Poetry & Prose

Ordinary Troubles

Power evades me

There is a cup of black coffee on the long wooden table, tepid in the air-conditioned kitchen of my house. I have grown used to the rationality of hot coffee—this way, the integrity of the drink will remain long into the day.

I take my seat at the end of the table as I had the day and month and year before. I will remain there until the moon has taken its residence above the city, nature’s cruel reminder of reality’s redundancy. 

In the minutes before 1:00 p.m., the technicolored scene confined to my computer screen flickers to an end—my second movie that day. My eyes sting. The film is poignant in a manner that could only be achieved through experience, and I am envious of the names that flash in the credits. 

They had lived lives worthy of movies. 

I live bound to a series of daily routines. It occurs to me that I want to be a screenwriter, if not out of true passion then out of a promise that I will strive for a fulfilling existence when the world resumes its normal pace. It feels right, as though power has not escaped me fully, if I continue to plan for a future that is out of sight.

Yesterday, I wanted to be a botanist. 

Tomorrow, I will want to be a barista. 

I cling to every piece of comfort like it is the last I will ever see. 

Does it hide in my dreams?

In my isolation, it has been too long since I witnessed the warmth on a stranger’s face as they delay their steps, waiting for me to catch up to them, walking through the door they hold open for me.

Before, I amused myself with the imaginary lives of strangers bustling around me. Sitting in a cafe, fixated on the hundreds of storylines occurring around me. 

In those days, it was not so hard to maintain balance. 

The strangers were never evil in my imagination. They were preoccupied with living and happiness. If they committed harmful acts, it was a small slip. In the end, they always learned to do better. 

I lived in those dreams, where the ideal was mine to create. Control rested within arm’s reach. I could conceive countless incidents that were rooted in good, and my perception of the beauty of the world would once again be unobstructed. 

It is harder to free myself from my blinders now. 

Where power resided, a mass of darkness now lurks. I search for Strength, but her home is vacant. 

When I call her name, my rebounding voice is the only reply. 

Where are you? Come back to me. 

I keep searching

How much of our lives happen in restaurants? When weekly family lunches were steadily abundant in my life, I did not acknowledge their advantage. I merely had to wish for my grandmother’s voice, to miss my cousin’s sisterly advice, and it would be present in a few days’ time. 

In its cold absence, I feel the weight it had occupied. “Meals are an event,” my mom told me once. It has proven itself true. 

But lying between yearning and disregard is gratitude, and it is the territory I find myself in now. For every time I have condemned my solitude, I find that the distance from old habits, old ways of life, have given me clarity. I appreciate more. I reflect more. 

Is it there?

The world is quiet here. My thoughts are constant eerie music in the background of my day. When was the last time I read something? Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse sits on my shelf. I want to laugh at the irony of it, that a year ago I found the idea of time passing so intriguing. Now, I fall into a timeless loop of days beginning with the sun and ending with the moon, nothing distinguishable in between. 

Time is ever-stretching. Every moment feels lived-in. I begin to worry that my curiosity has dulled into indifference, but every day I am reassured that my fascination will never leave me. 

A milk carton, a Russian doll, a cactus. A dream catcher, a vase, an old birthday card. 

These wonders are small mercies, distracting me from the river of disappointment I drift in, seeking a harbor where I can finally rest. There are not enough harbors for everyone. 

My blood seethes with guilt. My skin burns with the pain of my confession: I am tired. But I do not deserve this temporary peace. In this strange river that bears the world, a widow grieves. A son wakes to his new fate. A baby will never know her grandmother. How can I deny them serenity? I surrender my port to them, shoving rope into hands that are not there. I am alone here.

I learn that this is a blessing. 

It returns

Learning to grieve experiences I can never have—the suspense of friends awaiting college decisions, or a spring break getaway celebrating with those who have seen my worst and best times, or the preciousness of final days on a campus where I learned so much—is a bleak activity. But I have found solace in looking forward to those first days of September when I enter a new campus, a new beginning, a new routine. The weight of disappointment used to bear heavily on me, and I have figured out a way to push back. That is all I can do. 

It is easy to fixate on the current dreary situation, accepting the pity of teachers and peers and parents. Doing so has not helped me. 

Every time an overly gentle voice says, “I feel so sorry for you,” I want to tell them that I am one of the lucky ones. I recognize it when I read the news, and even more when I feel the relief of waking up to my family each morning.

I look at my coffee now, gone cold. Nothing remains unchanged in the motions of this world. Loss will not halt the earth—its shifting nature does not depend on my emotions. Through my first introduction to mourning, my first sorrows, and everything else, the world kept moving. New replaced old, delight replaced pain, trust replaced defeat. The world will keep moving. 

Power’s vacant house has become occupied again. This time, warm light seeps out from its windows; I feel it settling into its home. 

I consider my coffee and await better days.