Sometimes I… scare myself.
Napa Valley is beautiful, though I’ll be honest – I’ve seen more beautiful vineyards during my travels in New Zealand and Italy last year. Still, it was incredibly nice to be away from campus that I’m not complaining. Wonderful weekend getaway – great girls for company, breathtaking views and lots of fun.
Then it happened.
Sometimes I… freak out. Panic. Anxiety.
Large crowds scare the shit out of me; unfamiliar settings set off alarms in my mind. Being in the company of strangers or newly made friends for long hours – more than I’m used to – tends to throw me off-balance. I’m aware that I am at fault because I over-think everything and every single person, or puts pressure on myself to be or act a certain way but as I’ve discovered the hard way over the years – it’s always so much easier said than done. While I rarely ever comply and give in to the pressure, ironically not doing anything about it leaves me wounded and sore just the same.
It was 630 PM and time was ticking too slowly. We were stuck in the restaurant for the next two to three hours while our friend-cum-driver attended a separate dinner elsewhere. There were four of us at the table and by 730 PM as we attempted to kill time by ordering desert and hot drinks, the conversation flowed more loosely. The lights in the restaurant were dim, orange hue everywhere. We sat in the far corner, tucked away at the end; four girls squeezed in a boxed seating area. From time to time, I leaned against the wall on my right.
They continued talking, moving from one topic to another. Parties to bad dates to gossiping about course mates to drunken night escapades to awkward moments… I listened carefully to every word, each story shared and responded fittingly – I gasped at the horrible details, laughed at the funny encounters and nodded thoughtfully at the serious bits. All the while I stayed mum, sipping my coffee quietly.
Another hour passed and stories continued to be shared by them; awkward dating tales, boys versus girls debate and more crazy night-out experiences. Once more, none… I could relate to, but I politely played along. The stories were fun to listen to and it’s somewhat unbelievable to know they’re real. Whenever one of them tried to prompt a story out of me related to the topic-at-hand, I could offer none. I smiled and shook my head.
At 9 PM, I excused myself to go to the bathroom, just as they got into the heat of sharing recent dating stories. One of the girls wanted to define her relationship, something that’s been on her mind for a week now – are they friends with benefits? Are they just dating? Are they exclusive? Why isn’t he prompting this? I couldn’t offer any advice obviously, so I figured it was a good time as any to timeout.
Once I was in the bathroom, I locked myself in a cubicle and stayed in there for a minute or two, awkwardly standing in the middle of the small space … holding back my tears. Sometimes I hate myself for always being this way, for always ruining a great night out or being the killjoy to a light, happy occasion.
This isn’t the first time. It won’t be the last, I doubt it.
I stayed that way for long minutes, trying so desperately to hold back my tears until I felt composed enough to join them again at the table. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint the trigger, equally as hard to explain why. At that time, what came across my mind was how out of place I felt – always so fucking different.
There they were, bonding over drunken tales and heartbreak and genuine desires to be in love. Recalling random encounters at parties, awkward conversations on dates and mistaken make-out moments – “That never should’ve happened!” – and laughing at these memories while I sat quietly at the corner, fiddling with my coffee cup. There they were laying bare their concerns and whatnot, while mine?
Mine concerns things like worrying about missing my prayers, internal monologue with God, family matters and this desperation to get away and travel. While theirs are about being in the moment, living up to the twenty-something young and free notion, mine involves topics which are mostly abstract and serious. None of what runs through my mind on a constant basis relate to boys, drunken nights or whatever else which were just shared. I have never been kissed, nor do I wish for it. I have never even held hands with a boy, what would I even know about making out? I hate house parties and avoid them like the plague, how could I possibly imagine what happens on a crazy, Friday night party?
Sometimes the differences between my life and what is the so-called norm here – the gap is just so fucking huge.
I’m not judging them for living their lives however they choose to, just as I don’t blame myself for the way I choose to walk my path. To each his and her own, that’s for sure. But in moments like this when it’s fun, light-hearted and allows for easy banter and bonding, I find myself, as I always have, the odd one out.
Finally at 930 PM the friend-cum-driver called us to say she’s outside. In the car on the way to the hotel, the darkness enveloped all of us and I couldn’t be more relieved for this short recess. I love the girls and I’m so glad I went along on this trip, but in that moment I desperately fought back the tears that threatened to fall. I took several deep breaths, trying to steady myself. I craned my neck to the window, hiding my face away from them and noticed the starry night sky. Before I knew it, we’d arrived at our destination.
Later that night as I performed my prayers quietly and rather awkwardly within vicinity of new friends, I felt like I bared naked a part of myself – one I’ve always tried to keep hidden until one gets to know me much, much better after long, extended period stretching months to years. Perhaps I’m just too ridiculously guarded.
I laid out my beautiful, hand-woven prayer mat from Mecca, a gift from Mum, at the far corner of the hotel room. I dared not look at their faces as I donned my praying gear, a pair of gold-pleated knee-length white telekung and its matching long skirt. Halfway through my prayers, I accidentally banged my head against the table but paid no heed to the sharp pain and surprised gasps. I clung on to the raw, guttural and naked emotions I felt since couple hours ago as I prayed, this time letting my tears fall freely as I faced my praying mat.
“Maybe it is because you’re different,” she responded kindly to my frantic text messages sent during the ride to the hotel, “The adjustment process is tough. It’s like… you’re suddenly placed in a TV show, expected to act but they forgot to give you the script.”
I nodded and clung on to her every word, fighting back the tears.
“And maybe… you just put too much pressure on yourself.”
I thought of the night sky I just saw and remembered the blinking stars. I imagined myself as one of them – a star among hundreds, thousands and million others just resting nonchalantly amid the darkness; no insecurities, just twinkling my light away. I thought of what it means to let go; acceptance.
Will I ever acquire it, truly and sincerely?
This struggle is so seventeen; I am already twenty-two. I’m supposed to know better by now.