the other side of the window
Craving a specific cake only found at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, I took a trip back to Columbia's campus today. Despite being only about a 10 minute bike ride from where I am now, I haven't been back there in months. It's hard to explain.
The dead of summer is a bit of an eerie time to be around a college campus. Mostly devoid of students, the area failed to really evoke any feeling in me at all. This all changed, however, when I walked past the dorm room I live in during senior year.
For some context, this dorm room was rather more a one bedroom apartment. It was on the top floor, and had a glorious view over Riverside Park and the Hudson. My roommate, engaged and soon to be married, had left me alone soon after moving in, to what people colloquially termed a "dingle" (double dorm occupied by a single person). I had scrupulously (illicitly) opened the door to the roof so I also spent much time enjoying the panoramic views from up there.
As nice as it was, I really did spend far too much time inside this room. Though it was still the Covid-19 era, things were beginning to open up. I ignored this, and stayed home. I know (knew?) that place as intimately as it's possible to know a place outside of yourselfs. I spent almost a continuous year just in this room, with only a few breaks to pick up food or attend an in-person exam. Otherwise it was all in there. In that room, I had my very own year of rest and relaxation.
A cause, or maybe an effect, of my isolation, was an ongoing struggle with mental health issues. Suffice to say, in this place, I explored depths of the mind that no sane person would care to enter. I was also mid-transition at this point, and with my physical body in a constant state of limbo, it was safe to stay inside. I could watch the world go by from my window. My depression and anxiety levels, which had been rising since I had started college, were reaching a defeaning level. I had been through two years of near complete isolation due to the pandemic. I had lost touch with most everyone I had known before. I had become a new person, but had not yet made new connections.
During my tenure in this room, I felt many of those dreaded des-es. Despair. Desolation. Despondence. Destruction. Desperation. They became the norm. Unhelpful psychiatrists doled out vast quantities of pills that eventually made me much worse and even more room-bound than I had been before. Anxiety medications made me too sleepy, which I counteracted with innumerable cans of energy drinks, which in turn increased my anxiety. I stayed up all night, and did not wake up well into the afternoon. Some weeks I only went outside at night. I attended my online classes but only in the way one "attends" church by only on Christmas and Easter. Often when greeting the security guard after finally venturing outside I realized I had not uttered a word out loud in days, my own voice unfamiliar to me.
I spent my time variously daydreaming and staring out the window. Reading. Reading books mostly by authors who comitted suicide. Listening to music from my childhood. Taking long showers. Laying on the floor. Doom scrolling. Watching anime. Watching ships pass by in the river. Staring in the mirror and not being sure who the person on the other side really was.
Without exaggeration, this was the darkest period of my life. But I will not hesitate to say it was also one of the most beautiful and important periods. I feel a deep sense of nostalgia for that time now, though also no desire to re-experience it at all, unlike other periods I feel nostalgia for. I think I had avoided visiting that place because I was afraid I would long for the life I had. Now though, two years removed and seeing it all from the other side of the window, I am more condfident leaving it as just a place I can visit in memory, and nothing more.