I find myself not caring when a few of the colleges I’ve applied to have said no. Perhaps this is just because I always file away the big things that hurt, jam them into boxes, and shove them into the attic crawl-space, never to be looked at again.
“Don’t think about it, Eleanor. It’s gone,” I tell myself, “Let it go.”
And so I make myself numb and move on. The rejection, the funeral, the sickness, the disaster passes while I look on with steely eyes and my jaw set.
The hospital nurse is surprised that I’m cracking jokes while she hooks me up to a machine for yet another test. It’s been twelve hours in the emergency room, and I’ve been strangely calm the entire time. I read about the North African Front in WWII and another tank blows up while she attaches a cord to a sticker on my ankle.
My mother is shocked that I can get through a magazine spread of children dying from a suicide bomber blowing up a café. I don’t bat an eye and comment on the framing of the shot and look up aid organizations in the region. I send Doctors Without Borders five dollars and continue reading about the attack.
Pippa is disturbed that I don’t do much crying when people die. “What’s wrong with you?” she asks, and I find myself asking the same question. It’s a free pass to be inconsolable, and I never take it. I restock the napkin holder and search for more ice, instead.
The elementary school nurse is surprised that I have been stung several times by a hornet and reacted by walking into her office, holding out my arm, and announcing, “I think it was a hornet this time. Can I have some ice?” without shedding a tear or hissing in pain. I go back outside immediately.
You just disconnect, float above it all, and never, ever think about it again with an ounce of vulnerability. I let myself fly into that second place that isn’t here and lose myself in the quiet.
But I’m not entirely deadened to emotion, that certainly is clear. I save it all for the trivial, selfish stuff. I get depressed about nothing, spend time staring at walls and lying in bed. I have panic attacks and freak out about imagined gas fumes. I cry about writing essays. I am often consumed by shame and self-loathing. Cecelia’s phone can tell you just how often I reach out to her when I’m upset. And I am also one of those saps who bursts into tears during Water.org’s videos about bring wells to impoverished people or during Matthew’s proposal in Downton Abbey.
Sometimes I ask for the balance to be switched. How much more social acceptable, easier, and moral it would be to react so extravagantly to life changing things. Let’s bring it back to zero, re-calibrate, and begin again. Please, God? If not for me, for the people I affect?
But of course that never changes. My brain came wired a certain way. I was a glum child, prone to tears and insecurities, more likely to play by myself in the corner than hang out with other children. There are infinite memories of wandering around classrooms and playgrounds at recess, lost in my own thoughts, creating narratives describing what I saw or creating stories about lives I imagined living. Why chase people across the asphalt when you can sit under the slide and pretend to live on the Prairie in 1870.
There’s my school picture from when I was four: sad faced and looking sightly away from the camera, arms folded on top of a book, the page open to a picture of an owl swooping down on a mouse. The memory of being told to smile, but instead staring past the photographer to the other children running about and playing, wondering what it would be like to join in, but knowing all the same that I wouldn’t. One more day of walking in circles, thinking and waiting for something extraordinary to happen.
I tell Cecelia that I’m feeling sad right now, and I suppose I am on some level—the allure of lying down and enjoying the silence of my bedroom is tantalizing, a sure sign of something being wrong—but I feel just fine. I’ll have heard from all of the schools within a week, and then I’ll begin to plan.
For now, I’ll think of ways to decorate a dorm room and pretend that I’m the main character in the novel I’m writing, a girl who is always like the animated, foot-in-mouth, passionate about everything Ella. I’m so very tired.
Tomorrow, we’ll go on a rollicking adventure where I’ll be the bouncy, extroverted Ella I’m half of the time. We’ll be goofy and happy together. I promise.
On another note, I learned today that lucid dreaming isn’t something that everybody does. I’ve been aware that I am dreaming and capable of waking myself up or changing the dream ever since I can remember. When I talk about waking up screaming and punching, it’s because I’m sort of physically fighting my way awake, not because I’m suddenly in a panic.