i still dream about the northern lights sometimes

i came back from iceland for a week to find out my houseplant had died.

at first i was in denial. it was a very hardy breed, this one, which used to be able to go on for days without water and still not brown around the edges of its leaves. when i came back, its bottom half was withered, but since the top half still showed signs of greenery, i continued watering it in hopes that it would be revived eventually.

but for some botanic reason that i couldn’t fathom, it still continued to wither, water filling up half the pot dish like a moat surrounding a castle. except this kingdom was dying. maybe i’m just bad at taking care of things. it was very ostentatious of me to assume that i can take care of another living specimen when i’m already doing a bad job taking care of myself.

but constantly looking at this dying plant next to my window feels more apt than ever in this bleak month of january. iceland already feels so far away, has been ever since i came back and realised how much work i have to do for midterms. and since then, it’s just been daily repetitions of obsessively going through my head the amount of time i have left for which and which subject, in addition to applying for bar school, worrying about the uncertainty of (maybe) staying back in the UK for another year, and constantly reminding myself to keep my emotions in check, around other people at least.

i don’t like that this period of slaving away in front of laptop screens and nose deep in textbooks is taking away from appreciating my remaining time left in uni. it’s very soul-draining to hyperfocus on something for such long periods of time, completely oblivious to my surroundings while time whizzes past without hesitation. by the time i hand in my last paper, january will already have been over. how the hell is that fair.

time feels so convoluted when you’re measuring them by pages and topics and subjects, trying to figure out how you can slot in time to eat. it barely feels real that just two weeks ago, i was in the backseat of our rented SUV in reykjavik, skeptical about yet another online tip on the appearance of northern lights but – it was real this time! after a week of driving out on barren icelandic highways with no streetlights present at all during ungodly hours of both the night and morning in various states of semi-slumber, we finally managed to catch the ever elusive aurora borealis, cold negative temperatures temporarily forgotten in the face of excitement. there was no way i could’ve written a better epilogue to our week-long trip in iceland.

but now the only elusive thing in my current circumstances is time, and it’s all i can do not to dwell on this deficiency too much to the point of breathlessness.

hm. i just watered my plant. maybe i’ll still try to save it after all.

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Michelle Teoh

26-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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