Come here, quickly. I’m holding this flickering candle, and I want to tell you a story before it blows out, and we’re in the dark again.
The Legend of the Campanile is about another student who had to sell his soul.
My roommate’s-big’s-partner’s-girlfriend’s-little’s-roommate knew him years ago. He had come to Cal full of life, but on Friday the 13th, he looked up at the Campanile — our looming, ivory bell and clock tower. It recruited him, just like everything else in our school, as its next victim.
He became possessed. He watched the clock’s needle revolve until his eyes were hypnotized. He listened to the seconds tick away until his ears bled. He became tormented with what the symbol of our university represented. He was losing time, all the time.
It made him think he had to run, beat the clock, and all his other classmates. He had to be the fastest, smartest and richest, quicker than anyone else.
Berkeley’s other sinister elements also spooked him. The pale-skinned, murderous professors who lived in creaking houses atop a hill slashed his grades on a curve. The cauldron of blind bats, his club’s seniors, circled him and screeched that his resume’s action words needed more action.
His morbid reality sucked the joy out of him. By junior year, as he was recruiting for a summer internship turned full time offer, he was undead.
He was a ghost. He sat at a desk all day, his arms extended forward hauntingly as he refreshed his email and checked Handshake for networking opportunities. His eye-bags hollowed from unblinking staring at a screen, his forehead creased from stress lines and his tonsils soured from all those bitter Americanos.
He was a warlock. He stayed up until witching hours, writing sacrificial cover letters under the altar of employers’ application sites. He attended their worship events in ceremonial business-casual veils. He chanted about their people, culture, resources and affinity groups.
He was a zombie. He ate his competition’s brains to feed his own prospects. They did the same to him; they were zombies too. It was an apocalypse.
He had internalized the Campanile’s striking by now — his heartbeat had synchronized with it.
So when he got the job, although it was far from here, the position put him in his casket.
He was a mummy. He kept running towards higher titles and bigger paychecks, but his foot was nailed to the tomb. He couldn’t leave this corporate coffin even if he tried.
So there he lay for eternity. He decorated his grave with little trinkets and ate the free sandwiches in the break room. At the annual Christmas parties, he wore his name tag and introduced himself.
“It’s nice to meet you, I’m John Doe,” he would say. He didn’t remember his name from before the Campanile incident but as another unidentifiable undead child of Doe Library, this one seemed appropriate.
John Doe’s myth sent shivers down my spine and goosebumps up my arm. I didn’t want to become a commercialized creature. I didn’t want to make six figures until I was six feet under. I had to make it out of Berkeley’s haunted house alive.
I burned sage. The vapors dissipated the bad juju that I had inhaled: Cal’s stagnant, sluggish energy of achievement.
I practiced meditation, realigning my breathing. It didn’t conform to the Campanile’s pace or societal expectations anymore. I stopped wheezing.
I wore an evil eye talisman to ward off capitalistic greed.
I had an exorcism. I screamed in a demonic voice about the comfort of coworkers and safety of a schedule. I began levitating, and my mouth widened. The priest held me down, asking the Satanic allure of a Google internship to exit my spirit. The smog of Berkeley’s daze left my body.
Since my cleansing, the darkness still taunts me, whispering in gusts of wind when I walk past the Campanile. But I don’t give in to the black magic. I don’t stop to look, and I keep going. I stare firmly down at my feet and try to be where they are. Rooted in the gravity that keeps them there, I remind myself that I still have time.
I have time during college to make up nonsensical horror stories. I have time after graduation, to swim in the waters of my childlike dreams, instead of shark-infested ones when my days aren’t taken up by a 9-5.
I don’t have to reach the end of productivity, achievement, time or my life. Not yet, not ever.
I want my headstone to read my name, not Jane Doe.