Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.
About a month ago, I ran into my former college professor across the crowded stretch of España Boulevard, and almost instantly I thought to myself “what are the odds?”
It was a Friday. The night was fading, the lights were screaming with urgency, the engines were belching with smoke and sadness, and all the while I was drowning in the ocean blue horizon of nameless people and stranger faces.
From the passenger seat, I watched wistfully as their expression turn from red to black to blue. You could paint a picture with that palette and surprise yourself to see the portrait resembling your own image. If you lean close enough, you could trace the sound of their marching band—lonely little soldiers parading with perfect cadence into the trance-inducing music of the traffic jam, the wasted hours.
I got off from my ride to join their lonely procession. I tread the busy streets like a phantom: tired, hungry, and lost. And it was then, almost as if it was a dream, that I saw him, inching closer and closer and closer to my direction, until it was no longer possible for space to deny the fact that he was there—my former college professor, a former person in my former life.
I wanted to run and turn right to the nearest block where I could hide from his sight, or walk swiftly past him and pretend that I was in a hurry. But did I do it? I didn’t. Instead, I allowed myself to be honest and threw myself into this perpetual fear of facing my own history, or at least someone who was once a part of it.
I said hi with all the eagerness of a young child and talked to him about ten million things all at once. I asked him how he was, what he’s been doing, when he was going to finish his dissertation. I could feel the red brick of a wall piling up between us before I realized that it was the trappings of time that was making it impossible for us to talk the way we used to. I realized that I was no longer a student and he was no longer my professor, and that we are basically just strangers to each other now.
He asked me about work and told me about how they thought I finally went abroad, to which I laughed almost as if it was the most hilarious thing in the world, because at some point it really was.
I told him I severed my connection with everyone and decided to start from scratch all over again, on my own. I told him I had to put my plans to waste because life happens. I told him I wanted to study, to teach. I told him I failed most of their expectations, and that I was, at most, an accomplished failure.
But I didn’t tell him about the time I suffered from a mental breakdown a few months prior to graduation and how I went down with clinical depression after I left the university. I didn’t tell him about the time I wanted to run to his office and ask for his help because he once said that if I ever need someone to listen, I could come by and talk. I didn’t tell him about the countless attempted suicides I’ve had for the past year, the last one nearly killing me for good.
I didn’t tell him I was trapped. I am trapped still—crawling, dying, screaming, inside the hell of a prison that is my own mind.
When we parted ways that night, something cracked inside of me all over again almost as if I was going through the same horrifying torment one more time. I wanted to stay there, under the heat of those orange street lights, and never come back to the present anymore. I wanted to speak to him for as long I can verbalize this wordless madness of mine. I remembered saying how glad I was to see him and knowing that I meant every word of it. I remembered making a promise to drop by his office soon and thinking to myself what a liar I was for saying that.
We ended in a handshake. I felt my own frigid soul melting in the warmth of someone who is still alive and breathing. I walked straight back to my graveyard and he, straight north of my consciousness.
This is the part where the ghosts are supposed to mourn.