Control Lies in the Present

Young indian dreamy thoughtful student looking away working on laptop in office coworking space classroom. Hispanic student using computer for remote learning online training.

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Young indian dreamy thoughtful student looking away working on laptop in office coworking space classroom. Hispanic student using computer for remote learning online training.

Jazlyn Valentin

It’s 8:00 pm on a Friday. Here I am, at home in my dimly lit room, staring in front of my computer screen, doing homework. This is how every high school student likes to spend their Friday nights. Already stressed out about my workload, anxiety begins to drown my thoughts. As I lift my pen only to tap it repeatedly on the table—a nervous habit—words and worries cloud my mind at the speed of light. Not one thought was coherent. I close my eyes and massage my temples as if that would stop the race of thoughts in my mind. Then, suddenly, my mind seems to focus on one thought: my past, future, and present— all the same.

As much as I hate thinking about it, my past holds my purest self. The worries I had then were so minuscule to the ones I have now. I hadn’t had a care in the world. What others didn’t do or did never itched me. I never thought twice about the outfit I chose to wear in the morning. I’d wake up almost 20 minutes before I had to leave, yet continued to take my time—as if I was invincible to the ticking clock. I’d pick up the first thing I saw in my cluttered closet and put it on. I didn’t even look in the mirror. My hair was always natural. Curly, wild, and free. It didn’t matter. No matter what, people were going to say what they were going to say. No one’s ever satisfied, and I didn’t want to waste my time trying to fit into their impossible standards. School wasn’t all that hard, and because I thought the future was so far away, I didn’t pay much attention to it (although now, I wish I had). I had a free spirit. Absolutely nothing could phase me. I was 11 years old and thought I owned the world. Just wait until she grows up. I am different now. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I care what people think now, as does every other teenage girl in high school. I am constantly surrounded by girls with straight hair. Girls with fairer skin tones. Girls with lighter eyes. I straighten my hair out of insecurity. Before, I thought of my curly hair as a beautiful thing. My hair curled in all the right places, and I loved that it represented my Dominican side. Now, I feel the opposite. I think my hair curls in all the wrong places. I feel out of place, just like the curls in my hair. At times, I love it; but then my mind goes back to the girls I go to school with and what they look like. Oblivious to the fact that they’re all thinking the same way as me. I wake up almost two hours before school starts and yet I still feel crammed with time. I take about 85% of that time just trying to figure out what to wear. I try on one outfit: it fits too tight. It doesn’t hug my curves the right way. My bust looks too big. My face turns red as I let out a grunt, and I rip the fabric off me and yank another outfit from my closet: it fits too big. It doesn’t hug my curves at all. I look like a box. My bust looks nonexistent. I repeat this process about five more times until I am running out of time and feel too defeated to try another one. These are all things I never even thought twice about in the past. Oh, the past. I want to move forward and not dwell on it, but I long for the innocence I once had. The innocence that was stripped away from me as my timid self walked through the doors into High School. The only thing that takes me out of the past is looking into the future. Although, even that was hard. The future seemed even more daunting.

The future. I spent all of middle school not paying much attention to it. It seemed so far away. The next thing I know, I am a junior in high school. I’m studying to take the SAT for college. College. I start applying in less than a year and I have no idea what I am going to do with my life. A million more thoughts drown my mind like a tsunami. I don’t know where I want to live. I don’t know where I want to go to college. I don’t know what I’m good or not good at. I just don’t know. Thinking about my future reminds me of how I feel when I first start writing something. I stare into the blank sheet of paper as if my eyes will start inserting words on the screen. My mind is empty. No idea where to start. That’s what looking into the future is like—to me, at least. I envy my friends who know what they want out of life, especially when their profession is guaranteed a successful future. Like being a lawyer or a doctor. Me? I aspire to be a writer. Always have. However, even though it is something that makes me happy, and is something I am passionate about, that in itself makes me anxious. Claustrophobic, even. The writing industry is extremely competitive. Will I even be creative enough to carry that out? Am I even good enough? Worry, worry, worry. That’s all I feel when I look too far ahead. It is similar to the way I feel when I gaze out into the ocean. The ocean, so vast, seems to drop and disappear the farther you look. That’s what the future is. It’s there, but I can only look so far until it seems to fade.

My mom opens my cream door to ask me if I want some food, breaking the wave of thoughts from my mind. My eyes graze over the time on the corner of my laptop, reading 8:30 pm. 30 minutes. 30 minutes in which I’ve spent all this time thinking about everything but the present. The present. I feel as though I don’t understand the line which divides the present from the future and the past. I feel as though I don’t spend enough time nor appreciate the things happening in the moment. Every second of the day my mind wanders off to something that happened earlier in the day. I think about how I should have taken more notes in math, or how flustered I was after getting a question wrong in physics. Every second of the day my mind wanders off to something I dread or hope for in the future. I think about how much I miss the summer; feeling my skin grow hot as the warmth from the sun kisses me, seeing the tan that warmth had left me with, and my free spirit with not having to worry about school. I think about what I might eat later on in the day. Every second of the day my mind wanders off to everything else that is not the present. And I am aware of that. So much so, my body, my mind, my everything seems to weaken and grow heavy all the same with my immense guilt. That pang of immense guilt comes and goes like ocean waves. But when it crashes to the surface—hard, the weight of it is always overwhelming—it stays there. I feel guilty for taking advantage of all the sweet, cherishable moments I share with my family and friends. I’d never get those moments back. They will stay tucked away, simply turning into a faint memory. No one is promised tomorrow. And I must learn to appreciate these unforgettable moments right then and there, as they can be taken away from me in a blink of an eye. So as I sit here, missing the innocence of my past self all while fearing the future, I pick my pen back up. I become aware of the way it feels between my fingers. The weight of it. Because that is what I am doing at that moment. Picking up a pen. Nothing else matters. I cannot change the past, nor can I see the future. What I can do is control who I am and what I do in the present.