obligation and committed. I’d committed to it initially, when I hadn’t an idea what that year would bring, then it built up with the days and the months until it was unbearable. It was my turn to beg, but I couldn’t possibly pull myself out of it.

But a thought passed by my mind a couple of evenings ago; it was quick and faint and fleeting. What if that thing just undos itself, ends and crumbles before me, while I uphold my perfect, pristine sense of commitment.

I’m a terrible person to myself, so hellbent on fulfilling obligations that are often just excruciating limits I bring upon me. A sane person would at least try to remove themselves from a situation which clearly brings them distress, but me? I couldn’t, it was unthinkable. I’d committed, after all.

But then it did, it ended itself.

And God, I was so overwhelmed with a shower of complex feelings, with profound relief, and happiness twinged with disappointment. I think I was sad at the thought of parting with this thing that I’d tossed about my mind for an entire year, or maybe I was sad at the time I’d spent worrying about it, just for it to eventually vanish into thin air.

Right now I’m still trying to get used to this newfound freedom. I’d once read comparing toxic relationships to a bad toothache. My relationship with that reality was similar: painful, I didn’t want it, but I feel its absence now that it’s gone, and I continue probing that gap with my tongue, trying to make sense of it just being not there any more.

And no, it wasn’t a bad relationship, and it wasn’t something as horrid. It was a huge step into something I’m so unfamiliar with, such uncharted territory, something I was so scared of, and most importantly, something I wasn’t ready for. It’s over now, and I should probably stop giving disclaimers (lol).

Since my metaphorical shackles broke, I’ve been craving all things magical. In fiction I found myself seeking forest sprites and elves under odd mushrooms, old spirits haunting the woods, fairytales. This penchant for fantasy is very unlike me, so stern in the books I read, recently having been stuck in the “if it doesn’t benefit me or add to my knowledge, I don’t want it,” nightmare. I’m just feeling free of the harsh judgement I held towards myself; maybe it’s why I let myself want the childish magic I’d loved as a kid.

In real life I’ve been thinking of what comes next, finding it okay to have dreams and aspirations, unapologetic and unfiltered. I had taught myself to want the bare minimum just from the fear that I’ll want something and never get it. And while I’m still far from perfect, I know that I’m learning to take myself less seriously everyday, to fear rejection less, and to want more. It’s painful and scary, the thought that things I so deeply desire might not be mine. But hey, what if someday, they do?

 

Short Story: She of the Depths (1/2)

Like her wholly-marine counterparts, the Angler siren was conceived from destruction. A vicious act brought her to life, the disintegration of another, the utter breaking of flesh and bone. Like her wholly-marine counterparts, she’s been wed to the depths since her beginning, condemned to be bound to its cold and its danger. But unlike them she rose from the breaking of spirits too, and unlike them she isn’t a creature of grotesque features, of frigid eyes, and teeth protruding, sharp and threatening.

In truth, she is the complete opposite of that. 

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Dystopian mornings in London

I tragically fell into the habit of visiting a certain coffee and tea house every morning.

One of the very few things I know about myself for sure is that I’m a creature of habit. Routine grounds me, prevents my mind from running off into whirlwinds of worry and doom about there not being enough time (time for what? I don’t know, really, but I always feel like I’m about to run out of it.)

So when I realized that my sanity depended on the little chalkboard that said, “Coffee room open,” before the staircase that leads to the basement, I knew I was deep trouble. The fact that this certain coffee shop was a whole 5.5 thousand kilometres away from home wasn’t about to make anything easier.

(For the better part of 2019, I lived in London. I stayed there for another month and a half of 2020, but I didn’t develop this infatuation with that coffee house until the last two weeks.)

But I still went everyday, tormented by the thought that I’ll have to tear this part from my daily life soon. My mother joked that I met a lover there; that would explain why I was so dedicated.

(I didn’t.)

Inside the coffee house is another staircase, steep and a few hundred folds as claustrophobic as one outdoors. It takes you down to the cafe, and it honestly is a magical, magical thing how descending down that narrow set of steps brings about new sounds and noises and light, a little morning tucked in a coffee-scented basement in London.

I would drink my coffee in peace, with myself and everything else. I’m such a conflicted person inside, an anxious, angry mess. But I don’t think about it, or about life and what it may bring. I just have my flat white in such a serenity so foreign to me and the constant grinding in my brain.

This may sound incredibly romanticized, the half-hour I spend in a café being nothing more than daily routine to many. But it’d become a sort of ritual, a cherished and private escape from myself before anything else. I would read a tragic non-fiction book, Midnight in Chernobyl while listening to its audiobook, because I like it that much, and because Russian names are very difficult to keep track of.

In a sense I didn’t become unaware of the madness of the world above that little basement, but I just for a half-hour detached myself from it. There’s no dystopia more vivid than this reality– and I can’t tell if it’s a coping mechanism, our brain’s final attempts at grasping whatever thinning strands of hope it can find, seeking comforts enveloped within this world, hidden in its folds. But if it’ll spare me the torment of all this dread I’ll take it, delusion or not, for a few minutes of my day.

Reflections

I thought I’d be terrified of my 25th birthday.

I’m not.

On my 24th I cried while having my egg muffin and coffee on my way to work. I cried so much I had to wait for my nose to go back to its color for about half an hour or so. It didn’t feel vain, and I won’t regret it

Today I’m in a hospital room, looking after a family member with a life-threatening illness. It’s my birthday, and I’m happy. Silver linings are so bright through hard times. I’m happy she laughed today, and I’m happy she ate.

I’m not undermining my old sadness and struggles; I don’t have the right to. They honed me, I think, and prepared me for realer sorrows. I learned how to get over a bad day, and how to be patient, and how to validate what I think and feel. They all became weapons somehow, arming me as I struggle through the biggest trial I’ve ever found myself in.

My 24th wasn’t easy. I saw one of my greatest fears unfolding before me. But I braved it, and I’ve been braving since. I’ve pushed myself beyond my limits, and more than once pieced together my own brokenness and others’. I’m so incredibly proud of myself for the meaning I found, for being stronger than I and everyone else could’ve ever imagined. And to be frank, I owe it to my 24th year for making me realize that I truly deserve to be happy.

“It is a privilege to grow older,” a nurse told me yesterday, although she didn’t know my birthday was so soon. And it really is, I found myself thinking. A year ago I dreaded all the things I haven’t achieved yet, and how I’m falling behind in a virtual, collective timeline I put myself and others it. But what a comforting thought it is, that all will come, everything that’s yours will come in its due time if you work for it.

So this one’s to my 25 year old self, who sometimes feels too tired to be so young, and other times too silly to be so old. Raise your head high, and find your path. It will be there, always.

Today, I saw autumn

I come from a country that has two seasons: a scorching hot summer, and an only slightly cooler winter. As a result, the transition of seasons has always been a magical thought to me, a fascinating thing of dreams.

I found myself away from home at the arrival of autumn, owing it to less than favorable circumstances. I’d witnessed a glimpse of it before, once, when the school year was pushed back to mid-september, and we could stay a little longer in the colorful bustle of Freiburg, in the company of the lovely hydrangea flowers around the white window borders of our big blue house.

But this time I watched it happen, the whole of it, the romanticized yellow leaves falling into piles, and their crunch when crushed underfoot. There was a sadness hindering my childish excitement for what I’d thought was a wondrous shift of everything around me, the skies and the air churning into an unpredictable combination every day. I wanted to see humans change, too. I’ve always loved the cold, the way it turned noses red and hid them behind thick, wool mufflers. I yearned for the sight of the gentle hunched and huddled movements of people in ugly big jackets, and the urgent kick in their step when warmth isn’t too far away anymore.

That is still in progress all around, but it hadn’t been making me feel a thing (except cold, especially while being sick.) In carefully coordinated ‘Fall fits,’ I’ve been taking regular walks in a little park close to our apartment, to move my flu-infested body a bit, and to see all the good doggos out for their walk.

Today was windy, so I really shouldn’t have spent as much time in the park as I did. But I was particularly picky about which bench to choose, for no apparent reason at all. Eventually, I chose one hidden in a corner, where I could see the earth and the sky, and all that sits between them.

Then, it happened.

I don’t know what it was, and I can’t do it justice with my clumsy use of language. But it was a moment of stillness inside, of peace– a dream in every sense. I was no longer myself for a brief few moments, was something greater and I was nothing at all. Maybe it was similar to witnessing something when submerged; being aware of movements and the existence of sound, but not experiencing any of them. I saw the rush of winds sending blades of grass into waves, and felt the hushed whispers of dried leaves in my very being.

It made me feel alive, and there was so much joy in that, such beauty and horror at how rare it was, the stillness that is being alive and the momentary ecstasy that traced its footsteps. It was a tiny, violent thing that overcame me– a breaking of some sort, of my heart maybe, or of a curse.

It reminded me profoundly of a line that I’d once thought I understood completely, but have discovered that I don’t, not at all.

“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” -Donna Tartt, The Secret History