The first day after was the hardest. The questions kept lurching towards me like a swinging punching bag filled with sand. I bobbed and weaved as quickly as possible. I threw my left jab out to keep us apart. I answered the hard swings with a right cross, putting my weight behind it, swiveling my hips, keeping my head low and protected from the next one.
I knew other people who had gone through this before. Strong, courageous, resilient people. They made it look easy. They handled the details, closed the coffin, and walked away. They never looked back. “It’s the only way,” they said. “You have to move forward.”
I had called a friend when things started looking terminal.
“It looks like cancer,” I whispered.
“You have to pull the plug.”
“I’ll find a cure.”
“You’ll kill yourself too, in the process. There’s nothing left for you to do. You’ll feel better if you do it now.”
I was sure he was wrong. I was sure, if I looked hard enough, if I called the right people, if I held on a little longer, I would find the answer. At every passing, failing moment, I wondered if I could at least delay the outcome, buy myself some time. If I had time, things might start looking up, and if things started looking up, I could manage a survival.
I could only see 2 feet in front of me, as if I was driving down the winding Rishikesh mountains with a heavy, deep set fog all around me. My high beams were useless, and the brakes were worn out. People kept honking at me to speed up or move aside, but I was too scared to make any sudden movements. I had no idea what the destination looked liked, but I was sure it would have the hollow feeling of wreckage and loss.
I didn’t know I had already become the empty shell of a once passionate, strong, and excited young woman. I had spent months trying to find a solution, coming up short every time, wondering what I was missing. Maybe there was another way to look at it. Maybe if I pulled myself away from it for a little while, I would come back renewed and refreshed. Maybe if I put more hours in, worked harder, smarter, faster, I would change the outcome.
But nothing worked, and I was completely spent, way before it was over. The day it ended, the day I pulled the plug on this thing I had created, I cried until my eyes swelled shut, as if bruised after a fight.
I had shut down my startup, fired my teammates, and lost my investors’ money.
In between dodging the questions swirling in my head the following day, I felt a weight lift off me, as if my hands and feet had been shackled by iron and chains. Then, almost immediately, the weight was replaced by a deep sense of guilt. I had let everyone down. It was all my fault. I had wasted so many people’s time, money, and faith. Faith that I could do this, faith that this was an issue worth worrying about, faith that there would be success at the end of this road.
For the next few months, I slept 10 hours a night, and rarely changed out of my pajamas. I had nothing to think about. What appeared like a vacation was actually a prison I had locked myself inside of. A prison in which I was the inmate, the guard, and the warden.
It wasn’t until 5 months later, when I was sitting next to a 10 year old kid named Nico, working out a math problem, that I realized what was happening. Nico and I had been working on his math skills for a couple of months together. He had been flagged as a special needs child early in his schooling, and I was assigned to his classroom as a volunteer tutor. When we blazed through a packet of math problems one Friday, his teacher asked him if he wanted a break or a challenge. He responded with gusto, a challenge. I was delighted and impressed. The next Friday, Nico and I sat together in the back of the class to learn decimals. Nico, ever the courageous young boy, approached the new topic with confidence. As he got going, though, he got stuck.
“Why,” he asked, “is 4/10 equal to 0.4 but 14/10 isn’t equal to 0.14?”
“You tell me!” I challenged him.
“No. I cant. I don’t get it.” He rubbed his face and slammed his forehead down on the desk.
I was stunned, and confused. The paper under his eyes turned into small, round rippled waves, blurring the ink on the page.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I messed it up. I cant fix it. I’ll never get it.” His voice quivered into the desk as the tears gained momentum.
“It’s not your fault, buddy. We’ll get there, just be patient with yourself.”
He couldn’t stop the tears, and our time was coming to an end. His teacher waived me over to the entrance to give him some time to cool down.
As I left the class, I felt as if a hot spring of realization had opened up before me, begging me to jump in. I had avoided the call, assuming for so long it was the voice of Sirens beckoning me, as Odysseus, to false promises and imminent demise.
Have patience, stop blaming, and give yourself a chance. There was life to be found after death. I just needed a kid named Nico and a tough math problem to bring it all back together again.