In my second semester of college, I used to frequent a cafe with big windows.
I spent hours sipping coffee, typing away on my laptop, or talking to newfound friends while the sun set. Sometimes I’d wonder: if I had not been delayed, would I still have moments like these where I felt like the world was at peace? I have never been one to say outright that I got delayed in my first year of college. I would awkwardly laugh as ninongs and ninangs would ask if I would be graduating soon. I’d introduce myself as a student in my course, omitting what year level I was. Part of me likes to think that I did this because it’s easier than explaining the long process of how I got to where I am, but in actuality, I still feel ashamed that I let myself down.
Like many people, I thought college was a fresh start. I thought I could be a better version of my high school self: someone with high grades, many extracurriculars, and a solid group of friends. I was eager to start anew, so I tried to get my hands on all the new experiences possible. However, that got the best of me.
Everything felt fast-paced and a blur. I was one of the heads of my block. I volunteered for two events with practices that took up some of my evenings and weekends. There were days when I cried because of how tiring and overwhelming college was. I remember a time when I would walk home from class or practice, crying because I didn’t know where I fit in. I tried to put up a facade that I was living the best college experience I could have. It all came crashing down when I learned that I had failed a major subject and I could only take it again the following school year.
I wanted to talk to my friends about it, yet I was afraid to say that I was in the darkest part of my life and I needed help. My mom told me I could take a gap year, but I decided against it because I didn’t want to feel like a burden to my family. So I opted to stay in my course with the minimum load requirements, and with that came a lot of free time that wasn’t relaxing.
It was a constant reminder of what could have been. I could have been studying alongside my batchmates, still be on track for my set goals in life. I could be doing something—anything—productive or praiseworthy. I could have still looked like the person my high school self would have aspired to be. But there I was, and I could only see myself as a failure. A failure that frequented a coffee shop with big windows because she had the free time.
My frequent coffee shop stays introduced me to a group of friends that I believe in no other circumstance would I have properly befriended. I was afraid of opening up about being delayed, with strangers no less. We would sit for hours doing work, or sometimes pretending to do so, within the comfort of each other’s presence. I started to feel comfortable around them because there was no sense of competition. We were all from different courses, across different year levels. The only thing connecting us at that time was our time spent studying and the conversations we shared over multiple cups of coffee.
There was a particular person in that friend group that I would talk to a lot about ideas I wanted to write or share. She was always busy typing on her laptop, and I would ask her what she was writing. She told me that my ideas and opinions were something she’d want to read more of. She was the person that pushed me to try writing articles and to take an internship as an opportunity to write more.
While others were focused on studying online, I started using my free time to work and write. I started to watch more shows, discover new hobbies, and meet new people. I gave myself more time to understand who I was by taking a step back from all my goals. During that time, I talked to my co-interns and orgmates about my struggles, where I cried in frustration and ended up crying out of laughter because of the jokes we made at three in the morning.
Being vulnerable in front of them made me realize that I needed to allow myself to not be okay and take time to dwell on those feelings. Despite how much time had passed and how many ventures I’d put myself into, I still needed to take a moment and process that I was delayed and there was nothing I could do but show up in the world as someone I believed in. I was slowly seeing life not only as college, but giving it other dimensions as well.
I started to find more of myself as a writer, a daughter, and a friend. I realized that in my pursuit to focus on making college memorable, I had forgotten to take care of things that mattered to me. I was forced to step back from being a fast-paced person and saw that I was trying so hard to be the best, that I forgot how to be myself. If I had not been delayed, I probably wouldn’t have taken the opportunity to discover that my future is not limited to my current course. I wouldn’t have become friends with the people that I hold so dear today. I wouldn’t feel that I could achieve more because I trapped myself in my preconceived notions of who I was because of my circumstances.
Up to this day, I still think about who I would be if I weren’t delayed. Would I be more satisfied with my performance in school at this moment? Would I be happier? But then I think about the cafe with big windows. I think about the articles I’ve written, the friends and memories I’ve made. I think about the tears I’ve shed and the times that I have shouted and laughed as loud as I could. I got delayed and I built myself back up to become someone that I could call me.