Through a film of tears pooling in my eyes I appraised the woman in front of me. Hair cut in a way that evoked not much style as convenience. Face touched by not a speck of make up. Sensible steel framed eye glasses that gave her an air of authority. Simple white floral blouse, no accessories. I looked at the woman in front of me, my thesis advisor, a mother of two, former chairperson of a non-government organization specializing in the rights of overseas workers, but more importantly, my favorite professor.The voice in which she spoke quivered with every syllable, ready to break at any moment. What began as a consultation for my thesis in sex trafficking became her telling us stories of the things she had witnessed in Sabah while on duty for her foundation. Men working in slave-like conditions, forced into backbreaking work then locked up at the end of the day in warehouses like storage boxes preparing to be shipped. But the men, they weren’t going anywhere. Neither the next day, nor the next. Women, and that’s stretching their age as far as it would go, dancing around poles wearing as much as they’re paid- next to nothing- with a hollow look in their eyes and a weakness in their shoulders. Yet she tells us, she tells us these people don’t want to leave. She tells us, this man who is worked until his fingers are blistered, this girl who is molested and raped and abused and who knows what else, don’t want to return home. She tells us, because they say that this hell, ‘this hell is better than the hell back home’.. where they have no jobs, no prospects, no nothing. And as her voice finally broke as did the barrier that was holding back my tears, those words rang in my ears with the persistence of Christmas bells on December 25 when I don’t even celebrate that holiday.
this hell is better than the hell back home.
I think back to all the times where I had made myself proud. Or more importantly, my mother proud. When my fingers used to move on their own accord across ivory piano keys, with my eyes closed in blissful concentration. When they filled in the blanks and circles in tests and were met with a red check next to them. When they thumbed through books deemed too advance for my age and ended on the last page with my head swimming with questions I wanted the answer to. When my feet landed in plies, on their tiptoes, on a 90 degree angle extended in front of me with the other foot 90 degrees facing the other direction behind me and my hands forming a gentle oval above my head. When they kicked with all their might against water filling a huge rectangular depression in the earth, my body half exposed to strangers in the same attire, dripped wet with red marks around their eyes where their goggles formed vaccuums. I remember all this with a nostalgic fondness, for the little girl so full of promise that lay dead within my very self. And I turned to tell my friend, “Sometimes I ask my mother, remember when my life was going somewhere?” and my friend tells me reassuringly, “but it is going somewhere.”
and sadly, I reply, more to myself than her, “But not in the direction I want it to go.”
Some days are so grey I cannot discern my melancholy with the color of the pallid sky. My very being blends into the monochrome heavens, and I feel at one with its lack of color, or sunshine, or a contour of a cloud. I dissolve into the crisp white sheets of the place where I sleep, fading into its spotlessness, until I, myself, am gone. And through my eyes, all I see is the black of my hair, the white of my emptiness, the lack of color in the sky, my sheets, and my life.
I wonder if you think you’re strong
For causing bruises to erupt on my flesh
With your tightened fists and the back of your hand
Painting a nebula on a pale abyss
I wonder if you think I’m weak
For not fighting back or breaking free
You’ve broken my bones and cut open my skin
But that isn’t enough to break me.
Haven’t written one of these in months
It wasn’t jealously I felt, staring blankly at the picture of you and her. We were too alike, too broken, too damaged and reluctant and poisonous for each other. I could see it, our mad love, fighting and hating each other then fucking and loving each other. It felt so wrong that it felt so right when I was with you, knowing the age gap was too great and your kisses tasted like nothing but mine tasted like sugar to you. We burned with a fire tamed only by a thin line of our self control, and we enjoyed toying with the string and risking (quite happily) snapping it altogether and being engulfed by flames. But seeing you with her, after years of not speaking, only alluding to each other vaguely on places we knew the other would see, I see you with her, and you both seem happy, with no danger of burning up at all. We both found our dandelions in the spring, the ones that fill us with light instead of darkness and sees our brokenness but don’t feel entitled to fix it. Instead they love us for who we are. We were filled with too much fire that did nothing to expel the darkness within us. And now they hold our hands and make our fires no longer feel like a burning flame but a source of light.
It’s 1 am and I was reading Less than Zero by the same author who wrote American Psycho. Episode 4, Season 1 of Game of Thrones streamed on my laptop right next to me. Not really because I wanted to watch it, because I already have, but because nights in the suburbs of Korea was so god damn quiet it was driving me mad. Too much quiet tended to do that to me, it gave me no distraction from my thoughts and on this night in particular I didn’t want to hear them. I rummaged in the black faux-leather bag that I had broken the other day for the pack of Mevius lights that the guy I love gave me.
What I resent most about being touched by depression is not the crippling sadness that wells over your entire being like tears in your eyes. It’s how having the ability to have moments was stolen away from me. How that feeling of utter contentment and satisfaction with life, whether it be sitting in an open field under the stars and appreciating the beauty that surrounds us, or dancing to the music and enjoying the moment with an arena full of strangers… That ability was stolen from me. There is blankness in place of exhilaration. There is fleeting thrill in place of a full on adrenaline rush. No kiss will ever be as sweet, no natural beauty will be as breathtaking, no exciting event will be as elating. To add insult to injury, every sadness, every badness, every bump in the road is devastating. Every small thing, every big thing, will tear you apart internally. That is what I resent the most. Every happiness is understated and every sadness is amplified.
And I will never be the same again.
And in the silence of 10 minutes to 11 in the calmest night with silence as deafening as a million violins screeching into your ear, I played back the scene in my head. Of his eyes, as brown and dark as mine, boring into me as I turned my gaze back to him after shyly looking away. I breathed in and waited, for what seemed to me like something he wanted to say.
"I love you," he said, "I just thought it, and I wanted to say it."
And with my breath still held in I looked away again, because he said it in such a way that didn’t compell me to answer back. Because he just wanted to say it, and didn’t need a response. Any response. Whatsoever. I don’t think I will soon forget the sadness I saw etched into the frown on his face a few minutes afterwards when he brought up the subject of “settling”. The faraway look in his eyes as he tried to answer what he meant when I asked it of him.
"Living together, and being together… for a long time."
I can’t forget that sadness because my reply hurt him, I saw it. It hurts him knowing I don’t want the same thing he does, that he has opened himself up for me to flip through as I please yet I’ve barely given him a peek at the flyleaf. His words hurt me because it pains me to wonder if I could ever love someone as much as they love me. My words hurt him because it pains him to wonder the same.
"Why do you keep looking at me like that?"
"Maybe if you looked at someone as amazing as you are, you would understand."
That’s what I find funny about myself, realizations hit me like the impact of the rotten mango I threw on the dinner table when I was frustrated at the fact that it was rotten.
What an ungrateful bitch. I thought to myself, of myself.
I was lucky to be privileged enough to be able to financially and physically afford to discard a mango because of a slight flaw on it’s golden orange visage. Others don’t quite have that advantage. I deserve to have been unhappy these past few days. Depressed, even. Everyone has that right. Suffering is relative, and suffering is suffering despite what may have caused it, however shallow or deep its reaches take root. Things have been going wrong all my life. My mother has stroked my hair and agreed with me that it occurs too often to be dismissed as just regular periodic misfortune that befalls everyone in life. But things have gone right, too. I wouldn’t be able to count my blessings on my fingers and toes if I had dozens of them. Sometimes, even the best of us forget about those and count our curses instead. Regardless of the consequences of the most recent misfortune to befall me, like the other instances in the past, I won’t let it break me. I won’t allow it to ruin my relationships. This is just another snag in the (rather coarse) fabric of my life. It will be hard, I foresee more nights of crying myself to sleep, I will be pushed and pressured to my breaking point.. but someone, actually, quite a few, people have told me I’m one of the strongest people they have ever met. And you don’t grow this resilient from a lifetime of walking through a garden of roses. If this is what I should expect for the rest of my life, fine. 19 years of this, what’s a few decades more?