Making Me Over
When he shared the news with me over the phone, I maintained my dignity, switched instantly into friend-mode, and told him he needed to pursue her. Never mind that as far as I know, she’s scheduled to have an arranged marriage. Or that I don’t believe he actually knows what love is; he’s a twenty-three-year-old male, my mother says, and that means he knows nothing. But during those first several days, no rationalization could make the pain go away. I just cried, and then played the same stupid sad songs to try and console myself. I wrote more than fifty pages in three different journals. I drove my roommates crazy talking about him and overanalyzing the relationship. My best friend Amina said I needed to just take the hit, suck it up, and I would be all the better for it. She said she is not depressed over the break-up because she is excited about what’s in store for me. She said that with graduation just six weeks away, I should be feeling like the “world is my oyster.”
But I’ve never been very comfortable with that kind of uncertainty. I prefer to be in control. When I arrived at Harvard five and a half years ago, I was a seventeen-year-old brat who thought she had it all figured out. I believed if I could micromanage one aspect of my life, or maybe two, everything else would fall into place. I would suddenly have everything I ever wanted. The unfortunate part of my strategy was that I didn’t have a clue what ‘everything I ever wanted’ was. Not one single aspect.
At that time in my life, however, I could easily catalogue everything I didn’t want. I didn’t want to do things just because I was supposed to. I didn’t want to have to explain myself. I didn’t want to be ignored or told I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t want to risk failure. I didn’t want to depend on anyone. I didn’t want people to love only the picture-perfect version of me. I didn’t want my resume or my ethnicity or my religious background to be the sole definition of who I was. So I spent the next several years rebelling by any means necessary. I mastered a type of self-destruction I’d discovered years earlier by starving my body and spirit into a permanent state of emptiness. I spent half my waking hours perpetuating my chaotic life and the other half doing damage control. Every late paper was perfectly balanced by a tearful meeting with a tutor or TF. Every missed section was legitimized by a choice of doctor’s appointments. For all the activity I was engaged in, I was still in the black.
I took a leave of absence from the College on two separate occasions. Each was a necessary move at the time, but simply “being away” wasn’t the answer to my problem. After all, I had to bring myself with me. Over the years I went through all of the appropriate therapies and programs, and each one helped me a little more than the last. Eventually I had all of the tools and information to recover, but I had lived that way for so long—ten years at that point—I kept fighting to preserve the boundaries of my little comfort zone. I was terrified of what life was like on the other side. I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other and move forward into a world that seemed so uncertain. Then one day I just got tired of living in fear.
It happened this summer when I was living in New York City. I was dealing with loneliness the same way I always had. This time around, I was trying to fill myself up with shopping. I browsed and bought and returned all summer long, as if one of those H&M tops or pairs of black slides would move me closer to the place I wanted to be. I spent hours trying on and trying on and nothing ever satisfied me. I was always upset by how things fit. Never thin enough that day, or if I was, I knew it might not fit as well two weeks from then during the bloat days. The whole process was just so masochistic. I thought about all of the undue stress I was putting myself through, all of the time I was wasting. Eventually I just got tired. I didn’t want to keep schlepping up and down Fifth Avenue undoing the damage on my credit card. What I needed was some semblance of inner peace, not another going-out shirt.
Now inner peace isn’t exactly something you pick up at the local CVS. At first, I wrote a lot. Then I danced. Then I tried yoga, and I changed my diet. I even ran the Boston Marathon. Then I stopped caring about what people thought of me. I got angry, and I got vulnerable. I let friendships go deeper. I allowed myself to risk loving someone. All of a sudden, the “uncertain” didn’t seem so scary. It felt liberating.
In many ways, my graduation in a few weeks represents the completion of what has been a rather arduous journey. There was a time when I wondered if I would ever make it, as did my mom, my dad, my sisters, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my friends, and my roommates past. I believe now, however, that every bump in my convoluted path must be considered a blessing in disguise. Six different sets of roommates have produced a handful of friends I know will last a lifetime. Every job and internship I didn’t get left the door open to explore new options, even if only by default. And though I’m graduating three semesters late, I, unlike many of my friends, actually know what I want to do with my life. At least for the next fifteen years or so.
I’m more than ready to give up certain aspects of life at Harvard—like final club parties and walking to Vanserg and spending the night in somebody else’s twin size bed. I could do without writing papers, too, especially the English ones. But it’s harder to let go of those two hour long dining hall conversations—always about the same topics—and the sense of community and the likelihood that every one of my peers will inspire me to reevaluate the way I view the world. It was harder than I thought to let go of FM, which has been the sounding board for my ever-changing creative voice here at Harvard. When I stepped down from my executive position earlier this semester, I never anticipated I would burst into tears. FM is important to me. My time spent writing and editing is some of the most rewarding I have had at Harvard. But I have never regretted my decision.
Here is my most important lesson learned. Whether or not one believes in fate or God or karma or coincidence or Newton’s Law—everything happens for a reason. Most of the time that reason is something out of our control. So if uncertainty is really the only thing we can count on, is it better to embrace it or to shy away? The answer, in my opinion, hardly renders me powerless over my future. Right now, I’ve got one foot in the door to the next phase of my life, and I’m poised to kick.
Debra P. Hunter was an associate editor of FM last spring. In addition to her reign as half of Quincy House’s ultimate power couple, Deb also enjoys meditation, hip-hop booty-shaking, big football players, carrots, peanut butter and raisins. Her future will be filled with fan-mail.