It’s raining. Very lightly though. Not cold, just small gusts of wind.
Bed unmade. I used to do it, until I realized I’ll climb back to my bed in a couple hours. The blinds are closed. Gray washed lights still manage to creep in.
I have nowhere to be apart from the gym, which I can skip without repercussions. Class doesn’t start till noon. I can sleep in. Three more hours of sleep can do a lot, but there’s something quite daunting about wasting time like that, even though I’ll find other time to squander. Wasting time in the morning feels more of a crime.
A full glass of water. It was hot last night, but now it’s freezing. I can feel my stomach clenching from the cold liquid. I would reheat the water, but my roommate is asleep. I don’t want the kettle to wake him up, even though he was folding clothes at 2AM last night. I can still hear the banging sound from him opening the closet door in my head.
I try not to look at the mirror as I brush my teeth. I avoid it at all costs when I’m washing my face.
Two slices of bread paired with jam. It’s marmalade. I want to try something new. Usually it’s blueberry flavored. It doesn’t taste good. I throw away the paper plates and plastic knife. I don’t want to wash any dishes.
I make eggs with an egg cooker. Hard boiled eggs aren’t my preferred way of eating eggs, but it’s the easiest. I don’t have to wash anything. No seasoning required.
Another glass of water. With a tablet of vitamin C.
I step out of the room, placing my foot right before the edge of the door frame. I feel my pockets, and I let the door shut.
Last month I went to a career fair in New York. I’d applied months ago thinking it would be a good opportunity to beg for a job, but I no longer wanted to go. The amount of socializing that I would’ve to endure felt daunting. It would be easier if I had a friend to go with like last year. Something about suffering together made the pain more tolerable. There’s nothing I can do to get rid of the pain of observing the ridiculous pageantry of these events. It’s a festival of peacocks fanning their ego, desperate for approval, desperate for a fat salary.
I managed to talk to an alum. She walked in wearing Loewe loafers and a Prada nylon bag. I knew she was different because of that. The adults there were all successful in their own rights, they could afford a Prada bag. I’m sure some could order a stack of Cartier bracelets without issue, but most didn’t wear expensive items. I can’t say why, but there’s an obsession with blending in when it comes to the tech and business world. I talked to her after she spoke in her panel. She didn’t care about her job. She hated her job at Morgan Stanley. She thought real estate was unbearably boring. She was there for the money.
For the first time at a career circle jerk circus someone was honest.
I emailed her, thinking I would talk to her, and write something about having a career just for the money, and the lifestyle of not doing what you love.
When people are in their teens, when all they really want to do is be consumed in some ecstatic joy, to look good, to not be sexless, to have sex, to be different, the adults want them to find their life calling. Funny enough, half of the adults are leading miserable lives. Their life callings are either pilates and coffee or deposits and taxes. Some are addicted to drugs or having sex with everyone other than their wives. Occasionally, you will spot a loving husband with a loving wife, but they send their child to a conversion camp because they only love love that they recognize.
When they are not consumed by their own business, they are bothering their children about their future. At some point, the amount of questioning bends their children to their will. The children end up finding a passion they think they love. Not to say the passions aren’t genuine, because some really are. And congratulations to them. I have nothing to say to those who found their passion through Google, those who want to become a doctor or a lawyer, or those who just want to make money. Perhaps celebrate with a glass of wine, or a can of beer. Something cheap though, nothing expensive.
I’m seeing an on-campus therapist. I want to say I’m seeing her because I’m suicidal since that would make it more of a story, but no, I’m really fine. I just want a doctor’s note for a single room, so I can finally sleep at night, perhaps get some support for my occasional anxiety flares. I had a therapist a year ago, referred by a close friend. She was good–gave me some insights that I probably could’ve figured out on my own. But she also diagnosed me with cyclical depression which maybe I would not have figured out on my own. I never saw therapy as a remedy that provides practical solutions. It’s nothing more than a way to talk shit without any repercussions.
Hi, this is Susan, she says.
Hi, how are you?
I’m okay, could be better, or else I wouldn’t be here, I laughed.
Great, so nice to meet you. Did you get a form from us?
Umm. I don’t know, let me check… Oh yes I see one.
Please fill that out and we’ll resume.
We continued our conversation, the basics. They call it an intake appointment. They do a survey on you. They want to know your life story. It’s like a profile.
What identity do you identify with? she asks.
What? As in?
As in culture? What values matter to you?
I hated the way she asked it. Could’ve just said if you are Chinese or not, or something along those lines. Sometimes it’s okay to make assumptions.
I’m Chinese and I’m gay.
I can’t continue describing what happened during that session, because there really isn’t anything to say. The very standardized talk of parental relationships and family situations will bore everyone, at least the thought of writing it already bores me.
Last time I wrote was nearly a year ago. I can feel my sensibility for writing going away. I can barely put down a sentence that resembles anything of beauty. I’m not saying writing is all about beauty, but that’s what we desire at the end of day. Good writing. Beautiful lines. Beautiful craft. Last year, this time, I was writing my second story for my creative writing class. It was another piece of gay teen romance because that was all I could think of, a banal obsession that meant something to me but bored everyone else who read it. I want to say that was all I could write because that was all I knew, but then I would be lying. Love had never arrived. Maybe that was why the story was awful, because it came from my imagination and the boatload of gay movies with fake plots. I want to blame Andre Aciman for that.
I moved on and wrote about a woman. A woman who lost her husband because she was tired of him. A woman who wanders on the streets of Milan because she has nothing better to do, because she hates the place that she lives in. I don’t even know what happened in the end. I almost made her kill herself. Thank god I didn’t do that. I really like that piece. It’s short, but concise. It does what it’s supposed to. My friend, however, who’s much more experienced in the craft of storytelling, told me she didn’t like the piece at all. It was disingenuous to womanhood she said.
She never accepted the connection request. The woman at Morgan Stanley who hates her job.
I hate many things.
I hate my roommate, even though he really didn’t do anything apart from be weird, which I know isn’t his fault. He also chronically disturbs my sleep at night, but that’s that. I do understand I sleep early for people my age.
I hate how I have to wake up in the morning. I hate having to go to class. I hate that I will never catch a break ever again.
I also hate how I’m sick all the time.
I hate ugly. Everything I see looks ugly and I hate ugly things. Ugly clothes. Ugly humans. Ugly furniture. Ugly attitude. Ugly architecture. Ugly pictures. Ugly boyfriends. Ugly girlfriends. Ugly pasta. Ugly tikka masala. Ugly pho. Ugly chicken breast. Ugliness is endless.
I hate that I’m writing in this moment. I hate that I have nothing to say and nothing to share, nothing exciting to reveal. I hate to be boring. I hate to be a waste of time. Why be a writer if you can’t even entertain yourself?
My therapist, who calls herself a social worker, looks like someone that would be a shrink: tanned tight curls, a pair of glasses without a frame, a warm sweater in red. She’s probably the same age as a high school sophomore’s mom, someone who can give sound advice without sounding like an old bitch. She looks comforting. I think that’s important even though we are doing this over a screen. It’s hard to talk about irrelevant items in life to someone who looks bored and threatening. I don’t fear judgment of my actions, but I fear damnation for being boring,
Hi, how are you? Any updates on the sleep issue? she smiles.
No. They wouldn’t write me a note. It’s not happening. I called the front desk, they wouldn’t even give me an appointment.
Has it gotten any better at least? she asks.
I keep on getting woken up when he comes in at night, opening drawers. His alarms in the morning also.
Why don’t you talk to your roommate about it?
I don’t want to. I should, but I won’t. I don’t feel comfortable.
Why is that?
He’s not hostile or anything. He’s fine. It’s me. I just find him…weird, I think. He never did anything offensive, I wish he did. It would make it easier, so much easier.
I feel like he’s judging me. I don’t care about the fact that he’s judging, I just don’t know what he’s judging me for. Going to bed at 11pm? Going out? Coming back before 1am? I don’t know what he’s trying to say. It’s uncomfortable. That’s all.
Do you mind saying exactly what happened? I think that would be helpful to me.
I went to a party with my friends, her friend from home gave her the bracelets. It was not a club, just a frat. People love the idea of exclusivity.
It’s a foam party, my friend said.
I didn’t care about the foam. I don’t want to dance around in bubbles up to my knees. What was the appeal anyway? How was foam going to make frat parties any better if not worse.
It was hosted in the backyard, at night of course, not a dartie, I don’t do those. Night parties are like weed and darties are like crack cocaine, I’m not there yet, won’t ever be. The frat hired some bodyguards to fill in for the brothers’ missing balls. People were pushing each other, stepping on each others’ shoes. Freshmen were jumping in circles, yelling the song lyrics. They didn’t care if they were crashing into others with their slimy bodies. The good part about parties in the backyard is that they don’t give you a full body detox from the heat and you don’t taste the sour scent of sweat. The music was awful, blasting from a pair of $300 speakers with sound quality worse than a flip phone. I had the exact same speaker in high school for my keyboard. I hated it. The DJ was awful as well. There were either no transitions or transitions that were only marginally more unpleasant than an auto fade.
I’d rather stare at a sloth for hours. That was my review.
I walked home by myself. My friends wanted to stay; I guess they enjoyed it. A couple of piss yellow street lights kept me safe from the dark. Wind blew lightly, but cold enough to seep through my skin. I watched the half moon fading into the clouds. I thought I would find temporal joy, but instead I left with my ear ringings, wanting a bottle of cheap wine.
I was praying that my roommate would be out or at least be occupied with his own dramatic life so he wouldn’t give me the attention that I very much didn’t want and didn’t deserve. I opened the door. He was sitting at the edge of the living room desk which pointed right at the door. He had his wire framed glasses on. We made eye contact. He opened his unpleasant mouth.
I thought you were going out? he smirked.
I went out, what do you mean?
Back already? So early.
It’s twelve forty, I was out for a good hour and a half.
Tony, Tony, Tony back so early.
I rolled my eyes, and went to my room. Knowing how to shut up should be a class in college. Many relationships can be saved if people know how to sew their lips together from time to time.
I can see why you would feel uncomfortable. He is making unnecessary comments or judgments about your life.
I know. I know.
I went to a Catholic high school. I remember having an obsession with Catholicism before going to my high school, not for the faith of course, but for the grandiose architecture. That fantasy was wiped clean when I had to endure mass every month. I would fight the deep desire to sleep every time, swaying back and forth when we were called to stand up. I don’t miss those moments of high school, but I can’t deny the spiritual power is there. I saw people enamored with his father, for his power, for his grace.
Maybe I should revisit my Catholic days, in a different light. To go not in fear of expulsion, but for my own sake. Maybe the holy ghost can whisper in my ear and chase away the hateful demons whose claws are digging into my ribs.
There’s a church not far from where I live. Under a hundred steps maybe, not Catholic though, I don’t think. I thought about going there, just to sit and stand. I wouldn’t interact with anyone, but observe. I never understood what people got out of these gatherings. The priests are old, and can’t enunciate half of the words. The pews are uncomfortable to sit in, and you stand up in different parts of the mass for no obvious reason. The only enjoyment would be the singing, but usually in a local church, the singers sound like a never ending train horn. But I will still go, just to see, to revisit. Perhaps revisit isn’t the right word, it’s more fitting for older things, for the sediments of memory.
I can’t tell if she’s doing this from home, or from an office. Her background is just a white wall with a ray of light coming from the ceiling.
How are you?
Good, could be better but it is what it is. I giggle.
How was your sleep this week, anything with your roommate.
Sleep is okay, not better, but not worse. I’m grateful for that. Still bad in the morning though. I wake up constantly even though I have an eye mask on.
Did your roommate bother you at night?
Yeah, but expected. He was doing laundry at 1AM.
Oh. Have you talked to him about that?
No, I don’t want to. I can’t.
If I’m being super honest, I can. It really isn’t that hard. I’m just scared, that’s all. Scared of something that I don’t even recognize.
I’ve exhausted all there is to write. I sit here, watching the disappointing skyline of Philadelphia, wondering what else has happened in my life in the past months that I can put down. I try to unweave the threads of memory, running my fingers through them, trying to pick out something that I’ve perhaps forgotten, a moment in time that’s worth dramatizing. Yet the threads are smooth as the finest cashmere and they feel exactly as I remembered them.
My friend asked me to read her creative non-fiction piece the other day. It was about her boys, her father, her pain, her helplessness in life. It was a suitcase full of stories that were striking and poignant. I felt like I was staring at her naked silhouette as I read. It was painfully honest. A dull pain to be exact, the kind that flows from your bones and doesn’t quite reach the skin. I knew the stories before reading them. She’d told me over the phone months ago. It was different to see them in writing. For some reason they were more believable when they were on paper. I’m envious of how lifely her stories are.
In an old sketchbook that I’ve lost, you’ll find pages after pages of croquis. Bad ones, disproportionately without the intention to be disproportionate. I thought that was what I wanted. To be a designer. To dress people. To give people a sense of confidence through clothes. I was so dead set on that goal. I thought I would never be a gear in the financial machine, a number in the HR system. Yet I turned away from that dream because I was deeply scared that I would starve to death if I ever become an artist of any sort. I remember talking to an instructor at Parsons:
Maybe you’re just in love with the idea of fashion and not fashion itself.
I will always remember what he said.
I tell my therapist about my problems. I tell her I keep on avoiding tasks that I need to do. Not because they will take up a lot of my time, but that I’m terrified to do them. I’m scared of something that I can’t even articulate. All I have to do is send emails to people I don’t know. Maybe two will respond, maybe three. It doesn’t matter. I just need one to say yes. I’m not losing anything in the process. Yet I act like a child sleeping in the dark by themselves for the first time. My therapist tells me it’s normal to be scared. It is a lot. It is difficult. She says. I don’t believe her of course, because it really isn’t. I nod as she tries to empathize with me. I appreciate her effort, but I would rather hear a deeper psychological analysis on why I’m scared of the most trivial things. I would rather hear her call me stupid to my face. At least then I wouldn’t be able to find another less convincing excuse. She suggests daily affirmations. I’ve tried that before. I put down words that I wish were true. I don’t think it’s ever worked. The words remained something of desire . They never made me feel better about myself. Never brought me any luck either.
I’m in DC alone three days before Thanksgiving. I was here a year ago during Christmas break when I had nowhere to go because I couldn’t get a visa to go back to China. At that point, I hadn’t seen my family in three years.
I enter my hotel room. A king size bed. A green plush couch. The bathroom is small but clean, no mold on the shower curtain. It was a quiet room. No one will wake me up at night as they do their laundry. I can catch a break. Sleep through the night and the morning. Wake up whenever. Grab breakfast and watch a show.
I drop off my bags to go to Georgetown. Sun is setting already, even though it’s just 5. A line of red sits at the top of the roofs, bleeding into a light tint of purple. It’s cold but not windy. The air is crisp, making my nose tingle. I wish I’m not alone, but I don’t see my friend until tomorrow. Another friend has relatives to entertain. I always think shopping alone is the next saddest thing below eating alone at a restaurant (I have an appointment at an Italian spot for one person at 7). I go into a store. I see a sweater I like going for $130, but I have no one to ask for an opinion. Is it worth it? Does it look good on me? Or do I look like a grandpa? I put it back down because I already spent $900 this month and I need to buy a puffer jacket for the winter. I survived last year’s cold with a single thrifted cashmere coat because I didn’t want to look like the Michelin Man. It wasn’t a good idea.
I go into Sephora, wanting to buy something to make me feel better. I want to get a contour even though I will never use it. A nose job is probably more effective anyway. I go to the perfume stand, searching for something I have to test out. I leave disappointed. I need to burn some time before dinner, but I have already walked through the entire street. I have found nothing. I try to make it enjoyable. I really do.
I walk back to my hotel. Lie down on the couch and pick up my phone.
He grabbed me from the back, his hands resting on my forearms. I could feel his chin gently touching the tip of my ear. He was bitching about how the singer sounded like a pedophile. I was thinking about what happened to us.
We swayed side to side to the music, my back against his warm chest. I could feel his rib cage expanding into my spine. I thought liking each other would put us together.
At one point I never wanted to see him. I told my friend that he is a horrible person, but you can try going on dates with him. They fell apart of course.
I’m flattered. Thanks for telling me that. It’s just that I’m moving to Florida. Or else we could try.
Right. I never got confirmation from him if he liked me. I think I heard his friend whisper that he liked me in class when he was trying to wrestle me from the back. Though we do many things to make ourselves believe what we want to believe.
I didn’t know why he would let me do this. Let me lean on him whenever, wherever. He knew I liked him. He made it clear it wasn’t going to go anywhere. Yet he would tap his thigh, letting me lay on his legs as we watched a movie in his dorm’s common area. He didn’t care if people saw. He didn’t care if someone said we would make a cute couple.
I didn’t know I liked him until that night. He went with his friend to prom because her boyfriend couldn’t come. We didn’t get to sit at the same table, but we got up constantly to find each other. I would get up to complain about the food to him. He would get up to complain about his friend to me. He was careless with his touch. His fingers hovered on my neck. His breath lingered around my ears. People thought we were hooking up in the bathroom when I was just trying to wipe off the makeup stain I got on his borrowed white tux. I grabbed him by the silk lining of his blazer, “can we go outside?”
We sat down on the bench, the two of us, our thighs touching. I remember how soft the breeze felt on my skin. I don’t remember any of the conversations we had.
I was in his car. We got rid of our friends so we could be alone for a moment. Our arms were brushing against each other on the arm rest. I stared at the passing street lights, maybe this is it. Maybe we can be together.
I texted him,
I decided to go to BU, so I’ll be in Boston with you.
Sometimes I wonder if I made that decision for him.
That’s awesome! He responded.
He told me in person a couple days later that he’s very happy I’ll be with him.
I was happy then.
Now we live three hundred miles away. We text once a week.
Who do you live with at home? my therapist asked.
My mom, and my grandparents. On her side of course.
Has that always been the case?
No. My grandpa used to live on his own. He would come occasionally and sleep over. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that he moved over. I don’t know why. Maybe his house became unlivable. He’s a hoarder you know?
How’s the relationship between you and your grandpa?
Decent? We aren’t super close, but it’s good.
Your grandpa and your grandma? How are they?
Well, they don’t like each other that much. My grandma really doesn’t like him. For good reason though. He’s not a good person.
In what way?
Women had to get married. They hoped they would find love. They hoped their husband would love them just as much as they loved him. No one was rich then, so wealth was rarely a question in marriage as it is now. She met him through a friend. He was handsome. He was nice. Which were all you could ask for then. She got married. Had a family. A daughter. She never thought he would turn into someone like that. She didn’t think a man so nice could turn into a monster.
They are always nice when you first meet them. They lure you in by hiding all their ugly habits. They are all liars.
She, like the girls during her time, didn’t go to college. They found jobs that allowed them to put food on their table, to keep the lights on. The smarter ones went into offices, she wasn’t one of them. She ended up in a bus factory. Back then regulations on working conditions were nonexistent. People needed every cent they could get, having a job was already a blessing. She was worried how her child would turnout with all the chemicals she was breathing in. She couldn’t quit even if she wanted to because she had a husband that thought he was better than having a job. She cried next to a river that smelled like meat rotting in heat. She would go there again and again years after she had her child, to cry, to be sad, to think about dying.
As her daughter grew up, her husband got angrier. Her daughter would always hide in the bathroom, waiting for the insults to end. Some men were fueled by alcohol. He didn’t need it. He was just as hateful in the morning as in the night. Any mistake and small misfortune would spark his rage. When there was nothing going on, paranoia would light his anger instead. In his head, she was a spy. An evil spy sent by the government to hawk over his family, because he was that important. He couldn’t let the Communists know what he was cooking in his kitchen. The Communists could never know how violently angry he was to his wife.
He left the country. Flew to the U.S, promising her that he would be a successful businessman there. He would bring back wealth, and he will be good to her and her daughter.
He carried takeout boxes on a bike. He was an ant crawling in the city, trying to survive.
He did that for a year before he went back home, his American Dream dead, but his entrepreneurial spirit alive. He was still convinced he could found his business and travel the world. Without a business plan, without any idea what the business should be, he asked his wife to leave her job to support him. She didn’t know anything about business models or competitive advantages, but she knew without income they would be homeless. He wasn’t happy with her dissent. Women should obey at all times. It was their duty to do so. He was loud. His eyes were red. His face was ugly. He was terrifying in his helplessness. Naked behind his furious shame. He was angry because his delusional daydreaming had melted away.
I stayed at Le Negresco during mid-July. I remember the pink bathroom, and the Louis XIV portrait hanging in the lobby. I felt myself going forward then, and at some point I lost that feeling. I’m not going through the current , struggling to hold on to the slippery sediments. I’m in the middle of something without movement, maybe in a lake sans any wind. I don’t see the edge of the water, it reaches beyond the farthest speckles of clouds. There isn’t a correct direction. It doesn’t matter if I’m going faster than what my body can support. I still find myself in the middle of the water. I can see my reflection without distortion. I can see the sun behind me, and the moon in front of me. I try to imagine myself back in the South of France, in Nice, in the pink bathroom, in front of the Sun King. When the lake was moving with the wind. When I could feel the ripples tickling my skin.
To paint an island at the edge of the water.