I opened my eyes to a low hum of an engine.

Frustrated, I close my eyes in an attempt to fall asleep again, focusing my thoughts on my rhythm of my breathing. Breath in. Hold. Breath out. I take in as much of the shallow air into my lungs as I could, but the metal texture seems to become more prevalent with each incoming breath. I gag at the thought of the hundreds of millions of bacteria that swarm around my body at every moment, and there is little I can do to ease my discomfort. The air around me becomes watery, like a reflective pool of gasoline on a warm street, and like the air, a sense of heaviness descends over my thoughts as well. Whatever lessons in meditation I had learned in the past couples of months seem to be ineffective my state of delirium.

Over the years, I have become familiar with the effects of looking out the window to the sight of blue and white for hours at a time. At first, the clouds offer a sense of amusement. But once the dusk arrives, I can only see a patterned beep of red in the darkness. Only when I am truly free from the distractions afforded to me by the advent of technology am I able to access a degree of honesty previously inaccessible. Because, although a season of melancholy constantly envelops over my life, I can still operate with a degree of shielding from the needlessly negative thoughts that would otherwise overwhelm my existence. But here, within a pressurized metal tube where my phone does not offer me the distraction I crave, I am at the mercy of my thoughts.

My sleepless frenzy allows me to reflect on the countless meaningful conversations I have had in the past year, but above all, it tells me of those hopeless souls I wish would pass through my life once again — the people who have long exited my life with no avenues for re-entry, yet still pass through my thoughts now and then. I cannot help but let my thoughts gravitate towards those what ifs in my life; even a glance at the white screen before me causes me a state of intense nausea, and the book beside me is far but within my optimal allocation of attention. My insomnolence, paired with a profound ennui, seizes whatever autonomy I have over my own thoughts, and I am but helpless to let my thoughts drift without restraint towards those recollections I have tried long to forget.

I take solace in the blanket of anonymity offered by the darkness. My eyes — the only windows to my gushing torrent of obsessive thoughts — cannot be observed except as a reflection of the white light of a screen. I pull out my phone to look at some of my old photos in an attempt to distract myself. I smile at some screenshotted snaps during the school year when academic and professional stresses permeated every layer of my thoughts, only wince when I scroll too far up to see some pictures of a warmer time. I put down my photo to take a sip of coffee. The cup’s label read: “United / Taking Premium Coffee to New Heights.” A pun, I thought to myself. The coffee tasted fine, but nevertheless, I heard a gentleman behind me complain about the quality of the coffee to his wife. Funny. I didn’t hear him complaining about the General Tso’s chicken.

I envision myself in the third person — a gloomy visage illuminated by a sterile light and surrounded by hundreds of strangers never to be seen again in a couple of hours, ruminating on occurrences that will be forgotten once consciousness is lost. These musings do me no good, but I have long stopped believing that I could optimize every aspect of my life. I tend to think of them as a defining feature of being human: the helplessness that follows an imperfectly constructed brain. It reminds me a bit of Zen meditation — the passing nature of my thoughts — except, unlike institutional practitioners, I do not seek to detach my body from my thoughts. Nothing about my stream of thoughts is deliberate. I wish I could push my thoughts to areas that were more productive to my growth, but I suppose there is little I can do to fight my nature.

So I look off into the distance and let my thoughts consume me.

This piece was written on my phone on my flight to Switzerland.