I hobble over to my teammate’s car and slide in sheepishly, praying there’s no traffic on the way to our high school. We’re late for basketball practice. Her arms are crossed and jaw is clenched, but she wouldn’t have left without me. At dawn, she takes the extra rounds of the field alongside me.
We’ve both forgotten about the earlier tension by now and have convinced ourselves to get breakfast on our way back. A bright idea, even though I didn’t bring any cash. Per usual. Add it to the tab and at this point, maybe I can just pay off all the debt with a mansion when we’re older.
As soon as I am back home, my body remembers that I’m heartbroken from the end of a recent relationship. I’m ablaze with rage and grief. I send my best friend a voice memo long enough to be its own episode of a podcast. I’m cursing and blubbering in it. She immediately listens to it and calls me.
We’ve now analyzed every single one of my emotions, and I feel better. I say thank you. She scolds me for it: there’s none of that here.
I snuggle with my sister and watch horror movies. The comforter over our feet is warm, and the television’s screen clashes with the sun rays streaming in from the window.
In India, a country built around community-based values, I didn’t realize how comfortable — and comforted — I was by interdependence. I didn’t hesitate to ask for help and with my friends and family’s collective mentality, they didn’t hesitate to give it.
In Berkeley though, everything is decentralized: Our apartments are scattered among Northside, Southside and Downtown, and our class schedules oscillate between the four extreme directions of the Campanile’s guiding compass.
With the enigmatically different lives we live, connections can’t penetrate through the resistant barriers of all the “we should meet soon!” replies to each other’s Instagram stories and the accidental ghosting that follows.
You can’t just send friends When2meet links, can you?
Besides, the only thing we can all converge on is our deep need to succeed above anything else. With every person I talked to about our majors, classes and clubs (the small-talk trifecta) and never, ever saw again, I became more assimilated into the individualistic culture of college.
I shut my laptop after hitting “Submit Assignment.” I respond to my classmate’s question about the problem set and make a joke about the GSI. Next, I chime into the logistical planning on my “nightS” group chat.
I head to the party of the evening, but not before I dump all the black outfits that didn’t make the final cut onto my bed. I’d rather that than have them discomfort my roommate’s peripheral vision.
I feel good under the dim lights. I have just enough substances in my body for that. I’m still very aware of myself though. I know my limits. I don’t want anyone to have to take care of me.
I return to my apartment. I sit in the dark and first pay off my Venmo request for the Uber back. It makes me very uncomfortable to owe anybody money.
In Berkeley, everyone was to me, as I was to them, an afterthought — a relationship preserved at night and over weekends after the day’s work was done. I mistook the predictability and control of having everybody siloed into their own transactional purpose in my life as independence.
This independence became so heavily ingrained that when I was diagnosed with anorexia and prescribed antidepressants, I didn’t even consider them. I was mad at the reliance they suggested. I decided to stay in Berkeley over the summer, all alone, and deal with it myself.
I couldn’t. After weeks of swallowing my tears, I finally choked it out. “Mama,” I cried, “Please come help me. I can’t do it by myself.”
She was booked on the next available flight to San Francisco.
Since I’ve moved back in with my mom — or rather, since she has with me — I’m relearning dependence as a strength rather than a vulnerability. It implies having someone to depend on.
I’m becoming better at letting others take care of me. I’m integrating my family and friends into my schedule, instead of accommodating them around it.
Since this awakening, I’ve been able to start a new day.
I pack the lunch my mother cooked for me from my doctor-given recovery meal plan.
My classmate wants to go get boba. I’ll go with her, of course, but won’t have any. That’s fine. She knows why. I don’t have to come up with any excuses like I have been for the past year.
The corner of the Internet where I overshare has been updated. Strangers read my journal-like ramblings. Occasionally, they reach out. “Hey, I read your piece. I just wanted to let you know that I’m here for you.”
“Thank you,” I tell them. It means a lot to me, and I might take them up on their offer someday, so don’t be too surprised if I do. And I hope you know that I’m here for you too.