Ants. Ants in my common room.
This was not unprecedented. Many a time, I’d vacuumed the tiny freaks of nature in some trance of resignation to our state of squalor. I’d conducted perfunctory cleanings when our common room had been in worse condition. This day, though, in the dungeonlike darkness of our sunless basement suite, I registered the scene with a jolt of sudden truth. “Ants,” I said aloud.
On the Yale housing form, I had listed myself as “unusually sloppy.” Indeed, every desk I’ve owned has somehow submerged itself beneath an inch of miscellaneous household items. Order disintegrates beneath my fingers, a principle that extends from my room to my sleep schedule and personal life. Watching an episode of “My Strange Addiction,” I have questioned whether I, too, am a hoarder. But ants?
The ants congregated around a morsel of Town Pizza trampled into the floorboards from the night before. They moved industriously and with purpose.
What had I become?
I’m not sure what triggered my revelation that Saturday afternoon. It’s true that it had been a long week. The semester had begun on a high note: Having learned the hard way that going to bed at 5 a.m. every day was both unsustainable and destructive to my 9 a.m. class attendance, I’d taken advantage of winter break to rehabilitate my sleep schedule. For the first few weeks of spring semester, it seemed like I’d finally succeeded. Now, six weeks in, the lifestyle I had so meticulously constructed was crumbling at the edges: I was making my 9 a.m. classes, but on less and less sleep. The late nights had stamped dark shadows beneath my eyes. At 19, my back ached. My body was a corroding machine.
As my workload accumulated, so did the mess in the common room. Food wrappers and crumbs littered the surface of our coffee table and spilled onto the rug below. A conglomeration of hard plastics and half-collapsed cardboard boxes teetered on the brink of eruption from our recycling bin, tucked behind an armchair in the corner as a hastily concealed portent of imminent disaster. The room was a dystopian wasteland, the half-lit ruins of some doomed consumerist society. Subconsciously, I found myself retreating to other suites to avoid the problem; whenever I returned, I would scuttle immediately back to my own room. In willful ignorance, we allowed the disease to fester.
In the dim light of our flickering lamp, my suitemate peered down at the floorboards. We’d neglected to change the bulb for about a week. “I don’t see them.” She leaned over a little more. “Oh my God, ants.” Upon closer observation, we detected ants swarming in every corner of the room, an army of aggressive basement colonizers plundering our suite in search of traces of food.
Despairing, I called a suite meeting. “I can’t do this anymore,” I said. “We live in squalor.” I found myself close to tears because of — ants? This, I knew, was rock bottom.
When I really think about it, it wasn’t just the fact that I didn’t know how to tell my suitemate to throw out her 2-week-old tikka masala in the fridge. In reality, it was the fact that I had turned a blind eye not only to our common room’s state of disarray, but also to my physical and emotional well-being. Caught in the relentless chaos of college, in the dizzying blur of work and socializing and sleepwalking between obligations, I’d forgotten to check in on myself. I still hadn’t realized the importance of investing time and effort into maintaining my routine from the start of the semester; instead, my self-neglect had set me on a trajectory of steady decline. That day, I finally hit rock bottom. I crashed.
My suitemates recognized our state of emergency. Armed with a mop, bucket and disinfectant, we spent two hours purging the common room of its accumulated evils — ants, dust and pizza-stained napkins alike. We instituted ground rules for suite maintenance; I even put an orchid on our now-pristine coffee table.
Likewise, I’m trying to take better care of myself and reinstate habits that won’t send me into spirals of exhaustion. But college life, I’ve learned, is a cycle: A repeating sequence of new resolutions, unwitting decline, crashing and renewal. At a place like Yale, it’s easy to forget to check in. The occasional crash is inevitable. So what? You freak out a little, check in on yourself, clean up the mess and begin again.
Yuka Saji | email@example.com .