Day 6597 | Day 6750

I went on a trip to Chicago this weekend with a bunch of people I mostly didn't know. I'm deathly terrified of not knowing what I'm doing and this was no exception. While on the highway going there, I was nauseous to the point of being unable to do anything but grimace and wish for the bus to roll over. My girlfriend was the one who had put both of us on the list to go on the trip and she knew far more people than I did. The way I saw it, it was a chance for me to face my fears and grow and all that crap etc.

We arrived at the city and got off the bus right outside the Museum of Contemporary Art. We walked around the museum which was free and yet still not worth the price of admission for an hour and a half or so. That's when the hell began. Our group wasn't anything official--people kept drifting in an out-- but in general there were about 5 guys and 4 girls. Unfortunately, majority rule apparently doesn't apply to shopping.

It's physically impossible for a man to walk into a Victoria's Secret and not die a little inside. It was entertaining to look around the store and see all the other men who had been dragged to the store by their wives and girlfriends doing exactly the same thing we were: standing around at the edges of the store attempting to avoid looking at anyone or anything for too long and making awkward laughing noises. It made me wonder why there isn't a separate 'comfort room' in the store just for men to wait out the worst of it. Leather armchairs and a big screen TV with ESPN on 24/7.

Next we went to H&M, the Nike store, the Apple store, Urban Outfitters, Borders, and ended at the shopping mall in Water Tower Place. I'm pretty sure the entire experience slowly drove me Communist. I asked one of the girls what she was going to wear her dress for and she said "I don't know, I'll find something". *Insert jaw dropping sound*. NO. That's backwards. You develop a need for something first, then you buy it, not the other way around. I managed to go the entire time buying only one item which was something I'd been wanting for a while--A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson at Borders. I just don't buy in to the consumerist culture (no pun intended) that seems to be pervading America and frankly it scares me how invested into it people my age are. That's the reason why the average American credit card debt is $10,000 and why millions of Americans are defaulting on their loan payments whether they be for cars or college or housing mortgages.

All of that on my soapbox being said, Chicago is a truly beautiful city. They say that almost no buildings are much more than a hundred years old because of the Chicago Fire so Chicago is one of the most modern cities you will find. I'm not one for art or sculpture much but architecture is the wonderful blend of function and artistic form. The Sears Tower and John Hancock Center are hulking black mountains of steel and glass, hideous in design and yet beautiful in their scale. Other buildings like the diamond shaped Smurfit-Stone Building can be dwarfed by their neighbors and yet stand out on their own by virtue of their aesthetics.

The best part of Chicago though is the riverfront, especially at night. Being late in the year and close to the edge of the time zone, it gets dark rather early in the city. Around 6 at night we walked down Michigan Ave. looking for the Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe which no one actually knew the location of. After walking a mile or so we decided that it was far too cold so we went inside a Starbucks and all got drinks. There wasn't anywhere to sit so we ended up going out to the riverfront directly across from the Trump International Hotel and Tower. The sun sets even earlier in the urban canyons sending crepuscular rays shooting down the avenues and the sodium lamps were coming on along the river making the surface glow with orange warmth. I could spend an entire day along the river, simply watching the city and watching the people.

My anxieties had gotten the better of me, especially on the shopping excursions, and I felt that I had been neglecting my girlfriend. I apologized to her for not being much fun to be around and she gave me a non-committal "You were fine". She remained distant though and pulled back from me whenever I tried any form of contact. I knew something was up so I decided that I'd give her space and try talking to her the next day. We left the city around 1 AM CST and got back around 5 AM EST after crossing the time zone. I went immediately to sleep but didn't sleep too well, waking up at about 8:30.

Everyone knows how it goes, you wake up early in the morning and the first thing that you do is get on the computer to check how much various things have changed in your hours of absence. I logged on to FaceBook to find a message waiting in my inbox: "so i feell this isn't going to surprise you". She didn't even tell me face to face that she wanted to be "just friends". I went to talk to her later but it was clear that she was hiding her true thoughts and feelings from me. She let me talk the entire time and I swear she said fewer than 20 words during the entire 'conversation'. She said it just 'didn't feel right'. I'm feeling led on: she was calling me her boyfriend long before I had even thought of us as a couple and she kissed me first. But when I asked her why she'd even gone out with me in the first place if it didn't feel right she said "It just happened". Bullshit. You don't initiate things and then say that it 'just happened'.

She came by yesterday and dropped off the sweatshirt I'd lent her. It still smells like her.

About an odd dream, which was less important than what came after it:

Last night, I had a dream. Surely I have dreams every night, but it’s very rare that I remember having them, and even more rare that I remember their content. Sometimes I wake up to a vague feeling, a kind of fuzziness at the edges of my mind, something insisting that neurons were firing, that images were experienced. Last night, I was two people at once. I can’t really explain the mechanics of it, dream logic being what it is. Stranger still is that one of me sought only to ceaselessly torment the other in any way possible. The other, for his part, thought little of the tormentor, instead simply trying to carry on with business as usual. Neither was satisfied. I have no particular dislike for myself, but I spent 8 hours last night watching Me try to destroy Me in my head.

I woke up frequently, and each time I drifted back into sleep, I lapsed back into this same dream. At least, I think that’s what happened. I believe that’s what happened because I don’t know anything better to believe.

Lately, this is how things work. I have never been the sanest person you know, if you want to know the truth. Nor am I the least sane. But in recent days, things have become more chaotic. I can’t trust what I see or hear. I lose time in small pieces. It’s almost nostalgic. It will go away, though, because it always does.

So forgive me when I don’t connect my thoughts well from here in. I will admit to not thinking straight.

Mountains from molehills, etc.

I do not thrive on melodrama the way some people do.

You know who you are.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s much to be said for enduring sensitivity to the problems of others, and even something noble in making the problems of others your own. This is why soap operas work, of course — because a lot of us love drama. Let’s be honest with ourselves, here. A lot of us crave sympathy.

I used to be a very sympathetic person. Over the last year or so, I feel that a lot of that has been chipped away and replaced with a bit of unflinching cynicism. There’s apathy there, too. I’m not proud of this, and I have attempted to fight it tooth and nail. But, what can I say? It is what it is. My patience for people turning mundane problems into some epic struggle for their own personal well-being has waned. I no longer have time for manufactured drama. Each of us has to handle our own forgiveness. Each of us has to save ourselves.

On the sudden disappearance of students:

I teach English as a Second Language in a high school, and I visit a junior high school once a week. I lose a few students each term. I usually do not have the luxury of knowing why they’re gone, which initially made me more curious. They simply stop coming to school, and if I ask why, I usually get “it’s complicated” or “I don’t really know how to explain.” One thing that’s certain, however, is that if administrators won’t fill me in on details, students always will, and if I’m armed with a little foreknowledge I can coax the full stories out of the teachers. Here are a few examples:

  1. Male, 17 years old. His father was a respected doctor whose hospital went bankrupt due to the local economy taking a drastic turn for the worst, and rather than live with the consequences (and the loss of face), he took his family and skipped town. Said student returned a few months later, having left his family to return to school. He is currently living with the family of a friend, and will graduate in May.
  2. Female, 15 years old. Her house burned down. This one wasn’t so much of a secret, of course, since it made the news. She stopped coming to school for the better part of a year, but managed to pass her exams and move on to the next grade. She is currently a junior.
  3. Female, 12 years old. She says she has back problems. These back problems keep her from climbing the stairs to her classroom (on the third floor), so she does not attend class. She cannot legally miss school for this, so she stays in the nurse’s office. She is the only overweight girl in her school, and I do not know if all of this is connected, but I see no evidence of her having significant friendships of any kind.
  4. Male, 12 years old. He does not usually speak. I have been offered no explanation as to why he does not speak. Because he doesn’t speak, he too spends his days in the nurse’s office, sitting in a chair beside the door.

That accounts for four. What of the others?

Sickness, the lot of them. And this isn’t a sickness that has a name, apparently. It also has no consistent symptoms or method of treatment. As best I can tell, it is something akin to Victorian Novel Disease. I am usually told that a student “has a weak constitution” or “their body isn’t strong.” I am not a doctor, but as far as I can tell, nothing is physically wrong with the majority of these students. They tell me this themselves. Consistently, they are social outsiders. In virtually all cases, their presence is not missed as much as it should be. Sometimes they come back. Sometimes they drop out.

The point:

The point of this is to talk about Saki.

Saki is one who hasn’t been to school in months. As usual, no real explanation was given as to her absence. Piece by piece, strange tips were dropped. First: “She has to live at the hospital from now on.” Live at the hospital? Later: “She thinks too much. About everything.”

Saki should have turned 14 by now, but I’m not sure when her birthday is. When I met her, she was 12, and she asked me to sign her notebook. Lots of the younger students do this. Before too long, she was a frequent visitor to the office during lunch or recess, discussing such topics as Harry Potter, learning to cook, and boy bands. Her English advanced more quickly than that of her peers, mostly as a result of losing her shyness about trying to speak it so quickly. Despite this, she can’t ever seem to say my name correctly.

Yet, even so, we all knew there was more to this little girl than met the eye. The two other American teachers at the school voiced uncertain concerns as well. She was as cheerful as anyone can be, but there was still something unmistakably dark in her eyes. Something told each of us that she knew more about the world than any kid should have to. We hoped it was something aesthetic. “She just looks like that,” I remember telling myself. I can’t read Japanese faces as well as Western ones.

As it turns out, Saki cut her wrists. She’s alive, but it was serious. She meant it. At age 13, she decided she’d had enough. The diagnosis? “Too much thinking”. What could have been so bad? I’ve got my theories. No doubt you’ve got guesses as well. Barely a teenager, and she put blade to vein and quietly slipped away from the rest of us. I don’t know what to do with it. I am no stranger to tragedy. Suicide (or attempted suicide) is not new. Yet, this one hit me right in the heart.

I’m tired of people telling me how hellish their lives are because they’re having trouble with car payments or a potential love interest isn’t interested. I’m tired of people dropping casual hints as to ending it all as a way to coax affection out of those around them. I’m tired, and I’m fed up with a lot of fucking things, but more than all of that I just want Saki to walk through the door and mispronounce my name again.

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