Td;lr: it does get better. Somewhat.
all the oceans, blood & not-blood,
all the people I could be,
the whole map, my mirror.
— Fatimah Asghar
I like to think of the architecture of classrooms — the crevices that reflect light, the round wooden tables, the chairs with tables slightly too small to fit a notebook. I like coming to class early, to find a comfortable seat, to acquaint myself with the hallway, to find a spot where I can see the clock on the wall. I find myself becoming more familiar with this space — with this campus, with people in this country. After two years of living here, I’ve taught myself how to survive: how to change how words feel under my tongue so that I am better understood, how to spell my name out without being prompted, how to carve out two extra hours of buffer time during International flights. Where are you from? becomes a thinly veiled you don’t belong here. I still shudder at the thought of the LAX-Claremont commute, the times I have to represent a nation of millions of people in a discussion seminar, and the moments where it seems like no one really gets it, really. There are times where the streets of Claremont seem like they are all dead-ends, or that they all circle into the same perfectly mowed lawn, or that they all are the same street with different elite college names. And so I sit on a fitted sheet on my dorm room bed and ask myself, “does it get better?”
And I am not sure if I can tell. College does strange things to memory: it renders it malleable, and at the same time stagnant. The amount of thought, inquiry, and stress packed into four years of college both dilutes and strengthens the way I remember each passing day. Often a new word that I learn in a classroom suddenly seems to describe childhood experiences, and often the English that I hear in classrooms could never come close to describing visceral memories. While I walk to Mason at 1pm, thinking of the smell of cinnamon and clove in biryani, or the slight murmur of my living-room fan, I think of the ways that being in college has helped me reflect. In what often seems like a limbo space, a bubble outside reality, my ideas of home, or family, or belonging, have been questioned. What is home if it’s a place you don’t see and can’t touch? And what is home if the place which—both in public and in private—rejects critical pieces of who you are? I think of the streets of New Delhi, about the way that being back with my family often undoes the exploration that being away allows. Being homesick often conjures up the what-could-have-been, the what-must-have-been, and what should-have-been, the rosewater-pink images from a world that seems so removed from my College Way walk to a library booth. And while being at Pomona has helped me find more of myself, my privilege, and strong community, I find myself lost at the intersections. Sometimes, still, my voice sounds too different, too other, to belong in the classroom. I find myself losing friends, or struggling to keep up with people from home, and gradually lamenting the glistening days of summers almost forgotten. It isn’t easy, but that itself becomes a stressor: the culture of overworkedness makes me question my struggles, or the way I cope with my life.
So to first-semester-me, or to anyone asking themselves if it really does get better, you aren’t feeling this alone. Personally, I often think it doesn’t, and I live with the feeling for a while, go to Some Crust, and start again.
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