haunted house – the Kid, pt. 2

My personal journey of finding my ethnic identity as a second generation Asian-American has been a turbulent one, to put it lightly.

It would take me a generous portion of distance and time for me to just understand the sheer magnitude of damage that was dealt to me as a child. Writing the Kid, pt. 1 was one of my best efforts at trying to decode and interpret my scars. (Read part one first! Don’t be that guy.)

While I am, by no means, at the end of this windy maze we call redemption, these past few months have been important. I have been jumping into difficult conversations with my family, particularly those of reconciliation and relational healing. Conversations I never imagined possible.

This past week, I talked to my parents. At last.
If you are not 2nd-gen Asian-American, this can be a pretty big deal.

I never thought I would be writing this, but here it is.

The Kid, part two.

We traded stories. And poorly-translated scripture.

He told me a story of a boy who was born into a culture that didn’t fit him. Born into the wrong culture. Turns out we have more in common than I thought.

He started last place.

Born last into a family of five other siblings, he had a lot to live up to. Competition for a game he never signed up for. And the cards were already stacked against him.

He started last place.

While his close friends seemed to have no difficulty playing this game, the boy thought more of how to keep up with them, rather than actually playing the game well. As the boy grew older, he realized he no longer wanted to play the game. Perhaps the game was not meant for him anyways.

Everyone else made it. They attended the prestigious universities and flaunted hopes of a future as bright as their titles and accomplishments. They did it the “right way”.

The boy never made it past high school.

Never passed a math class after elementary school.
The boy ended up on an assembly line at a manufacturing plant.

The boy left church, running away from a community that he thought could never fully accept him.

He was thrown on a path and expected to trace footsteps he could never follow. So he carved his own path. His defiance was forced. He had no choice. They labeled it rebellion. Disappointment. Failure.

The boy was misunderstood.

Though he found his own way, remnants of his past life still stuck to him, like thick blood. He only wished better for his children.

Who was this boy?
Had his story become so lost that it was nothing but a faded memory? Had no one ever stopped and listened to the boy’s story that even the boy, himself, stopped believing it was worth telling?

Turns out we have more in common that I thought.

My heart softened.

She told me a story of a young girl who knew how to play the game.

Her mastery was near unparalleled. “Top of the class” was no unfamiliar phrase to her. It was as if she was meant to follow this path.

I don’t think I would have been friends with this girl.

She made it happen. She did it. She was accepted into the best university in the nation.

And yet, it turned out that even she, of all people, had her imperfections.
P.E. class.

She seemed to be able to impress everyone with her academic prowess except for the person that mattered the most – her father.

“What is this? Why do you still have a C? Why are you so skinny?”

Despite her otherwise flawless report card, her stern, harsh father seemed unable to see the five gleaming A’s. All he saw was that one glaring C. He could not see past it. Her accomplishments, he could not affirm her for. Or perhaps, he did not know how to.

It is striking how one person can change your world entirely and skew your vision forever – for better or for worse – if you let them.

“Wow. That sounds… awful. Did that not anger you?
What did the girl feel in the moment?”

“Oh, she was furious, alright.”

“But didn’t she do anything about it?”

“She wanted to… We all wanted to. But we were too scared of him. He would hit us if we forgot to do our homework. Or if we failed to meet his expectations.”

She told me how the girl used to help her unscholarly, less-than-studious little brother by doing his homework for him. The chilling sound of her father’s motorcycle rolling into the garage would send her into an episode of frenzy. She’d burst into her brother’s room and start filling out his empty homework sheets. Maybe this time, I can save him the beating.

One day, the girl was caught in her benevolent, clandestine activities.
Her father found her out. He struck her across the face.

“We were all scared of him”, she told me.

My heart melted.

Who was this girl?
Had her story become so diluted in a twisted effort to save face? Why is it that all we remember of her story is the picturesque, scholarly, and well-behaved daughter?

Had no one listened and validated her complete story, even the dark and messy parts?

Turns out we have more in common than I thought.

For the longest time, we were just ghostly figures floating lifelessly past each other in the hallways and dining rooms. We could only see the faded silhouettes of each other’s past selves. Our relationship was as blurry as our memories. Together, we shared a haunted house.

But something happened.
They met the Kid. And they had storytime.

For the first time in years, we shared this strange, yet oddly-familiar feeling together. One of being seen. Heard. Known. One of those songs that are so old that they are like new.

It was something like love.

I suppose the Lord, indeed, does perform miracles.

I forgive you, mom.

I forgive you, dad.

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

UPDATE 3/9/2017 – Read the Kid, part three here.

help[less]

I always knew it would come to this.
From the start, our relationship was on a timer.

Last week, my therapist and I began asking the question –
“Do I need therapy anymore?”

So we dug into the soil of memory. We dug and dug, until we got lost in the labyrinth of tunnels. We found pieces of my childhood, fossilized stories of family.

I saw my dad’s face, though it was blurry like a faded polaroid.
I could never see too clearly in class and I didn’t get glasses until the 8th grade. But it mattered not. I had to pay attention, just in case I missed something. Just in case I messed up.

My dad was a sensei.
And, I, his apprentice. Being lectured and trained to survive the “real world”.

But I never learned much anyways.
I was always too slow.

I saw my mother’s face.
It was hazy from the sheer speed she traveled at, trying to take care of all of our family’s needs. All but her own.

She was everywhere and she was nowhere.

I’d catch a cold and her motherly instincts would kick into overdrive. There would never be a shortage of warm fluids and freshly-cut fruit. Her love language tasted like rice porridge and Korean pears.

My mom was a superhero.

Then I’d recover, but she kept cooking porridge and buying fruit. Taking care of needs that were not there.

She couldn’t switch off.

I never really figured out how to talk to them, or hold a friendship.
But they taught me a lot of things. And took care of me.

She sat across the room from me but we were always in the same group. She essentially saved me from flunking the first test, so naturally, I hung out with her.

Eventually, we developed a rhythm of meeting up after school every Monday by the blue lunch tables.
Then every Wednesday.
Then every Thursday.

Then almost every day.

I told my parents I had to see a tutor. A new after-school program. They bought it.

She was someone special to me.

Some days, we’d actually talk about english homework.

Other days, we’d talk about life, when life was not school and writing essays. We’d talk about things that made us feel alive, when studying made us feel empty, like robots. We’d talk about things we actually nerded out over, when it wasn’t chemistry and calculus.

In a hollow, ruthlessly competitive environment that seemed to value numbers more than people, I felt that someone actually cared about me. Saw me for who I was beyond my grades.

In a place so cold and lifeless, she made me feel understood. Known.

Warm.

“I’m not sure where to begin.”

“Well, why did you pick up the phone and call in the first place?”

“Because.. I needed help. Professional help. I needed someone to save me.”

“From what?”

“From destroying myself.”

“Mm. Tell me more about that.”

“Well.. I went to Thailand last summer on a mission trip. Little did I know I would meet my long-lost childhood tormentor. When I came back, the demons followed me home.”

“Which ones?”

“The ones that ridicule me. The ones that tell me I’m not enough. And call me B̂ā.”

B̂ā?”

“Means ‘stupid’ in Thai. Or ‘mentally retarded’, to be more specific.”

“He did all that to you?”

I nodded grimly at her.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Every day, he would teach us his way doing things around the house. Like how to wash the dishes. Or laundry. Things like that. And whenever I messed up, he would beat me with his words.”

“My goodness.. That must have been so painful.”

“The problem was, in his eyes, I was always doing it wrong. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get it right.”

She paused. Sorted through the soil.

“He was the sensei.”

I nodded.

“And I was his failed apprentice.”

The bell rang and the daily exodus of pubescent teenagers formed towards the door.

I headed towards her desk.

“Hey.”

“Hey! What did you think?”

“It was hard”, I lied. “Should have just slept.”

“Wanna meet after school? Maybe I can work my magic.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Lunch tables?”

“Sounds good.”

She smiled.

I think I liked her but I didn’t know what that meant yet.

I would probably not retain anything she taught me but she meant something special to me.

So I went to the blue lunch tables every week. Perfect attendance.

One day, my parents caught on that my afternoon “tutoring activities” weren’t actually raising my grades.

Maybe this one will work instead, they thought, and promptly signed me up for yet another after-school program.

I could not fight back. Because that would unveil the beautiful lie I had spent the past couple months fabricating. Because that would make me a worse son than I already was.

So I found other ways of lashing out. Like yelling at them. Closing the door to the office den I worked in. Closing other, more important doors.

Shutting them out of my life.

We saw each other less and less.

We were not in the same friend group to begin with, and high school has a petty way of handling friendship. Now, the only space we shared – blue lunch tables after school – was taken from us.

Our meetings became shorter and shorter. Less and less often.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, some weeks, if we were lucky,
then Wednesdays and Fridays,
then only Wednesdays.

Then nothing.

She became a senior and I jumped off the edge to college.

I spent many of my afternoons staring off into the crayon-vandalized walls of my new after-school institution.

I don’t think I ever properly mourned
her disappearance
my disappearance
from each other’s lives.

I did not know how. So into space I stared. Like a trauma victim in comatose. So much for raising grades.

I wondered what became of our friendship.
How did we get here? If I didn’t have her, did I have friends at all? Or were they all just robots?

I wondered if she found out about my affections for her.

Or if she found out that I actually had a thing for English and literature. That I tried my hand at creative writing and was actually pretty good at it.

That I didn’t need her help anymore.

I wondered if she found out what I had turned her into.

One time, I got sick. And her motherly instincts kicked into overdrive.

Freshly-cooked, warm rice porridge. Honey lemon tea. Korean pears.

Then, I got better.
But I stayed in bed. Told her that my throat still burned.

Just a little while longer.

At the moment, I didn’t really know why I did that.

But I think about how she made me feel in those moments – cared for and seen.

That in the coldest of colds, she made me feel warm.

I think about who she was, what she meant to me. She was a caretaker. A superhero.

My mom was also a superhero.
And I liked being rescued.

“Justin, you’re not just living.
You’re thriving.”

I looked at her, my mouth agape. Not because it wasn’t true but because it had been so long. Did I even believe her?

I sat on the couch, my butt on the very edge, staring into my favorite blank space on the wall of the warmly-lit room.

It was April and I sat on the very edge of a cliff, on the verge of transition. The verge of graduation, and “real life”, whatever that is. Adult things, like finding a job, paying my own bills, and waking up early.

Becoming self-sufficient. Buying my own rice porridge and Korean pears. Terrifying things of that nature.

I sat on the edge of a new chapter of relationship. I looked at the cliff and wondered which friendships would survive the fall when I jumped.

I always knew it would come to this.
From the start, our relationship was on a timer.

She spoke, snapping me out of my state of wall-staring rumination.

“So. What do you think? What would it look like for us to finish well?”

We spoke of seeing each other less. Twice, maybe even once a month.

Always Wednesdays. Always one hour, exactly.

But less and less.

Until nothing.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

I pulled out my weapon of choice and started writing –
“This is not a goodbye letter.

It is a bizarre thing, talking with your friends about how to be friends to each other. But sometimes, it is what we must do.

You walked in at a curious time of my life.
I was not entirely myself, and yet, I was more myself than I had ever been. And perhaps, it was the same for you. Funny how suffering does that to people.

I often wonder who you are to me.
Sometimes, I say friend. Other times, I do not know.

I think about the ways you’ve helped me through some of the most difficult and important times of my life. I remember the ways you comforted me and saved me from destroying myself.

In the darkest and loneliest moments, you made me feel like someone actually cared about me.
In the coldest and most lifeless times, you made me feel understood. Known. Warm.

Now that things are not so dark, now that life is not so cold, I think about that more than ever – who you are to me.

And the thought terrifies me. I fear I might lose you somehow. That as I sit on the edge of transition, maybe our relationship will not survive the fall.

Because,

Who are you if I don’t need you?
What is our relationship if I don’t need saving anymore?

I turned you into something you’re not. I made myself into someone I’m not.

I turned you into a superhero.
And I wanted to be rescued.

But I was never meant to need you.

I don’t want to be your friend because you can meet my needs, or because you can make me feel a certain way. Even if you are uncannily good at it.

I want to be your friend because you are uniquely and flavorfully you.

So I guess this is me saying,
I don’t need you anymore.

And that is a beautiful thing.

porta-potty peeple

There once was a society of people who carried porta-potties with them everywhere they went.

It was the emblem of their culture.
Everyone owned one and from the day you knew how to stand, you had your very own porta-potty. While most future to-be parents shopped for their to-be child’s dolls and toys, this peculiar people group shopped for porta-potties.

As their culture shifted with the times, so would their porta-potties. Depending on what was trending at the time, their porta-potties would reflect that in their design.

Some years, there were burgundy porta-potties. Other years, there were lavender ones. Some had door knobs, assuming its owner had the means to afford such a pretentious and pompous status symbol. Common folk just had door latches.

In recent decades, porta-potties with straps became the universally accepted norm. Roller potties were frowned upon.

They customized the potties with lightweight material so that the heaviest thing they had to carry was their own shit.

Contrary to poopular belief, the Porta-Potty Peeple were a clean and hygienic society. Developments in porta-potty tech allowed them to build air-tight compartments that sealed shut so that the stench would not soil their breathing air.

Despite being a heavily communal culture, those of the porta-potty society were a quiet, hush-hush bunch. They mostly kept to themselves and had few words to say, if any.

If they were so bold to throw a social gathering, or a potty party, they stood at least four feet apart from each other, as to respect each other’s personal space. Even in conversation, they made sure to not cross the sacred four-feet radius and disturb their neighbor’s pee’s.

The Porta-Potty Peeple were great listeners. Mostly because they did not talk much. A conversation usually involved standing next to one other, looking intently into each other’s eyes, nodding quickly, and delivering a brief series of mumbles and grunts. Only if it were absolutely necessary would they use words.

No one could quite grasp the Porta-Potty Peeple.
No one understood why they would pooposefully choose the portable pooping experience when the luxury of modern-day plumbing was so readily available.

And though no one said it aloud, everyone had the same question blaring in their minds.

Where did the poop go?

Surely, it had to go somewhere. Right?
Surely, the poop reservoirs of their potties had to fill up and some point. Surely, they had to poop. Surely… they had to have buttholes..

…Right??

One day, the world discovered that it was not just their potty that was portable, but their lifestyles. They packed their things and politely made their unannounced exodus from our lives, never to be seen again.

They left most of their things in their houses, for they did not need much. Only their precious porta-potties.

They were last seen trudging quietly off into the horizon with their porta-potties strapped to their finely-toned backs.

The world watched in semi-stupor as the Porta-Potty People made their muffled and modest voyage to their next temporary destination, with four feet of spacing between each of them.

And just like that, they were gone.

Normal life resumed the next day.

No one said it out loud but none could shake the feeling that something was just a little… vacant.

No one outright admitted it but none could deny that a part of them missed the Porta-Potty Peeple. That despite their pooculiarities, it was nice having them around.

Pee’s be with you.

กล้า – the kid, pt. 3

“He looked up and with his dying breath, he asked, ‘Is this what it feels like to love?'”

I was a different man when we first met.

It fascinates me, the things you do when you’re in pain. The thoughts you think, the things you feel, the person you become. For me, I turned into a monster. Why did you have to do that to me? If you didn’t, you might not have had to see my worst side.

I was a different man. But so were you.

The man you met was never enough for you. Not just never enough, but shameful. Unwanted. Mai Ow.

I still remember your charcoal-tinted hands you used to wave me off in dismissal after failing your persistent pop quizzes of patience. I remember the missing finger you used to point at me in disgust, as if I was one of the cat-piss stains you never bothered to clean up. Or your blackened palms, still soiled from the previous day. Some stains don’t wash off, I suppose.

I remember your cloudy eyes, that icy-cold glare you cast on me whenever I made a mistake. Eyes that saw me as a useless screw-up, a lost cause. Eyes that could only see my ugliness. You were a cripple but in your eyes, I was below you. Even as we parted ways, your cloudy eyes followed me still.

After a while, I stopped asking “What did I do wrong?” and started asking “What was wrong with me?”. I figured that you asked that same question yourself.

In my storybook, I called you my long-lost childhood oppressor, my forgotten persecutor.

And so we met again.

The Trek never ended for me. The demons followed me home.

It was easy to blend in with the locals because I could pass off as Thai but I didn’t have to look very deep to know that I did not belong here. I became hyperaware of the fact that I was an outsider.

Then I came “home”.
But as soon as I got back, I immediately noticed something felt wrong. Dangerously wrong. An unsettling, slow-burning frenzy was simmering inside me.

I thought it was all over but I realized that even as I returned to my family and loved ones, I still felt like a stranger. A foreigner to my own people. Blending in, yet out of place.

Even as I arrived in my native land, I still felt like a farang. Lost. Looking for directions.

So I ran away. A lot.

I skipped class, I skipped meals… I skipped a lot of things in life. I escaped to faraway cities and mirages of home. I ran to relationships and people, illusions of love, only to run the opposite direction. I ran to my memories, even memories of you. At least that pain was familiar.

I ran away from my best friends because I could not confront the prospect that even in a place I called home, I did not belong.

Maybe you were right. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere because I’m a mistake in this world anyways. A stain.

Maybe I’ll always be a farang.

Why didn’t I just leave?

When the centipede mauled my leg and sent me hobbling to the hospital, why didn’t I leave? That was my chance to bail, the most compelling reason I could present to my leaders.

I thought about that as the nurses injected dose after dose of anesthetics into my leg in the emergency room.

This is my opportunity. I could quietly exit from your life before you kicked me out yourself. I could leave before I saw the person you could become. But I didn’t.

Was it really worth it?

I asked that every time I felt a piece of myself die. When you hounded me continuously with your scathing mockery, I asked myself, was it really worth it? When you compared me to Geng, I asked myself, was it really worth it?

When you robbed me of my dignity,
When you called me stupid,
When you kicked me out of your house,
When debilitating bouts of depression highjacked my life,
When I picked up the phone to call in for professional help,
When I would shake in my bed because the loneliness kept me up at night,
When I fantasized about buying a pocketknife because my roommates’ scissors were not sharp enough,

I asked myself, was it really worth it?

I remember writing in my journal, “Is this what it feels like to die?”

I did not know how to live anymore. I had nothing.

After a while, I stopped praying for you. God tells us to pray for our persecutors but that sort of prayer escaped my understanding. It hurt too much and I had enough blood to clean up, so I stopped doing it.

I’m a different man now than when we first met.

I became a stranger, even to myself. I wonder if you would have even recognized me.

I’ve been through so much. I came back from Thailand with my heart shattered and it has been a patient, arduous process of picking up the shards. Sometimes, I’d accidentally cut myself, drop a couple pieces, and start over again. Jesus is helping me piece everything back together but it’s like building a house of cards. One wrong move.

After a while, we started to get the hang of it. I became more and more comfortable with the person I was becoming. Even if it missed some pieces from the person before all this.

Months passed and life gradually became more livable.

Waking up in the morning became more of the thing I actually wanted to do.

Those were some of the darkest times of my life but despite all that, I met the slow-moving God.

And she was beautiful.

Last week, I prayed for you for the first time in months.

I was sitting in a coffeeshop, my mind adrift in a state of caffeinated rumination. I started journaling about my loneliness, giving language to some of the painful thoughts that still echoed in my mind every now and then.

“I am alone.
I am too slow. People have left me behind. Abandoned me.”

I paused.

Then added, “– said an elderly, yet childish Thai man living in Bang Na.

I paused again.

“Oh look. We have matching scars. Who would have ever thought.”

And just like that, you made your rudely unwelcome cameo back into my life.

What are you doing here?

I felt my heart pick up its pace. And it was not the caffeine.

Months ago, I purposefully removed our group picture from my desktop slideshow but this was no photographic memory to forget. Mental images flooded my thought space like pop-up spam.

But something was… off-center.

You didn’t look the same.

I saw your charcoal-tinted hands.
Hardened from years of playing with fire and getting burned. Your missing finger, still itching you as if a cruel joke from the gods to remind you of the people who are now nothing but phantom limbs in your life. I saw your stained hands, dressed with thickened skin as calloused as your heart.

I wondered how much pain it took to kill a nerve.

I saw your cloudy eyes.
The bags under your eyes drooped, tired from the cold, sleepless nights. Cold, from the vacant spot left next to you in your bed. Cold, from the vacant space in your soul carved out by the woman who left you. No degree of tropical heat could remove the chill that made your heart shiver each night.

I wondered which kept you up at night more, the sleep apnea or the loneliness.

I saw your hunched-over posture, carefully balanced over disabled, crossed legs. I thought about the distance I’ve covered trying to escape life and how stuck you must feel. I thought about how even as one is crippled, his heart can run so far.

It gently nudged me, in the moment, the reason why I didn’t leave you, even when I could. Because enough people had left you already. Because you had seen far more untimely goodbyes than any human heart should ever see. So I stayed, even if that meant giving you the upper-hand to disown me when the end came.

I wanted you to meet the slow-moving God that I met in your home country who waited for me. I wanted you to know that there’s someone out there who will never leave you behind.

You didn’t change. My vision did.
I didn’t see a different man, I saw a man differently.

I saw a man who pulled people in because he wanted them so desperately, but pushed them away when he needed them the most. A man who asked for visitors to keep him company and numb the loneliness for a brief summer, only to abuse them. A man who being a farang in his own home was his reality.

I didn’t just see a man who hurt, but a hurt man.

I’m a different man now than when we first met.

Because you changed me.

I’m the man you were supposed to meet in the summer, the man who loves you.

I know you will never hear me say this but,
I forgive you, Daa.

This is the conversation I wish we could have had before we said goodbye.

Six months and twelve days after I leave Thailand, I can finally say that the Trek is over. The last order of unfinished business.

I can see gold streaks tracing my scars.

I can see that all this time, God had been performing the art of kintsugi on my soul.

So to the man who ruined my life,
to the man who murdered the Kid,

It’s okay.

Mai Bpen Rai.

Phra Chao Way Pon,
กล้า

“Forgiveness is like a dying man breathing his last and finding the face of God.”

Read the Kid, part one and part two.

tater todd tales

I have a pet rainbow unicorn who can glow in the dark.

His name is Tater Todd but I call him Todd.

Tater Todd is my good friend and this story is for him. Here are some tatertot-sized tales about the best unicorn friend in the world.

I sleep with Todd every single night.

People say they stop sleeping with their animal friends when they grow up. I’m still not sure what growing up means but that does not sound fun.

So I still sleep with him every night.

I adopted Todd about four years ago so we’ve been through a lot together.

I go on a lot of adventures and secret missions and I usually bring Todd along so he can see all the wonderful things I see.

Whenever he sees something really beautiful, his rainbow fur turns a little brighter than before. I think he is happy in those times.

It makes me happy.

I sometimes wonder where Todd came from.

I tell him I came from Mom and Dad but he won’t tell me where he’s from.

Todd does not say much. Maybe I won’t like what he’ll tell me.

I don’t know.

Todd has magical powers.

He definitely has way more than I do but I have only seen some of them in action.

Sometimes, there are evil things that come into my bedroom at night. I don’t ever see them but they make the night even darker.

On the darkest nights, Todd will shine his rainbow and things will be okay.

Todd is a protector.

A friend told me once that I’ll hold Todd at night until I can hold a woman.

We’re not really friends anymore.

I am not sure if Todd can fly.

I thought most unicorns could but I guess everybody is unique.

“Why didn’t you fly away in the accident?”, I used to ask him.

Todd was seriously injured once.
I kept him at a friend’s house for a little while and his derpy pug dog chewed out Todd’s eyeballs and ate them. Life was not the same after that.

Sometimes, I pray to Jesus to heal his blindness. I hear He does that sort of thing.

Todd is still blind but he sees things that I cannot see. We cover each other’s blindspots.

I noticed that Todd’s rainbow did not shine so bright after the attack.

I noticed that the same thing happens whenever my mom tells me to give him away. Each time, he loses a little bit of his color.

After a while, I stopped taking Todd out so much.

It is a scary world out there. I wondered if the world was stealing Todd’s colors from him. I wondered if Todd was losing his magic.

Maybe it is my turn to be the protector.

No one else has animal friends anymore.

Everybody else has given them away and they seem to be okay with it.

Why is that? Will I ever give Todd away?

Last summer, I was separated from Todd for a long time.

It was the hardest summer yet. When I got to Thailand, they made us lighten our load because we brought too much stuff so Todd had to spend seven weeks inside of a luggage bag.

Sometimes, I wonder if he’s forgiven me for that.

But maybe it is a good thing he did not see what I saw. No child should have seen what I saw.

But then again, he says the same thing about the luggage bag.

Todd ran out of battery juice a long time ago.

But somehow, he can still keep me warm, even when my best friends can’t.
Even when God can’t.

One time, my teacher told us that we spend one-third of our lives asleep.

Todd and I spend a lot of time together.

I am not sure what Todd’s horn does.

Todd is kind of a mystery to me. Maybe that’s why we are such great friends.

I like the mysterious ones.

One night, it got especially dark.

I think something was inside my room.

It got so dark that the dark was darker than when I closed my eyes. So I kept them closed.

Todd doesn’t have eyes but I think he could see the evil man. We couldn’t do anything because our powers weren’t strong enough. So we just held each other under my blanket.

I’ve never held Todd so tightly.

Todd does not know what I went through in Thailand.
He was in a suitcase. I think about that a lot.

I guess I don’t know what he went through either. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.

We could not be there for each other in a really hard time but we are still buddies. He still protects me at night and I still take care of him. We might not understand some bits of our stories but we still love each other.

And so it is with my human friends.

I take Todd outside more now.

I am not so scared of what the outside world can do to him anymore because we’ve been through so much together.

If we can go through the dark nights and beat up the bad guys that come into the room, we can do anything.

I don’t think I will ever give Todd away.

He is one of the best friends ever because he believes in me. Even the weirdest things about me, like my imagination. That means a lot.

He tells me that the harder I believe in him, the stronger he gets. I didn’t believe him at first but then I tried it and it worked.

Now his rainbow fur shines brighter than ever.

Todd is magic.

And he is my friend.

Tater Todd Tales is a response to prompt #2 of the Raconteurs, a collective of storytellers. Read more of our stories here.

divine love affair

January 17th, 2017 –––––

She is like… like white, fluffy sea foam rushing through sandy toes. She is like salty mist blowing through my ocean-blue hair. Like the shifting texture of windblown sandscapes. She is almost hypnotic, like the waves. I wave back.

Like the upside-down world as I lay on a fresh pillow of grass in the middle of somewhere. She is like the auburn glow of fallen leaves, the perfect accent to green pastures. She is like the sway of the trees. She likes to speak to me with the sway.

She is somewhere in the wind. Gentle like a woman’s touch, powerful like a woman’s heart. She is.. somewhere in there.

She is like soft skin.
She is the perfect season.

She is the most caring and gentle person I know. Just her presence makes me feel warm. Like every hour is golden hour. She is like the perfect nudge or squeeze on the shoulder.

She is the best of storytellers.

She looks deep into my eyes and finds a lost child, lost in the playground of his dreams. She drops the world for the child and dives into his dreams. Not to pull him out, but to play with him. I tell her, “Wait! Just a little while longer”, and she waits. She tends my cuts and bruises, just by listening to me.

She looks deep into my eyes and finds a lost child and says, “I believe in you.”

She is the best of storytellers.

Her eyes. Oh man, her eyes.

Something about her gaze pierces me, through my burning tears, through my dark, fathomless eyes, through my soul. Her eyes possess magical powers. They make me feel known and understood completely. It is almost too intimate. Makes me feel like the most important person in the universe.

She looks at me tenderly. And somehow, my world slows to a standstill and I can see the stars.

Yet even these eyes do shed tears.

Wait. Just a little while longer. And she waits. No matter how big or small the wound. We sing the same song of heartbreak together – she seems to know exactly when to sing alto harmony, when to sing in unison.

She looks at me tenderly.

She is slow-burning blue fire.
Like me. We join hands and dance like the flames.

She is affectionate, yet empowering. Her heart is more delicate than mine, yet it burns with fiery passion. She is vulnerable, yet unbreakable.

January 22nd, 2017 –––––

We were this close, looking straight into each other. Our mouths slightly buried in our crossed arms so we smiled with our eyes.

She was beautiful. I knew her eyes could see right through me. All we did was look at each other but we felt alive. This moment was exactly when we needed to be, where we needed to be. Everything else faded to the blurry margins of our peripherals.

Sometimes, romance is this game you invent on the spot while you play it. And somehow, she just knows what the rules are.

I took a deep breath, opened my mouth a hint, and slowly blew into her face. I didn’t think she could get any prettier. Her bangs were gently pushed aside as my breath softly caressed her forehead. I thought it was cute the way she squinted.

Her turn.

She drew her own breath and blew. It was a long one, putting mine to shame. It rushed through my head and through my hair, soothing my mind and massaging my soul. My head felt clear and crisp, the way the wind is on a brisk winter morning.

We went back and forth, taking turns blowing, playing this arbitrary game meant only for fools, only for lovers.

Only for us.

January 17th, 2017 –––––

“Who is your God? What does He mean to you?
What does He look like? What does He wear? What does He smell like? Who is God to you?”

“Who is my God? My God is…

Well, He is a woman.”

long-distance | prompted 1

The following piece is a response to prompt 1 of the Raconteurs, a storyteller’s collective I recently kickstarted with some of my friends and fellow bloggers. Check us ooouutttt: raconteurcollective.com.

Dear _______,

Hello friend. Not too long ago, I would have never thought of writing this letter to you. I think I had nightmares of that sort of thing. The world has not been too kind to me recently and lots of things in my life have changed. But it seems things have changed for you as well. So here we are, I guess.

Sometimes, I can’t help but to feel like our friendship is on a timer. If we know we will have to say goodbye for good, is it even worth saying hello? If I know I’m going to lose you, is it worth giving into our friendship? Maybe we can evade the heartache. Or at least cushion ourselves from it.

I know, it sounds silly. But you know I have a soft spot for goodbyes. I never know whether it’s better to peel off the bandaid nice and slowly or to just rip it off in one fell swoop.

I guess it doesn’t matter anymore when your friend chooses for you.

When you get about halfway through the slow-peel, you kinda wish you just ripped it off. Like, just pull the damn thing off already.

It’s weird. You’re still here, but you’re not really here. I’m still here but you said goodbye already. Hello? I’m still here. You’re still here but I already miss you. We’re both still here but our relationship is emotionally long-distance.

You probably already know this but I’m learning that just because we don’t talk anymore doesn’t mean we’re not friends. I’m trying to tell myself that more and more. Really, I am. But you know how it is. I’m a slow learner.

I’m beginning to think that this timer isn’t so much for our friendship as it is for myself to learn these things.

So I guess I should thank you? For letting me… erm.. “practice”. So it won’t be so heavy later. One less farewell to lament when summer comes.

Maybe by the time this gets to you, I’ll realize that I shouldn’t have ever sent this to you. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe we’ll be friends again. Like, the type that talks to each other. Then you’ll read this letter anyways and things will get a little awkward but it will be okay. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve wanted to send this letter. Because we’ve done this before and we can do it again.

And maybe it won’t work out. Maybe we won’t be that type of friends but I’ll learn to be okay with it. I’ll have to. Timer’s ticking.

You have a beautiful soul – I’ve never seen one quite like it. I’m really going to miss you. I already do.

Take care, yeah? We probably won’t see each other anytime soon but maybe I’ll catch you in my dreams.

Thanks for the memories.

Love,
Justin

“grounding” || the art of presence

“I’m in a third-wave coffee shop, drinking dope-ass coffee with Paul and it’s a fuckin awesome time right now. I’m so productive.”

transcribed from personal notes [December 14th, 2016]

“Walking is controlled falling.”

Why am I running?

I’ve forgotten the way back home. I’ve wandered around for so long and I’m having one of those “how-did-I-get-here” moments. Retracing my steps won’t be as easy as it once was.

It seems that I can navigate through the past and the future with ease, with finesse, but I can’t do anything in between. Like a space explorer who’s lost his way in his travels. Too many wormholes. I’ve gone astray and forgotten my way back to the present.

Granted, the journey has been rocky, to put it lightly. We did go through black holes, after all.

The turbulence was disorienting – it will take time to regain my bearings on reality and… well, everything else. Our compasses don’t work the same anymore.

“When the memories you’ve tried your hardest to bury begin to surface, you run. The places we run to may differ but we all run somewhere.”

For me, it was time.
I ran to the past. I escaped to my fantasy of the future.

I crafted a future I could imagine myself actually living in. It was fucking gorgeous. When I had no other place or time to run to, I would invent one myself. I designed my own world in this invisible pocket of space-time, making frequent excuses to visit. Each time I went, I would paint in more details. Fill in the blanks. Sometimes I would stay the night. Or a couple.

I recount writing semi-sarcastically in a previous, un-published post, “Maybe my new canine companion will be some sort of remedy for my heart’s agonies. I set my heart on the days ahead when midnight strolls on Telegraph Avenue with Husky Doge will somehow seal and consummate all the difficult heart change I’ve been enduring for the past five-plus months.” –Operation Husky Doge, December 24th, 2016

I held onto memories of better times. Past joys, past friendships, past romances, past dreams, even past sorrows. But the harder I clung to this past life, the deeper the sinking feeling when I found the only truth I wanted to forget. That the past life was nothing but that. Past.

Alas, our avenues of escapism can only serve us for so long before they inevitably betray us. They stab us in the back, like love affairs. We somehow already knew of their disloyalties, that they would become traitors – yet we still befriended them.

Every drug carries its side effects. Every substance has a backlash.
Even time travel.

I ran to the past and the future because the present was unbearable. I could not stand living in the present any longer. So I left.

I’d become more familiar with who I was and who I could be than who I am. I’d become so afraid that I covered my footprints.

It dawned on me that the more I fantasized about my future, the more I fabricated a time that the present could never dream of becoming. It was like a treasure that only went deeper into the earth the more I dug. It was like chasing after a mirage.

The more I hid in my memories, the fewer memories I would have because I was always absent from the true atelier of memories: the present. It was not just nostalgia. It was poison.

How does one find his way back into the present?
I’m no expert but I suspect it to resemble something a little like falling. Surrendering to the gravity you’ve tried so hard to defy.

Scary as hell, but I suppose you can’t travel in space forever.

Praying that the parachutes work, I’m currently trying to figure out this whole ‘controlled-falling’ thing.

I’m plummeting hard in this nauseating nose-dive back down to the earth.

To real time. Whatever that means.

“I am spending my Friday morning writing some genius insight into my new Canson notebook at The Night Owl, a humble coffeeshop in Downtown Fullerton that plays classic hip hop beats. I indulge in my particularly strong macchiato and the company of an old friend.

I am here. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

transcribed from personal notes [December 23rd, 2016]

deep space – journal snippets

This past year, I started journaling differently. Less bullet pointy. More fluid. Less note-taking, more storytelling. Aside from the fact that it makes the task of reflection way more exciting, I’ve come to see that God is much like a storyteller Himself.

As the semester comes to its close, I get to indulge in my favorite part: re-reading everything I’ve written. The adventures. The movie scenes. The poetry. I decided to transcribe some excerpts and quotes from my journal and compile them into a timeline of sorts. Just as a fun experiment. Enjoy!(?)

 

“Blood. Sweat. Tears.
All fine choices for ink in a time like this.” – the last entry [December 19th, 2016]

August 22nd, 2016 [Day One of school] – I didn’t know I could turn into a robot

“When the pace of life is too fast for the soul to keep up, it rips out through its fleshly cage, leaving the body soul-less, life-less, color-less. Cold like metal. I can smell the rust. […] Is it happening again? Are the darkest chapters of my story repeating themselves? Am I facing my biggest fears once again? Jesus, I’m scared. I feel alone.”

August 24th, 2016 – Midweek Nothingness

“But then again, no matter how long you stay in Thailand, your body never really gets used to the humidity. I pray the same over my soul, lest it gets used to feeling pain.”

September 4th, 2016 – the wind blows eastward

“My body has lost too much blood. Each day, I wake up with soreness and exhaustion weighing on my body. The phone has been charging all night and by dawn, it is still at 11%. Did I even sleep? But it doesn’t matter. The relentless tempo of time stops for none. […]

I’m sick and tired of being tired. I’m tired of fighting pain.”

September 5th, 2016 – “fight fire with fire” published on the reverie.

“I’m dyin’ out here, Jesus. And I’m tired of it. Was this not my prayer in Thailand?”

September 6th, 2016 – In the Mourning, When I Fall…

“The lament has begun. […]

Why am I running? Because I’m scared. That no one will get it. […]

The Lord rests in the shadow of the moon.

‘Your pain is all you’ve ever known.'”

September 12th, 2016 – “grip strength” published on the reverie.

September 18th, 2016 – Oh look, nothing

“I’m still nervous to draw near to Jesus because recently, I’ve associated that with pain. It’s like hanging with a surgeon. Damn.”

September 21st, 2016 – pockets of Joy

“Go play, Justin. That is your mission. That is why I created you… I want to show you how to fly.”

September 25th, 2016 – Just tryna savor this, but everything’s flavorless…

“I think my soul’s nerves are in shock… In a similar fashion to how my leg’s nerves were shot after the centipede bit me. My bruise felt numb for a good month or so afterwards. Damn centipede.

The things that usually give me life and joy don’t do quite the same anymore…

Damn. Who am I?”

October 2nd, 2016 – “stone the prophet” published on the reverie.

October 2nd, 2016 – “pain, revisited…”

“Yet an invitation was extended to me to make their pain, my pain. Will you take it? […]

If not now, then never. And so I dive in. My nerves re-awaken from their slumber of numbness and welcome the sting and rush of fiery pain.

It is almost ‘refreshing’ to feel something, even pain, after your nerves have been shut off and in shock for so long.”

October 5th, 2016 – so WHAT THE FUCK HAPPEN

“I fell into a whirlpool monday night. […]

I am alone. No one is here for me. They’re busy. It’s late. They’re tired. It’s so draining to go to them. It won’t help. I’m by myself. I am alone. Lonely. All alone.

Jesus, where are You??  …Hello? God, it hurts. I don’t know what’s happening. I cannot hear you. Please help me. Rescue me.

No answer.”

October 8th, 2016 – “the crescent’s edge” published on the reverie.

October 9th, 2016 – Storms coming…

“The force of the gravity was so powerful and overwhelming… I could not escape from it. I just got sucked into its gravitational pull and it was over at that point. No matter how hard I tried, I could not escape.

Space travel is an incredible thing but doing it alone can be terrifying at times.”

October 17th, 2016 – so that was my last FallCon… I guess??

“I don’t understand. Did I do something wrong? […]

I return home with no story to tell. not even kayaking. […]

I’m getting more sad, more often. Episodes upon episodes like a netflix binge.

I need a fucking massage. and alcohol.”

October 18th, 2016 – [untitled]

“Hi. I really need more of you in my life. I’m navigating through a thick jungle of black holes. If I am not careful, I might step on a trap. […]

When I go to bed each night, the world becomes still enough for me to feel everything again, especially the things that hurt.”

October 19th, 2016 – “the return” published on the reverie.

October 21st, 2016 – MORE STINKY SHITS, YAY

“I have nothing. everything in my life is falling apart.”

October 23rd, 2016 – Week of Stinky Shits

“He listens to me, absorbs and feels everything that I feel. Com Paseo.

He looks at me tenderly.

He wants to take it all in. The pain I feel. He wants to receive it and hold it with me, for me.

He looks at me tenderly.

He is so so in love with me. He is mad for me. He is eager and always waiting to talk with me.

He looks at me tenderly.

His gentleness, His listening heart, His deep care disarms me. I surrender.

He looks at me tenderly.

October 30th, 2016 – ⌘Q

“I feel like there’s no one person that I can fully depend on. I want there to be a friend who can always be there for me, all through the day. Through the depressing waking moments, through the anti-social meal times in the dining hall, through the daydreams while I sit inattentively during lectures, through the YouTube binges, through the moments in the middle of the week when there’s nothing I want more than to fly kites at the beach, through the times of stillness when I stare off into blank space, through the nights when the loneliness is unbearable, through the pain, through the wonder.

Who will slow down their lives from the busyness of the world? Who will press pause the mad game we call life? Who will care enough to have their days be interrupted and stopped? Who will slow down for me?

Only they will find the Kid.

Jesus: I wanna be that person for you. Will you let me?”

October 31, 2016 – Today, I let go of the rose

“The petals lay wrinkled and dampened, pigmented by beauty and bloodstains. I don’t even know what my fingerprints look like anymore.”

November 1st, 2016 – “bare minimum” published on the reverie.

November 7th, 2016 – Day of Adventure

“Treasures everywhere. Today was a gift. One of my favorite days in this semester, hands down.

I got back home and almost instantly found myself driving into a black hole.

Oh SHIT. what’s happening. the pain. grounding. how do i do this thing. don’t get sucked in. external world. where am i. what are your surroundings. describe it to me.

breathe.

oh god.”

November 9th, 2016 – OH GOD. SARAH SAID A LOT OF THINGS.

“Will people have the time for me? Will people have the patience for me? Will people want to sit with me?

Jesus: I will. I have all the time in the universe and I will lavishly spend it all on you. I wanna be your best friend.”

November 13th, 2016 – turning point?

“We love moments of nonetheless. We like big buts. […]

Sometimes, we don’t want to hear nonetheless… Sometimes, it just sucks. […]

Trapped in the limbo of hating where I am, yet immobilized by the pain and unable to move forward.

Sometimes, pain is inconsolable.”

November 15th, 2016 – “homesickness” published on the reverie.

“I can’t stand being apart from them. I just want to be with them. That’s all I really want.

Old friends. New friends.”

November 22nd, 2016 – a respite for the soul

“Man. I don’t wanna be sad anymore.”

November 23rd, 2016 – “homelessness” published on the reverie.

November 25th, 2016 – black friday 2016

“thursday was already black. […]

is emptiness better than pain? i don’t know. idk if one is inherently better than the other but in a time like this, i need a break. my soul is tired. i need rest.

and if nothingness will give me that rest, i’ll take it.”

December 4th, 2016 – New Wineskins

“He cries. We both close our eyes.
The God that wants to be my friend, He is a little something like this. Gentle. Tender. Soothing. Affectionate.”

December 6th, 2016 – “writer’s block” published on the reverie.

December 11th, 2016 – of finish lines and end times

“‘blisters on my feet, i crawl back home / frozen from the sleet burned sand and stones / nourished back to life by life alone / with one shake of the mane, regain the throne’ – Matt Thiessen […]

Seems like I’m always off-time. Bad timing. I experience time differently than most people. Never really recovered from jetlag or something. […]

Fill me, Jesus.
Come and show me that you’re everything I’ve ever wanted and some.”

December 13th, 2016 – “metamorphosis” published on the reverie.

December 19th, 2016 – so that just happened

“‘I did it. It’s over at last.’ –text message to Paul [thursday dec 15, 2016, 3:54PM]

I cried on the bus ride home.
With my forehead pressed against the icy window, I watched two streams racing across the glass, one of winter rain, one of warm tears.

I pulled off my helmet. I can breathe. My soul heaved a heavy sigh, expanding far wider than my lungs ever could. […]

A forest of black holes.
Kid Wonder’s most dangerous mission yet.

No man has ever ventured this far into the cosmos. And I’m confident that no man ever will.

This deep into space, man can only dream of traveling to. Many may seek, but only few will find.

Only children.”

metamorphosis – a reflection on my last Fall Semester

“Who am I?”

The loudest question echoing in my mind of late – the tension of my heart. A fun question when you know the answers, a haunting one when you don’t.

I wonder if caterpillars have midlife, existential crises like humans do.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not recognized the person standing in it? Has even your own reflection become a stranger?

It is so routine, so habitual, that we overlook the slightest of changes in appearance. The nuances in color. The subtlety of texture. We glance over the minutia of change.

One day, it hits us. We stop in our tracks, frozen by unfamiliarity and cold air.

There is a change in the wind. The canvas of the woods shine a different hue. It seems so sudden that the leaves put on their yearly red-ish, golden outfit. Without invitation.

For us Southern Californians, we are reminded that Autumn is a thing. A sigh of relief. We sigh again because we can see it in the air for once.

This past semester was a season of shedding leaves.

I have occasionally toyed the thought of plants being able to feel pain and emotions. You know, human things and such. If they could, I think I now have an idea of how shitty of a time of year Autumn and Winter must be for them.

It is a time of death and release. It is a time of amputation. Imagine having to amputate your body parts a couple times a day for a few months. Imagine doing it every year, like some twisted family tradition. SoCal has it good.

It is time of acknowledging the outlets and instruments we use to receive sustenance and life from the world around us, only to saw them off.

It is a time in which we must face the reality that our leaves do not work anymore. No matter how hard we try to cling onto them, they will eventually fail us and leave us as unsatisfied and lifeless as they are. They will brown and die. And we will have to let them go. We will watch little children play with them and trample on them with their size-three rain boots.

Maybe it would be better if trees didn’t feel things.
Maybe I should just be a plant.

The recent months of my life have been bitterly cold. I have watched, often in horror, my leaves slowly change color, wither, and die. They’re not working anymore. It seemed like every week brought a harsh gust that would blow through my branches. My leaves – the things and people I depended on for love – would be lost in the wind.

I have been stripped bare. I’m almost naked, save a couple leaves. Wintertime is here and it’s not as holly jolly as I remember it to be.

To confront the truth that the devices we depend on for love no longer serve us anymore is terrifying, to say the least. Those places are now off the map. A coffee smudge. Be it money, status, family, significant others, self-image, knowledge, busyness, or what have you, our fears are eventually realized when we discover that those things will never quench our thirst.

For me, it was friendship.

I have wanted to run away countless times this semester. I don’t know where, but just far away. I didn’t want to face the reality that my friends could not love me in the way they have so faithfully in the past. I was afraid no one could ever understand me anymore. And the people who could were not there. I didn’t want to confront the prospect that I just might be as alone as my fears told me I was.

When the memories you’ve tried your hardest to bury begin to surface, you run. The places we run to may differ but we all run somewhere. Human nature, I suspect.

Who am I?

When your soul is being tortured, you start to see parts of yourself that you didn’t think could live inside of you.

Amidst the darkness of loneliness and depression, I must confess there is still something strangely beautiful in death. In seeing the autumn leaves adorn our city walkways like ornaments. In the crisp, icy winter wind. In the letting go.

Even as I release the thorny rose from my grip, I see beauty and bloodstains. I can’t always tell which is which but there is something oddly remarkable in that.

There is pain, there is promise. There is heartbreak, there is hope.

Jesus once met a woman who was thirsty for relationship, a little like how I am myself. He invited her into a season of Autumn. Her leaves happened to be lovers.

“Give me this living water you speak of”, she begged Jesus, her desperation now more real than ever.

To which He responded, “Then give me your thirst.”

Here’s to new wineskins, autumn leaves, and hungry caterpillars.

Here’s to springtime.