Prose Spring 2021

yellow yolk (alternatively, mid-way reflections on a gap year)

by Kaitlyn Choe

I feel like a cracked egg these days, golden-yellow yolk threatening to seep through the fractures of my shell at any moment. Only, eggs are probably much cooler than me, because, when put in hot water, they become tougher, while I collapse further into myself. Science aside, how do they do this? How does anything know how to thrive under extreme conditions?

People once thought I was hard-boiled and tougher than anything. I was a scholarship student with a full ride at an elite university, how could I not be?

I once believed this myth, too. That I had triumphed through hardship, that I’d grown stronger for all of the suffering. All the final exams, the waking up at 4 am to finish psets, the all-nighters, the thousands of extra-curriculars, the panic attacks, the suicidal ideation — they’d all made me a better, more capable person. Right?

The answer to this question used to be one word as well: a simple, sweet, supportive yes, whispered in the acceptance letters, the financial aid package, the Instagram posts speckled with congratulatory comments. But now, I don’t know. I am on a gap year, the coolest and calmest of waters, and still my skin is so fragile. I sleep ten hours each day and still feel exhausted afterward. I can barely manage the teaspoon to-do list I scoop onto my agenda each day. The one class I am taking, I am still struggling to keep up with. Meanwhile, everywhere, I hear the birds chattering.

piece of shit lazy piece of shit waste of time waste of space look at you so privileged and so lazy what happened to high school you what happened to worthy you piece of absolute shit you disgust me how can you not do the simplest of things incompetent impotent piece of shit shitshitshit

I guess

what I am trying to say

is that I did not come out of the years and years of hot water a better version of myself. I instead arrived at college with half a decade’s worth of sleep debt and untempered anxiety and wells of sadness and an unhealthy addiction to validation from capitalistic definitions of success, all buried deep inside of me, biding their sweet, hungry time. Waiting for a lapse like this. Waiting to eat.

This isn’t to say that they’re just now making their appearance. They often lurched out in college, too. But in school I had other things to worry about. This pset and that meeting and this midterm and that financial aid form and this application and this and that and this and that and on and on it went, through rainstorms and hundred-degree heat and nights spent in libraries. Through barely bearable mornings and afternoons in random corners of campus, laptop open, spine hunched forward, fingers click-clacking onto the teeth of the keyboard. The birds still chattered, but in exchange for my worries, I had seeds to feed them.

But here, look at this test I got an A on, but here, look at my two part-time jobs on campus, but here, look at this summer internship and that fellowship. I could momentarily snuff them out, or at least dull the noise to a murmur, a hum, a background instrumental of teetering self-esteem.

But now, I am on a gap year, and I have no more seeds in my pockets. The creatures that birthed me are pecking at my shell, demanding to be fed, but with what? With a finally sustainable sleep schedule? With a somewhat regular eating routine? These birds don’t give a shit about my well-being. Where is your full-time internship, where is your finished book, where where where are all the things you promised me would make this year worthwhile, worth sacrificing everything else.

I am halfway through the year, and I still don’t have any of these things. I am halfway through the year, and the yolk keeps pouring out of my mouth in snappy responses to loved ones, spilling out of my eyes in snapshots of sobbing, coating my hands cold and clammy, dripping out of my pores lying in bed.

How long before I go full humpty dumpty? How long before I go splat?

Maybe I didn’t survive the hot water — I just postponed the heat.

And instead of growing stronger, I am collapsing.

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