On the eve of my fifteenth birthday, I stayed up answering questions on FormSpring, a now-defunct Q&A forum. Because FormSpring was anonymous, it was a big hit in our school—a kind of notes-slipped-into-your-virtual-locker type thing. Except all questions and answers were published, presumably for awkward teens to feel momentary want and fame.
I’ll confess I sent myself a few of the saucier public questions under the guise of anonymity. Ok, I sent myself a lot of them. Most of them. Really, this forum was an outlet to make myself seem desirable to the internet boys in school. So, when I received a legitimate question from an anonymous asker (a boy, I’d hoped), I lit up and put on a pot of coffee. What’s your favorite song of all time? The question felt intimate, and soft. I considered my answer thoughtfully before typing out Modest Mouse’s “Third Planet”. Moments later, lyrics from the song sprung up on my Twitter feed: the universe is shaped exactly like the earth/ if you go straight long enough you'll end up where you were. The question, as it turned out, was asked by a real boy, the one who kept trying (and failing) to make it onto the soccer team.
This was the most exciting thing to have happened to me all day, week, year, and, for all I knew, probably ever. I danced a caffeinated dance around my room, and plopped onto the bed. How could I sleep now? I asked my iTunes library what my year was going to be like, and hit shuffle: The Everly Brother’s “(‘Til) I Kissed You”. That was enough for me, a song to portend the year of my first kiss.
The next decade of birthday eves would see me in tears, throwing up out of taxi cab windows, eating leftover spaghetti on the bathroom floor, sending out 7 AM texts to exes, counting change for coffee at an airport, waiting for a flight that kept getting delayed. Fifteen didn’t turn out to be the year of my first kiss, but I would inevitably return to the memory of listening to “(‘Til) I Kissed You,” alone in my room, and wonder if I was happiest when my hair was bleached and my dreams still lingered as a restless abstract potential of boys and bands.
Now that life is static and confined, my thoughts whirl like a hopeless spin at the Big Six. The pointer rubs against the night, stopping at no resolve. I think about how a body like mine has existed in space over the past decade, if I was happy where I’ve been, if I’m happy where I am now. I’ve been a college dropout and a graduate candidate. I’ve been an unpaid intern who hauled record shipments to USPS in the rain. I’ve been a person you poured your heart out to on the roof of your old apartment. I’ve been a person who left the country, a person who lost her passport on the way to City Hall the day she was supposed to get married, and sometimes, still: a person who expects a song to portend the year to come.
I’m about to turn twenty-five, quarantined in an apartment with my husband, at the epicenter of a pandemic that has put the world on pause. So much of this feels like fiction. I’m not sure what happens next, where we go, what we do, or write. It feels embarrassing to ask an iTunes algorithm to tell me what my future sounds like, so I don’t. Instead, I hold on to the wild faith of the gesture, and tightly. At the very least, it’s hope to build a dream on.
Gauraa Shekhar is an MFA candidate at Columbia University. Her fiction is published or forthcoming in Nimrod Journal, Contrary Magazine, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, and Fiction Southeast. She is a founding editor of No Contact, a short-form biweekly publication run by socially distanced writers and artists. She lives and writes in Manhattan.
Gauraa urges you to contribute to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO. Visit covid19responsefund.org.