Currently, I’m sitting at a cubicle at my parents’ business. It’s a modest office building that houses countless varieties of tomato seeds, ready to be delivered to anyone who buys them either online or through the phone. It’s surprisingly lucrative to sell seeds; selling even 10 seeds in a packet can cost up to $5, without much discount if you were to sell in bulk. When you’re getting hundreds of orders every day and millions of seeds ready to deliver, the money adds up.
Right now, though, it’s quiet. Farmers do not buy seeds until the Fall/Winter season in time for planting and harvest in Spring/Summer, but my presence is still appreciated during the times I’m not spending on vacation. So I stand by unexcitedly next to the phone until the next order comes in. Soon, however, the Summer will change to Fall, and the business will finally rev up and go wherever the economy deems it. I can sense the feeling of progress that will happen upon my parents’ business once I come back from vacation.
I like that feeling of progress. I would be much happier if it were present in my life.
This thought came to mind after I watched Maquia a few days ago. Maquia herself struggles to progress in society in both emotional and literal ways. Because she ages at a frightening slow rate, her appearance stays the same while others age normally. After being forced out of her remote village, she adopts a baby boy, whom she names Ariel, and travels the land together. Before long, they must travel together constantly, leaving behind community after community in order to repel attention away from her identity. Her son, who is human, ages regularly. Forced into this life, Maquia has to witness others change with time while she herself does not.
For Maquia, her immortality does not allow her to settle into any single location for long. She would risk being persecuted and possibly murdered if too many people knew for too long. As a result, the only friends she ever makes during the film are those from the village and a small family that sheltered her and Ariel for many years. Living inconspicuously and barely getting by does not lend well to making meaningful social connections, meaning she has none. The only connection she really has is her son, and that will inevitably end once he grows up.
It’s a largely thankless life to live. Maquia works to survive, and her daily struggles sear into her memory like a botched tattoo. Tragically, however, she must also work hard to be forgotten.
Soon after being admitted to University of California: Santa Barbara, I would steadily lose contact with all the friends and acquaintences I made in high school and my home in Ventura. By the time I dropped out, the only people I would interact with were a small handful of friends from high school, my relatives, and the Aniblog/Anitwitter community. Even then, fewer know exactly what I’ve been up to and, more importantly, those few barely know what I’ve been doing with my life for the past five years since I dropped out. The answer? Not much, really.
It took me until two years ago to wonder where I wanted to finish college. I was 23 years old at the time. For my birthday, I sat on the curb in my Albertson’s uniform, carrying the front wheel of my stolen bicycle, and waiting for dad to pick me up from work. I like to think that, at this paricular point, anyone would start asking themselves, “What am I doing with my life?”. It wasn’t a particularly crazy watershed moment for me, but it got me to at least start thinking.
There’s another college I’m trying for now, closer to Ventura, and comparatively less rigorous than UCSB. I changed my major from accounting to communication studies and have an actual plan as to who and what to look for in terms of internships and hands-on activities. To most, I think, those are signs that my life has started moving again.
Personally, however, I still have trouble believing that.
When I watch Maquia repeatedly avoid bringing attention to herself while also struggling to be a strong presence in her son’s life, I am reminded of the many times I’ve had to brush off questions about my place in life while also establishing a more confident and open persona for myself. Meetings with friends were mercifully not personal enough to share life stories, at least for me. The atmosphere allowed me to be vague, and I always took advantage of it. I didn’t feel guilty about it. No one would be hurt if they didn’t know about me. They liked having me around, I reasoned, and that should be enough to get by. I’d be lying if I said I was happy with it.
For a while, I volunteered to coach my high school’s debate team since I’m an alumnus and happened to have little to do with my free time. Any notion of nostalgia towards being on campus was quashed with a simple realization: I no longer recognize anyone at this school anymore, and they in turn barely knew who I was. I was different. No one else my age would have so much free time to be here as much as I did. It just didn’t feel right.
Now I’m sitting in a cubicle, hundreds of miles away from where I want to go to school, answering phone calls and being completely unenthused. I have no degree, no valuable work experience, in my name. It seems as though the tomato seeds I’m helping sell will bear fruit faster than I will. That’s laughably false, even in a literal sense, but truth matters little when it comes to how I feel. Much like Maquia, I feel alone. It shouldn’t be this way, of course. No one wants to feel alone. But it just happens to be one of the few things I’ve gotten good at being. So the feeling persists.
Things don’t end quite ideally in Maquia, which I won’t go into because of spoiler territory, but suffice to say that I was satisfied with how everything ended. I didn’t experience anything cathartic like the last time I watched an Okada film. I did not anything life-changing out of watching Maquia. A more accurate assessment, however, would be that watching Maquia was life-affirming.
It’s a reminder to me of what it’s like to feel invisible. Abject. Undesirable. That feeling is laced with the fear that the people I hold closest to me will scatter once they discover how much of a drag I am to think about and hang out with. The cruel thing about it is, unlike Maquia who was born with her immortality, I did this to myself. It’s no one else’s fault that I dropped out, nor it is anyone else’s fault that I’ve been reluctant to expose myself around my peers. There’s no one to blame for my predicament except for my own actions.
I’m not one to despair, though. If I dug myself into this hole, I can sure as hell crawl back out of it. I haven’t given up on that. It’s not in me to hide myself from my friends and family for the rest of my life. I can’t live long enough to get away with that. What is in me, however, is the desire to prove myself better this time around. I want to know what it means to be free of this kind of loneliness. I want to know how it feels to be proud of what I’ve accomplished in life, and to have any right to brag about those accomplishments.
I’m not stuck or stagnant in life: I’m just late, and that’s okay. It’s high time I internalize this knowledge, but it hasn’t happened just yet. It probably won’t happen until I actually graduate from college, or perhaps until I get a decent job. But, eh. I can live with that.