This story has a happy ending, I promise. But back then, it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What had happened was beyond my heart’s comprehension, beyond anything I thought I could come to terms with. The day I found out is a complete blur and in other ways, I remember the exact, insignificant details. I remember tracking my dad’s flight to see if he had landed, knowing I would be the first call he would make. I spent every second trying to reach someone at home I could speak with, but I could only speak with relatives and family friends. I remember that advice came from everywhere, some solicited some unsolicited, telling me whether or not I should fly back and skip my first week of classes. I recall not knowing what I was supposed to do next. I had never been to Schulich before, I knew no one. I didn’t even have friends I could speak with. Who should I ask about the rules? I only knew that I had to go home and that staying was never an option. I didn’t even know what had happened. Information was scarce and scattered, almost like a Chinese whisper in a broken chain of communication. There was no one to provide information. There was no way to reach my dad. These are the two things I thought about all day, sitting in my campus apartment room in agony, not knowing how to react.
I don’t remember what dad and I said to each other when we finally spoke hours later. I just remember us crying together for a very long time before either of us said anything. I had nowhere to privately speak with him, so I remember standing near the elevator in my apartment building, frozen in place, crying. Hoping no one would see me there. When we were finally able to put words to emotion, I barely croaked out “I want to come home” as determinedly as possible, thinking he might also ask me to stay put, as other well-meaning friends and family had said. But he said “of course, book your flight.”
I went to school the next morning, spoke to my professors and was on the first flight out on Monday night. It was a 23 hour flight via Hong Kong, and by the time I made it home, some of the rituals were over and I could not see her. All that was left was the prayer. But at least I had made it for that. The details of walking into my house that day are too painful to put into words. I was in Delhi for exactly 72 hours, of which I slept barely 5. I had been awake on all flights to and from Delhi, completing assignments from classes I didn’t even attend.
This set the tone for the entire first semester. Partially because I was playing catch up, having missed 7 days of classes and several assignments, arriving in Toronto 2 days before my first exam. But mostly because I didn’t realize that the worst was not behind me, but ahead of me. It manifested itself in odd ways. Some days I suppressed everything I was feeling, other days I was bawling loudly in my apartment when it was empty, worried that friends and neighbours would hear me. Some days I was out there making new friends, other days I found comfort in the few people I had become close friends with. I’m not someone who comfortably expresses emotions to anyone I’m not close with, and I’m very good at looking chipper when I feel broken. I did that unknowingly, for two semesters. I held on because I was alone and because we were always knee-deep in assignments. There was no room to come up for air, so aside from a few nights of breakdowns, I looked as alright as anyone else.
Here’s what I know in hindsight: I was not sleeping more than 3 hours a night, I was ordering McDonald’s for every meal (or cooking the same pasta over and over that everyone around me was sick of looking at) and sharing with no one how messed up I felt inside. I made 4 close friends and stuck to them like glue, because I couldn’t stand to converse with anyone else.
That first semester was rough. We had 9 courses, of which 7 were brand new subjects to me. I come from an arts background, so accounts, finance and stats were all subjects I had never studied before. I would go home and struggle to process my feelings. The next day I would struggle in class or find it difficult to show up altogether. That was also the semester we needed to look for internships and network with other people to learn more about our chosen field – at a time when the last thing I wanted to do was speak with anyone. There was a lot said to me during that time, because I was clinging to what was easy and comfortable. Jokes were made about me not showing up to certain classes and I was told (much later) that people thought I was unfriendly. The truth was that I was just struggling and I didn’t think I could explain it to anyone at the time.
I pushed myself into looking for an internship, my go-to survival mechanism of burying myself into a project in order to keep going. I put my blinders on and set to work. In December, I took up Microsoft’s offer for an internship, as a Marketing and Communications Manager – Intern. The internship would begin in May 2021, a four-month internship where we would compete for a full-time position. By now, our first semester was over and I flew back home to India for the holidays.