“I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the coloured arrows from a Fourth of July rocket” – Sylvia Plath
I encountered The Bell Jar in my first year as an undergrad. Late in the day for a literature-lover to arrive at what’s considered such a modern classic. But as it turned out, it wouldn’t have sucked me in the same way if I had read it any earlier.
Six months after stepping out of the bizarrely comfortable battlefields that represented high-school, I had finally reached a settling point at college. The initial flurry of half-remembered nights giggling and stumbling out into the cold while whirling through circles of ever-changing people; the panicked fear and phone calls home as I imagined I’d picked the wrong courses; the slightly different stories told each time life details were solicited by new faces – all this had descended to its natural close. My best friends were made: we knew that forever after, laughter, drinks, and nights out would occur with each other, and we didn’t want it any other way. My work-ethic had dwindled to embarrassing depths, but emerged startled and refreshed: invigorated and ready for the challenges ahead. Hesitations and obfuscations had wearied me out: they faded out to welcome in an easier honesty and simplicity. I accepted myself without having ever realised how strongly doubts had lingered in my mind.
Strangeness interspersed with familiarity. Enough of one to be able to eagerly anticipate discovery and change; enough of the other to provide treadable, secure ground. It made me happy. I was happy.
So why the unsettling, niggling feeling of despair that, without warning, sidled into my stomach, my throat, and stuck there, choking me into silence? Why the sudden furrow in my brow that would appear as I looked down at a flashing phone? Why the half-bitten lip and shaken head as I resisted picking up and looked around the crowded room, suddenly feeling empty and alienated – empty and alien?