In Past Lives, Nora parted her land and childhood romance, moved to Canada with her family at the age of twelve. Twenty four years later, married and settled, she was reunited with the boy she left behind. I suspect that this boy, Hae Sung, now a grown-up man, was not so much from a past life than an alternative life—an alternative life where Nora didn’t leave. Hae Sung was a choice ceded and a what-if uncharted.

There was a scene that almost struck me to tears. It was not any one between Nora and Hae Sung, but the one where the twelve-year-old Nora, fresh-off-the-boat, standing alone on the edge of the playground in her new school, delicately and awkwardly watching all the other kids playing with each other.

That sense of exclusion and estrangement is so damn familiar and hurts so damn much. So familiar that, it did strike me to tears once.

It was the day of my Master’s graduation, the ballroom was packed with graduates, faculties, friends and families. People hugged each other, took photos with each other, said congrats and cheered for each other. Everyone had someone to attend to or someone who attended to them. In contrast, I was just...there, like a ghost of some sort. I felt so out of place and I realized one of the reasons I hate being in crowds is that every time I am amongst people, I am reminded that I don’t belong.

Every scream and cheer in the room drained me a little. By the end, exhausted and defeated, I left. I walked through the crowds, passing countless strangers and slightly more familiar faces to which the necessity of greeting was ambiguous. Of course, the ambiguity remained unanswered in every passing, accrued to a deafening silence echoing in my head. I ran away, and nobody noticed.

I cried for a whole afternoon that day.

There’s also a sense of being left behind when friends around me all graduated and moved on to the next chapter of their life. Unable to find a job, I am left hanging in the air, wrestling with immigration laws to be a legal residence, unknown of where the path of my life would eventually wind down.

In US’s immigration lexicon, people of my kind are called “aliens”. As I grew up learning the meaning of this word as “folks who live outside of planet earth”, I always meet this word with a chuckle. It feels funny, somewhat ridiculous, but at the same time with a touch of bitterness. Of course, I later learn that the original meaning of the word is just “a foreigner”, but it already reads to me not as much a legal term as a word of otherness. Taking it joyfully, I always imagine myself as one of those otherworldly creatures in Man in Black, spying under a human skin.

Now I am at the brink of being forced into another gap year, but I am much less anxious, to say the least. Compared to three years ago when COVID upended everything, I have been acquainted with this feeling of suspension, of pending in the in-between space of life where no future awaits, where nothing is really fixed or stable, where no visibility is spared more than a few steps ahead. What will happen in three months is just as uncertain as what will happen in one year.

Not at the helm of my life, I feel like a little kayak afloat and drifting in a vast ocean, course shaped by many different currents. I ran away from my land of birth, yet found myself lost on my land of choice. I ran away, but I am not sure what I am running towards. I guess I am just fearful of being exiled again by my land of choice, back to a place where you will need a network proxy just to npm fucking install.

I am not Nora, I don’t want Nobel or Pulitzer or Tony. I just want to work on something I like and live somewhere near my friends.

And even that, sounds like the remotest dream.