Last New Year’s, I spent the last hour of the year in the same bed as my mom. At 22, I still felt some childlike comfort in her presence and wrapped my cold feet between her warm legs. I was shivering from anxiety. I watched the fireworks outside my window explode, rattle, and disappear after festering in the night sky. The untiring buzzing in my ears was driving me mad – I had tinnitus.
It developed on or around Christmas day. I’d fallen asleep watching Mulan or My Hero Academia (I’m thoroughly traumatized, I don’t remember) and woke up with a metallic screeching in my head. Everyone gets it from time to time, but this was different. A day passed, and it didn’t go. A week later, I was in urgent care, having my eardrums examined. I got a blister pack of steroids – sans the warning that they exemplify preexisting anxiety – and was on my merry way.
It didn’t help. I kept praying and praying it’d go away. Made my mom, brother, friends, and boyfriend all assure me that it’d fade away and I’d laugh it off in profound relief. I hoped it would come and go like nothing, like the red and green fire that lit up the sky that night. It didn’t.
A year later, and I’ve yet to be blissfully content in total silence. When the heater shuts off, when I pause the clattering of my keyboard, and when ambulance sirens have traveled enough distance to be inaudible, I am still left with the faintest, shakiest treble tone, but I am okay. I’m glad I’m okay.
As December comes to a close, I’m finding the time to not only reflect on the past month, but the past year. That discernible and intimate tune has been with me since. Although it’s caused me to spend $500 on a month guard (thank you, anxiety-induced bruxism), severely decrease my caffeine intake and carefully monitor my stress and anger, it’s been a blessing of a curse; I may have never learned patience without it. Do I still hate it? Absolutely.
In January I sat in my car nearly every day, breaking down in tears. I made calls with whatever audiologists could see me, insisting on audiograms, being so sure that as the hours went on, my sanity and hearing were dwindling. I’ve a stack full of those now, in a folder in my desk that all say it’s still within a perfect range and assure me there wasn’t any loss. I’ll still schedule one every year for the rest of my life.
I determined that with so much out of my control, all I could do was shift my focus to something more time consuming. Screenwriting was perfect! I’d essentially taken a year break from it after graduating college, and reminded myself how much I’d adored it…
When I was a kid, and when Wattpad and Quizilla were still popular, I’d snag my mom’s easily-overheated laptop and hash away at my newest teen-drama fueled idea. I’d even got a few loyal readers, begging me for next week’s chapter. I’d create radios on Pandora based off of Alexandre Desplat’s movie scores. Listen to the stories he told without words to inspire my own. Of course, they were shit. And Quizilla was deleted. I’m sure my slow-burn romance is still somewhere out there on Wattpad. I’d always had this fascination with exploring the worlds in my head and even at 10 years old, was desperate for some sort of outlet.
So I dug into that desperation. I stuffed my tote with my laptop, notebook, annotating materials, and the screenplay for Dope, which I printed at home, successfully draining a $100 cart of ink. It was the film that sealed the deal for me at 15, solidifying in my mind I could write and dive into any world I choose. I chipped away at every piece, scribbling notes in the margins to inspire my own work. Focused on the words on the page instead of that unwavering buzz in my ears.
One day I made the mistake of ordering a caffeinated latte that not only made the ringing sound like a horde of angry hornets, but made my hands a bit too shaky to hold a highlighter correctly. I’ve only drank espresso in moderation since. Still, I was determined to pick things back up, even if it meant starting from square one again. A discouraging fact, but nonetheless doable feat.
This was also when I’d decided to fully take on indoor bouldering, to the utter joy of my then-boyfriend. He shuffled me into REI to buy my first pair of climbing shoes, and squeezed my toe to make sure they fit properly. You apparently size down with these things.
Then February came. My ears got a little quiet. I thought to myself, one uphill battle isn’t enough, I have to learn Photoshop too. And create another blog. I began blogging in December 2018 (it’s now my 4 year blogging birthday, hooray) and that since defunct-but-privately-archived site needed a replacement. I’d also been applying nonstop to internships and fellowships, since full-time jobs found my status as a recent grad objectively displeasing.
I’d even found cheap flights to Los Angeles, and insisted on visiting to get my mind off things. To my surprise, my mom made it a family trip. I made a Funko Pop of myself; in one hand, this plastic doll version of me held a book, and a camera in another. I blame my then-boyfriend for convincing me this was cute. I visited the academy museum and stared in awe at the awards for best screenplay. Particularly Moonlight’s, for reasons I don’t even need to explain. I’d even taken my film camera on that trip, adamant on making memories. I got them developed some months later and all the photos my brother had taken of me were unfocused.
I guess one could find some underlying meaning in that.
Then March came, leaving me disappointed. I’d onboarded with one of the top talent agencies as an intern, and had to drop the program before it’s completion because I was broke and COVID was still fucking with my opportunities. I got discouraged but kept at it. Parked my car at the side of the road when I got randomly inspired. I felt the need to write then and there. Without ear-splitting blenders, gossip and Starbucks indie music, I’d actually got quite a bit done.
Then April and May. At this point, I felt like things were starting to get better. I’d been dedicated to writing, screenwriting, and creating in any way I could. I applied to more internships, and got one with the cutest company. I still had to sleep with rain noises playing from the Google home mini on my bedside, but I didn’t have the same mental exhaustion as before. I enrolled in a Script Anatomy course, scheduled FaceTime calls with my long-distance best-friend, and was delighted with the return of Barry, which I’d been waiting for three. years. Things were looking up.
Then it was June. An abnormally rainy June.
My throat gets tight thinking about it, and I have to blink away the swells of tears in my eyes. I have never experienced grief until my grandpa passed. In the spirit of transparency, and because blogs are apparently meant to spill out the most intimate details of your life – my biological father and I don’t speak. We haven’t, since I opted to end that relationship sophomore year of high school. In his place was my grandpa, who, up until his passing, acted like some sort of father figure to not only me, but all my siblings and cousins.
The day he went is likely something that I’ll never forget, and not in a way that is brutal, or heartbreaking, but unnecessarily drawn-out and massively conclusive. For years he had dementia. Slowly watching the person you love crumble away til they’re young again, and unfamiliar with the house they’ve lived in for the latter half of their life is a pain that’s similar to a death by a thousand paper cuts. It’s not gut-wrenching in an overnight timeline, it’s an innocuous beginning and a long-awaited end.
The morning started with a mid-length drive to the hospital, where he laid asleep. It was pouring rain out, and we stayed for an hour or two, watching the sky change hues of green via the half-blinded windows. My grandma kept grabbing at his hand, squeezing it between tissue-riddled sniffles. The day before, he was awake. The day before, he held her hand back. The day before, they said a prayer while I sat in silence.
Then we had decided to go. I’d almost left without touching his hand, and something drove me back. I still think he was urging me from his unconscious state to bid him a farewell. So I held his palm and sunk into the warmth. And a few hours later, when everyone had taken their time to see him, he left and rejoined the cosmos. I like to think he went back to Los Angeles, back to when he was young, before he started a lifetime of work and before his hands got all bruised and scarred by the railroad.
I went back home and laid in bed. Played Coldplay. Even the pitter-patter of the rain wasn’t enough to lull me asleep. I bought my first funeral outfit – a sleek, black dress with pretty black heels. Nice enough to repurpose for a party, I suppose. We made a playlist for the wake and I added Jeff Buckley. I actually wanted Rufus Wainwright’s Shrek version of Hallelujah cause I figured he’d laugh. I read some cheesy albeit carefully worded poem about what the loss meant to me. We had mass, the works. We ate in the basement of a church, and I made some comment about how much food there was.
My aunt told me that when he attended an old friend’s reception, he exclaimed he wanted a spread just as impressive for when he went. There was a table with every kind of pan dulce imaginable, and I felt a wave of happiness and hate flood over me. How bittersweet to have a room full of desserts and we couldn’t share any with the man who was known to have the world’s most severe sweet tooth. I still think about him every time I pass the cookie bar at Whole Foods.
As if things couldn’t be more tragicomic, June ended with my brother breaking his foot before my birthday, which of course meant my miraculous day was spent by his side in urgent care. I was happy to spend the day distracted and made plenty of jokes about his RoboCop-esque boot.
By July, I’d left the internship for a fellowship at BuzzFeed. I’d been researching and applying for fellow positions for nearly a year, and the idea that I’d actually landed one made me a megalomaniac for a full 24 hours after I got the offer. This was also when my relationship began to dissolve, and admittedly, I let it slip. Too much had piled onto my emotional plate and I just couldn’t manage. I finished a spec script, dove into work, and bottled everything up until September.
I booked a flight to NYC. I popped a valium and played melancholic music in my AirPods til I fell asleep on the flight. I wanted earplugs so the engine noises wouldn’t cause a tinnitus flare, but at that point it was least of my worries. I needed time away from home, and a reminder of my goals. Spending nearly a week with my best friend gave me the boost I needed to finally address the ongoing issues I had; my dissatisfaction with having been at home the past 2 years, crippling anxiety, desperation for emotional intimacy in a fracturing partnership, and overall lack of direction.
I made a last attempt at salvaging things with my best-friend-boyfriend. I got a card and scribbled a heartfelt note inside, along with a gift card to his favorite coffee shop. On our first date, the waiter had gotten confused and assumed we were on our anniversary. He gave us divine chocolate truffles on the house. I got a box for our actual one year-ish. The day came and went quieter than the silence I can no longer hear. Things ended, and I used the gift card for myself, stuffed the card in a keepsake box to cry over later, and gifted the chocolates to my family. I enrolled myself in another Script Anatomy class because heartbroken or not, scripts don’t write themselves.
I went on solo dates in October, awkwardly pushing away every second glass of water waiters left on the table. I started reading again – something I hadn’t done for fun since high school. Every now and then, I hung out with my girlfriends. We chatted about what it’d be like when one would leave to Spain, and there’d be a seven hour time difference between us.
I went to Chicago, hoping the city would make me feel something. It’d been a year and a half since I last went, and I’d forgotten how much I loved it. I stood on the corner I frequented as a junior/senior and wondered if the younger version of myself could feel me there like I could feel her. My family and I strolled around the city, and I made them take bus like I did. I taught them how to pull the cord before their stop, and general bus etiquette.
Lincoln Park was my favorite. When I was a freshman at DePaul, I couldn’t wait to get the fuck out of there and be downtown in the loop. Now, older, I found so much comfort in the slower-paced and foliage-lined neighborhood. We went to Halloween parades, took a night tour, and got drunk near the lakefront. I cried while it rained and thought about how it was finally time to move and stop being scared.
So when November rolled around, I bought a one-way ticket, moving boxes, and packing tape. I saw my friend one more time before she left to Madrid. We ate fancy Costco cheese and nearly downed an entire bottle of wine each. I kept up with the solo dates, and bought myself a new pair of climbing shoes, checking the toes myself.
In December, I cancelled my ticket (obviously disappointing myself) when a few moving things fell through. I’ve spent as much time as possible with my mom and brother, partly to build them up in my system so I don’t miss them as much when I do move, and partly to annoy myself into not missing them. I binged Normal People, and cried at the ending. Mulled over my own failed relationship and let myself feel guilty only over the parts that were actually my fault – it’s a process. Made a vision board for the new year, got new headphones as a Christmas gift to myself, and am finishing the last script of this year. I even started going to the gym, committing to weightlifting routine as another round of ‘fuck you’s’ to my former eating disorders.
So. If you’ve read this far, congratulations. You now know, in detail, the inner-workings of my 2022. Despite everything, and in light of these things, I feel good. I trust that the new year will be evolutionary, and I’ll finally dig into the parts of myself I’ve wanted to for so long. I’ll be happier in my career, more sure of myself, and less intimidated by the world. Not to say I won’t be totally humbled, but at least finally happier and more fulfilled.
I’m beyond excited to start solo filmmaking, get my friend and I’s production company off the ground, and develop a new skillset alongside the one I already have. I have all intentions of expanding my creativity and just having fun with it.
That faint little hum is still in my ears, between the quieter parts of Phoebe Bridgers’ “Scott Street” outro, and it’s fine, actually. It’s gentle, and much less frightening than it was a year ago. Hooray for this year being over and thank goodness for the next. I’m manifesting only good things for me and mine; health, safety, finance, career, love, any everything between. And, for fucks sake, a decent sublease.