To Stay or To Go

I was in the library the other day working on my thesis when a woman came in and seated herself in the lounge chair across from me. She looked familiar but I couldn’t place her. I tried to make eye contact and smile but she was staring intently at something outside the window; I might as well be invisible.

An hour passed. I noticed the woman across from me had not moved once. Still, she sat, staring out the window. I followed her gaze to the outside: nothing but trees and parked cars. I observed her, happily indulging in a distraction from my paper.

Still, she sat, not moving an inch. Resting into the lounge chair, her hands folded in her lap, she stared, not at the world outside, but into the maze of her thoughts. It’s a process, reaching into one’s own soul searching for answers. Here lied the question: to stay or to go? Still, she sat, while her thoughts revisited the aggregate of cities and places she had collected in the past five years.

Every time she arrived in a new city, she gave herself an adjustment period. It varied depending on whether she needed to learn the local dialect, how much she liked the food, how easily accessible the city was via public transportation. Just when she’s mastered it all, when she’s learned the streets and adjusted to the customs, she began to grow weary of the same scenes. “I’ll come back,” she told herself. There are so many places she hasn’t seen yet, why stop here?

How was she supposed to pick a place to stay when they all bled into one another? How could she pick the right place when she hasn’t seen them all? So she kept moving.

It can’t last forever, this moving around, going from city to city, forming intimate relations with no long-term plans in mind. She longed for an anchor, a reason to stay, without which she had only her heart to guide her. And through five years of travels, she has not yet mastered the map of her own heart. So she sat, contemplating her next moves, immobilized by all the possibilities.

I looked out the window and there you were, five floors down, in a white tee and pants the color of the Caribbean Sea, the color of your eyes. Out of a city of tens of thousands, I picked you out. I recognized you by your walk. You smiled and I knew we were kindred souls, two pieces of the same puzzle. I packed up my bag and walked out of the library, leaving the woman there in the lounge chair, with her possibilities.


Infinite Affection


The little things keep coming back to me.

Your black pants with the leather detailing, the tattoo on your right arm. The first time we kissed, the glow of the street lamps, my black dress whipping in the wind. Listening to you beatbox on Christmas Eve, believing it was the sound of my heart galloping with joy.

Your maroon sweater with the penguin in the corner. I took it to bed every night until it no longer smelled like you. Then I kept it for two more nights just to be sure that when I returned it, it’d carry my scent to you.

The look on your face when I said I was leaving, you were tugging at the bed sheet like you could check the thread count.

The first time we met. The first time we officially met.

Every conversation we’ve ever had. Every invitation you extended. Every time I crossed the street, walked down the alley, up the stairs to your place.

The first time, you were sitting outside waiting for me. I felt guilty. That’s how I felt most of the time with you, guilty and uncertain. Then I was surprised to find how disoriented I felt leaving your gaze, when the world would suddenly snap into focus. I never thought we would happen. It was just friendly chatting, just a movie, just an afternoon at a coffee shop. Then we kissed beneath the glow of the street lamps, my flimsy black dress whipping in the wind, your warmth keeping me steady despite the cold, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful it all was.

Your hands. Which were always clammy. Until they weren’t. Until you were swallowed by movies, emails, flights, and visitors. I grew weary of fighting for square footage in your life.

Two nights after we retired to friendship, I saw you at the bar down the street. You were looking at me the way you used to, with infinite affection and tenderness. I felt heat creep up my face under your gaze.

Saturday Morning

I’ve been thinking about that morning, one of the many cold, foggy mornings in San Francisco. I was sitting on your bed listening to the stereo. I can’t remember the exact song now, one of those slow, sultry numbers that is at once seductive and comforting. I wanted to pull you to me, to feel your strong arms wrapped around me, to rest my head against the warmth of your body while we swayed gently, barely.

We had just had that terrible fight. I was afraid of what you might say if I made this silly request of you. I was a fool then. I realize now you never once denied any of my requests. You never said no to me.

When the song ended, I gathered my things quietly: my earrings off your bedside table, my clothes scattered across the floor, my purse sitting behind your door. I threw back the curtains and opened the windows wide, welcoming the invasion of a chilling morning breeze carrying my scent from your room. I casted one last look at the scene, securing it in my memory. When I was certain there were no traces of me left, I made for the door.

Three months later, we met for lunch. The following Saturday, I was leaving your room yet again. This time, I didn’t bother erasing my footprints from your wooden floor. I couldn’t erase those prints any more than I can reach into your mind and erase your memories of me.

A week later, I got on a plane that carried me across the world. I had spent all those months erasing the distance between us, rushing to your door, only to scramble out of your life, grabbing for space until half the world rested between us.

Before Midnight

It’s 11pm and the streets outside are dead. Shanghai would never be this quiet at this hour, but this is Nanjing. This city has its own rules.

The traffic lights continue to change even though there is no traffic to direct. If I stare long enough I can catch a pedestrian or two wandering the streets. Who is out at this hour? What are they up to? I want to be a fly on the walls of their lives; I want to dive into the complexities of their days. Just so my own troubles will seem insignificant yet be validated.

I don’t think I’ve ever sat here at this hour and observed the world outside. I’m usually so caught up with the happenings within these windows. Did you know that while we wasted hours away together there was an entire world outside with pedestrians, traffic lights, and half-finished construction sites?

Old Magic

I spent the summers of my childhood at grandma’s. Waking with the sun to milk deliveries, first in glass bottles, then in plastic packets of original, chocolate, and strawberry. I loved licking the caps of those glass bottles where a thick layer of cream collected. The plastic packets required more work to open. I’d gnaw at a corner of the square packet, spitting out tiny pieces of plastic, until grandma came to my rescue with a pair of scissors.

One fine morning, I was drinking strawberry milk when a ray of sunlight caught my eye. It had painted a slanted square on the wood floor, like a doorway into another realm. Curious. I stepped up to the light and saw that it was not a concrete entity but the gathering of infinite specks, floating leisurely in the air. Were they going somewhere, like swallows migrating in early fall? I searched for the pattern that wasn’t there.

I knew then I had discovered the secret of the universe. I spun under the light, smiling as I felt its warmth on my bare skin. I saw love, next to despair, joy and sorrow, beauty in all its forms, and time itself as the sliver of light moved across the floor. I watched till it disappeared altogether, feeling no need to intervene. I bent down to feel the still warm floor with my hand, erasing all uncertainties of what I witnessed. Then I finished my strawberry milk and ran downstairs to look for grandma.

The Queen

Every night as I’m preparing for bed, I hear her. Her tormented cries pierce through the night. They flood every corner of my mind. On some nights the cries escalate to shrieks, and even with all the windows closed, I can hear her as if she were right next to me.

I wondered if she were the embodiment of my soul, a divulge of everything I hold inside. Well, better her wails than mine.

One night, when I couldn’t take her cries any longer, I poured some cat food onto a plate, grabbed a coat, and headed out to find her.

Here kitty. Here kitty, kitty, kitty. I coaxed, one desperate soul to another.

I saw her eyes first. Two spheres reflecting the moon. She stared at me with neither fear nor defiance. I watched her, mystified, my breath snatched by the look of recognition in her eyes.

She approached me slowly and deliberately. I scanned her body for injuries, for an explanation to her wails. Failing to find any wounds, I placed the cat food in front of her. She turned her back to the plate, completely uninterested in my offering. 

Water, I should’ve brought water. 

I crouched beside her, gingerly raising my hand to pet her. Her body stiffed with the initial contact but relaxed soon after. She nestled into my legs and purred softly. I petted her until I began to lose feeling in my legs.

I stood to stretch, taking a second to find my balance. My hand reached for my mouth as if to catch the gasp that had just escaped.

We were surrounded. Dozens of strays had emerged from the darkness. A sea of small spheres glinted under the moonlight, regarding me.

An army of desperate, lost souls. And I was their queen.

Of Dreams & Memories

I don’t even look forward to visiting the Bay Area anymore. I dread parts of it: the packing and unpacking, the futon-surfing, relying on others (thank you dear friends) to house and occasionally transport me. None of it appeals to me.

But then I land in SFO. And as BART pulls me closer and closer to my destination, through Daly City, 16th Mission, and Montgomery, my heartbeat quickens. A part of me that remains dormant when I’m elsewhere wakes and I feel myself coming into my own being. Then I wonder how I ever left this place and when I’ll be back again.

Jetlag is real, even when it’s only an hour-long flight. Somewhere between “fasten your seat belts” and beverage service, my grasp of the present slips and I fall asleep. I land groggily, taking in my surroundings as I walk through the airport.

Where am I? How did I get here? Was I just on a flight? I must have been.

I tug at a loose strand of my memory, it gives a little. “I’ve wasted too much time on science,” a voice says. I struggle to hear the rest of the conversation but it’s already spiraling away from me.

I see two tangled strands around the corner. I chase them as they heave and writhe and I realize they are two bodies, groping in the darkness. Just when I’m about to reach out and touch them, they dissolve into fine mist.

Now I’m at the heart of the matter; I can see the tangled mass that is my memories. I search for an opening. I pick up a promising lead and it asks, “Do you run?” I stare at it with confusion. “No,” I respond. And my answer is echoed back to me three times, and the question is echoed back to me three times, and the entire mass is unraveling, disintegrating.

Just tell me how it made me feel. I don’t need the details, but please, just tell me how I felt. Without that, I am lost.

At my plea, the mass breathes renewed life. It comes towards me, picking up speed as it suddenly recognizes my existence. I prepare myself for contact until I see Despair, barely hidden behind Hope.

I break into a run. I run until I know my memories are lost to me, until I see the light ahead, until I am swallowed by the sun.

I’m back in San Diego. The summers here are so perfect I wonder why I ever left.