TRIGGER WARNING

Here is a piece I made about my senior year of high school. It was made this Thursday night and Friday early morning – in the middle of the night, I had a sudden flash of inspiration about how I could tell a part of my story that I rarely tell anyone, but is absolutely painful for me to bear as a secret. Saying the words is more painful than illustrating it on paper, so here it is. The story of how I had feelings of extreme perfectionism and self loathing. The story of how I depended too much on others when I couldn’t trust myself. The story of how bad things turned ugly, but in the end, I am a stronger person.

Please don’t view this image if you feel you might be triggered in any way. And please don’t worry about me – being able to express my feelings on paper is my way of releasing what is bottled inside me so that I can function normally on a daily basis.

Thank you.

-Paheli

Needy

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Denial

Lying, flat on my back and staring up above me, wondering if I’ll ever be high enough to kiss the ceiling rather than stare at the distance between us.

Lying, wrapped in my blankets like a burrito but unable to feel their warmth, the coldness in my heart emanating from my chest and forming a restrictive bubble around my icy body.

I don’t need her. I don’t need her to scoop me up when I fall. I don’t need her ease the pain, to calm the jellyfish frantically swimming inside the walls of my stomach. I don’t need her to tell me that everything is okay, that she thinks I’m special, so special that she would take the time out of her hectic schedule just to pass a moment looking me in the eye. A single word from her lips has the power to clear away piles of doubt in my mind, wiping them out of my head like the windshields of my car windows wipe away the muck and the fog.

But I don’t need her anymore. I don’t need the reassurance from someone who will only hand it over reluctantly after I tug and tug, begging and pleading and falling at my knees. I don’t need the support from someone whose support is so rickety that she can barely bolster herself. I don’t need the love from someone whose love is so thin, so mercurial, so flimsy, so insubstantial and elusive.

I am strong. I have carved out a nest of peace for myself, despite her absence. Despite the fact that her eyes, her gaze, once warm and open, are now like dark, cold tunnels, shooting stinging, piercing daggers at me with a single stare. I don’t need her if her presence requires me to fall flat at her feet and give up everything I hold dear. I have at least a shred of self-respect, and it has given me the will to splash with ice-cold water, wake up and walk away from her sickly sweet, alluring and lethal venom.

But sometimes when I’m lying flat on my back and staring up above me, I have to muffle my screams into my pillow. NO, NO, NO! No! I don’t need her anymore. I have to tell myself that, but I know that it’s only half-true. I know even now that a part of me still does. Though I no longer play her words in my head on repeat every day, a part of me still shudders when I hear her name, and the dormant jellyfish start to swim. It’s nights like those, lying on my back, wrapped like a burrito, and listening to heartbreaking melodies, I wonder. I wonder if things would have been different. I wonder…what would have happened….if I hadn’t told her.

CWC Slam Poetry Night

Hope is a dangerous emotion. Hope has the power to lift you up to unimaginably lofty heights, but the trouble is that there is never a safety net to catch your fall when hope deserts you.

I stumbled upon a little corner of hope on the third floor. Full of plush green candy apple coloured chairs surrounding smooth wooden tables shaped like guitar picks and the smell of coffee wafting through the air and colourful paper star crafts. But beneath the warm smiles, there was a suffocating sense of strain, a dark cloud looming above and growing and growing until it exploded, burst into flames, crashed and burned and blew up into smithereens.

There are two sides to a story and I can only relate to one. Because when you run from Delhi to Sonipat to Panipat and back, collecting furniture and decoration to bring to life the dream that you have been conceptualizing in your head and on computer sketch programs for months, and you put in your life, your soul, your blood, sweat, and tears into your project, and you create something wonderful from absolutely nothing, you inevitably develop a huge bubble of hope in your heart. And each time they burst your bubble, you emerge with another bubble of hope…until hope deserts you.

There are always two sides to a story, but when good people get hurt, good places get crushed, and those menacing motherfuckers try to snatch away my only corner of happiness, I don’t fuck around. I vote with my feet.

A Semester in India Part II

The next day, when I gingerly pushed open the flimsy door of the center, sure enough, Alana was back. She looked a little better; her cheeks were rosy, and she was surrounded by the tutors and a couple of faculty members. She had the support of the people who mattered, and she was relatively content.

So many things I had been thinking of telling her. So many things I had to say. So many things I had rehearsed in my head…I swallowed it all and finally managed to gurgle out “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” she said slowly. “How are you?”

“I’m…” I struggled; nothing I said in simply one or two words would accurately do justice to the anxiety I had been feeling for the past week and a half. However, it was not the time and place to give the long answer. More than my embarrassment at the fact that I was surrounded by people, some of whom I was not comfortable or familiar with, it would not be right to make this about me. This was about supporting Alana; it had little to do with me.

“She’s okay, too,” Lauren finished for me, grinning.

I stood awkwardly, and said truthfully, “Um… I have to go to the bathroom.”

Lauren and Katherine burst into laughter, thankfully breaking through the painfully uncomfortable silence. Lauren buried her face in one palm. “Oh my god,” she muttered through fits of laughter, “you are so awkward.”

“Don’t make fun of me,” I protested weakly, but I smiled.

“It’s only out of love,” Katherine clarified as I edged my way back to the entrance.

Throughout the day, Alana spent a lot of time in the center, but I could not bring myself to approach her. Not when there were so many people around, in any case. But when would I be able to find a moment to speak to her privately? She was surrounded by people, supporters. Tutors and students, coming and throwing their arms around her, stroking her hair, and showering her with affection. Some students came to show her an impressive petition they had written to address her concerns and bring her back, for which they had gained the signatures of the entire undergraduate class. One student sat with her on the bench by the coffee table and the two of them were deep in conversation for hours. I wanted to join the conversation, or have a separate one in which I could tell Alana that I supported her, that I might not know exactly what she was going through, but that I cared about her and I hated the fact that she had been hurt. I hated that her feelings had been compromised in this relentless and ridiculous power struggle. But as I played it all over and over in my head, with each replay, it sounded more and more stupid. Who cared what I thought and felt? Alana already had so much support, I thought, glancing at the coffee table where she sat with a group of doting students. My support would not make any difference to her.

Moreover, there was no excuse for this…jealousy I was feeling towards the other students. It shouldn’t have been about me; it was about her. She was getting support, and she seemed content. I should have felt content on her behalf. A wave of deja vu hit me as I recalled the painful incident from over three years ago – it was the same feeling, the same jealousy, and the same guilt for being jealous, and the same overwhelming flood of self-loathing. The lights seemed dimmer, and I knew that any minute, the small hand of the clock would approach five, and the tutors would kick us out of the center so that they could catch the shuttle back to their own apartments on time. My opportunity would be lost, and then what? I would have no one to blame but myself. God, I was so stupid. Everyone else was so much bolder, stronger, more caring and selfless. They took action, writing petitions and raising signatures.  All I had was a bunch of useless, empty words that would not make a difference to anyone or anything but myself and my own selfish need to be heard.

Soon, the time came; as usual, Lauren announced to me in a mock-apologetic tone that they were closing down and kicking us out. I delayed as much as I possibly could, but in vain; the other students were filing out, and I reluctantly followed them. Lauren and Katherine followed closely behind. As they locked up the center, I stole on glance into Alana’s office. The light was warm and homey and someone was there. She had a grin on her face, and that was all the confirmation I needed. She did not need me. Who did? I was so useless. The panic started to settle in, and it was difficult to breathe. It was so familiar, and yet I knew it was irrational and ridiculous that I was feeling such an overpowering urge to speak to her personally. My knowledge of its irrationality did not help; in fact, it just made me more miserable and desperate.

“I think I might have a panic attack,” I finally choked out to Katherine, as we started to descend the three flights of stairs.

Her sense of calm and cool collectedness was unnerving, and I could only make out some of what she was saying in response through my hyperventilation. “….just know that it’s not as big a deal as your making it. Some things are just not worth it.”

Katherine and Lauren stopped at the second floor, saying “This is us. We have a meeting now.”

Katherine put her arms around me in comfort, and as I realized that they would be leaving, leaving me all alone in my confusion and tidal waves of negativity, a sob broke through.

“Aw, honey,” Katherine tried to soothe me, and the two of them walked me over to the hallway on the side. The two of them rubbed my shoulders and tried to calm me down.

“I’m so sorry,” I tried to gasp, “your meeting…”

“Our meeting can wait,” Katherine insisted firmly. “We’re here for you, not for some stupid meeting. This is our job.”

For the second time, I watched Lauren tearing up, and she tried to comfort me. “Your heart is just too big,” she cried, and at the sight of her tears, Katherine started to wipe her own eyes. “Lauren doesn’t realize that she’s making me cry when she tries to comfort you,” Katherine laughed tearfully.

The three of us stood there in the hallway, with the evening breeze starting to settle in. We were overwhelmed by emotions, and Katherine and Lauren shooed away the other TAs who came and tried to warn them that the meeting was starting without them. I tried to apologize, but they shot me down, insisting that we were having a moment. This was far more important than any meeting.

“I feel this dust ball of pollution obstructing my throat,” I tried to explain to them. “It’s making me even more sick, and I can’t cough it up. This place is so polluted.”

“We’ve been feeling like that for months, too,” Lauren told me.

And in that moment, everything was alright. Everything made sense – why I had come here, why I had forsaken my home in which I had basically everything right at my fingertips for this tiny, politics-ridden, unestablished university in the middle of nowhere. It’s not that I would chose to stay there, or overturn my choice to return back to Los Angeles, because, needless to say, what followed from this moment was nothing short of a political war. But I finally understood the purpose of this seemingly useless semester abroad: it was so that I could meet these amazing, smart, talented, and utterly unrepressed people.

Throughout my life, I have never been able to tell my friends as much as I have told the people I have met here. One could argue that I just didn’t have the right friends, but I think that the main problem was that I was too focused on repressing the less desirable aspects of myself in order to make myself seem more appealing as a companion. But meeting people who did not seem concerned with such trite worries in the slightest has made me much more comfortable with exposing myself.

One of the main aspects of the university was the emphasis on Critical Thinking. The foundation courses at the university have a three part sequence of Critical Thinking courses. The first one is an introduction to Critical Thinking, and it focuses on the exploration of the concept of home. But I couldn’t care less about what happened in the actual classroom. If I learned any critical thinking skills, or gleaned any insight about the idea of home, it was most certainly from the people that I met at the CWC. The tutors, not the professors, were the ones who sat with me tirelessly and went over approaches to improving my essays, and more importantly, my writing and communication skills as a whole. And through this whole Alana situation, I learned much more about critical thinking in putting together some of the pieces than I had in any examination of the texts in the classroom. I learned more about my own idea of home as I commiserated with the tutors about moving here from the United States and adjusting to the cultural differences.

No one else experiences exactly the same world that I do, and the experience I mentioned of Los Angeles being a relentless component of identity might not be a universal phenomenon. Each person has a different world, whether it is in Los Angeles, San Diego, Rome, Sonepat, Delhi, Chicago, a remote farm in Illinois, New York, Arizona, Georgia, Massachusetts,  Israel, Italy, or India…each individual person, more so than any physical location, determines her or her own experience of home. I live in my own world, and my world most certainly does not match yours. My perception of Los Angeles, as much as it might align with yours, is not the same as yours. Furthermore, I’m not even sure if I fully understand my own perception of my hometown. But through my experiences in San Diego, Rome, and finally, Sonepat, I was certainly able to learn a little bit more about my home in Los Angeles. Before moving away for college, I had always viewed the city with a sense of extreme boredom; to say that I took its merits for granted would be a vast understatement. Truly, for I never fully understood the value of home until I lived far, far, away from it.

Uncovering the Grisly Truth

The week when we found out that Alana was leaving was one of the most emotional weeks of my life; I deliberately stopped wearing eye makeup because there was always the off chance that I would burst into tears out of nowhere. It was a very emotional week, but I felt somehow closer to the tutors. I knew they were affected, because they were extremely loyal to her. Although they wouldn’t tell us why she had left, claiming that she had received the brunt of some silly politics at the university and that they would get in trouble if they mentioned any specific names, I wanted to find out what it was.

They clearly wanted us to find out what it was too, although they couldn’t tell us directly. They told us that at this point, we were the only ones who could do anything about it. Some people suggested appealing to a teddy-bear-like professor and Dean of Academic Affairs, with whom every student seemed to be enamored, but Lauren told us that he might be in camps that Alana was not with. It was a cryptic comment, and we didn’t know what it meant. However, I decided that it could only mean that he was probably unsympathetic to the cause, and that he had randomly chosen to align himself with the party that was against Alana and her work.

There was some additional drama going on with the tutors on campus, and apparently it had contributed to the troubles with Alana. Since the beginning of the year, there had been troubles with one of the professors for whom two of the tutors at the CWC were teaching assistants. Since the beginning, they had troubles with his teaching methods; from what I understood and overheard, he wasn’t prepared for class and did not see to put much effort into helping the students improve as writers. Soon, the problem caught up with the students, and a couple of them complained to the Dean of Academic Affairs. This caused backlash, as the tutors were blamed for instigating the students to engage in what was considered “not academic protocol.” Students who had been involved came to the center crying, because they were worried that they had not done the right thing, simply by speaking up because of issues they had. That week, I heard a lot about the incidents because my roommate was one of the students who complained. She was right in the middle of the whole situation, and she updated me each day. It seemed that each day, there was something new. The professors being mean to the tutors in the middle of class. Students coming to the defense of the tutors. One of tutors resigning. One of the tutors being asked not to come to class. Things were exploding, and students were confused and lost.

However, that friday, during my art class, I heard a girl who tended to have a lot of gossip say something that really struck me. Alana left because of….let’s call her the Menace, who happened to be both my English Professor and the romantic partner of the Dean of Academic Affairs. It first, it didn’t make any sense why she would care about Alana or the CWC, as it didn’t involve her, but then I started thinking. The rest of the evening, I couldn’t get my mind off the idea, and the more I thought about it, the more I reluctantly started to entertain the idea. I remembered how at the beginning of the semester, I really liked and respected the Menace, but then one day she shattered my opinion of her. We were analyzing a text, and one girl said something that she did not like. She ended up exploding, yelling at the girl in the middle of the whole class and embarrassing her. No matter how the wrong the girl was, I thought, it was unacceptable to bully a student. I remember feeling very disturbed, but when I asked other students for their opinions, their responses ranged from amusement to thorough approval at the way in which the Menace had handled the situation. Throughout the semester, I always felt that her classes presented an unyielding bias, and it seemed that no matter how right students’ answers were, they were wrong if they were not the answers that she had in mind. I had grown to be less eager to throw myself into the class for fear that she would consider my views stupid or incorrect, and I took what she said with a grain of salt. I believe it was a valuable lesson; I began to do less putting professors on pedestals and I saw them as humans – yes, humans with PhD’s, but humans, nevertheless. The idea of her at odds with Alana was not hard to imagine. She had been at odds with students who presented views that were odds with her own, and I believed that she wouldn’t find it hard to find something in Alana’s work at the CWC to be at odds with. But had she bullied Alana? Alana seemed so fragile, not meek, but sensitive and nurturing, absolutely the opposite of cold hearted, unflinchingly almost cruel Menace. She demanded the utmost respect from students, while Alana could not even bear to have students address her with reference to her designation. They had very different approaches, and they were bound to come in conflict with each other.

That night, I did some internet… research, although it was more like stalking. I found the job posting for the Director of the CWC from the previous year, before Alana had even been a part of the university. At the bottom of the posting, it redirected all application questions to the Menace and her unfortunate partner. It made a lot of sense why she would be concerned with the CWC now; after all, she had been involved in the process of interviewing and selecting Alana. I then looked for some more articles about workplace incivility, workplace bullying, and other such information. I could not believe it, but there was only one way to find out. I emailed Lauren that weekend and told her that I had heard something. Not wanting to be explicit, I sent her the links to both the job posting and the workplace incivility articles. To my dismay, Lauren replied that I had stumbled on the right path, and that we should talk on Monday. I had been hoping that I was completely off; it would spare me a lot of headaches when it came to thinking about morality, the conflict between my English professor and Alana, and the idea of sweet Alana being bullied by such a strong and coldhearted woman. I ended up falling sick, partly because of the weather and my inability to take care of myself, but I believe the stress of the situation definitely weakened my immune system. I stayed at my aunt’s house for the weekend and Monday and Tuesday, mostly curled up in bed and blowing my nose frequently. I was so terrified, at the time, of being found out. Clearly, the Menace had a lot of power, and she could make or break my future. If she knew I was having such thoughts and discussing them with her enemies, I could get in big trouble. But then again, who knew if the rumors were actually true…

Finally, my aunt and I mutually decided that I would return to school on Tuesday night. The first thing I did was go up to the CWC and share my findings with the tutors Lauren and Katherine, as well as their roommate Gabe, who was my history teaching assistant, as he apparently knew everything. Unfortunately, according to Lauren, the story went much further back than one complaint from the Menace; she had been bullying Alana for a long time. They didn’t give me many details, but they did say that Alana had been hopeful, trying to stay positive and weather the storm until it was absolutely necessary to leave; her physical and mental health was really suffering. “She’s coming back tomorrow,” Lauren told me, as she had been gone for the week in hopes of getting some time and space away from the university. “She’ll be back though. And she’ll talk to you. I think.”

Tribute to Alana

On what seemed like a highly typical Tuesday afternoon, I unloaded my backpack and plopped down on a plush bean bag chair at the CWC. Ever since the first week of the semester, I had spent almost every morning, afternoon, and many evenings and nights there. At first, I had used the center merely to sit down quietly and finish my numerous reading and writing assignments, but soon, I began to prefer the writing center over my dormitory room as a place to relax and unload my stress. In spite of the fact that the CWC is a place full of ambitious, intellectual, and extremely talented minds, there is something about it that makes it a comfortable, home-like place. The chairs in the room are bright and candy-green-apple coloured and it is sprinkled with art projects; there are multicoloured paper stars, paper-machet trinkets, drawings, scrap pieces of paper, and an unfinished mural that a few students have been painting. In just a few months, the CWC has already become a meaningful space to many students, but it continues to bloom and grow every day. It is an unfinished story that is just waiting to be fleshed out.

I had scarcely started on my usual de-stressing routine, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and recovering from the long day of classes, when I heard one of the tutors call me.

“P-dog!” Lauren, my teaching assistant who also worked as a tutor at the CWC leaned out from the news room, a room in the center separated by a clear glass window and a set of glass doors. “Can you come in here for a second?” She looked to the other end of the room and called another girl who visited the CWC regularly. “Uttara, can you also come in here for a second?”

I hesitated, and possibilities started to fill my mind. Was something wrong? Was I in trouble? Why would she want to talk to me? And if she did want to talk to me, why would she call the two of us in private? We were friendly with each other, but we had virtually no connection aside from our frequent hours spent at the CWC.

I scarcely had time to think as I stepped into the newsroom and spotted another girl, Manisha, who looked as if she was about to burst into tears. My heart started to race; whatever it was, it definitely would not be good.

Lauren could probably sense my apprehension, as she took a deep breath and said, “Don’t be worried.”

Manisha started to wipe her eyes, and even Lauren, who never seemed phased by anything, looked tearful. “I just wanted you guys to hear this from us before someone else tells you. Alana has resigned.”

Everyone started to wipe their eyes feverishly, including Lauren. At the sight of Lauren’s tearful face, I felt my eyes stinging, and tear poured out before I could stop them. Lauren’s face crumbled, uncomfortable with the outpouring of emotion, and she buried her face on the table. I couldn’t say that it was completely unexpected, but it was extremely upsetting, no matter how foreseeable it might have been.

I had always loved to write and read, but I had never considered studying it before the summer when I applied to the university. I had spent most of the summer furiously scribbling down anecdotes, personal reflections, and streams of consciousness in my journal. I had completed a study abroad program in Italy, and I brought my journal with me almost everywhere I went. It was what helped me get through the stress of the experience, and I started to consider the possibility of becoming a professional writer. When I heard about the description of the CWC, I was extremely excited at the prospect. My previous university had a writing center, but it was a small, windowless room, and my experience with the tutors had been overwhelmingly disappointing. I had the feeling that it was a half-hearted project, set up in the university almost as an afterthought. Based on the description, the CWC seemed to be quite the opposite. It seemed to be an extremely important element of the vision of the university, and it seemed that the director of the center, Alana, had been through painstaking efforts to make it an intellectually stimulating environment. Alana then interviewed me for the admissions process, so I got the chance to ask her about it face to face, albeit through a Skype window. I was extremely surprised to learn that she had read my favorite book, Veronica Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho. She is the only person I have met who has read it so far, as it is one of Coelho’s less well known novels. I remember that she asked me why, in my admissions essay detailing my favorite book, I had not included one crucial element of the book, as she believed it was one of the most interesting parts of the story. This launched us into the topic of relative thinking, and how different people might read the same story and have different ideas about which elements are important.

During the first week of university, I came to visit the CWC before my morning class. It was my first time visiting, and I walked slowly and deliberately, unsure if these were even the hours during which CWC was operational. I inched closer to the door, peering in, when I spotted the opening to Alana’s office, just outside the center.

She waved when she saw me. “Hi, Paheli.”

“Hi,” I said cautiously. “I was wondering if I would sit and read in the writing centre?”

“Yes,” she said slowly, smiling. “We’re not open right now, but you can still sit there. I’ll tell the tutors you’re there.”

She led me into the room, and I sat on one of the light green chairs and began to focus on my work, drowning out the chattering noises as the four tutors began to settle into the room. Then, slowly, Alana approached me. “Do you have a minute?”

She introduced me to the four tutors: Susannah, Lauren, Katherine, and Nina. She told them that I was from the United States, as were three of the tutors. She and Katherine pulled up two plush green chairs to sit next to me. They began to ask me about how I was finding Ashoka so far. “What do you miss?” Alana asked me, and there was a genuine sense of curiosity in her bright blue eyes. I almost wanted to spurt out all out all the difficulties I had with food and adjusting to the culture, but I hesitated. “Well, I don’t want to be negative…”

“Don’t worry,” she assured me. “This is a safe space.” Somehow, her words stuck with me, and I soon began to see the CWC as just that. A safe space.

During the first month, Alana was always extremely present in the CWC and in student activities. At our first student newspaper meeting, she was there, beaming and stealing photographs of excited students. She organized for us to come and paint the wall in the back, turning it into a mural. She and the tutors stayed in the center until as late as ten o clock at night so that we could work there. She also made sure that the wall was a group effort, and that no one student would become too dominating. I had been thinking about starting an animal rights organization on campus, and she was very excited about the possibility. She sent me links about interesting dog-friendly initiatives in other countries, and she told me that she would help me with what that she could. She organized for fun workshops at the CWC, and each night, one could find her meticulously hanging carefully selected posters on the walls. She was nailing them into the wall all by herself, refusing help from anyone who offered. She was absolutely devoted to the CWC, and she was an active, independent, and consistent presence there.

Not only was she devoted to students’ intellectual and artistic enrichment, but she was also very open on a personal level. She insisted that everyone call her Alana, rather than the more formal Professor Sobelman. It took me a while to get used to, and I went through an intermediate phase of calling her “Professor Alana.” During the first few weeks, she invited me to go on a walk with her around the campus in the early morning. It was very pleasant; the weather was subdued, the birds were still chirping, and on the way, we met two friendly stray dogs. Since we were right near the faculty apartment building, she ran upstairs and brought some bread for us to feed the dogs. I remember marveling at the precious experience, as I could never imagine connecting with the daunting faculty members at my previous university on such a personal level. I also confided in her about a personal issue I was having regarding rude comments that a staff member had made, and she was incredibly supportive. She struck me as an extremely sensitive and caring person.

She even offered to make food for me once, as I was struggling with keeping up my vegan lifestyle. “I make a killer vegan chilli,” she had told me. “I was able to get tofu from some of the more bourgeois markets in Gurgaon.” I truly admired her for her sense of adventure and fearlessness. The fact that she had been to the Haryana village markets to get vegetables completely on her own, as a foreign woman, not to mention the underlying fact that she had come all the way to India on her own, encouraged me to venture into the city to obtain food for myself. I ended up buying a lot of material to make meals for myself, and the first thing I did when I returned was send her a long, proud email about my adventures on the Delhi metro and at the crowded and unfamiliar markets. “Congratulations, Paheli,” she had responded almost immediately. “You are officially a traveler, rather than a tourist.”

During the next month and a half, Alana was still there, but she was less present within the center itself. She was always slaving away at her desk with her copious pile of work, or attending one of her frequent and never ending meetings. I remember feeling confused, because she was less responsive to emails and appeared more distant in person. Previously, she used to greet me cheerfully every day in the CWC with a conversation, a pat on the shoulder, or at least a wave, but now she seemed hassled and preoccupied. For a while, I wondered if it was something I had done- had I said something too personal? Did I make her uncomfortable? Was my constant presence at the CWC annoying? Such thoughts nagged the back of my mind for weeks, until one day when I left the CWC to go to lunch at around the same time when she was leaving her office. I walked down the three flights of stairs with her. She had certainly changed. She seemed distant from the conversation, and her responses seemed delayed. She had always been graceful with all of her movements, but something about them now seemed lethargic, almost robotic. What struck me the most were her eyes; they seemed distant, glossed over, and it seemed as if she could barely keep them open.

“Are you alright?” I couldn’t stop myself from asking. “You seem really tired.”

“Oh, I’m so tired,” she said, and a grin started to spread across her face. “But my husband’s just moved in, and my cat, finally, so I’m very happy.”

I smiled, and felt an overwhelming sense of compassion. Even though she said she was happy, I couldn’t get over how drastically the exhaustion had changed her appearance and interactions. I didn’t know what was keeping her so busy, but whatever it was seemed to be beyond me. I decided to leave her alone for some time and try to give up my pride. I felt silly for thinking as if I were important enough to instigate such a huge change. I could try to figure out some of the difficulties with the animal organization on my own; it wasn’t necessary to add to her already teeming plate. At the time, I thought that everything would die down and she would soon return to the normal, bright and cheerful, caring, helpful, and adventurous figure that I had come to admire so intensely.

There is no doubt in my mind that she has thought through the decision to resign carefully, and she must have truly believed that it was the best option. She is a go-getter; she was extremely devoted to her project, and she is not someone to just give up without an extremely good reason. It is incredible how she was able to touch so many people, in such a profound way and in such a short amount of time! I know so many students who made the tough decision to come to this university because of her, and everyone who has interacted with her and experienced her kindness will be extremely sad to see her go. The tutors, who are taking over her responsibilities at the center until they hire a new director, have not been themselves this week. They have still been diligent about their teaching responsibilities, but there is an underlying sense of gloom in the center. Alana was was the one who gave birth to the CWC, which had become a favorite haunt for an increasing number of students. The university has lost an extremely valuable asset to the community, but she will certainly not be forgotten. I believe that she has left behind an amazing legacy in the CWC and in everyone who knew her. This legacy will certainly continue to shape the culture at the university.

While I am sad to see her go so soon, I truly believe that her adventurous, go-getter attitude will encourage me to explore more, and venture further out of my comfort zone. It will continue to impact me wherever my life takes me next.

I Want to Be a Vet

When I was seven years old, my parents enrolled me in a Hindu Sunday school program. The teacher read us stories about animals, and would explain that animals have some amazing abilities that humans could only dream of. Guard dogs, for example, can recognize the scent of intruders and react much more quickly than we can. There are even guide dogs who help their blind human owners navigate their surroundings with a devotion that many humans would not be capable of. Sea creatures can swim much deeper and faster than we can, and spiders can weave unimaginably intricate webs. She told us that although animal slaughtering was occurring everywhere in the world and it was impossible to stop everyone, we could make a difference by changing ourselves and our own lifestyles. Her stories inspired me to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. I have now been vegetarian for twelve years, and I recently became vegan.

Since a very young age, I have been devoted to animal welfare. As a child, I would always attempt to save drowning beetles, bees and spiders from swimming pools, earning myself a few stings in the process. My brother and I once set up a play veterinary office, and we would try to rescue wounded insects. Recently, when I was studying abroad in Italy, a roommate and I managed to nurse a wounded pigeon back to health. That same summer, I learned that my dog of ten years expired from a heart attack. She had received medical attention, but the vets were unable to save her. Although at the time I was planning to change my major from chemistry to a humanities-related subject, my beloved pet’s death revived my childhood passion for saving animals.

During my first year of college, I majored in chemistry. Most students are interested in chemistry for its applications in medicine, but at the time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into the medical field. I enjoyed math and science, the logic, the problem solving – it was fun for me, like putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I had interned in a chemistry laboratory during the summer after tenth grade, tutored many students in both chemistry and mathematics, and studied the applications of mathematics in Roman architecture during the summer after my first year of college. Math and science were fun for me, but I wanted to try something new. This prompted me to enroll in Ashoka University, a liberal arts university in India, for a semester.

I started an animal rights student organisation on campus called PAWSitive. We created animal centred artwork and attempted to sell it in order to raise funds to feed the homeless dogs on campus. At first, I was afraid of the dogs, but after interacting with them, they eventually grew familiar with me. Now, whenever I see them, they come to me excitedly, wagging their tales. The dogs reflect for me a glimmer of the spirit of my own dog. My experience in India has convinced me that I would like to return to science in order to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Until now, I have been trying out multiple subjects, but now I have a career objective in mind and I am ready to focus on one field.