She Has Begun.

Even though, I watched her fall into a spider web of horror, where the hands of death grabbed her by the arms, legs, gut and intestine, dragging her to hell, I wanted to be her, not just part of her hardcore life. I followed her as she decayed and I tagged along as she soared, flourishing intellectually; learning about people, herself, and her space. She no longer thought about living, but truly, whole heartedly lived. I always knew she was cut from a different fabric and when I tell you her story you’ll see why.

She was about a quarter into her grade nine English final, concentrating on the words in her exam booklet, when she noticed the words began to bounce off the page and magically disappear. As the words dispersed into thin air, she too forgot the words just as quick. Nothing seemed to register; despite the fact that English was her strong suit. This made her concentrate harder, causing sudden troubles in vision to surface. She was losing balance sitting in her sturdy chair connected to the desk. She felt pain. The pain that penetrated in her brain, she described as worse than having a baseball bat swung at her head. She screamed in class. Clasping the sides of her temples, hoping to cut off circulation, more so, hoping she would become invisible, while others would become invisible to her. The shrieks grew painfully louder. Loud enough to catch the attention of the teachers to the left and right of the room, and beyond. This carried on for thirty-four seconds, to her it felt like thirty-four minutes. The pain gradually diminished but never fully went away. She was escorted out of the classroom; waiting in the front lobby till her mom came to gather her.

In the ten minute car ride home, she asked her mom to pull over at least ten times, because the feeling of vomit was swallowing her stomach. That day, it took twenty minutes to get home.

The rest of the day she was restless, staring into space or watching senseless T.V. Her mom wasn’t sure what had happened, or what to make of the situation, since she wasn’t there to see her daughter destruct.

The next morning, her alarm clock went off, routinely as it would, for any other school day. She slowly got out of bed, walked towards the bathroom that was down the hall. Still not fully awake, she toppled…over nothing. Another few step and she toppled again. By the time she made it to the bathroom, she felt woozy, and that’s all that she remembered.  

Below, her mom was making herself busy in kitchen when she heard a thud from hell. It was distinct from a drop of a vase, it was human thud. Mom raced up the stairs to find her daughter foaming at the mouth. She later learned her daughter was undergoing a stroke. Not just any stroke, but a rare one, where the left side of the brain produced the blood clots, which happened to be the same side of her paralysation.

This fifteen year old girl said:

That moment when I woke up from anaesthesia, in the hospital bed, completely unaware of what had happened, and I saw tubes, connected to my hands, arms and thighs because I was unable to produce enough blood from just one source. Not to mention, the monstrous tube that ran from my nose down to my stomach, combined with seeing every family member that I was ever attached to, staring at me, eyes full of tears, is a feeling that will never escape my memory. Never.  And, on top of all that, I tried desperately to make a sound to ask ‘what happened,’ and nothing. I didn’t own a voice. My vocal cords were shot to shit. So what did I do next, I started to swell up and join my family in an orgy of tears.

She began to write more, since this was her primary way of communicating now. She was adjusting to the hospital environment. The smell of sick people made her sick no more, because she was one of them. That smell was now coming out of her own pores. Jell-O was something to look forward to in the day, visits from friends and family became routine and pee soaked beds were no longer humiliating. Most of the time she felt like an old woman trapped in prepubescent girl’s body, since, she was only fifteen, new to the period cycle yet used a walker to get around. 

Slowly, mobility in her legs came back, so did her voice and the blood clots drifted away with ample help from blood thinners.

They say you never forget your first. She never forgot her first major scare.

This was only the beginning. A series of other health terrors followed; kidney stones, ovarian assists, Crohn’s disease, anaemia, urinary tract infections, numerous blood transfusions from gastrointestinal surgery after surgery, addiction to prescription drugs, and lastly, a small bowel obstruction, at the age of nineteen.

She attended university, moved away from home, got a taste of university life, got a taste of university boys. Had a few more health scares that she never told her parents about, received an honours arts degree, and was ready to do something life altering. She never wanted to live as a shadow behind her problems; she understood that she invented that shadow.

She embarked upon an untamed adventure that took her to Shanghai, China; a city completely foreign to her, until she created a life there. For this reason, she spent a lot of time trying to fit into the city, as one amongst the twenty million that clog the arteries of this particular metropolis. She spent even more time trying to get to know the personality of the city. Her fondness for communication led her to acquire a working knowledge of Mandarin Chinese, enriching her with four languages thus far; Hindi, Punjabi English and now Mandarin. She secured a job with Microsoft, Shanghai, moving up from junior to senior editor for the content team, within three months. This served as her main source of income. However, Microsoft has its own language where creativity took a backseat, and she was creative. This led her to discover a second job and her new found passion for writing. She quickly landed a gig as a freelance writer for a leading Shanghai magazine, City Weekend; a bi-weekly guide most expatriates consider their bible to the city, since it covered everything to do with enjoyment.  Her contribution to the magazine was to primarily review newly established restaurants in Shanghai. This position whisked her away into a food lover’s paradise. She was able to artistically write about food as much as she enjoyed engaging in conversation about it. From there, her published work was syndicated by one of China’s top news portals, Chinadaily.com., and her work was recognized on a national level. 

While living in Shanghai, she journeyed extensively through China and Southeast Asia; uninterruptedly being exposed to the extremes of poverty on one hand, while also witnessing cultures so lost in superficiality on the other.

Back in Shanghai, she too got lost in the glossy lifestyle. Living in the margins of urban society, in a land of perfectly manicured lawns, cloned condos and defeaning silence; a sort of modern utopia. Her first home in Shanghai was a lavish, high rise penthouse fit for the elite. A panoramic view overlooking peasant dwellings, oversized windows, double stainless steel sinks and a dishwasher. Furnished with three flat screen TV’s, Harman/Kardon stereo system, twenty-four hour surveillance and the list goes on. Two maids came twice per week. She even had the luxury of paying locals merely a few cents Canadian, to deliver Starbucks coffee right to her doorstep. She was making roughly the equivalent of 1800 dollars Canadian, a month, when the average Chinese teacher was making fifty-five. She realized for a twenty-four year old, she wasn’t living realistically. She became out of tune with her surroundings, with the Chinese culture, disconnected from the locals and the city’s vibrancy.

At the end of her first year, she was ready to swap in her fantasy life for a more humble existence, doing away with almost all monetary benefits she was given, and worked for. I’m not sure if it was vexation, kismet or a quest to find the meaning of life, or a combination of all three, that led her to live a frothy experience on the flip side. I did know she wanted to make it clear to herself that money was never the hero.

It started off with moving out her dream like enclave to a tiny, rat infested, one room apartment, sans an elevator. The twelve by fourteen foot room managed to squeeze in a bathroom, two burner stove, single sofa bed, a plastic table and little closet space. She still lived in Shanghai, although living in much poorer district felt like living in a much poorer province. Her new shanty, six storey building must have been at least seventy years old. Both the interior and exterior were falling apart and it smelled like piss all the time. The rundown metal staircase connecting each floor was dominated by rats. Her actual dwelling was not. Although, these rodents would pay her a visit every now and then, just to let her know she was never alone. The senile old people that populated the building and controlled the area spent their days by rummaging through other people’s garbage. These people found it bizarre that a foreigner would ever step foot in a place like this, much less take up a permanent residence here.

Next, she gave up her job at Microsoft, putting all the money she had saved in a bank and pretending it never existed for the next four to six months. She still however kept her less than part-time writing gig. This way, she was making basically what the average Chinese person was. She slowly started giving away her clothes to bare bottom children that strolled down the poorest streets in the city. Other clothes she sold to street markets for almost nothing. In the end, she owned five pairs of pants, five tops, three sets of shoes, two jackets and put all her valuables in storage. From there on, she hand washed her clothes in her bathroom sink.

She gave up her subway pass and opted to walk everywhere, unless the walk was longer than two hours, then she took the overcrowded bus. She ate day old bread, bananas (because they cost one cent Canadian per banana), five cent noodles off the street, along with other local goodies, and indulged in cheap beer and cigarettes when she thought she could afford, and/or, deserved it. Every now and then, she would enjoy a nice meal when she was sent to review a new restaurant. Her reviews became a lot more interesting to read because her new, not-so-rich appearance brought out a side in the restaurant owners and staff that confirmed fair treatment is an idea that was hardly imposed.

It’s all a game she noticed. A game of opinion. The poor populace judge the rich and vice versa. Humans in general are a judgmental race, but the Chinese especially are champs at this game. She was being judged everyday because of the building she walked out of every morning and went home to every night. Still, she adjusted well to her new life and found herself genuinely happy more times than not, because she saw passed the cosmetic surface of just being.

She spent her days sitting in public parks and benches writing, reading alternative media journalism and people watching. She noticed firsthand how human beings are becoming less human and more brainwashed and shallow, due to the effects of mass media, especially in Shanghai, a city oversaturated with shiny everything.

Going from riches to rags, she saw the deteriorating relationship people have with their physical and cultural environment. It was evident that thousands upon thousands of commercials had seized secure places in the minds of the wealthy, creating this high power voltage that charges them, energizes them, attracts them to consume copious amounts of brands. There was no sense of individuality here anymore.

She wanted to live as far away as possible from all the consumerism, brand addict bullshit and monetary tension, to live as simple as she could in a commercial city where glamour and glitz crowd your space. This simmering experience was a study in itself, to see if she could survive with the basics. She did. I did. I was there the whole step of the way, because I am her. It just took me a minute to figure it out. I felt as if I was undergoing an out-of-body experience, where that girl who had everything at her fingertips was now living in the shadow of the girl relishing in the modest life. And along the way I mastered the art of storytelling.

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~ by deliciousnoize on May 2, 2010.

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