Early in October I broke down. I cried in the middle of class, my room became more filthy than usual, the gym became a distant memory, and I ate enough bags of hot Cheetos to burn a hole in my stomach. My roommates saw me cry for the first time and became worried when the tears persisted all day and night. I would scream in the middle of the day for no apparent reason, and rather than head to the library I retreated to the depths of my bed and our wine rack.
“I’m starting to feel emotionally unstable,” I told them.
“You’ve always been emotionally unstable,” they answered.
All jokes aside, my roommates cared for me in every way possible. They cooked for me and gave me endless hugs. But it became more and more difficult to counsel me. Like a string you pull from your sweater that seems to never end, my life began to unravel.
I received medical testing that told me my aorta was too large; I began to mistake academic feedback with judgment; capitalism became more and more brutal; I missed a week of school due to a bad case of bronchitis; my aunt passed away; I dealt with a heteropatriarchal health clinic that denied me free sexual health services; I began to reflect on the countless of deaths I experienced in the past few years; and I fell in love.
By the time midterms came around, I had two weeks of work I needed to make up. I rarely came home from the library, which prompted some girl to ask me if I was homeless.
“You’re always here, and you’ve been wearing the exact same thing,” she said.
I became increasingly exhausted, only napping never sleeping. And despite my best efforts, nothing I wrote sounded adequate. I felt immobilized, unable to move from this horrid place. I felt so absent of any agency that, for the first time in my life, I considered committing suicide.
“Failed lover. Failed student. Failed community member. Failed friend.” I repeated to myself. So, I ran to the only person I knew would love me despite such failure–mi mama.
I crawled into a throw blanket and sank into our couch the minute I arrived. My mother held me in her arms as I drenched her chunky sweater with salty liquid.
She whispered into my ear, “Eres fuerte.” You are strong.
It took my mom five minutes to join in on the cry-fest. Pain, the one beyond my own body and that surrounds us all, has always been especially difficult for mi mama y yo. We share the inability to see hurt without wanting the people experiencing it to know we love them, even if we don’t know them. We’re told we care too much, that we love too strongly.
“Does it get better, mommy? Can I stop loving him? Do people stop dying?”
“No,” she told me as she poured me a cup of hot tea made with herbs from her garden, “But you become better at dealing with it.”
My mother’s formal education was cut short, but her sentences still sound like poetry. Words roll off her tongue sweetly one minute and then sharply the next.
“Que vas hacer cuando regreses a la escuela? Don’t be stupid and go back to him. If he wants you, he should show you. Remember, you’re beautiful and you have work to do.”
She was right. After arriving to school, I started writing poetry again, went to the library more, tried to eat better, and started running. I made sure to keep my distance and let him come to me. Unfortunately, he never did. In the two weeks after I arrived back to school he made one attempt to see me. We hung out for an hour, and I knew I needed to change something. But I felt small, and wanted to wait until after thanksgiving break.
I returned home and instantly knew something needed to change. I picked up the phone, dialed his number, and told him how I felt. He apologized.
“I was just talking to my friend about this today. I should have tried harder, and maybe I should have made a bigger effort to want to hang out,” he said.
“That’s the thing,” I replied, “I never want to be in a relationship with someone who feels they have to work hard to want to be with me.”
I show people I care about them and that I am committed to them by ripping out my heart, placing it in their palms, and letting them explore. Because of this, I open myself up to torturous situations of exploitation and heartbreak. This time, though, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. I couldn’t blame him. He did nothing wrong; I just wanted him to show me he cared and he couldn’t find a reason why he should. I think the fact that I was unable to blame him made the pain worse.
Finals came too quickly, but I finished. I turned in all of my essays, actually received praise from my professors, and some of my impostor syndrome began to fade.
I’m starting to take things one day at a time. I only drink two cups of coffee a day (three if I promise I’ll skip out the next day), read novels I put off for way too long, write about the dead people I miss and love, call my mom more, I’m trying to hold onto him as close as possible without hurting myself, and try to go on as many runs as possible. Most importantly, I’m putting myself before my work.
I don’t think people understand when me and my peers say being a poor first generation college student is difficult. Too many people fetishize our struggle by wrapping it into a news article and erasing all of the torture and pain we get put through. I shouldn’t have to try this hard to feel competent; I shouldn’t have to try this hard to feel that I’m doing anything right. But there’s something about university and capitalism that makes you feel that despite all of your success, you still didn’t do well enough. And that feeling of incompetence oftentimes seeps into other aspects of our life. You begin to question your overall worth as a person, lover, friend, family member, community member, artist, and thinker.
My uncle is currently in the hospital, and earlier this week we went to visit him. The pain I see his family go through sometimes feels unbearable; I feel so helpless and it makes me frustrated. My mom and dad held me after we left the hospital, and told me they loved me.
My dad’s wisdom felt like it came from a self-help book, “Keep your heart open, mijo. Te amo tanto. Let yourself be loved. Obviously when someone tries to hurt you, do not let them. But the only way you’ll ever survive this world is by loving everyone and feeling loved in return.”
I’ll be okay. I know that. The amount of love and support people extend to me makes me feel warm and fuzzy most of the time. And I am trying to be better. But right now, at this moment, I am crying and mourning. I am sad. I am unable to write. I am unwilling to smile. And that, despite whatever the university, capitalism, or anyone might tell you, is okay. We’re oftentimes pressured so quickly into doing something about negative situations that we aren’t given time to heal. I’m starting to rebuild. And I might lose people in the process and my high GPA, but I would rather lose others and awards than myself.