October 12, 2022
FOR THE THIRD time in a week I have stopped, mid-run, to lie down in the middle of the trail behind our house, pressing my spine against the crack on the pavement and taking a few deep breaths, or trying to. Ordinarily, I run back and forth here until I hit 5 km, but today I wanted to stop everything for a minute. I wondered what shape or object a deep breath would be, if it was a shape or object. Eventually, I heard a dog barking a few meters away and resolved to get up, keep moving.
I lit a couple of candles in the bathroom when I got home, pressed play on my Otis Redding playlist and texted my friend to tell her that I needed to reset, that something feels off. She responded right away: “have you been watching too many vlogs by white women on youtube?”
I took a cold shower, in another unsuccessful attempt at forcing myself to really breathe.
Anyone who has curly hair knows not to run a brush through it when it’s damp; you break the curls, split them apart in a way that leaves them broken at the ends. I ran a brush through a section at a time, water leaking down into my white tank top. Almost instantly, my hair frizzed up in a black cloud.
I decided to take the day off work—a mental health day, the HR person called it. I put my cellphone and laptop in the coat closet, for some distance. A copy of The Trees by Percival Everett sat in my lap for an hour before I opened it, read a couple of pages and closed it again. I listened to Mac Miller and took down all the art on my walls, mostly portraits of South Asian women; I tried replacing these with childhood photos, then took those down as well, leaving the off-white walls bare.
Out came the cellphone. I drafted a breakup text message to a couple of friends I’ve outgrown, and/or who have outgrown me. It just seems like the right season for goodbyes. I sent the messages. In the Bumble app I stared at the empty bio section; it’s been a month since I created a profile but somehow I still don’t know what to put in that box. I gave up and texted my tattoo artist to ask if I could come by later today, and she said yes.
I went on a date with this guy last week. He’s been asking me to go to this painting cafe, and I’ve stared at the message without responding for too long. I wrote back to tell him I could hang out tonight. It’s not a date though, I told him; I’m taking a break from dating right now.
I made korma for my family, a kind of curry, while listening to Farida Khanum. It must be exhausting to spend so many years singing about unrequited love while still trying to convey hope about love. As I waited for the onions to turn golden-brown, I ate two avocados with chilli flakes on top. The house would smell like burnt oil and cardamom for hours.
I rolled my mom’s old suitcase into my room and filled it with all the dresses I own, because I am going to channel the Hot Girl Summer energy that people keep talking about into my solo trip to Lisbon in a couple of weeks. Is Hot Girl Fall a thing? I removed the tags on a couple of really short dresses that I bought a few years ago, but haven’t yet worn because my legs never looked nice enough.
The tattoo studio always smells like detergent. There was Spanish rap playing, and the buzz of the needle poked a deep breath out of me. After the session I pulled one of the too-short dresses over my head, dusty pink satin with white lace along the neck and bottom hem. My legs are my legs, so I might as well wear it. I tied my hair into a tight bun and put on the gold hoops that I’ve worn every day for years. On top I layered one of Abu’s sweaters and then my leather jacket, to cover the fresh tattoo of an anatomical heart with wild flowers growing out of it, that is covering the tattoo of an Urdu poem I got when I was optimistic about love.
At the cafe, we stood in front of our blank canvases trying to decide what to paint. He chose a skyline from a pile of reference images on a table nearby. I watched him paint in silence, there was no music playing. He didn’t ask me why I wasn’t painting, or try to pass me a reference photo—somehow he knew to just do his own thing, for now. I left my canvas blank for a while, a fresh start waiting for me.