wounded animal complex – a lament

// preface –

In light of recent – and not so recent – traumas, here is my personal piece of lament. Birthed from a place of anguish and hopelessness, this is an attempt to make sense of the pain.

This is the tale of a loved one I had to euthanize. The one I watched grow up.

This is the sad story I’ve decided to stop writing.

 

wounded animal complex

// part i –

I can’t believe my own life sometimes.

And neither can my friends.

“This has never happened to anyone of us before…”

We’re walking through the thick Bangkok summer heat, trudging our way to Victoria’s small shack in the neighboring swamp. It felt nice, taking a break from our grueling day-to-day scene. Change of swamp scenery for once. Visit a friend. You know.

“Sa wat dee krop!”, we bow and greet Yaai Noi, who is squatting on the creaky floorboards of her less-than-humble abode. She is Victoria’s host for the summer.

We chat and laugh with the sparse, broken Thai that we have, and Yaai insists that we sit down and make ourselves at home.

So we try. There’s only one chair, so I take the floor and sit cross-legged. Yaai’s hospitality is remarkable; she points the only fan she has towards us.

The heaviness of this strenuous summer is suspended and the air is filled with laughter and good energy – but only for a moment,

until an 8-inch long, black centipede crawls into my pants.

At first, I do not see it because it is so fast but within a second, my body somehow still registers that something is wrong. Dangerously wrong.

Without thinking, my hand immediately shoots for my left leg. My body is in defense mode, doing all the thinking for me and it has only one thought in mind, “Stop the danger from going further up my pants.”

Finally, my brain catches up.

“OH FUCK –”

The beast – feeling my hand smash over him – likewise panics, turns on its survival mode and bites down, hard. I feel its pincers sink deep into my flesh.

Searing, acid pain.
I can hardly speak.

“WHAT IS IT?”, my friends look at me, concerned and confused.

“I… don’t.. know…
…poison……”

“Is it a spider?!”

“…No……”

“Is it… a snake??”

“…noooooo……”

It takes a second bite. I feel the poison, surging into me.

I am determined now, to kill this thing. Whatever it takes to keep it from crawling up.

I squeeze with a strength I did not know I had. I’m not sure which is worse, feeling the venom burn my insides, or feeling the thing squirm in my pants.

I am squeezing so hard I can barely breathe.

“…Is it dead..?”

I catch my breath. Afraid to let go.

“I.. don’t know…”, I manage between breaths.

At this point, I’d been squeezing so hard that I can kind of make out its texture and details through my pants.

Not a spider. It’s too long.
Not a snake. I can feel legs.

Oh no.

“I have spare pants”, Victoria hastily offers. “You can change in the bathroom and get rid of it!”

I think about it. I’m pretty sure I squeezed it to death. But if I didn’t, it could escape my grip and crawl up.

This is life or death, I think to myself.

“…Okay.”

I get ready. Just have to hobble a couple more feet over and close the curtain. This is the moment your whole life has been leading up to. This is your greatest battle.

I stand up slowly, and of course,
it escapes my grip.

But apparently, there is this thing called mercy, and the gods decide that today is not my day of reckoning.

It crawls down, instead of up.

It is only until now that I actually see what it is, and my fears are confirmed. It shoots out of my pants and snakes its way to safety.

I had never seen a centipede in real life until that point. And if I had, then they were just lame, fake-ass wannabes. This was the real thing. Despite all that squeezing, I didn’t even put a dent into it.

Next thing I know, I’m being carried to a hospital and rushed into the emergency room on a gurney.

Apparently, I’m on a six-week Christian mission trip or something.

But now, I’m staring at cold ceiling lights while doctors shoot antitoxins and morphine into my leg,
and I’m screaming at God,

“Why am I here?”

I can’t believe my own life sometimes.

I’d only been in Thailand for three weeks, but this trip had unfolded itself in such dramatic, storybook fashion.

That summer, I met my supervillain.
And he came in a form of a grumpy old grandpa.
We called him Daa.

When I wasn’t out visiting Yaai’s and dodging demon centipedes, life was slow at home, taking care of my host Daa and doing chores with him.

I knew that from the beginning – he wasn’t the nicest person – but as the days dragged on, I knew there was something else. He had something against me.

For the summer, he adopted me under his care and everyday, taught me to run errands. Cleaning, cooking, and the sort.

I was slow to learn and he figured that out pretty quick. Getting a “good job” from him was seldom, getting him to yell at you came easy.

Within a week, I became his favorite target to yell at.
Which is tolerable, until he sets you up for impossible tasks. Until he sets you up for failure.

Within two weeks, I became an object of humiliation.
Anytime I messed up, he not only yelled at me, he would ride me mockery and shame me. He turned my incompetency into a laughing stock. Within two weeks, I learned how to say “mental” in Thai.

Within three weeks, I became an object of scorn.
He was on the lookout for my mistakes. Just so he could punish me. Any small thing he could yell at me for. He was out to get me. Within three weeks, I learned that I could be punished for scooping rice “the wrong way”.

Somehow, he had gotten underneath my skin and found my deepest childhood wounds. Somehow, he turned cooking dinner and doing laundry into a test to prove my own worth.

Within four weeks, I was starting to believe the messages he gave me.

“Maybe he’s right. Maybe I can’t do anything right.
Maybe… whatever I do, I always will end up disappointing him.

Maybe he deserves to punish me.”

So I let him.

We were wounded animals – creatures of matching scars – trapped in a cycle of wounding. Our insecurities fed into each other. We unlocked each other’s worst sides.

We were the perfect duo.

“We’ve never had this happen to an intern before…”, the staff would tell me.

I became that guy.
Always getting attacked by monster centipedes and grumpy grandpas. Always getting hurt.

I came home from Thailand in pieces, not knowing how to live life in its wake.

He was my worst enemy.

There is a phenomenon that I like to call the Wounded Animal Complex.

“Say you beat a dog once on a Wednesday night.
The dog winces and whimpers, maybe even bites back.

Say you beat the dog, every Wednesday night.
Then, the dog will eventually expect it as a part of its weekly routine. At some point, the dog will stop fighting back.

You beat the dog every Wednesday night, the dog will start believing that being hurt is a part of normal life.”

This type of thing doesn’t just wear off on its own. Being in Thailand began to feel like I was just waking up for my daily beating. This is my life.

It took three months, 8,000 miles, and another human being with a license for me to realize, “Oh, that was abuse.”

Oh. I’m depressed.

I’m not okay.

It is not that depression is so terrible because you feel sad, but because you feel nothing. The world loses its color, and everything is grayscale.

The first time I felt like I saw color in my life after Thailand was our Thailand trip reunion. For once, I was with the people who understood. People who were there and saw what had happened.

Minus the grumpy grandpas.

I am cooking, cutting vegetables for our pad khra pao moo. Classic Thai street food. It is my first time cooking since living with Daa.

But it is as if his eyes are still watching me.

Don’t mess up.

I stop. Take a look around me and breathe. Just my own head.
I keep cutting.

Don’t mess up.

I ignore him, and continue chopping away,
slicing and slicing,
scooping the chopped greens into a bowl with the knife,
slicing some more,
being careful not to make mistakes,

– until I really do mess up
and accidentally cut through two of my fingers.

Oops.

I rush to the bathroom, seeing vivid colors for the first time since Thailand. Deep, dark red – gushing out of my hand and into the sink.

But only for a moment, before I black out.

And just like that, I’m on my way to the hospital again.
I’m sobbing in the backseat on the drive there, feeling all sorts of things. Mostly shock, thinking that I had died. But also, just feeling stupid. Maybe a bit mental.

Of course, this would happen. Today of all days. On our reunion.
And of course, it would happen to me.

It’s like I’m a magnet for crisis situations.
I had come back from Thailand for some months now, but now, I really am in pieces.

The next day, my friends leave,
and my life becomes grayscale again,
with the occasional dark red.

“I’m never healed really. I’m some sort of walking wound.”

I’m counting up the months I’ve left from Thailand, because sometimes, time digs a greater rift of separation than distance does. Sometimes, 8,000 miles is not enough.

It’s around the 3-month mark – I’ve already lost most of my friendships and quit all my leadership responsibilities on campus. I don’t know how to live my life before Thailand anymore.

Month 4 comes, and I barely pass the two classes I’m enrolled in. I figure I need to do something to sort my life in order, because there is little to look forward to.

Graduation comes in another semester, and I’ll lose the few friendships I have left. We will all go our separate ways. Then, I’ll really have nothing to look forward to.

Then, the idea of Oakland comes to mind – a dream I had long given up on years ago. I think of moving far, far away into an exciting new land. Starting a new life.

And the idea excites me, because if I have a life here, it’s been crumbling, at best. And coming home to a place that no longer feels like home is one of most unsettling feelings.
So maybe finding a new home will do… something.

Maybe sometimes, 8,000 miles is not enough.

Month 6 comes, and I discover something that injects color into my life.

Dreaming.

Inventing something to look forward to when there is none.

So I feed this idea of starting a new life like I feed a dog. I nurture it and watch it grow, painting detail to it as I go. Where I’ll live, which coffeeshop I’ll work at, what non-profit I’ll volunteer at on the weekends.

I watch wide-eyed as this fantasy grows, until it is bigger than me and takes a life of his own. I start to develop an affinity for it. The more I feed him, the more comfort he gives me. The more hope he gives me.

Year one comes, and I’m filling out applications. Doing interviews.

As my dream grows and matures, so does my anxiety.
What if it’s not real? What if it is?

My care for the animal intensifies and I become increasingly possessive of him. I’m sensitive to anything that may threaten his safety. He is all I have.

Month 13, my insomnia is full-fledged and I literally cannot dream now. I am keenly aware of the other creatures that have birthed in this process. And these animals are not so kind.

Month 14. I think I am losing my sanity from the scarcity of sleep I’ve had in the last few months. I don’t know what is a dream, what is real.

Month 15.
A job offer.

I sleep like a baby that night.

// part ii –

I can’t believe my life sometimes, because I’m living my dreams.

Month 17, I move to Oakland.

I end up in a year-long internship with a missions organization. It’s been 17 months, so I figure I give this Christian missions thing another chance.

Weeks of job-searching later, I find another part-time that helps with the bills and I’m doing the adulting thing now. Living outside of home, hustling my own money, etc.

My ass is broke as hell,
I’m so lonely it hurts,
I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m doing,

but I’m here.

This is the return. I’m back on my feet. This is my life now.

I have never been so sad, yet regretted so little.

Maybe things will be better now.
Maybe this time will be better.

It’s not quite a cafe job, but boba is close enough for a first job so I take what I can get. Rent is coming up and I just need something for the time being.

So each day, I take 12th street deep into the heart of Chinatown to make tea drinks, eager to receive my first paycheck. It’s not quite minimum wage, but I take what I can get.

This is the first time I’ve worked in a kitchen setting in a long time. Say, something like 17 months.

It is also the first time I’ve worked with knives in a while, and the fingers on my left hand twitch involuntarily several times a day. As if some glitchy defense mechanism is kicking in after being buried away and dormant for so long. When it wakes, it is a tad over–caffeinated. Even the thought of scissors causes my hand to recoil.

Get away. There is danger.

Flinch.

“Shut up. It’s not the same thing.”

I spend my mental energy – the little I have left from communicating in broken Mandarin – forcing my fingers to sit still while I cut fruits and vegetables.

Most days, the job is grueling.
There are roughly 80 menu items to memorize and my boss does not properly train me. She just sort of expects me to know. I also do not know how to speak Cantonese, but she just sort of expects me to know.

And I am slow to learn, so when I mess up, she yells at me.

I know that she is a loud woman, so maybe she isn’t mad at me. But most days, I cannot tell.

I work harder and harder, because I just want to do a good job. I just want to do it right.

Don’t mess up.

Flinch.

“Shut up, it’s… not the same thing.”

One day, a customer walks in and orders in Cantonese. I apologize and tell her I can only speak English. The expression on her face changes, as if she is displeased, but she orders anyways.

I start making her drink,
being careful to add the right toppings,
being careful not to make any mistakes,
until I really do mess up and put in the wrong type of tea.

She loses it.
“What is wrong with your brain? Why can’t you speak Cantonese!?”

My boss takes her side, and proceeds to yell at me.

So much yelling.

Within three weeks, I learn how to say mental in Cantonese. Within three weeks, I become an object of humiliation.

Every day, I clock in and accept that this is my life now.
Every night, I go to bed wondering why my centipede bite is itching so much.

Maybe some scars don’t heal so easily.
Maybe 8,000 miles and 18 months is not enough.

Every now and then, I start to wonder if the dark fantasies and creatures I invent in my mind are actually real. But there is no time for such ponderings nowadays.

My life is going at 100 miles per hour.
I’m living the dream, or something. Doing the Christian mission thing, making boba drinks on the side, starting my new life.

It isn’t until my friends visit me – friends from Thailand – that my life finally slows down. There were only a few of us, but I guess you could call this a reunion.

We’re driving 20 on the freeway –
weaving through afternoon traffic,
taking our time as we catch up on life,

– but someone else is going 60 and decides he cannot miss the freeway exit, today of all days.

My life halts instantly.

In the 2 seconds of chaos and thrashing, I ask God, “Is this it?”

I snap out of it, and my body does all the thinking for me. My hands grab the steering wheel, my foot slams the breaks, and keep us from rolling back into traffic.

My mind catches up.
“Oh fuck.”

It is almost a complete T-bone, driver’s side. I get out of the car, my body shaking.

I’m not 2 months into moving to Oakland, and I almost die.

My life is going at 100 miles per hour, and it is when my Thailand friends come visit that life slows down to a violent, abrupt stop. Today of all days.

So I guess you could call this a reunion.

The car is totaled.

On the outside, it looks kind of okay but on the inside, it is damaged beyond repair.

At this point, this is how I feel about my life. Okay on the outside, damaged beyond repair on the inside.

I take a day off work and spend the little time I have with my Thailand friends before they leave. I am determined to have at least a few hours of quality time without some crisis rudely interrupting us.

Now that things feel 0 miles an hour, everything else catches up to me and when it does, it hits me hard like a T-bone collision.
I spill out my guts to them. Snot, tears, and all.

It hits me, why I’ve been coming home from work each day, hating myself. It hits me, why it seems the world has lost some of its color lately.

It takes a life-threatening car crash and other human beings who were with me in Thailand for me to realize, “Oh. I’m not okay.”

Oh. This is about… him.

Somehow, an older Chinese woman yelling at me while I’m making boba drinks rubs salt in past wounds. So naturally, I let her. Because, I just want to do a good job. I just want to do it right. I just want him to see.

No, this is not the same thing. No, this is not abuse, but it still is not good for me.

My friends leave the next day, I make it my resolve to fight for color in my life.

I quit my boba job.

“Not this time.”

I think I have some sort of Wounded Animal Complex.

I keep getting hurt all the time. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m sensitive or if things actually keep hurting me.

But it seems that all the terribly-timed misfortunes and random crisis situations always happen to me.

“Say you beat a dog once on a Wednesday night.
The dog winces and whimpers, maybe even bites back.

Say you beat the dog every Wednesday night.
Then, the dog will eventually expect it as a part of its weekly routine. At some point, the dog will stop fighting back.

You beat the dog every Wednesday night, the dog will start believing that being hurt is a part of normal life.

You beat the dog every Wednesday night, the dog will start believing that being hurt is a part of who he is.”

I look up from my journal.

No. This can’t be right.
It’s… not the same thing.

That was 18 months ago.

I start scribbling out the page, hoping it would make what I wrote less true, but my hand stops.

It’s not the same thing.

…Is it?

“I’m never healed really. I’m some sort of walking wound.”

For two months, I don’t drive a car.
I’ve only just gotten accustomed to cooking with knives. One step at a time.

I have all my limbs, but I feel like I’m in pieces again. Back to square one. No car, no job, no friends. But I make it my resolve to fight for color, to keep moving.

By now, I know all the coffeeshops in Oakland from all the resumes I’ve sent out. Slowly, my labor pays off and I’m getting calls for interviews.

Month 19 comes, and I get a job offer. Barista position.

Month 20 comes, and I have a car now. Insurance covered.

Life gradually picks up to a solid 70 miles per hour. Things are going okay, even if I am afraid to admit it.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it isn’t the same thing.

What a curious feeling it is to hope again.

Wednesday Night.

I’m walking down my street to my car, on my way to church.

It’s 6:45 in the evening,
still plenty of sunlight to burn,
still angry drivers zooming past on Foothill Ave,
still kids playing in the neighborhood.

I walk past a row of parallel-parked cars, looking for my own as I hastily scoop a couple spoonfuls of dinner from my tupperware into my mouth. I don’t make it 100 feet outside of my apartment when one of the parked cars opens up its doors and out comes some four or five guys, quickly approaching me.

The first one looks straight at me and mumbles something to me. I hesitate. Before I have time to think, he lunges straight for my legs and pulls. I’m on the ground now, and the other guys rush.

The beating begins.

They target my head, 4-5 of them throwing their fists and kicking. When you are about to die, your body does all the thinking for you. Arms up. Cover the face. Fetal position. Smallest target possible.

I hear them yelling to each other to hurry up, and yelling at me to mock me. So much yelling. I don’t even notice my phone missing from my pocket.

My mind catches up.
fuck…

But I cannot fight back, or they might hit harder. I can’t afford to move my arms away.

When there are five of them, all you can do is wait, and hope it ends.

I notice that my keys are now gone.
It’s been about a minute. They’re struggling to snatch my wallet, but at this point I want them to because two minutes just might kill me. At this point, I also want to yell at them to hurry up. Just take the damn thing.

Finally, they wrench it out my pocket.

They throw a last couple kicks before hopping back into their car, and take off.

Apparently, I’m doing a Christian mission thing. Apparently, I’m out here in Oakland starting a new life.

But now, I’m lying on the ground with my own blood on the sidewalk and I’m screaming at God,

“Why am I here?”

I can’t believe my own life sometimes.
And neither can my mind, so it replays the scene. Over and over again.

“Did you recognize the guys?”

“No.”

“You’ve never seen them before.”

“No.”

“So they just jumped you for no reason.”

“Yeah.”

The nurse looks away.

“Wow, that sucks… but I mean, welcome to Oakland.”

Thanks, man.

Cold ceiling lights. That sterile smell. Metallic carts being rolled around.

Here, once again.

They tell me that there are no fractures in the skull, no swelling, nothing broken.
On the outside.

I walk out the building with a bag of analgesics in my hand.

On the way home, my roommate tells me –
“In the year plus of living here in Oakland, we’ve never had anything like this happen to us… and in the 3-4 months that you’re here, you’re the one who gets mugged. It’s just crazy…”

Later that week, my internship staff tells me –
“In all the years we’ve been working here, we’ve never had anything like this happen to us. At least not this bad.. and not to an intern…”

One day, a neighbor who I’ve never talked to before, but witnessed the attack, tells me –
“I’ve been living on this street for six years and I’ve never seen anything like that happen… This is a pretty good neighborhood.”

Of course. Of course it had to be me.

Because wounded animals are easy prey.

I can’t believe my life sometimes.
And neither can my mind, so it replays the scene. Over and over again.

“Wednesday night.”

Truth is a slowly-sinking dagger you cannot stop from reaching your heart.

It is now month 21.

A little girl who lives next door says hi to me one day and asks, “Are you the guy who got mugged?”

I don’t know what to say.
“Yes. I am.”

I am that guy.

It seems that all the color I spent the last couple months trying to fight for is draining from my vision again. Life is slow, dragging along at an agonizing 5 miles per hour. My emotional capacity is near nothing, so I drop some commitments. After a few weeks, I drop some more.

I kind of want to do.. nothing.

Each day, I look out the window for a few minutes before going outside. I give an extra glance before crossing the street. I check every white sedan parallel-parked that I pass by on the sidewalk.

When I’m not calling credit card companies or standing in line at the DMV, I spend time staring into space at the park or local coffeeshop, unsure of how to live life now. Unsure of how to pray after you almost get beaten to death.

Unsure if I even want to pray. I don’t think I want to talk to God.

Some days, the silence is unbearable so I fill the void with more noise. TV shows. YouTube. Anything.

Month 22 comes, and things are still grayscale. I don’t know when I’m going to have an emotional breakdown. Going outside is like walking in a minefield of triggers. Thinking too much is very much the same.

My staff encourages me to take time off work and get away for a bit. Take a personal retreat, get away from Oakland.

The idea is appealing, yet unnerving at the same time. But I’m not sure why. Do I really want to go there?

I book a trip anyways. Three nights.

Month 23.

I’m driving up the Pacific Northwest Coast, snaking through Redwood Forests, trying to escape from everything. I glance over at my phone every now and then, watching the bars on my phone drop slowly.

I feel a similar sinking feeling somewhere deep inside of me.
Fingers on my left hand twitch.

Shut up.

I turn my music up.

A few hours of driving later and I’m in the middle of nowhere. Spotify offline only lasts so long when you forget to download enough playlists. I soon realize what is making me so uneasy.

Silence.

I get to the campgrounds, check in, and cook a quick dinner. I haven’t even finished unpacking myself, and I’m already cringing. Already holding my left hand and clutching my itchy centipede bite. Already grimacing and holding onto all my scars.

I go back outside because I’m not quite ready yet. I don’t want to go there yet. I’m not quite ready to confront what’s actually inside of me.

I’m not quite ready for the silence, because in silence, I can hear everything.

Perhaps, this was not the escape that I was envisioning. I’m not just in the middle of nowhere.

The next day, I figure that there is little use in trying to run away. I already did that. Here I am.

Out here, there is nothing to fill the void with. No Netflix. No YouTube. No one to turn to. Except God.

I pace around my cabin for a good hour,
biding my time and preparing myself,
until finally, I pick up the pen.

“You know what I’m feeling right now?

I feel like there were a lot of things that didn’t have to happen.

Things that cause unnecessary emotional stress and needless pain,
Things awfully timed,
Things unfolding in the worst way possible,
Things beyond my control that I could not prevent,
Things that no matter how much I prayed against,

still happened.

None of this had to be this way.
But they are now. And I got hurt.

You know what I’m feeling right now?
I feel like all those things that happened, You could have stopped,
but You chose not to.

That perhaps, the demons are out to get me
and You’re letting them.

I was afraid to come here, out in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of my nothingness. I’m scared of what I might find there. I’m scared of what lurks in my own darkness.

As much as it hurts to say, I kind of hate my life. This “dream life” I’ve created is not anything I had hoped it to be. As much as it hurts to say, all it’s been is a continuation of the series of unfortunate events in my life.

I may not be suicidal, but in many ways, I’ve already given up.

Because this is how I think of myself.

I keep separate clocks for the six different traumatic events I’ve experienced in the last two years. This is my obsession.

I am that guy.
And there’s nothing I can do about it.

And if that is true, is life really worth living?
What is there to look forward to, other than more trauma? Other than the next event?

I know this is about him.
The monster living inside of me, two years in the making.

I don’t want to admit that I had fed him and let him grow bigger than me. That he’s eaten me alive, consumed me.

At last, I fed him my heart.
I have forgotten who I am, without my scars.

If you don’t show up now, God,
I don’t know who you are.

I need you to set me free.
I need you to save me from who I think I am.

I need you to kill the Wounded Animal.”

.

wounded animal complex

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.

“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.

writer’s block

Of fresh starts, running away, and good storytelling.

“So you told her your story of betrayal. The truth.”

“Yeah. And she asks me, ‘What would you wanna say to them?'”

“Like in a hypothetical conversation?”

“Yeah, exactly. And I kinda freak out.”

“And then you broke up with her..?”

“No no, that’s not why I broke up with her. But it gave me an idea. An idea that would develop into something that would change the rest of my life.”

“That would lead you here.”

“Eventually.”

“I see. So what does that have to do with your um.. career crisis and stuff?”

“Slow down, man. I’ll get there.”

“Alright, alright. So how did you answer her question? Tell me about this hypothetical conversation.”

“Well the thing is, I already knew what I would say. I’ve already transcribed this…  ‘dialogue’ onto paper so many times, like drafts of a screenplay.
‘Which draft will be used?’, I often wondered. I kept writing and writing.”

“Did you ever use any of them?”

“Never.”

“Why not?”

“It was too painful.”

What is it, that I already know the words, but it still burns to say them?
I practice my lines for months, in some desperate attempt to be cast for the role. Yet the stage-fright still has its conniving way of sneaking under my skin.

I stand paralyzed in a lonely stage in front of a dark, empty audience, save a couple silhouettes. My shaky breath is too loud. Who decided that my microphone should be on. Now my fears are amplified for the world to hear.

“So you just.. didn’t ever talk to them.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t do it.”

“So what was this revolutionary, life-changing idea of your’s?”

“It was this thought that.. perhaps, we live in a world of cruel bloopers. I figured that conversations never play out the way we plan them. The characters always go off-script.”

“I mean, that’s one way to see it.”

“The scripts that I write in my head are always more preferable than what actually happens on-screen. Even if the scenes are hard and painful, I’d write them in an exaggerated, overly-dramatized fashion, which I prefer for some reason.”

“It feels better than the real thing.”

“Yes. So I obsessed over this concept and I found myself at a crossroads, which I often do. It seemed like there were only two paths that I could take: to live in a world of fiction or to lose my fantasy and live in the reality of the present.”

“Is that why you moved to the East Coast?”

“I’m afraid it was. That was how my new life as a recluse began. I immersed myself in this new, unfamiliar world, where I could start a new life. I could write my own story with new characters, new narratives, new plot twists. I even considered changing my name.”

“Damn. I had no idea. And how did that go for you?”

“It was exciting at first. Euphoric, almost. I was drunk on this idea that no one else could write my story for me anymore. The pen was in my hand and no one else’s. I reveled in this idea.”

“And the people back at home?”

“Well… I cut them off. I kind of just disappeared from their lives.”

His brow tenses ever so slightly. I look at the icy waters below us but I feel his concerned eyes pressing on my face. I don’t know if I like this feeling.

“What happened, then?”

“I started writing. I indulged in my newfound freedom. I had a fresh canvas to work with and I took advantage of that.”

“Fiction, I presume.”

I nod.

“Mostly short stories and what not. If you recall, I shared some of them with you a while ago.”

“Ah yes. They were pretty good. I hafta admit, I was quite impressed.”

“Yeah? Cool thanks, I guess replying four years late is better than never.”

“Sorry, man.”

“It’s whatever”, I mutter through my smirk. I knew he liked my writing.

“Wipe that stupid grin off your face.”

“No.”

“I’m gonna throw you off this bridge.”

“Hm. That would make an excellent opening scene. I’m gonna use that. Thanks, man.”

He rolls his eyes.

“You’re welcome. You were saying?”

“You crashed my train of thought.”

“You were writing short stories and…?”

“Ah yes. I was on a writing spree. My mind was overflowing with inspiration, it was almost too much. I could barely keep up. It had been a while since I created art that I was proud of.”

“Hm. Seems like Brooklyn did a lot of good for you.”

“Yeah. Everyday, the city had something new to offer me. New tools, new paints, new brushes to work with. It was a wellspring of creativity and innovation.”

“I wish more people thought of us that way.”

“That’s another thing. I had fallen so in love with this town that I almost felt this need to show it off to the world. I wanted people to realize its hidden beauty.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I suppose. It was complicated – wanting to show off my new home while covering my footprints so people in my previous life wouldn’t discover my whereabouts.”

“Did they ever find you?”

“A few did. They tried to get in contact.”

“What did you do?”

“I did what I knew how to do best.”

“…Write fiction?”

I nod again, slowly this time.

“You lied to them.”

“Well in fiction, you take the truth and you sort of… bend it. Twist it to your liking. Paint it with different colors.”

“I see.”

I can feel his skepticism. It is sharp.

“Do you regret that?”

“Sometimes. At the time, I had become so infatuated with the city that I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. My scars were still fresh. This was my new life and I had no intentions of going back.”

“That’s fair. Do you feel that your new self is incompatible with your old city?”

“Very much so.”

“I think I can understand that.
You mentioned previously that you had become a recluse?”

“Yes.”

“How so? As far as I could tell, you were still interacting with human beings when I met you.”

“Haha well, maybe not a real recluse.”

“Then what? A fictional recluse?”

“I figured I could have people in my life, so long as I didn’t have to get too close and personal with them.”

“And what did that achieve you?”

“Safety.”

“From what?”

“Robbery. I was scared that if I shared too much of my story, if I had let someone in too much, they would steal my pen. Because that’s what tends to happen. I didn’t want someone else writing my story again. It’s too painful.”

“Don’t you already share your stories though?”

“Yes, but only the fictional ones.”

“Hm.”

“For a while, people were nothing more than free ideas for characters I could build and write about. I would have a meaningful conversation or two with a new ‘friend’ and leave the rest to my imagination.”

“That is… fascinating.”

“That was the scariest part though. I needed to know them enough to have something to write about but that usually meant sharing myself with them as well. So once I had enough ‘content’ to work with, I would draw the line and keep the friendship from going anywhere further.”

“So… people were just creative fodder for your short stories.”

I look back down at the waters.

“Yeah, basically.”

“You’re a sick man. A genius, but… sick.”

“I know.”

“Was that all I was to you? A resource you could exploit for your writing career?”

“I may have used you for a few of my characters…”

“Fuck you. I want them back.”

“I’m sorry. I really am.”

“You know, you’re so scared of having your story stolen from people… but isn’t that what you’re doing to everyone else? You earn your friends’ trust, they share their story with you, then you take it and run away without ever returning the favor.”

It made too much sense. Maybe I should jump the bridge now.
We sat in the silence together.

“You know, it’s okay. You can use my story if you want. I don’t mind.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, man. I’ve shared so much of it anyways. I trust you. You’re still an asshole, though.”

“Wow. I’m… baffled.”

“You know, as good of a writer as you are, your scars still sometimes show. I could always tell you were in pain.”

“Hm. I suppose fiction can’t hide everything.”

“There is a fine line between writing fiction and writing lies.”

Wow. I think I almost throw up.

“You know… you were always the most inspiring and the most difficult character I’ve had to work with.”

“What do you mean?”

“You always give out your story so freely… It confused me, yet it amazed me. I was always afraid I’d have to respond in kind. At the same time, it gave me plenty of content to work with. Maybe even too much. Too much truth. I was scared of it. So I decided to stop using it after a while.”

“How long has it been?”

“Years. I looked to other people for stories instead.”

“I bet my story was far more exciting.”

“Well… actually, yes. Remember what I said about how fiction is written?”

“Bending the truth?”

“Yeah. Well, I eventually ran out of truth to bend. If I could only get so close to my friends, there was only so much material I could use. I could always find new friends but I grew tired. I was meeting new people, only getting to surface level, and running away.”

“Sounds exhausting.”

“Especially if you’re trying to be a recluse. I ran out of juice. And that would drive me into the deepest pit of writer’s block I’ve ever had. I guess I’m still in it. And I never figured out how to escape.

My stories became stale and colorless.”

Another moment of shared silence. The sun had set for a good while now and the city slowly ignited its nightly skyline glow.

“You know what. I think you have what you need to escape this hole you’re stuck in. I think you know what to do.”

I paused.
I wondered, how much of this story was real, how much was fictitious? I thought about this new life that I had spent years inventing and how I had ended up in another dead end. I thought about why real life was so terrifying to me. I saw truth as fire and I still live with the burn marks.

“Stop writing fiction?”

“No. Stop writing bad fiction.”

“Excuse me?”

He smiled.

“There’s nothing wrong with writing fiction, my friend. But the best fiction is real fiction.”

“Ah. The great Albert Camus. How could I forget.”

Perhaps I had been asking myself the wrong question.
How much of my life is fiction, how much a lie?

I thought of truth as fire still – that had not changed. It was dangerous. But maybe if I allow myself the risk of playing with explosives, I just might be able to make fireworks.

Talk about grip strength. The pen is slipping from my hand.

homelessness

It’s almost unbelievable.

To remember what’s forgotten.

To be separated from those you love for so long and forgetting what it’s like to be with them.

You forget the nuances of their voice. The tonal inflections. The cadence.

The poetry.

You forget what it’s like to stand next to them.

Sharing a space together.

You forget how to position your body. How much personal space to give. You become extra aware of how close you stand by them.

You forget what it is like to walk with them.

The pace of our stroll. The patterns of our footfalls. The syncopated steps, strangely synced together by odd time signatures. We are percussionists. Our rhythms have so happened to line up in a time like this.

You forget what it’s like to talk to them.

The art of storytelling. Where did we leave off? Which chapter did we bookmark? Which episode? Don’t worry, I’ll re-watch it with you.

You forget what it feels like to make eye contact with them.

The strangeness. The tension. Who breaks contact first. The trust. The intimacy.

The inability to explain what it means but the sureness of knowing it meant something.

You forget what it is like to share a silence.

The nagging of our consciences to fill the emptiness.

The surrendering.

The release when you discover that the emptiness is actually already filled.

With treasures.

The vibrant, colorful dialogue exchanged between two souls at a loss for words.

The richness of silence.

Precious stones. Hidden, yet we somehow have found them together.

 

p

You forget who they are.

And yet, you don’t.

p

p

You learn, and then you learn again.

You taste the sweetness of second and third times.

Fourth. Fifth. Sixth times.

Eventually, you wonder if each time will be your last.

p

p

You wonder if they remember. You wonder how much they forgot.

You wonder if you’ve remembered too much.

You wonder if they haven’t remembered enough.

You wonder if there even is a balance.

You ask yourself if it’s worth the heartache to remember. If you should just try to forget.

You realize that you have no choice but to remember, anyways.

You forget and you remember.

“What is a farewell even?”, you ask yourself.

You figure the human soul was never meant to say goodbye.

So you stop.

You never leave, yet you are always going.

You try finding home. Or building one.

Then you run away.

You protect your heart, for it must be far too frail. You wonder if other souls are as fragile.

You never leave.

You keep them at arm’s distance.

You give up.

The tragedy that we were never meant to bid farewells, yet we have no choice but to do so.

You accept the inevitability of heartbreak.

That perhaps, this is the human curse.

You memorize.

You see the forgotten beauty of remembering. That the world has remembered how to forget and forgotten how to remember.

You collect memories like a child collects toys.

And the toys have names. They have life. They have distinct personalities and you know how each of them would respond to your jokes. To your sorrows. To your battle cries.

“Are they real?”, you often ponder. Sometimes you even ask them.

You realize that they ask the same question, themselves.

Perhaps we’ll never know.

But then, you decide to remember.

You forget, yet you never really forget.

You cannot.

You invent heaven into a place with no goodbyes.

You start to realize why you wander and tread the earth. And why even as you travel, your baggage is yet so heavy.

You understand you were never meant for this world anyways.

You accept that home was never here to begin with.

You begin to see that you’re just a pilgrim, of sorts.

A time traveler.

Never forget.

bare minimum

Part-time student. What time does class start again? Do I even want to go to class?  Your Krispy Kreme donuts got nothing on my glazed eyes. Like, look through the glass because they’re supposed to be windows right? I don’t know. I’m there but the professor still notices my absence. So much for perfect attendance. She moves closer to me and tries to get my attention, channeling her lecture entirely in my direction. She thinks I’m suspect. Great. This again. I’m kind of skimming the textbook, I suppose. I am only enrolled in two classes. Just gotta go to school twice a week. I can do this. Wait. I don’t even know anymore. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

I swear I’m not voting for Trump but.. we all build walls, right? My bricks just tend to be invisible. I build them up and tear them back down, like Lego blocks. What am I doing. Where are my friends? Do I have any friends? Of course I do. Get away from me. What am I doing. I should at least show up. Or text you. Pray for you? Mm… Hang out. You know. Friend things. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

At least I did it, right? People showed up. I made it happen. Check. Rinse and repeat. But what about praying for them? Do I even vision for them? What does God want to do in their lives? What about the friendship outside of a structured meeting? It’s okay, at least we got the job done, right? Wait. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Oops. I’m so sorry. This isn’t relationship, this is damage control. Maybe if we buy more buckets, the leak will stop. “I’m sorry”. I’m hurting you. I just need to try harder because you’re doing a stellar job so it’s on me. Wait. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Shut up, damn phone. Waking up is perhaps the biggest victory of the day because it is the first. Some days, I don’t want to. I pull my covers over my head in an attempt to pretend that it is still nighttime. The light of a new day doesn’t have quite the same effect anymore. My body aches but my soul aches more. Maybe I can go back into that dream. Maybe I can… No. I need to get up. Just gotta roll out of bed. Roll back into life. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Holy shit. We did it. It’s meal time. “Gin Kao!“, I hear him grumble. We scooch our butts a couple feet to the left into the kitchen, grab our charcoal-stained bowls, swat away the flies still feeding on the grub stuck to our dirty utensils from breakfast, and scooch back into the dining room. As he takes the first bite, we hastily mutter a quick prayer under our breaths before joining him. Alright. We just gotta get through dinner. Heavy breathing. We’re in a minefield. One wrong move. I’m already on his bad side. Eat faster. But wait, what about learning how to love him? What about sharing life with him? Asking him how his day was? I don’t even know anymore. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Oh my god. Damn roosters won’t shut up. Please. It’s still dark outside. You have ONE JOB. No, no please, not the radio… My body aches as I roll around in an attempt to find a slightly less painful position on my concrete mattress. My forearm feels like a research paper written in braille. How. How did they get inside our mosquito net again? Did I even sleep? I don’t want to get up. Another day of suffering. Days are longer here. Maybe it’s the gravity. Okay, just gotta get through breakfast. Just four more days until Sabbath. Can I even make it?

Bare minimum.

Okay, just a few more hours until nighttime and I’ll be able to take refuge in my room. Maybe if I just sit in that corner of the dining hall, no one will notice me. Make sure to face that way. Hmm, if I watch three 45-minute episodes, I’ll make it through the evening and I can go to bed right after. Two more days until the weekend. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Life. What are its prerequisites? Maybe if I can just get a C.
How many more days? Months? Years? How much more death before new life? How little manna do I need to pack to survive another day in the wilderness?

Bare minimum.

 

 

Why am I here?

Bare. Minimum.

the crescent’s edge

I hold my breath, readying my heart to brace the shattering impact of past and present.

Soul surgery. I smell the metal of sterilized tools and hear the disquieting crinkle of plastic packaging. I can feel the cold air of the canyon’s shadow brush over my skin.

Okay. Deep breath. “What’s next?”, I inquire nervously, expecting to descend the treacherous ladder down the canyon and into the chasm. I even feel ready for it. Let’s do this thing.

But the wayfarer does not move. He continues to stare into the distance, unyielding in his gaze. “Come back”, he beckons me. “Take yet another look. Let it captivate you.”

I hoist myself up the ladder and off the cliff-face, willingly yet hesitantly. I inch towards him like a timid child and sit beside him. My peripherals are not as great as I would like so I attempt stealing a glimpse of his face. But my awkward side glance quickly becomes an awkward stare. Wait. My heart suddenly slows down and beats with greater resonance.

I can see the universe in his eyes.
The star-covered tapestry. I see… the cerulean expanse. It’s real. The waters welled up and left his eyes. A swirl of galaxies lay in a teardrop, hanging suspended in midair.

He’s crying.

I turn my eyes to find the view that held him hostage. Wind. Lots of wind. Rushing through my hair, massaging my soul. At the crescent’s edge, we survey the awe-inspiring scenery of the canyon and the glittering backdrop that accompanied it. The overwhelming sight of celestial bodies and the vast expanse of abysmal darkness, juxtaposed in a scenery of beautiful disparity.

 

 

It’s not time yet. The ticks of two metronomes pound unrelentingly within me, my heart lost between the two tempos, not knowing which to beat to. He’s inviting me to un-sync my heart from the rhythm of one to another. When your being tries to align itself to two different times, something inside tears. Something is ripping. I guess I’m still jet-lagged.

The pace of life around me demands the next step. “Progress”. Solutions. Results. I expect him to pick up the shovel but he prescribes a different medicine.

And so we sit there at the cliffside, not even in anticipation, but in consummate presence. I taste a different-flavored peace, that somehow, this is exactly where we need to be. On the verge of light and shadow. We stare off into the distance. We wonder. And as we do so, we remember.

 

“Let us take the long way, shall we? The view is breath-taking, I promise you.
Put on your helmet.”

grip strength – an excerpt from “#gettrekt16”

If you hold the ashes, how can you find new flame?
If you cling to your scars, how will you find healing?
If you embrace death, how can you receive new life?
If you stay in the grave, how will you rise again?

 

Wake up, Lazarus.
Let it go, Justin.

 

I can’t. At least not yet.

If not now, then when?

 

 

 

 

Why am I here?

#gettrekt16