I’ve had trouble sleeping lately.
It’s the same reason we all have trouble sleeping — pondering the what ifs in our lives. An abortive friendship or relationship, perhaps, or possibly a long string of occurrences that seem to pass by without a sense of purpose. I suppose the magnitude of misery doesn’t really matter. Because lately, no matter how many of those tiny purple pills from CVS I chug with a glass of water in the hours nearing midnight, it seems that I can never stay asleep until the sun rises. Since my sophomore year of college has officially come to a close, I no longer have those immediate stresses preoccupying my mind. No more problem set due before 11:59 PM on Monday. No more deadlines for summer fellowship applications. I no longer have those distractions, if you will, to keep myself from thinking those thoughts that I cannot control.
In terms of the spectrum of things we can control and the things we cannot, there will always exist moments that will always go down in our lives as moments we wished we could have lived differently. For me, it’s a simple questioning underpinning all of my friendships that I could’ve had: What if you could control your feelings? The feelings of love and anger and confusion that seem to consume those friendships that I value so much — it all seems so estranged now in this moment of emptiness. Did I ever have a time when I could feel? Because, right now, it seems to me that I have reached a point in my life where I could no longer create new friendships. And while there are plenty of acquaintances I have made over the years, I feel sometimes as though I no longer have the ability to make people stay in my life.
All friendships have an expiration date. After a while, like a jar of milk, it’s a better decision to throw it away than to try to salvage it. A companionship could be a blazing three-month summer friendship, where feelings of intimacy seem to grow exponentially until the autumn leaves fall into the ground, followed by a series of permanent stresses, sweeping along the remaining embers into oblivion. It could be a four year college friendship, where opportunities seem to exist at every corner of life to bond people who would have never gotten along in high school, until the realization that the college friendship is a merely a product of writers in a Hollywood backroom. Or, it could be a seventy-year life partnership, where a closeness exists that is completely out of my comprehension from my experiences with those around me.
For me, it’s around three months, give-or-take depending on a series of circumstantial events that I may or may not have shared with them. A trip together could expedite the process. Sharing some insecurities here and there. Having sex. Experiences shared represent the cornerstone of any friendship because without a set of defining experiences shared between two people, a friendship can be considered arbitrary at best. Cohesion only exists when shared experiences are assigned a sense of meaning. And now, when I observe myself becoming more intimate with those around me, I cannot help but to think of it in terms of the same cycle that has ended some of my other friendships in the past. To me, the nature of friendship is cyclical.
I tend think of my friendships as a candle. The room, a symbol of how I view the world, is dim and murky. And sometimes, when a friend wanders into my life, the light of the candle illuminates the room with an air of warmness. The strange objects in the room seem less uncertain, less menacing, and for a bit, I feel as if the world does not exist in a state of perpetual alienation and uncertainty for once. The closer I feel to someone — the faster and brighter the candle burns — the more cordial I view the room around me. A sense of warmth paired with a sense of illumination. Until, at once, the candle burns out due to a short string of completely avoidable events, and I am left with the same gloomy room I started in, waiting for another candle to walk into my life.
I like to think of my life as a novel, with each figure and event in my life as a series of stories that create a chapter. In this regard, I try to re-frame every occurrence in my life as some sort of event that will contribute to my character growth in the long run. And the people who come and go in my life — they are also representative of chapters in my life. After all, they enter my life at a seemingly random moment in my character development, create a string of changes in my personality, and leave a few months later. It is so arbitrary, yet so personal. God as the Hollywood writer of my life, shaping story. Each friendship that I have made since college has represented a distinct phase in my life, paired with a series of pain that permeated through each phase. But, without a sense of justification, pain just becomes suffering.
And as long as I treat each friendship as a phase — as long as I don’t allow myself to get attached to an arc that has long passed — I can continue to let the plot of my life advance to the next chapter. Because, within the context of living life as a story, a blockage occurs when we become attached a specific phase in our life. A person, perhaps, that makes us feel more ourselves. More alive. Someone who makes us feel, for once in our lives, that we might be able to reconcile whatever traumatic events from our past and create an identity worth fighting for. But then, as per usual, friends make an exit as quickly as they have entered, leaving a shadowy silhouette of what might have been. The story continues, even if our attention does not.
I’ve heard from a couple of my friends that I shouldn’t think of my life as a series of chapters and plot points. And to their credit, it does make sense; thinking about the end of a friendship is no way to start a friendship. But, at the same time, is a sense of attachment worth the profound suffering that follows the disappearance of an integral part of my existence? Without attachment, there would be no needless suffering. Or, at least, so I have learned my introduction to Buddhism class.
If I had the ability to let my past go, I would be able to move on from my past and live the rest of my story. But, because I am still attached to certain aspects of my past, I cannot imagine a future where I would be free from the events of my past. This is the prison that I am in currently. It is a mental prison, where the I am both jailer and prisoner. It is an unfortunate arrangement where there is no escape. Willpower goes both ways; the more force I use to escape, the more force I also use to keep myself trapped in this prison. In this arrangement, the optimal choice is to let go of it all and lay down on the cold concrete floor, where I could see the cockroaches scuttling past, minding their business in their pursuit for food, water, and sex.
People move on. Memories shared between former friends would be shelved given the addition of new memories shared between new friends. And although memories cannot be deleted the same way that files can be deleted (almost) permanently from a computer, I sometimes wish they could. Because, those happy memories I have created in my past seem to be more hurtful than helpful within the context of my life. Although I also try to move on with my life by filling my existence with new personalities to distract myself from the silhouettes of my past, I cannot help but to cling on those memories as souvenir of a time I will never be able to recreate with people I will never again have a meaningful conversation beyond basic pleasantries.
And now, when I create those blissful memories with new figures in my existence, I cannot help but to fear how these memories would come to haunt me in the future. Because, while happiness is a temporary emotion, those memories of a more jubilant time would only serve as a point of comparison in a later time in my life, when my life returns to its melancholic equilibrium. These memories would only remind me that I would never be able to relive those intimate moments with people that have left my life long ago.
I question: Is any happiness worth it? What is the point of creating happy memories with people if it would only lead to more sadness later on? And although there are many aspects of my personality that I cannot control, how can I let myself get hurt when it is so easy to live life without ever experiencing happiness again?
Because, for me, it’s a matter of two poisons: sadness or less sadness. I enjoy the company of others as much as anybody, but how can I let myself fall into the trap of intimacy when I have repeatedly experienced its consequences? The pain of longing, simply put, is not worth the pleasure of acquaintance. Do I fear attachment? I suppose. But I also consider my fears to be the most rational aspect of my personality. To me, it’s a matter of alternatives. While it would certainly be ideal to create those joyful memories without an underpinning tone of sadness, how can I let myself appreciate moments shared with others seeing the sorrows that washes upon my shores when moments fade to become memories?
Maybe I am not letting myself be happy. Maybe I am dabbling in self-destruction. I suppose I won’t ever be able to have an objective perspective on my life, given the nature of perspective itself. But alas, I can wonder whether the life I am living is a life I want to live. The cycles of friendships entering and exiting, like a series of characters entering and exiting throughout a Broadway show — I can only observe these friendships as a series of aimless events to incite an emotional response within me. Because, in the face of an endless selection of individuals entering and exiting my life, how could I control the flow of my own life when I am merely an observer to the uncontrollable circumstances around me?
When I was in third grade, I ran out of my house into the dark of night for five hours after a heated argument. Since then, I have run away countless more times within countless more circumstances, always to text my parents the same four words: don’t call the police. Back then, I understood that there were some fights that I didn’t want to have, some feelings that didn’t need to be hurt, some fighting that weren’t fighting for. And, throughout my compulsory education, I sought to fight as little as possible because I thought fighting would only cause suffering. Since I have exited that phase in my life, I have tried to become more confrontational. But I guess there are some aspects of my life that will never change.
I suppose I could fight circumstance. I suppose there could be some sort of meaning in the struggle of swimming against a river with seemingly infinite current. Isn’t it easier to give up? Resignation, obviously, proves devastating for growth. But sometimes, I feel as if I would derive less sadness from resignation than allowing myself the luxury of hope. Because, hope only has a positive connotation when it leads to a result that creates meaning from suffering. Hope only has substance when it ties a story together. Without an end to pain, hope only causes needless suffering. While humanity viewed hope as the only good sentiment expelled from Pandora’s Box, I put it together with the evil.
And so, when I listen to hopeless fountain kingdom by Halsey the last couple of hours, I feel as if my emotions have some sort of validation. Hopelessness, as she says, is a state of mind. But it’s a state of mind resulting from a history of dejection. And when the hopelessness is realized, it becomes an ever-existing presence that can never be suppressed ever again. It expands and feeds other emotions, creating an overgrowth of sadness bearing from a singular water source. And soon enough, I become dependent on the hopelessness because the entirety of my emotions is dependent on a singular conception of a darkened reality. And like the weeds that follow, it soon consumes whatever conception of reality we had before.
I wonder if I have become discomforted by the concept of happiness itself. Like the freezing of cellular fluids within a frostbite victim, the sudden introduction of a warm point of contact would only permanently damage the existing frostbitten tissue. Instead, only a slow introduction of warmth is able to thaw a frostbite without incurring more damage. But with tissue that has been cooled without frostbite — tissue that has not been exposed to a sustained arctic coldness for a significant period of time — a warm shower would generate an immeasurable amount of pleasure. And so, in terms of how I should live my life, I wonder whether I have reached the point where I have been frostbitten.
That being said, some frostbites are untreatable and require amputation.