story | Numhom Techalapanarasme, Guest Writer
photo | Numhom Techalapanarasme
Content notice: self harm/graphic imagery, depression/mental health
In my first Literature and Humanities 1 class my professor got us to make name cards. I said I was ‘Numhom’ or ‘Nummy’. She told me to pick. I had no idea what to do. I’ve never had to pick before. I chose Nummy. And in the weeks following, my brain stuttered in Thai as I realised I didn’t know the name of vegetables and birds in English. It stuttered more when people asked me why I always talked around the point and not to it. Some parts of me died when I chose Nummy. Most of what I say now is very direct. I can’t decide if it’s for better or for worse. All I know is I miss the days when people could correctly pronounce and call me by my name.
I spent a lot of Freshman year crying alone in my room. Passing out at 3 am from trying to finish all my readings, making mama noodles in a mug because it was the only familiar thing I had left of my culture in a place that did not speak my mother tongue. Lonely is a light way of putting it. Despair is a much more fitting term.
A vivid memory I have of a lover in Yale-NUS is when we lay next to each other at 2 am and he read out loud to me the remaining chapters of that week’s reading – The Odyssey. It was the chapter about Nausicaa. I remember feeling drawn to her because of the gentleness of her story but also because both of our names start with the letter N. Numhom – Nausicaa. When I sold that book to a freshman the next year, I knew we would not work out. When we parted ways I felt worthless, as though I didn’t deserve to be here.
When my acid reflux got so bad that I had to sleep sitting up, I knew I couldn’t keep singing A cappella. A cappella stressed me out because I’m used to being a jazz soloist, and the role of pitch perfect team player was hard to adapt to, especially because everyone seemed to be getting it much faster than me. I learned to understand that comfort comes with experience, and skill takes practice. I grew to deeply respect my friends and their talents. I’m glad I still get to sing with them now.
The first time I knew I had met my suite soulmates, we were sitting in the Cendana Dining Hall talking about the movie ‘The Room’. The writing is awful, the acting also, and we talked about ‘spoons’ and ‘hi doggy’ and why the movie was perfect in ways it probably never imagined it could be. Henlo. Bork bork. It was a start. I always had trouble believing anyone wanted to be friends with me. But I trusted them. I let them in and they loved me. My biggest heartache in graduating is losing them as part of my home.
In the summer before Junior year, a late night conversation in the Cendana Common Lounge with a close friend convinced me I had to produce a play. Its words were biting at my mind and the imagery haunted me in all my waking moments. The sensation of wanting to slice myself open from the tip of my left middle finger to my right and crawl out of it whole, crawl out of me – I’ve felt it since I was 15. The play was 4.48 Psychosis, the player was me. I cried, cursed, stripped down to my underwear and let you look at me. Here. Here I am. Please open the curtains.
Late night drives around the city and he asks me if I loved my then partner. Yes. Like a best friend I never want to be without. Most people I’ve met at Yale-NUS are like that. It is such a blessing to have all these memories; I never want to be without them.
My favourite memory of a person is of a stranger in New York. It was late afternoon on the cusp of evening and I was walking around towards Grand Central Terminal. This woman walks out of a building with bold afro hair, beautiful black skin, an orange tube top, denim jeans, black badass boots, and a corn snake wrapped around her neck and arms like a godly scarf. Some nearby person flinched, “oh damn”. She walked on, swagger rippling in every step, shoulders pinched and chin held high. That’s how I always want to feel inside. Like nothing and no one can hurt me. Like nothing can bring me down.
But I am down on most days.
And it’s funny that only now in the last months of my undergrad career do I feel like I’m prepared for college life. Semester 1 of Senior year was the longest time in college I spent single, and I slowly learned to love myself for what I was and who I am. With all my shortcomings, my strengths, my tendency to lean heavily towards the dramatic. Truth is, I’ve always been scared to feel. Someone I looked up to once dismissed my experience because I “tend to be overly dramatic”. But I can’t help but feel. I can’t do anything but feel.
As I was moving out, I found a note I wrote to myself in Sophomore year when my depression was at its worst. It reads: “be motivated by the fact that it’s mandatory”.
But also: “Love again. Love more. Love harder”.
I always will.
This place has taught me many things, but mostly it gave me the language to talk to others about anything and everything. It gave me the courage to be honest and vulnerable. It taught me how to be humble when I needed to be, and how to be angry when I am. It has been a wild but fantastic ride. I hope yours will be fantastic too.