In Your Dreams

You push open that turquoise green painted door,

Feeling satisfied as the handle sinks down,

You peek your head in,

A smile creeping into your face,

And you rush in,

The words flying out of your mouth

Faster than you can think.

“You were right all along,” you exclaim.

“All those things you said and wrote to me…

I figured it out.

It doesn’t matter what others think of me

And it certainly doesn’t matter

If I lose half a point for incorrect sig figs.

Mistakes are okay because

I am strong enough to bounce back

And learn from them.

I just need to have confidence in myself

Because I am me,

And no one can be me

Better than I can.

But you knew this all along.

You were right, and you tried to tell me.

I was stubborn.

I didn’t trust your words

But now I can genuinely appreciate them.”

All this comes out in one breath

And with a wide smile stretching across her face,

She says “Paheli, I am so proud of you.

You no longer crave my approval

But you will always have my support.”

You could have seen and heard her

Embracing these words,

And ceasing to consider you

A worry and a burden.

But the opportunity has been lost.

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I Was Humbled

I was a privileged teenaged girl attending a fancy prep school in Los Angeles and I was brimming with ambition. The sky was the limit of the heights I could achieve if I set my mind to it. If I truly wanted something, I would have shoveled my way through the earth’s core all the way to the other side of the planet to achieve it.

From the time I was a little girl until my first year of college, I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be the top of my class, the best artist, the best swimmer, the best gymnast, and the one the teachers prized and the students envied. In high school, I was shy and seemingly modest and kind, but there was an ugly beast clawing inside me. I was still the little girl watching everyone from the corner of her eyes and comparing herself to those who were brighter, faster, and above her. I wanted to become a professor like my father, exceed his annual income, and win a Nobel Prize in a science related field. Anything less than a perfect record and straight A’s would be a disappointment.

My last year of high school was by far the most emotionally difficult. I felt disconnected from my friends and family and I dealt with depression, self-loathing, self-harm, and a loss of motivation to the point of hopelessness. My high school was an extremely competitive environment filled with many highly intelligent and talented students, and I came to the crushing realization that I was no longer the shining star I always thought I was and would be. This thought led me to the conclusion that I would rather die than be satisfied with imperfection.

My unattainable hopes and expectations ultimately led to my emotional pitfall. I expected that I could start fresh in college and cleanse myself of the mistakes I made in high school, but I quickly found myself lost in the immense sea full of bright students and bitterly disappointed.

People claim that the process of becoming a confident and mature individual does not happen overnight but takes time to evolve and manifest itself. I agree with this statement but I would like to add that for me, although the process took many years, I felt that potent “click” happen overnight. It was one of the most stressful nights of my life. I had never pulled an all-nighter in middle school, high school, or college thus far, but it proved necessary in spring quarter of my freshman year in college. I had a Humanities paper due on Friday morning, and before knew it, I found myself staring at a blank computer screen on Thursday evening. I was crouched on the living room floor of my cousin’s spacious white-walled apartment dimly lit by fluorescent tube lights. I took frequent breaks from writing my essay about the shift of the institution of marriage from the 6th Century to 12th century Europe. Hours flew by, and I certainly spent more time idly reading articles about my former school than writing. What shook my consciousness was a single picture I found on my school’s website. It was the same classroom where I had spent so many mornings. The same warm, yellow, homey light brightening the room, the same wooden desk on the front left corner, and the same turquoise green poster paper mounted with cards and drawings from various students thumbtacked on the wall. What I found subsequently made me dizzy. Zooming into the photo, I stumbled upon two of my old drawings I had so meticulously created at the end of my junior year in high school. She had kept my drawings!

I felt slightly disturbed by my own discovery – less about what I had found than the depths I was willing to dig to uncover my grisly past. For the rest of the night, I forced myself to focus on writing about the historic European institution of marriage. The next morning, I collapsed on my bed to nap after class, making up for the sleep I had lost. When I awoke, tears poured out of my eyes, plopping down like fast falling puddles. There was a hollow ache in my chest and head, but I finally understood why a simple photo had affected me so deeply.

It didn’t matter what grades I got, which prestigious institution I attended for college, what my profession was and how much money I earned every year. The only thing that mattered was being a good person and having the ability to learn from other people as well as my own mistakes. It was the truth of this fact that I had been trying to convince myself of for years and I finally truly believed in it. I could finally begin the recovery process. In June, I finally began my new life as an adult. I have shifted my focus from selfish ambition to making an impact on the world, in my case, helping young children.

My spring quarter grades were mixed. A couple were excellent. Curiously, I received my best grade on a college paper for my Humanities essay on marriage. A couple of my grades were less than satisfactory, but I finally knew that this was not a reflection of my personal qualities.

I made up my mind to teach young elementary, middle, and high school students, and take disparaging comments such as “You shouldn’t become a schoolteacher” with a grain of salt. It is not about money or status for me, but it is about doing work that I am passionate about, and one through which I can help people, and make an impact, regardless of its magnitude, on the world.

I have been humbled, and have learned to forgive those involved in my awful senior year of high school – the students, administrators, teachers, parents, friends, but more importantly, myself. I am not the same little girl I was then. I am still a student and learning, but I am now a stronger, more independent, and professional individual. I was young and immature, but it was unfair for me to continue to punish myself the way I have been doing for over a year. I forgive myself, but I will not forget. I will take this experience, learn from my mistakes, and use it to make myself emotionally stronger every day.

Gold Medal

My little brother used to  complain about how my parents compare him to me. They always seemed to be after him, complaining, “Why aren’t your grades higher? Why can’t you be more responsible? We never had this problem with Paheli.” Of course, in front of him, I smugly pretended I was the perfect, model student he thought I was, but sometimes I wished I could be more like him. I wished I were able to capture others’ attention as he does, make them laugh as much as he does. While people seemed to consider him a charming and self-confident young man, they passed me off as an awkward, self-conscious, twitchy nerd.

I used to be a competitive gymnast. Although I have always been shy, I loved performing. I loved how I felt as if I was flying as I tumbled across the floor. I loved the thrill of the competition. But more importantly, I loved the satisfactory feeling of standing on top of the podium, clutching my very own gold medal. My parents and my aunt and uncle used to proudly tell all their friends, “She’s a state champion,” and I would blush with pleasure. Each competition, I would bring home wearing a few gold and silver medals around my neck and dazzling videos, which I would email to all of my friends and inform them of my scores and awards. However, once I reached high school, I had more schoolork, less hours to spend in the gym, and as a result, my gymnastics became sloppy and I began to lose some of the skills I previously had. I stopped enjoying the sport because I was no longer improving, and I wasn’t the best anymore. I stopped attending my team prctices as often, and I was no longer passionate about the sport.

“It just means you’ve grown out of the sport,” My mom explained to me. “But I think you should at least finish this season. Don’t walk out in the middle of the year! I understand if you want to quit next year, because as a junior, you will not have time to juggle all of your AP class work and three hour practices. Just stick with it until this summer, alright?”

I had agreed, but reluctantly; I did not want to go through two more months of humiliating team practices, watching my teammates and old friends leap forward while I struggled with the simplest of skills. Halfway through May, I was counting the weeks until I could quit gymnastics. I was thrilled about finally being able to have a life – to be able to eat whatever junk food I wanted, and to be able to do my homework peacefully at my own desk rather than in the car on the way to practice. I surprised myself, because before, I had always expected myself to continue gymnastics until senior year of high school. There was nothing I had wanted more than to go to practice and become as good as I possibly could be. I couldn’t believe my gymnastics career was ending in such an untimely fashion. When my team was having picture day during one Friday practice, although I was exhausted from the entire school week, I decided to go to practice. I still had to be part of the team. Just for three more weeks…

“Hi, stranger!” My friend Ashley’s mom greeted me as I walked into the gym. “We haven’t seen you in a long
time! Are you competing at the Invitational Meet this Sunday?”

Shoot, I thought to myself. I had completely forgotten about the competition on Sunday. In any case, there was no way I would be able to compete. I had a huge Chemistry test coming up that week and I needed as much of the weekend as I could get to study. The competition would last for over four hours. Of course I would not be competing this weekend.

“I don’t think so,” I told Ashley’s mom. “I have a lot of work this weekend. Maybe next time.”
Soon, my teammates and I had changed into our shining, turquoise leotards are were huddled together on the gym floor. I was surrounded by glitter, combs, and the strong scent of hairspray. My teammates giggled as they combed each other’s hair and talked excitedly about the upcoming meet and the new skills they couldn’t wait to show off.
“Girls!” My coach Wes tried to yell over the chattering voices. “By a show of hands, please tell me, who is competing this Sunday?”
I looked around and watched as my teammates raised their hands. Wes looked at me expectantly. “Paheli?”
I cleared my throat. “I, um…I’m not competing this time.”
“What?” she asked incredulously. “Hold on, we need to talk about this.”
I felt a thrill of dread run through my body. I did not want to have this conversation with her – or anybody, for that matter. I was ashamed about quitting, and I knew that she would make me feel even more ashamed as she tried to convince me to compete. I had always liked and admired Wes. She was a tall gymnast, the tallest one I had ever met. I was relatively tall for a gymnast, and before I met Wes, my coaches seemed to think that I was too tall and big to succeed in the sport. Then I met Wes, who was four inches taller than I was. She believed in me and care about my gymnastics more than any other coach I had. I knew she would be disappointed that I was hiding from the sport and I did not want to face her.
I followed Wes across the gym, dragging my feet and daring to walk as slowly as I could, wishing I could disappear on the spot. Finally, she settled down on the edge of the red floor in our gym and tapped a space next to her, gesturing for me to sit down. I carefully avoided her gaze, suddenly appearing to find the texture of the floor very interesting.
“Paheli, I know you’re very busy,” she began, and I began to fiddle with my fingers. “I don’t doubt it. In fact, if anything, I don’t know enough about how busy you are. I understand that you might not enjoy competing in gymnastics as much because you don’t have time to practice. However, I don’t like the idea of you disappearing in the middle of the season. I don’t know how your family is financially, but your parents spent a lot of money on getting your routines and I would hate for it to go to waste.
I gulped, looking down. “But I can compete later, right? I don’t think I can compete at this one, but there will be more meets, right?”
Wes shook her head. “The next meet after this one is a state meet, which you have to qualify for. This is the last local meet. I know you can qualify for state as an event specialist – all you need is a minimum score of eight point five. I know you can do it; I wouldn’t be urging you to do it if I didn’t think you could. You don’t even have to compete on all four events – if you want, you can compete just on floor and go home after that.”
I hesitated. “I don’t know…”
I couldn’t get the memory of our last meet out of my head, how humiliated I had felt, being the only girl from our team who didn’t get a medal, how I had felt like crying but had to wait until I reached home because I didn’t want the others to see me.
“Think about them,” Wes interrupted my train of thoughts, gesturing to my teammates. “They need you. They score better when you’re there to support them. And they all look up to you so much. It would be wrong to desert them in the middle of the season. Even if you don’t want to do it for me, or for your parents, at least do it for those dorks in the blue leotards.”
Although at that time, I was annoyed that Wes had pressured me into competing, she assured me that later on, I would be grateful that I had finished the season on a good note. And now I can say with confidence that I am glad that I decided to compete.

When I showed up on the floor at the meet, Wes greeted me with a hug and exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you! I’ve never been happier to see a person in my life!”

Luckily for me, our first rotation was on the floor, the only event which I was competing, so I did not have to waste any time waiting. It was a different feeling than usual, sitting on the sides of the floor and cheering on my teammates. Since I was not pressuring myself to get a certain score or get a medal, I could relax and genuinely enjoy watching my friends perform. Only when my turn to compete began to creep closer, my hands started to sweat and jellyfish began swimming in my stomach – the usual symptoms for my nervousness. The worst moment, as it always was, was waiting for the judges to give me the cue to begin while they calculated the previous girl’s scores. I stood stiffly with my hands firmly at my sides, starting at the judges. My heart pounded heavily in my chest; it was so loud that it almost drowned out the sounds of cheering coming from all directions.

Somehow, Wes caught my eye. “Deep breath,” she mouthed. I nodded and gave her a tiny smile.
After what seemed like forever, one of the judges raised a white flag, and after giving them a customary salute, I walked stiffly onto the floor. The music began. After two years of performing this same floor routine at various competitions – local, state, regional, and even national meets – I had never enjoyed it more than at this moment. I flashed the judges wide smiles and gave them everything I had because I had nothing to lose. This would be possibly my last competition ever. And more importantly, I was not there for myself, to get a medal or to qualify for state. I was there for my teammates.
Finally, I finished my routine, saluted to the judges, and bounced over to my teammates. After they all said, “Good job!” and gave me high-fives, Wes told me, “Paheli, your routine was beautiful. If I didn’t know that you haven’t been training as much this year, I wouldn’t have been able to guess by watching you. You perform as well as anyone who has been coming to practice every day.”
I smiled and thanked her and then looked over at the scoreboard, anticipating. After several minutes, my score flashed in ominous, red numbers: 8.600. It was certainly not my best score. Needless to say, I did not get a gold medal for my performance at the meet. But at that moment, I felt that I was better than I had ever been.
I remember how the protagonist of Joyce Carol Oates’ Expensive People, Richard Everett, chose to retake his IQ test because his mother was disappointed with his initial score. His entire self-worth was based not on what he thought of himself, but based on his mother’s evaluation of him and his performance. While it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to meet others expectations, ultimately, what others think is of little importance. We will never be perfect, and others will always manage to find something or the other that is wrong with us. Recalling the experience of the last invitational meet of my gymnastics season, I have come to realize that I can’t control what others think of me, and I can’t waste me efforts trying to please everyone. More importantly, no one, not even judges, can tell me how good I am – only I have the power to decide that.

A Letter I Never Sent

I had a dream last night where you came and visited me. It was dark and I was alone and my phone kept buzzing.  People were calling, but I wasn’t answering them. Then you approached me and told me that I need to answer them. You told me that in the process of grieving and missing you, I was ignoring the people who truly care about me, like my mom and my friends – hurting them. You told me that I needed to forget about you and move on with my life. I know it was a dream but it was as real to me as any physical conversation we have had, as cheesy as it sounds. 

I am sorry for writing you that email a few months ago. I understand that I made a mistake, misjudged the situation. In my therapy group, we are practicing validating other people, which means understanding where they are coming from even if we do not agree with them. I can validate you because I understand where you are coming from. You were stressed, overwhelmed, and it was not healthy for you. I can understand why you did what you did. I don’t know if I were you if I would have done anything differently. But can you please step back and try to see my side of the story just for one moment? 
When I wrote that email, I was stressed, emotional, depressed, and alone. I guess it has something to do with my childhood. When I was two years old, I never threw any tantrums. I was a good little angel and my parents almost spoiled me with their affection. However, when my mom became pregnant with my brother, it was a very traumatic experience for me. When I found out at three years old, I threw my first tantrum. I remember having nightmares of my mom and my little brother closeted in a room together, shutting me out of their life. It might not be a precise comparison, but that is somewhat how I started to feel towards the beginning of second semester. I had hoped that being honest with you would make everything better – I would feel better if you understood my feelings and where I was coming from.

The way you handled the situation was so abrupt. At first, I was so hurt and confused. You told me in previous emails that even though you are busy you will always be there when I need you and I believed you. I didn’t want to believe that you would desert me so suddenly. You cut me off from all parts of your life so suddenly. It was a huge headache and stomachache for me, and I couldn’t understand what I did that was so wrong to deserve this treatment, being singled out from the group, when all I had done was need you more than the others did. 

I was very proud of you – whenever someone asked me who my role model was or who was a good leader, I immediately thought of you, but lately that is all stained by miserable thoughts of desertion. I do not thank you for all the tears you have caused me, all the pain and confusion and shock and bitterness. At first I was not able to function – I did not want to run or workout because it reminded me of you and I could not bear going to school. Today was my first full day back at school and my first day doing a real workout in a long time. It was incredibly difficult for me and I must say I am proud of myself. I have a new therapist now, and she makes all my experiences sound like great novel material – something to think about a few years from now when time heals most of the pain. I have begun to understand just today that living through great pain is giving me strength to fight the pain in the future. This experience has made me a stronger person, at least today, and has helped me truly discover who I am, and for that, I do reluctantly thank you. 

Now I just have one last thing to say. I needed you before. You were like a crutch for me – you helped me to see the good in myself. You were good to me and I thank you for that. But now I don’t need you to determine my self-esteem. I don’t need you to tell me I’m right or wrong or anything like that. I just need you to understand that there are always two sides to a story. And this is mine.

Sincerely,
Paheli 

On College Stress and Sleep Deprivation

Bright colors,
Warm smiles,
And love of learning.

There are all the shades of my past
For the present is stress,
Lack of sleep,
Dark circles stained under my eyes,
Eternal wrinkles across my forehead
I am wounded, broken, eaten alive
For life has chewed me up
And spit me back out

Why does love of learning,
Love of knowledge,
Love of life diminish
As age, maturity, and experience grow?

We were once filled with joy and excitement
Over the smallest of things
Scrambling to soak up new information
And now we scramble listlessly
To memorize,
Cram our brains
And what will we get out of it?
Just numbers,
Maybe power, reputation,
But at what price?
What happens
When the information in our brains
Threatens to overflow
As the fuel to succeed
Begins to burn out?

Born For School

I have always wanted to become a teacher. When I was a child, I used to play school with my little brother and a group of stuffed animals. I would take on the role of the teacher, hoping to impart the nuggets … Continue reading

Rome

At the tender age of eight, my family and I embarked on a life-changing journey. My mother had collected a plethora of travel guides, maps, audio language-learning tapes for conversational Italian – any item she could lay her hands on to prepare us for our summer vacation in Italy. However, virtually nothing could have prepared me for the physical experience of the Italian culture. I was fascinated by the cobbled streets, tall-columned buildings, pesto gnocchi and ravioli, sky blue fountains, soft, fluffy gelato, enthusiastic street vendors and performers, and the vast squares where I could stand all day and feed uncharacteristically bold pigeons right from my hand.

While I was drawn to the gondolas transporting us along the canals in Venice, at the time I could not quite grasp my parents’ captivation with the museums and history of Rome. “It becomes so much more interesting to visit a place when you know about the history and background of its culture,” my mother tried to explain to me. I might have scoffed at her words then, but as I progressed further in my studies, I realized that she was absolutely correct.

In seventh grade, I began to study Latin. One of our assignments was to build a model of a Roman household. Since it was not practical to physically revisit Rome, I went to the Getty Villa in Los Angeles for inspiration. This time, I paid attention to the architecture and the paintings, sculptures, and other exhibits, trying to relate everything back to what I had studied in the classroom. For over six years, I immersed myself in Roman culture by reading influential works such as Vergil’s epic poetry, Ovid’s playful poetry, Catullus’ love poetry, and Cicero’s influential rhetorical speeches, as well as learning about the historical contexts of such pieces. I currently plan to pursue a minor in Latin Literature. Not only has my study of Latin ignited my interest in Rome, but in my sophomore year of high school, I even took a class about European Art History. The course began with a study of the Renaissance, the “rebirth” of culture and art in the European society. As an amateur yet avid painter myself, I have been amazed time and time again by the ingenuity of artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. In fact, one of the major aspects of my college that attracted me was the idea of the Renaissance scholar. Using Da Vinci as an ideal, a Renaissance scholar is one who does not merely specialize in one field of study, but expands him or herself to a variety of seemingly unrelated fields. This idea certainly resonates with my personal interests. I am majoring in Chemical Education, which synthesizes the fields of Chemistry, a very scientific discipline, and Education Studies. I am currently very involved in teaching, as I am a volunteer tutor at an underprivileged high school as well as a paid tutor for students in Mathematics and Chemistry. However, I have always been a “creative kid” and have been overcome by a desire to appreciate and produce Literature and Art.

I have often regretted the fact that although I was privileged enough to visit Rome at a young age, I could not appreciate its historic magnificence. However, I believe it would be an invaluable opportunity to not only revisit Rome, the hometown of so many inspiring artists, but simultaneously learn more about the Renaissance and Rome itself. Perhaps when I revisit this July, I will have an even more meaningful exposure to the culture, and experience an intellectual “rebirth” of my own.