It must have been a couple of weeks after settling into yet another year in high school. It was back in my junior year at the low ebb of my life. I remember it was very cold and damp that night when I went to bed. My brain ran ablaze with thoughts.
Losing track of time to that mysteriously blank portion of the circadian rhythm that we all must succumb to, the next thing I remember is becoming gradually aware of a piercing noise. It maddened the eardrum, pure sadistic torment made aural, and I jumped from the bed and turned off the blasted device. I let out a sigh and decided to get up. Unsurprisingly, it was still dark outside.
I drudged my way through my morning routine, time slowly ticking towards the second I would have to leave my house. Perhaps I could just not go today. But duty called, and again, as I had so many times before, I removed myself from my house, with time, and not space, as the barrier between where I was and where I wanted to be. It seemed the dizziest pipe-dream that this very evening, sometime before the sun, which was just now beginning to rise, should fulfill its oriental circuit and rise again, I would actually be back here in this same spot.
I made my way to the train station and stood waiting among the other lifeless slaves yielding to the specter of work who had the added humiliation of having to wait, (wait!), for the very thing that would take them to their pit. By the time it arrived, the features of the sky were discernible. Through some sort of divine intervention, the train was almost empty and I managed a seat where I dozed off. Lurching into a stop, the rumblings of the train awakened me. Feeling dazed now, and in the hurtful slow delay of the daze, [I was] aware that [I had] lost all track of time. Was I going to school? Was I coming home? It would be some time before I regained my bearings. I was indeed, unfortunately, going to school. A few stops later, having reached my destination, I bid a rushed farewell to the train and [hurried] through the misty crooked [morning] streets of [New York] toward brain-numbing boredom.
Just the sight of that monstrosity gave me shivers, but what choice was there. It felt like my brain was turned off as soon as I entered that building. There was a gray spiritless letdown, a doldrum-heavy crisis of the will over what one should do next. It is like a little death, one wants to crawl back into some wet womb and become an egg.
It droned on and on. The passing of time only recalled through the shrill shrieks of bells. It was hard to imagine that just a few weeks earlier at the same time of day, my world was so different. The two orders of [experience] are so different, so irreconcilable to any common norm of human values, their coexistence is so hideous a paradox, that one simply cannot understand how such a small period of time can cause so drastic a change of feeling.
But finally, I had made it through the easy half of the day. It was finally time for lunch. At least there was no work this period. The conversations here awakened an action I had forgotten existed, laughter. But even so, I found it difficult to whole-heartedly commit myself to enjoyment. I was too young, I suppose, and too ignorant to recognize the value of enjoyment and did not pursue it as much as I should have. In the midst of these joy-filled merrymaking activities, something about the entire situation __ and the high hilarity and all the glorious fun we were having filled me with such ruinously enervating gloom and then I realized that almost the one single thing on earth that I did not want to be forced to do was to sit through another pointless class. The small joy I had had was further shattered by the shriek of the bell and once again, I left my soul behind and walked into another class.
It really wasn’t the work that bothered me as I could easily spend a day doing nothing but working. It was the utter and complete lack of purpose that really troubled me. Every day had the same unchanging rhythm. Week, after passing week, was the same. I remember that in each class, as the afternoon minutes crept by, my sickness joined company with a kind of half-demented disbelief at just how unbelievably slow the hands of the clock revolved. Was it me or was time slowing down? I felt a deep fright and I wanted to get up and run away, but all I could do was sit there, remaining imprisoned for what felt like eternity.
But finally, after one of the many times I had consulted my wristwatch, I [discovered] with sickening suspense that only 20 minutes remained of class. 1200 seconds later, I recollect a feeling of release as the final bell allowed me to escape. Of course, it would be many hours before I would return home, but at least I wouldn’t have to sit through another class.
It was entirely dark when I finally entered the subway station to return home. The gross injustice I was subjected to by the Metropolitan Transit Authority is almost beyond explaining. Was I forever fated to watch my life pass by waiting to return home? Why is it that the particular train that I need always took the longest time to come? Finally the metallic monstrosity arrived and I somehow squeezed into the train among the crowd of people. I could hardly find room to stand, but at least I had made it onto the can of sardines. The beast taunted me with its doors, opening and closing, but never leaving the station. Finally the train gave a lurch, moved forward, faltered, stopped again, and a low concerted groan went though the car. A baby began to squall with hellish abandon behind me, and it occurred to me that in public conveyances fate inevitably positioned the single screaming infant in the seat nearest my own.
Thankfully, I reached home and even though I was certainly relieved upon my return, there was no time for relaxing. My dad answered the door. Although I felt better than I had at any other point of the day, I must have fallen into my despondent mood again, for I heard him say, ” what’s wrong, son?” I muttered something about a stomach ache, but he knew me better than to believe such a pitiful excuse. He began to interrogate me and my responses proved unsatisfying. He proceeded to give me a lecture on the usual nonsense. How long could he keep going on for? It seemed never ending. I can’t just leave while he is still talking. So writhing inwardly as I stood there, I held my breath and listened while [he] continued. A series of “okays” finally let me off. In retrospect I can see that it doubtless would have been unbearable to the point of imperiling [my] mind had [I] kept certain things bottled up”; I should have told him what was troubling me.
I sat down to begin my homework. There just seemed to be so much. I have the conviction every day that the current day will be the worst of the week, but somehow, it always seems to be worse the next day. It feels like I’ve been stuck in an infinite loop of misery and despair for as long as I can remember. The landscape and the living figures of [the previous summer], as in some umber-smeared snapshot found in the brittle black pages of an old album, had become more dusty and instinct as time for me unspooled with negligent haste even as only mere weeks had passed since it happened. These weeks had been stretched into what felt like years. There was no end in sight. At that moment, I just thought I must die — I mean, to die not so much for what [I had to] do but because I had no way of saying no.
But why I was so miserable I did not understand. What was I doing wrong? [I] began methodically to philosophize about how I came to be in such a wretched state. Why did I feel like such a failure? I had convinced myself that the reason for working to such an extent was for a better future, but what good would it do if I tortured myself before I got there. Would I really feel lifelong fulfillment if my research eventually led to [discovering] a cure for cancer? Would this suffering be entirely gone if I got into Harvard? Life surely doesn’t rest on small scenarios, such as college acceptance or the results of your research. Certainly there must be more to life. Somewhere I must have made the wrong decision: the decision that the only source of happiness is success. Clearly this proposition was not getting me anywhere, but what could I do, it was all I cared about.
The problem, I realized, was perception. There wasn’t anything actually wrong, it was my attitude that needed adjustment. Instead of viewing the world through shaded lens, I should be living in it. Instead of questioning the purpose of everything I do, I should be enjoying it even if I would rather be doing something else, because it is something that I cannot control. Negative thoughts will only cause more suffering.
It all sounded very convincing to me. All I had to do was think I was happy and it would actually happen. Of course, it would imply that I still retain all of my responsibilities and all of the work required, but I would be removing all of the stress and the loss of direction. I would know exactly what I’m doing, and that would be having fun.
The next morning, it was like old times again. The daily routine began anew as if nothing had ever happened — while I was still tired and upset from being forced awake, the despair had all but disappeared. I felt like the spring, where the heavy burden of winter has been lifted and the fresh aroma of budding vegetation fills the sweet, warm air. The train ride was entirely inconsequential. It didn’t matter that I had to stand, or that I had to wait a long time. There was nothing to be upset about. It seemed then that my miserable temperament was actually quite humorous. Nothing at all had changed and yet I was becoming quite unrecognizable from my former self. Over time, perhaps, it will all become a distant memory.
Amanpreet Kandola, Age 17, Grade 12, Stuyvesant High School, Silver Key