the anniversary effect

It still feels like summer.

 

I’m walking down Marine at Balboa Island, savoring new flavors with old friends. Frozen bananas with other confused postgrads.

It is October, but it still feels like summer.

A new season, but still tinged with things of the past. The air is light and brisk, filled with small talks and old inside jokes.

Spirits are merry and things feel almost “just right”,
when all of the sudden, a small party of pigeons flies out of nowhere and swooshes right in front of our party of friends.

I freeze in my steps.
The muscles in my body clench, and my heart races, as if trying to outrun danger.

Time glitches, and for that moment, 2 seconds become 2 minutes, 2 minutes become 8,261 miles, and now, the pigeons are already long gone.

What.

“Hey catch up, dude! We’re gonna check out this shop!”

My head snaps back to the present, and I realize that I am alone,
standing in the middle of the sidewalk.

It still feels like summer.

We are standing outside the shop, the small talk and inside jokes continue, but all I can think about are pigeons.

I thought things like this only happened in movies.

“I need to go.”
Take my mind off things.

I get to my friend’s apartment. It’s been almost a year since the last time I stayed the night here. I turn on Netflix and pick my poison – Stranger Things Season 2, which, while we’re on the topic of trauma victims, couldn’t have been more fitting.

Episode 3 or 4 finishes – I’m all Netflix-drunk now and headed for the bathroom. My friend is already asleep so I sneak out with toothbrush in hand.

I open the bathroom door, turn on the lights, and it happens again.

I freeze.

My momentum dies completely, like a car running through caltrops. My left hand tenses up, my heart races to outrun danger, and two seconds feels like two minutes, because the earth just stopped spinning.

It’s only two seconds,
but time is glitching and I’m sucked deep into a memory I’ve thought a lot about, but not in a long time,
when I was staring down at the same white sink bowl, but it was filled with a pool of my own blood,
draining dark red from a finger I almost cut off by accident,
draining colors from my vision and looking at my fading reflection before everything got quiet and dark,
and i wake up next to a car escorting me to the hospital.

Another second passes,
and memory becomes feelings instead of visuals,
and the feeling of the times was sickening to the point where I wanted to cut myself again and create another little “accident”,
because I was alive but life was draining and draining away from me
and everything in life had lost its colors,
except maybe dark red.

Another second passes,
and the sink is empty now. My finger is still attached.

Time resumes at its ordinary tempo,
but now I am brushing my teeth
very, very slowly.

I thought that stuff like this only happens in movies, but now I’m not so sure, so I google away and find some theories and best guesses, which is basically all what the study of psychology is anyways. I have my own suspicions, which PsychologyToday – and even Teen Vogue – more or less confirms, so I decide, “Okay, maybe this is a thing.”

It just might make sense.

It just might make sense of why earlier today, I was hanging out with friends when a flock of pigeons glitched me back in time –

and all of the sudden, I’m thinking about street vendors, and honking tuk tuks,
walking the busy streets of Bangkok, tasting familiar flavors with new friends,
the air is thick with humidity, small talk, and future inside jokes,
and a new friend grasps onto my arm when pigeons fly by because she has a paralyzing fear of birds.

Another second passed,
and the memory became emotion instead of visuals, and the feeling of the times was sickening to the point where
I wanted to throw up from street food poisoning and an abusive relationship I felt trapped in,
and my will to live was draining and draining away from me,
like dark red funneling into a whirlpool down a white sink bowl.

Another second passed,
and my friends are telling me to catch up,
but I cannot because for the rest of the day, my mind is stuck in a memory, thinking about pigeons.

It just might make some sense of why,
it’s already October but it still feels like summer.

I’m brushing my teeth slowly and thinking about how pigeons, bathroom sink bowls, and a character in Stranger Things I can very loosely relate to all acted as triggers within a span of the last 24 hours, and I think I get it now.

It’s about that time of the year.

“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]

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.

homesickness

I wrote this during my recent spontaneous escapade to San Diego.

It is a dialogue piece about adventure and escape. As I pensively sipped my iced red-eye at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, a mere coffee-bean’s throw from the cliffs, a young woman sat next to me. No words were exchanged.

p

p

“Oh, I’m not from these parts.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I come from a land far off and distant.”

“Wow, I would have never guessed. You could pass as a local.”

“Haha, appreciate it.”

It is harder than I thought to look in her eyes. She’s pretty.

“Well… What brings you here then?”

“Good question.”

“So you’re not sure why you’re here?”

“Sometimes, you don’t know why until you actually go.”

“Hm. I see. Well, are you making any progress?”

“I think so. I’m still figuring it out.”

“That’s fair. What do you got so far?”

“Well aren’t you quite the inquisitor.”

“Hey, I already shared my story. Don’t leave me hanging. Besides, what are the chances we see each other again in the future?

“I guess.”

She looks at me and I quickly turn away, in an attempt to steal back my glance.

“Alright then. Just for you. Shall we?”

As if in unspoken tradition, we raise our beer bottles towards each other once again and toast. Clink. After a deep swig, we continue our aimless stroll on the warmly-lit streets of the downtown labyrinth.

“…Well?”

“I’m running.”

Her eyes widen.

“Like… a fugitive? What did you do?!”

“No no, not like that… I ain’t like your FBI Most Wanted felon or anything.”

“Oh. How boring.”

“Hey, you asked for it.”

“Okay fine. So what are you running from? Or who?”

“I’m running from life.”

“I’m not quite sure I understand.”

“Well back where I’m from… things aren’t looking so great right now. And I don’t want to be there right now.”

“Hm. Must be pretty bad, huh. For you to run.”

“Yeah. It’s hard to look out the window sometimes. Some mornings, it seems as if I’m waking up blinded. Like one of my eyes forgets to awaken from its slumber.”

“Seriously?”

“My city… we live in shadows. It’s quite dismal. Imagine not being able to see one color for the rest of your life. You don’t fully realize its beauty until it’s lost. Or, the color blue. It isn’t as blue anymore. It’s not a rich cerulean substance with flavor. It’s just… blue. Without the depth. We’re losing something precious.”

“Whoa.”

“The worst thing is… I don’t know if anyone else notices what’s happening. Or cares.”

“Have you tried explaining it to them?”

“I’ve tried. I talked to my family, my friends, Hell, I’ve even talked to the governor. I published articles and what not, trying start a movement or something.”

“So you’re a writer.”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“And nothing. I mean, they’ve tried to respond and ‘fix’ the problem but I don’t think it’s been very helpful.”

“Why not?”

“Well, if your doctor gives you the wrong diagnosis…”

“…He’s gonna give you the wrong medicine.”

“Precisely.”

“Ah. And you think you have the right diagnosis?”

“That’s the thing. I’m not even sure myself.
But… I’m sure as hell more knowledgable than they are.”

“What makes you so confident?”

“I’ve lived here the longest. Even longer than the governor. This is my city. I know every street corner, back alley, secret passage, you name it. I know the underground networks better than I know grade school math. I practically built a good portion of it. I own these streets. My blood runs in the city’s veins and the city’s blood runs in my veins.”

“They should have elected you for governor.”

“Nah, that ain’t me. I belong on the ground-level. On the streets. Front lines, you know?”

“Mm. Can’t you change the city if you know it best?”

“That’s the thing. I need the resources from the higher-ups to make some sort of real change. I can’t do it alone.”

“But they ain’t buyin’ it.”

“They ain’t buyin’ it. I’ve tried to start something on my own initiative but I don’t think it’s possible. I can’t sustain it for much longer. The fatigue is starting to cement in my soul and my soul is hardening.”

“No one understands.”

“No one understands.”

She looks over at me.

“That sounds painful.”

“You have no idea. It’s unbearable. Seeing my own city in flames. Ash clouds trace the skyline. People have been inhaling smog for so long they’ve forgotten what’s in the air they’re breathing. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my city without the haze.

When the city burns… when the city bleeds, it’s not just the city’s blood that flows.”

“It’s your blood.”

I nod at her.

“Damn. I can’t imagine that.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot.”

The pace of our step slows.

p

p

“So… you’re escaping. Escaping your world, escaping the pain.”

“Yeah. I suppose I am.”

“No shame in that. It makes sense.”

“Mm. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Many people think otherwise. People at home, I mean.”

“Well, they clearly don’t get it.”

I pause.

“Yeah.     …Yeah. Thanks.”

We make eye contact at last. Mutual contact, that is. Something about her gaze pierces me, through my burning tears, through my dark, fathomless eyes, through my soul.

p

p

“You know, I feel honored. Special.”

“How so?”

“You picked my city. You could have gone anywhere in the world but you picked my home. Even if it was to escape.”

“Well, I was just… I guess I just wandered here. I didn’t have a destination. Just far away.”

“But something told you to stop. Here. Of all places.”

“Hm. I guess so.”

She looks at me again and gives me a soft smile, the way that only your closest friends would give you a soft, yet strangely loving shove.

p

p

“What’s wrong?”

“I… I have to go back. I can already feel the bleeding.”

“This isn’t your first time, is it?”

“No. How did you know that?”

“Just a guess. I can almost see… tethers. And they’re latching onto you, almost like chains, and whenever you leave, no matter how far you go, they eventually pull you back.”

“Damn. You’re good.”

“Hah. Thanks.”

“Do I have to leave?”

“I can’t make that choice for you, my friend. You have to decide that for yourself.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Again, that’s your choice. It’s your city.”

“Sometimes… it seems like the only moments when I feel like I belong are the moments when I am far away. When I am traveling to new, unfamiliar worlds. When I am discovering the treasures of distant lands. When I am wandering. It is in times like those that I actually feel like my soul is in tune with my body. I get that sense of ‘Yes, this is right’-ness. Like I should be here… when I’m not here. Does that even make sense?”

“Ah. You have the heart of a wayfarer.”

“Have you ever gone somewhere and felt a deep yearning for a place you’ve never known? A homesickness for a land you’ve just set foot on?”

“Rarely, but yes.”

“I don’t want to leave.”

“Is it that you don’t want to leave, or that you don’t want go back home?”

“I can’t tell.”

“That’s okay.”

We made eye contact again. Not nearly as intimidating but even more powerful.

“I can already feel it. The… tethers? They’re pulling me pretty hard. It’s almost suffocating.”

“I guess this is it, then.”

We approach the platform. I board the train hesitantly.

“This conversation was not long enough for my taste.”

“Hah. We’ve been at it for quite a few hours, bud.”

“Man. Is that so.”

“Hey, if you ever need to run away… if you ever need a place to escape to, you know where to go. My city’s gates are open.”

“But will I ever see you again? Will you be here if I come back? How will I find you?”

She gave a gentle smile.

p

The train’s doors closed between us.
As the speed of the train crescendoed, the sight of her face waned into the horizon, gradually, yet still too quickly. She disappeared from view but I continued to stare out the window.

The tethers tightened their grip around me and dragged me back into the nauseating timelapse of life.

p

p

Why am I here?