I knew I was going to be a journalist when I was eleven. One clear day in January, sixteen years ago, I was sitting at the back of the classroom, reading three different broadsheets, ignoring whatever the lesson was for the day. I was preparing for a national news writing competition, and it was in between reading reports and staring blankly at the quadrangle outside that I realized what I was going to be after school: a reporter. I like writing in general, so I started writing articles about inter-school competitions, people who held Guinness World Records, made-up stories about young love and horror stories where I killed classmates I didn’t like. My father encouraged me to take engineering in college, or something that would lead me to law or medicine. When I was doing my college application, however, he was abroad, so I made the decision to take journalism instead. My mother did not disagree, but she encouraged me to do well enough so they could all see me on television, maybe delivering a news report in the middle of a storm, trying my best to look professional and magnificent.
Sixteen years have passed since then – I went to university in the big city, moved away from home and started paying my own bills. After graduation, I took a job as a business reporter, trying my hardest to meet daily story quotas while learning about finance and economics as quickly as I could. I worked six days a week, and a huge chunk of my modest salary went to buying medicines for my father, who was slowly dying from cancer. I wasn’t earning enough, and I’ve never felt so defeated. I thought I made a mistake choosing what I wanted to do, and I felt ashamed being a victim of my own choices. I went out partying with friends on some nights to take my mind off things, and I would go to sleep thinking about people, the enormity of their problems, and how they manage to go on with life everyday pretending they’re not dying inside. One of my favorite authors once said that “we are all the walking wounded, your pain is no worse than everyone else’s.” I hated this line because it’s true, but just the same, I lick my own wounds and I feel my own pain.
Whenever I go into deep conversations with my friends about the story of my life, I’d tell them that those were my darkest years, sounding like a twentysomething trapped inside an old, jaded man. I started doing horribly in my work, got shouted at by my bosses and had to quit and change jobs because I couldn’t take it all in. Back at home, my brother got someone accidentally pregnant, my sister was separating from her husband, I got rejected from a scholarship application and I lost my best friend. My annus horribilis was in plural form. I started having the most horrendous pimple breakouts and I hated how I look. I started picking my face until it bled. Friends would ask me what happened to my face, and I was torn between narrating my life story and telling them to mind their own faces. I had cigarettes for meals and started binge-watching tv shows about funny people with fucked-up lives, and I thought about how long it would take for my own personal dramas to end. My horror stories reached their climax in February 2014, when my father died. I lost it.
I still have a lot of stories to write about in the future, but I’m grateful this chapter’s denouement is already unfolding. My brother is now married and a father to a wonderful, lovely boy, my sister is starting anew with her boyfriend and my mother, well, I’d like to think she’s always been strong. I sent her money last month to get a new set of dentures – my Christmas gift. I’m still in touch with old friends I love, and I’m making unforgettable, meaningful memories with new ones. A few weeks ago I read an article about happiness, and it said something about not forcing every day to be a happy day, but by making every waking moment a struggle to weather through every pimple-inducing shitstorm. “There is no love of life without despair of life,” Albert Camus once said. Happiness is in the daily fight to be happy despite everything. Happiness is a battle.
As I type this on the eve of my twenty-seventh birthday, I’m sitting in my room in a brick house in Melbourne, just outside the university where I’m currently taking my master’s degree in social policy. Whenever people ask me what my course is about, I tell them that I’m changing careers because I want to make world a better place for everyone. For all the walking wounded. There are times, though, when I still look back at that idealistic grade school kid at the back of the classroom who wanted to be a professional journalist. Things have gone differently since that clear January day: I did not become the television reporter my parents imagined me to be. But whatever the hell happened, I can still see myself in the middle of the storm, this time dancing.