Sunday, September 26, 2021

Living With Heartbreak

Story | Anna Evtushenko (she/her/hers), Guest Writer
Photo | Anna Evtushenko

If you can, listen to “Glassworks, Opening No. 2” as you read this. If you can, watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire tonight. Read Constellations, or something else that makes you feel dead and alive at once. If your lungs will allow it, breathe through your heartbreak.

I’ve told some people at Cornell and in Russia of my pain: my college has a time bomb stuck to it. They have no experience being in the first class of a Liberal Arts school in Singapore, so they didn’t understand me. But I’ve also talked to some members of the Class of 2017, and they don’t get me either. I also don’t get them. 

This heartbreak that’s shared among us, and other batches, and staff, and faculty, and friends⁠, this “collective effervescence”, is also very much my own. And probably your own too, dear reader⁠—whether you lost a college, or heard “I love you” from someone and never saw them again, or learned of a relative’s death over Skype. And I don’t understand you, but I also do.

It’s the loss of an imagined future. It’s goodbye to the present that ended too fast. It’s incredible, but easy to believe. It’s one of a kind. It happens all the time. It’s natural. But no, it doesn’t make sense. At least I don’t intend to make any sense of it anymore.

Yes, I wanted a future. I wanted a life where I come back to Singapore and meet people 20 years my junior, and tell them something about how we all lived in Residential Colleges 1, 2 and 3 which were just different floors of RC4; how “Saga,” “Elm,” and “Cendana” happened and sounded weird until they didn’t. How we complained about the dining hall, had birthday cakes, blew out and lit candles. How we didn’t know anything about anything and still went with it, which may have been the most important lesson of them all. 

I wanted to see that the things I’d helped create were still there and still bringing joy to someone. When I could, I wanted to donate enough for someone to get what I was given, different and their own but also so dear to me⁠—a Yale-NUS experience. Not just an education⁠—more like a life within a life. 

Upon graduation, feeling fully spent, I wanted this fantasy, this surreality of my college years to not vanish, to still be there⁠, beyond reach for me, but there for someone else. It is now; I can feel it from upstate New York. But soon enough, it won’t be.

It feels like time is going backwards now. As the first class, we were alone, and over the years became less and less alone as new batches rolled in. The college that started with no campus and four courses total gradually became more real. Now, it’s getting less and less real, and the Class of 2025 will forever be the youngest, not the first but the last. Full circle.

Or is it? I wanted a future that won’t happen, but the future will still come. Who am I to say it won’t be as colorful, as strange, as beautiful and as heartbreaking as what I imagined? How can I say that it will be worse, if at the very least it will actually come, envelop me, suddenly be the present

I’m not saying that it won’t be amazing in its reality. But I still want to grieve the unrealized, the unreal.

How does it feel to lose a college? Or to drive your daughter to the airport for the first or the fiftieth time? Or to say goodbye to someone you met on a day trip to Mendoza, Argentina? Tell me. Tell yourself.

In the movie Arrival and the novella Story of Your Life that inspired it, Louise Banks knows there is loss ahead, but lives on and actually experiences it all. 

If I knew how this would turn out, would I still want to do it? Would I send that message? Would I share my whole life with that person? Would I give my whole life⁠—a life within a life⁠—to this college?

Yes.

Anna Evtushenko is a member of the Class of 2017 and Cendana College. At Yale-NUS, she was involved in too many things to list. She is now a PhD candidate in Information Science at Cornell University.

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