Post- Magazine

half-faded, but alive [narrative]

on spring and fading away, or holding my past self's hand

Lately, I’ve been watching myself disappear again. I remember the feeling, achingly familiar, like the warm hug of your covers when you know you’ve slept too long past your alarm. It used to cling to me constantly. My freshman year of college, at any given point, I wasn’t sure whether I existed. It was something about being in a new place all alone, combined with life being confined almost entirely to the virtual world. Sometimes, people would acknowledge me in the hallway, or on my way down to the OMAC to get my COVID test (the one variation to my routine, which was otherwise confined to my dorm room and the Ratty), and I would jump—responding to their friendly greeting a half-beat too late. Could they really see me? Were they sure I existed? I imagined ghosts that return to haunt the world of the living and run into a medium on the street that feel somewhat the same way. Wait, did that person acknowledge me? They can speak to me? Can I speak back? Oh, I’ve forgotten how to use this rusty tongue! Mostly, the people on my floor ignored me, and I was left to roam undisturbed in my dazed, lonely state.

I similarly witnessed my first Rhode Island spring as a ghost. The sun started to stay out longer, daffodils and snowdrops popped up through the frozen earth, magnolia blossoms burst open all over campus. Everything and everyone seemed to be coming to life again. I would go outside, lie in the grass on Ruth Simmons Quad, and listen to cheering and laughing voices echo from the Main Green. If I squinted my eyes just the right way, I could imagine the spring sun slipping in between the cracks where my soul had already started to disappear, melting the rest of me into the soil, mixing with the roots of the flowers and relaxing into nothingness, no longer this half-body-half-nothing. Or else I would dip a cautious finger into the bloodstream of so-called college life—eating spoonfuls of Del's frozen lemonade on the campus center steps, telling myself over and over again that I, like everything else, must come to life with the sun. 


On other days, I’d lay on my bedroom floor for hours, staring up at the humming fluorescent lights, unable to convince myself to get off the floor and into bed. Or else, in a desperate attempt to convince myself that I was, in fact, alive, I’d leave my room at 3:00 a.m. and walk down to the Providence Pedestrian Bridge, letting the pinch of the night cold lure me back into the illusion of my own body. I don’t know how to describe those walks, except to say that they were the times I felt the most whole, and also the times the bitterness and emptiness inside me would most threaten to explode. I’d sit by the edge of the water, watch it glisten, and try to hold my mismatched parts and heaviness. Stare at the lapping river, let it stare back at me. Dare it to tell me what it saw in my dark, sad eyes.

I don’t take that walk anymore. When I do walk at night, I turn instead to India Point Park, let my feet trace paths that haven’t been tainted by a shadow of freshman-year me. I have grown so much since that horrible, nightmarish spring—settled into myself, found people to hold close, mediums who look into my eyes and tell me I exist there, and I believe them. Looking back over the past four years, I have moments to hold tenderly and sweetly—moments when I felt so very alive and so very sure of my own existence. Wearing fancy clothes and spinning in giggly circles the night of Campus Dance my sophomore year with my graduating friends, then lighting sparklers on the lawn in front of our house and drawing hearts in the air. Lying on the roof and looking up at the stars. Making pancakes in the kitchen in the early Sunday morning sun. 

And yet, this specter of my freshman-year self continues to haunt me, just out of sight, pulling at the edge of my peripheral vision, daring me to make eye contact. Especially on warm April days, I feel them whispering in my ear, threatening to pull me down. I’m not you anymore, I want to say. I want to hold them close, tell them it gets better. So much better. But I know they wouldn’t believe me. In many ways, in their darkness and emptiness, they are still so much stronger than the fragile, beautiful life I’ve tried my very hardest to build here. How do you know it won’t get worse again? And they’d be right. I don’t. I don’t.

This April is the saddest I’ve felt since freshman year. I’ve been finding myself constantly on the verge of tears, gritting my teeth through work meetings and classes and collapsing in a weepy heap on my floor as soon as I get home. More often than I have in past years, I’ve been getting startled by people saying my name, looking me in the eyes. The tell-tale signs of slipping away. And there’s something tantalizing about it, the desire to end college the way I started it, alone and ghostly under the late-spring sun.

But I refuse to let myself make spring the season of disappearing. Truly, it’s not right that so many things in our lives end in spring—how am I supposed to reconcile the way everything in the world is coming back to life when I’m left gripping at incomplete endings and goodbyes? At the beginning of this month, I got my heart broken in a way that shattered me from the inside out, sent me flying back into the comforting embrace of freshman year me’s: See, it wasn’t even worth trying. I told you it would end up this way. Two days later, I got a sword framed by two daffodils tattooed on my sternum. Symbols of spring, of rebirth, of getting cut down and coming back again anyway. I’m trying to think of it as a way to reach back to my freshman year self, to hold their hand through the harshness of the spring sun. To be gentle with them, and beg them to be gentle with me. Sure, maybe it’s a curse, but I’m sorry, honey, we’re just going to have to keep coming back. I want this April to be something other than the second-worst April in my life. If anything, maybe it’ll be the one that teaches me to live—half-faded, but live anyway.

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