Panda Express

Me: *finishes final exam of the quarter, tries to brainstorm available friends I can grab a meal with before my flight tomorrow*

*10 mins later, I open text message*

Me: Hey hey are you still around today or tomorrow?

Friend: Aw a friend has an end of the quarter party off campus. I’m going now.

Me: Well have fun at the party. I’ll just eat at Panda Express

Me: By myself

Me: With myself

Friend: For yourself

Friend: Bro this is harsh, but lone time can be important

Me: Yea, story of my life

(Paraphrased)

When I finished checking out my Panda Express order, I threw the fortunate candy into the trash. I don’t believe in luck. I don’t believe in the false humility people tell themselves, then others, in order to hide their own weakness, especially in a generation of social media platforms and the attention economy, what I think of is nothing but collective insurance against nihilism, 21st century priests preaching capitalism and consumerism. Suddenly, everyone’s the center of their own universe; everyone’s the new hottest commodity that everyone else is trying to get their hands on (after you put on the dress in this ad, that is).

That said, when it comes to friends, it is true I opted for a monastic lifestyle last winter and spring quarter, steered clear from my dorms and human contact for as much as I could, sleeping in the 24/7 study room and occupying my mind with as much academic material as I could. Underneath the studious, ambitious good student facade I put on in front of my acquaintances, truth is, such was again the case this quarter. I took 5 major courses to occupy my mind with theorems, algorithms, and code because the alternative would be to let it sink into the same hollow abyss that is now its default state, in which it sees no end.

Freshmen winter and spring was when friendships began to deepen, when “cliques” and “squads” consolidate after a quarter of non-committal, casual and exploratory activities. I too attended a variety of events, talks, reached out to many professors, shopped a lot of classes. I too, had all the right things going for me, from making acquaintances to shipping my apps to pitching at a hackathon, to starting a research assistant role, to working out daily to having meals with more faces than I can recognize today.

The only difference between them, those who have built up and now enjoy a healthy social life, those who get invited to gatherings and parties, and myself? The same difference between two pedestrians in a car accident. One felt nothing but a breeze and woke up to the same routine the very next day. The other woke up in an emergency room, or worse, didn’t.

The thing about breakups for an introvert (especially an intelligent, reflective one, prone to writing long proses on a blog no one reads) is it’s not an explosion that’s over the very next day. It’s a gnawing process that eats away your brain like a tapeworm infestation, that tears away at the fabric of your worldview that forms the foundation of your judgement, a kind of 365/24/7/24/60 recurring nightmare that stabs repeatedly at your heart (except you don’t wake up when you die in your dream). It’s like a nuclear leakage, the kind that leaves behind radioactive waste, contaminating the air and all life sources around it with dosages of cancer-inducing ionizing radiation. Only Chernobyl victims will understand. Unfortunately none of them will be reading this. They’re all dead.

If that doesn’t sound fun, then imagine if the orchestrator of all this terror, is not forces of nature that we mourn posthumously against, but someone just like you. Someone who understood you, who empathized with you, who cared and was intimate with you, who met your stare lying on top of her with a stare equally curious, mirrored in personality, origins, and thoughts, who tied the ends of her universe to yours, drawing you in slowly to her den, promising, reassuring, and pledging to you her eternal love and care. Someone for whom you swept all premonitions away to clear the way towards a future of loyalty and prosperity, and just as eagerly as you swept under the rug the red flags which manifested in the relationship did that someone pull away the carpet underneath to reveal the floor trap underneath, to reveal to you that you have not been walking up the red carpet to the steps of the marriage hall but to the precipice of hell, that all the singing bells you heard in your head were not those of the choir but that which tolls at the gates of hell to which she has the keys to, because she came from the opposite side of it.

Perhaps it is nonetheless my fault that I let such a lying, hypocritical, unfaithful, derelict, nihilistic, deceitful, abhorrent sociopath into my life. Yes… it’s my fault I attract demons, a very reassuring thought.

Since the breakup last time this year, since my life took this devastating turn, I’ve put up resistance. I didn’t back down without a fight. Last Monday, I crushed the same finals I slept (in bed with the demonic ex) through last year, have retook and passed the other two courses I failed that same quarter in which she flew over and visited me. I figured out my career aspirations, progressed in my major, took interest in new topics the study of which help me re-establish my understanding of the world, developed new hobbies while rediscovering old ones (from days before everything happened), and perhaps, most importantly, began living “by myself, with myself, and (as my friend helped me finish), for myself.”

Do I regret my decisions in the past? Yes.

Do I wish I could go through the same thing over again? God no.

I’m not going to comfort pill myself with any of the same assuring lies that tore me apart, because to me, the first step to living for myself is being completely honest, the cogito ergo sum, because I know this is what separates J who still have the courage to live in this world and she who comes from the other side of the gate, who adopts the logic of hell with the alternative truths and self-serving rationalizations. The journey to redeem and rebuild my life the right way takes precedence over the need to have others in it, even if that means having to eat Panda Express alone on a Friday night at the end of the quarter.

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