As a writer, I felt obligated by an unwritten law to lend myself, particularly my perception of my human experience, to my reader. So long, I have debated how to capture myself in my own writing, until I understood, about two years ago, that wasn’t the case at all.
Two weeks after I moved to England for my undergrad, my mum went into the hospital to have an operation. They had found a tumour in her gut. Mum, who had been the pillar of my existence, was being unfastened and rummaged through, in a cold, sterile room, some 1,500 miles away. I was in my room, in student halls overpopulated by strangers, alone. I cried and I laughed, I went through the five stages and then some, all in the span of a few hours. And then everything went blank.
The surgery went well and mum began her road to recovery in Romania, while I remained in England. I struggled to understand who I was in this new world of hers. For months, it felt like I was sleepwalking everywhere. I went home for Christmas that year, and I hated it. I didn’t understand the dynamics anymore, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t adjust to being home again. Standing in my bedroom, which I had inhabited for most of my adolescence, was eerie. Everything before It was obscured. It was like staring at myself staring through a screen, at everything else. The break between me Before and me After was a clean cut.
It was then, for the first time, that I really began to question who I am. It felt so existential, so completely ostentatious and loud, but my parents weren’t noticing it. They were preoccupied with the wounds they could see, and rightfully so. I felt alienated. I felt like the last smudge of my old self had been erased. I didn’t read, and I didn’t write. I didn’t write for a long time. I tried, miserably, to finish my coursework, and through some miracle, I did.
Mum recovered fully. And then life just carried on. I carried on, despite still feeling like I wasn’t there, and like I was looking at the world from afar. I tried to write about the shock and the grief, and I couldn’t. I thought to myself ‘Why can’t I write about this?’ There was so much of myself to lend out now, so much of that human experience that only I was able to tell, yet nothing made it on the page.
Every day in our lives is a sentence in a story. Every year is a chapter. With each sentence, with each chapter, the story changes and, our way of perceiving the past changes too. It’s like we go through a massive edit and come out a new draft. My mum’s cancer had put my last draft through the shredder. Twenty years’ worth of what I had compiled as ‘myself’, gone, and I had to come up with something else.
I’ve found through everything I’ve written, or have struggled to write since It happened, a little piece of myself. I am starting to understand who this new person is, word by word, like I am learning to curl every letter, to dot every i and cross every t anew. Like I am learning the art of me, and that it is not through the act of writing that I lend myself to the reader, but to myself.