Breaking Up With Rutgers

When I walk the concrete pavements side by side Rich, I pass the shadows of the girl I used to be before I graduated two years ago. I take in the contemporary but aesthetically cold appearance of Livingston campus, the homestyle waffle fries comfort of College Avenue, the nature appreciation on Douglas and the regret that I judged Busch.

17 and graduating J.P. Stevens High School, a lot of fellow students were going to Rutgers to study engineering, computer science, biology, chemistry, physics on Busch. I wanted a fresh start so I never wanted to make the trek to that campus.
I only just gave it a chance last weekend at Rutgers’s Day. I’m still growing up.
Rich works at the physics lab and he took me to a physics show that mesmerized me as they amplified and explained physical properties to distill the tricks in front of our eyes.

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Honestly, I didn’t understand the lesson behind it, but I saw the effort the professors put in to teach. Explosions, smoke stacks (the shapes dependent on the hole they come out of), laying on a bed of nails (the more nails there are, the more it can hold body weight evenly without penetration of skin), the effect of dry ice on a balloon (it shrinks!) were more than an illusion. I had a newfound respect for the sciences that I could have had sooner.

If I’d had the time. I graduated from Rutgers a year early. It wasn’t planned. It was a hard decision that came in the middle of my 6th and final semester. I didn’t say goodbye properly – because I had just begun to date Rich who had two more years to graduate. I knew I would be back on campus.
But it wasn’t the same. I visited a few times a week, in the evenings when everyone was eating at the cafeteria or going to class. I couldn’t stay late for the events – drag shows, coffee houses, Demarest special interest meetings – they all started at 9pm. I had to drive home to be in bed by 10.

Demarest was my home for the three years. It was a dorm, but it was so much more than that. I developed my own voice and gained confidence because everyone around me was unabashedly themselves. There is a free-expression painting room in the basement that anyone can leave their mark in with a pen, with a marker, with paint. I walk into the room now and the energy is the same, screaming, letting demons out, connecting years. Demarest has clubs within the building – every night 3 different clubs run, varying from cinema studies to philosophy to crafts. I went to the discussion nights depending on the focus topic, my favorite the screening of Kingsmen Secret Service and night of henna tattoos in cultural studies.
I had Squads in Demarest. I met Rich there.
I never felt weird. I wish that was the same in the adulting world.

Now that Rich is graduating, my goodbye has to be permanent. I’ll still go to Rutgers Cinema as an alum to get discounted tickets, but I’ll never be an undergrad student going through her college firsts again. I’m left reminiscing: playing basketball in the Werblin pool with friends, the Squad dinners at Brower cafeteria that had us pushing tables together, staying up late just for the company, baking countless brownies in the tiny basement kitchen of Demarest.
The one thing I didn’t do was have a picnic under the pink trees next to Passion Puddle on Douglas. But I have hope.

Rutgers and I won’t be seeing each other for a while, but I will revisit. It’s a home that still has a part of my heart.




My Life: a Soap Opera

Different. That’s noticeable.

Is it skin color? Culture? Or simply because I am dating instead of marrying?

Rich doesn’t want to meet my parents because my dad doesn’t accept him. My mom tries very hard, but he doesn’t want to meet her either because he doesn’t trust that she won’t change her mind.
My dad won’t talk to me about my relationship. He watches TV shows in which female characters date, he knows my friends date, he has nieces who date, yet the idea of me dating is inconceivable.

Rich’s family accepts me, and I still feel shy around them. It would be insurmountably worse if they ignored me, talked behind my back, made it clear that I would never be one of them.
My dad is worried. If I were to get married to a non-brown man, what culture would our kids follow? Which community would they belong in? What if I am divorced – with three kids like my grandmother was?

I understand the discomfort. But if we don’t do things that scare us, how can we grow?
Alex, Inc. is a new TV show on ABC channel in which an interracial family’s life is turned inside out when Zach Braff, who plays the father, decides to quit his job to pursue having his own company. He struggles with finding a name for his company and is inspired by his mother-in-law. Anjana, is the name settled on, the unknown.
From a distance, the unknown is truly terrifying but wading deep in it you learn just how much resolve you have in enduring.
From the beginning, I was a ballerina on fractured ice starting a new relationship while my dad disapproved. I didn’t know if Rich and I would last, but I bandaged my toes and when the tips of flats wore down, I changed into my spares. It was worth it and I worked hard to get my own hardwood floors.

It didn’t mean I wasn’t scared. Every step of the way to earn independence and my right to date Rich, it could have been easier to be the quiet homebody my dad wanted rather than the girl sneaking out for love (mind you, this was at 21). After all, I wasn’t the ideal girlfriend for Rich because we couldn’t see each other whenever we wanted and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I was bound to lose a relationship.
Thick in the unknown, I couldn’t afford to be a coward. Because then I would have lost all my self-worth. Resiliently, I got myself a car, a job and moved out.
My biggest lesson: it’s not about enduring the ambiguity at all, it’s about embracing the anjana.

With this knowledge, I want to bridge the distrust between the boy and the man. I don’t know who will be the man first, but I want to be a woman who doesn’t depend on a male figure to establish the kind of life she wants to live.
Some days I’ll see my parents, some days I’ll see Rich. It’s not a permanent situation and one day I may have to choose. But if neither are ready to jump in to give each other a chance, then neither can rise to the occasion of acceptance. So the best choice may be prioritizing myself and Indigo.

Cat Personality

I always wanted a puppy. A full-of-love bounding everywhere puppy who would grow into the most loving dog.

My parents said no. But every birthday, I asked shamelessly.

In college, my roommate was a cat lover. My friend was a cat owner. I loved listening to her stories and looking at pictures. I bought calendars with kittens on it. I still wanted a dog, but I admired feline friends – from afar. I hadn’t gotten over my childhood folly of being scratched by a tabby when I pulled his tail to keep him from leaving my side. I never had that problem with dogs! Such friendly creatures, they loved my company!

When Rich and I started dating, I met his fat sleepy cat. Grumpy faced, I never know what he’s thinking but I can make him purr but brushing his Persian coat. Pretty docile and independent, he isn’t a cat to play with, but a good companion to have next while relaxing, thinking, writing, or watching a movie.

Just the same, on my 22nd birthday I asked my parents, “You’re getting me a dog right?”

I decided the only way to spend time with animals was to volunteer at a shelter. Rich recommended the shelter a block from his house, Angel Paws. So I decided to check it out.
I said hello to all the kitties, some of whom I had to be rescued from by Rich because I didn’t know they didn’t like to be touched.
By chance, I met Indigo. I was eyeing a gray beauty named Cassandra, wondering if I could foster her, when I thought it would be rude to ignore the cat under Cassandra’s cage. I let Indigo sniff my fingers and to my surprise, she licked me!

I have tried to persuade Rich’s cat to lick me. I have held kibble in my palm, stuck my fingers out while he is cleaning himself, scratched him on his hindquarters (that makes him lick anything in front of him), but he only licks Rich.
Then there was Indigo.

Needless to say, Indigo’s been a part of my family for the last four months now. I can’t imagine life without her.
She’s a wily cat, very talkative, loves her play mice, energetic in doses and a great cuddle machine. Irony is I’m a lot like her. I used to pride myself in being energetic and bubbly but it comes in waves and I would tire out after my spurt of socialness (the basic lifestyle of an extrovert who is really an introvert). As I am a proud cat owner, I accept myself a little bit more each day.

The way Indigo will be chasing a squeaky mouse and then get distracted by the window? I won’t tell you how many times I checked my phone while typing this. Indigo nibbled on my boiled chicken that I was going to put in my salad, so I made her her own boiled chicken and she didn’t eat it. Rich is always surprised I can stop from devouring his meals after one bite. We just want a taste! And who doesn’t love to sleep?

This year for my 23rd birthday I won’t be asking for a dog. I love being on my couch with Indigo when we’re done running for the laser dot. (That’s right, I run too to give Indigo the fullest experience of the dot trailing everywhere in the apartment.) I just want to focus on one pet for now.

When I told people I had adopted Indigo, some of the reactions I got were, “Oh. Why?”
Those people don’t understand what a pet is. It’s not an ideal animal you want in your lifestyle, it’s the animal you bond with.

As I give favored head rubs to Indigo, the clock ticking forward to a late hour, I know that she’ll wake me up at 5:30am, up on her hindlegs, paws on the bed by my head and meowing very loudly. I don’t begrudge her because I love her. It’s a small price I pay for all the cuddles I get.



Dating Journals

Talking to people isn’t easy. How do you start the conversation? Hello isn’t enough, there is no segue from compliments, all that’s left is questions.
But even asking to share doesn’t guarantee a bridge of compatibility will be built.

I’m on my 60th journal in eight years. I look at my bookcase that has all my handwritten and typed entries chronicling life around me. All the words I couldn’t trust to say among peers, I jotted down.

They could be a symbol of loneliness had I not done it by choice. I learned when I was 12 information was power. When you trade secrets, however much you trust that friend, there is a chance for them to use it against you.
I was that person. On a bus ride home, Shimmy and I told each other the names of our crushes. Just between us,  but I didn’t trust Shimmy not to tell. The next day as lunch gossip, I told the girls I sat with who Shimmy likes. The more “knowledge”  I got and shared, I became the Source.
Even after doing that, though, word never got around about who I liked.

In not trusting anyone, I became the Untrustworthy. Not who I wanted to be, I took advantage of my 8th grade free-writing journal assignment: write whatever we want. That freedom made me fall in love with words – and helped me be honest with myself.

I know what makes me tick, like mean jokes. There is trending relationships news that our meanest friend is really the one who wants the best for you, but I spend most of my time with that confidant: rereading my journals and twinging with regret. I don’t need another mean friend. I need someone who’ll support me to overcome my harshest critic, myself.

I know what makes me vulnerable, loving someone. To get that close to someone and to have it end is abrupt and deeply dissatisfying. I know that I avoid relationship titles – either I tell every person I love them or I tell no one. Because to pick the very best one and still lose them is like finding someone ate the last slice of your triple chocolate cake.

Most of all I know I am a bad verbal communicator. These past 8 years I have had a nose buried in a journal to vent. So now when Rich asks me how I am after a long day at work, I just stare at him. I’m not ignoring his question, I just need time to process! My journals are patient with me and accept me unfiltered. I can whine as much as I want! Aloud, I’m cut short and told to be positive. But I need to pour out all my oozing negativity first to stand tall like a glass of sparkling lemonade.

My journals highlight my weaknesses, but going through my first one from my freshman year in high school shows me so much growth! I bet my journals could have never predicted the slumping girl in the same sweater everyday would come to love her beach hair and have a closet of 200 dresses. I was waiting for someone to tear my walls down, but my confidence did it for me.
In the upcoming years I’m sure I’ll have fewer journals, just enough to showcase the better communicator I plan to be.

It’s true, you can’t be in a healthy relationship unless you are happy with yourself. The beauty of writing is you get to express yourself uninhibitedly. A cathartic outlet, scribbling will always let your prioritize yourself.

So date a journal today, April 29th, and hear yourself think.



Haven for the Friendless

It’s Rutgers’ Day, and I am at Barnes & Nobles on campus. It’s so quiet. All the students have put off studying to enjoy the university wide celebration of all the clubs and booths representing the school.

I like it quiet. I feel – safe.

It’s not quite the word I want but walking through the crowds to get to Barnes & Nobles made me anxious. A Rutgers alum I chose to revisit, but every corner has people milling around. It makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t know when it started. I don’t THINK it was always like this. I was shy and clung to comforts in a new setting – be it my mom, friends or my purse with a stuffed animal and a notebook – but I didn’t always run away. Probably because I didn’t know if I could or where I could.
In high school, I got creative. I would save library passes and reuse them to cut classes if I’d forgotten an assignment or if I felt overwhelmed to do a presentation I would hide in the bathroom. That way I wasn’t cutting school. I would just disappear for a period. I never got caught.

Correction: I did get caught once. I skipped lunch in the cafeteria because I’d had a fight with my friend and having no one else to sit with, I chose to eat in the bathroom. Mind you, the upstairs B wing of J.P. Stevens High School was brand new and contemporary. Since the wing was so far away, it was inconvenient to use. I never had to deal with odors or flushing sounds while I ate in the handicapped stall.
But I got caught sitting on the floor. Some girl thought I’d fainted and went to get a teacher. I had to go along with the whole charade – they got a wheelchair for me, took me to the nurse, I was sent home, my dad hovered over me all day.

It was better than admitting I had no friends.

It’s different now. I do have more people in my life. Still, very few know.
Anxiety: I’m sitting and my mind is running, running, running, my heart won’t slow down. There’s no reason and there’s a million reasons: what if I embarrass myself, what if people see I’m walking by myself, what will people think of me, what if I’m the loner freak, what if I see someone I used to know, what will I say to them, I want to hide, run run run.

Those who know have told me to push past it, get over it, I’ll be fine. But when I force myself out there, I stand around the fringes of my community tentatively smiling, uttering nothing, feeling like a bigger freak.
It’s not worth it.
All I know is from the quiet second story surrounded by literatures – written by authors who may have once felt like me – I look out the bay windows and see people walking around in pairs and groups. Solitary, I feel comfortable in the intellectuals’ haven.





Spring Cleaning

My closet is organized, my schoolwork is neatly stowed away for future reference, but it’s not spring cleaning when I have to sweep my apartment daily. My impatient cat loves to jump out of her litter box and leave a track of herself. Her tail high, she doesn’t care of the mess she makes.

I have scrambled for months to find a voice for this blog. Subconsciously, it has reflected my inner turmoil of not recognizing myself. Cat mom, teacher, girlfriend, daughter, my roles are fixed. Who is Pooja outside the roles? I shouldn’t be stumped.
Time to go back to the drawing board. For me, it’s never about reinvention. Instead, I recollect and revisit what I loved to do.

That was my first revelation in 10th grade. Unable to find the crowd I fit into, I’d chosen the emo girl facade in high school. Until Daisy from grade school said to me, “I know what’s wrong with you. You hate the world.”

That wasn’t true! I was fifteen and petulant I couldn’t get a boyfriend when my friends did! My competitive high school didn’t make matters easier churning out popular kids in AP classes with A’s. I was dissatisfied with myself.
Brainstorming, I realized I was happy as a kid when I was coloring, watching romantic comedies, and making up stories. So I went back to doing that.


I wasn’t a changed person overnight. But pursuing my childhood hobbies in school – art club, school magazine and newspaper – gave me the confidence I documented in my journals.

And by confidence I mean befriending my studyhall teacher and learning about her personal life (she never thought she’d be a teacher!), eating lunch in the library to finish homework and getting caught (repeatedly), and becoming the girl who asked guys out (and failed).
We all have unapologetic stories of ourselves to tell. Here’s flash confidence: I think mine are a gold mine of hilarity! With a dash of theatrics that can leave the occasional reader cringing.

Directionless, I have poured out poetry on this page as of yet. Poetry can be beautiful – if the writer has mastered the art. I am not her. I hid behind manipulating snippets of words for the allure of reader interpretation. So this spring, I have decided to be yellow and blue (because black and white are much too dull) about the one thing I have spent my whole life analyzing: relationships. Squads, dates, mirrors, family dinners – it’s the people who we let into our lives that begin to shape us.

I’ve tried fitting in, I’ve tried lonerhood. I’m still amorphous.
The good thing is I’m a Leo and it’s almost my season to shine. I’m ready to dive.

kismet: a writer never quits

When the sun wakes up, shadows don’t fade
they’re lurking in corners, seeped deep into pavement cracks.
When your shoe snags you trip you see your own shadow:
your choice not to see where you were headed.

Patterns cannot be broken without an epiphany aspired by the mundane repetition translating into a perpetuating cycle that can heave anxiety into the humblest.

Under the surging wet white thicket, I was blind in the darkness left by the power outage. Deadlines not met, roads divided by electric lines, distanced from love, the ember of my inadequacy sparked once more. Old fashioned I returned to pen to paper, relearning my qualms are my birthmarks.

Chronicled: why is my cat throwing up is she dying/ I can’t lose power not me I have lesson plans to make/ I just moved out now I have to move back in with my parents?!/ great curfew again am I too old to be sneaking out/ how can I grow up if they can’t even trust me/ please never leave me cat I love you/ need to meet all deadlines!/ hold me my love.

compact cotton candy into a pebble
the appeal to savor fluff dried up to
reach sugar high capacity is a dare dismissed

ten commands given, none followed
my chest cavity ached, hollow and cracking inwardly
the torch of joy crisped when I stopped
looking at myself in the mirror

So I wrote my way home.