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.


Fate Playing

Because the message somehow met a goblin,
Because precedents tripped your expectations,
Because your London was still a kaleidoscope
Of names and places any jolt could scramble,
You waited mistaken. The bus from the North
Came in and emptied and I was not on it.
No matter how much you insisted
And begged the driver, probably with tears,
To produce me or to remember seeing me
Just miss getting on. I was not on it.
Eight in the evening and I was lost and at large
Somewhere in England. You restrained
Your confident inspiration
And did not dash out into the traffic
Milling around Victoria, utterly certain
Of bumping into me where I would have to be walking.
I was not walking anywhere. I was sitting
Unperturbed, in my seat on the train
Rocking towards King’s Cross. Somebody,
Calmer than you, had a suggestion. So,
When I got off the train, expecting to find you
Somewhere down at the root of the platform,
I saw that surge and agitation, a figure
Breasting the flow of released passengers,
Then your molten face, your molten eyes
And your exclamations, your flinging arms
Your scattering tears
As if I had come back from the dead
Against every possibility, against
Every negative but your own prayer
To your own gods. There I knew what it was
To be a miracle. And behind you
Your jolly taxi-driver, laughing, like a small god,
To see an American girl being so American,
And to see your frenzied chariot-ride —
Sobbing and goading him, and pleading with him
To make happen what you needed to happen —
Succeed so completely, thanks to him.
Well, it was a wonder
That my train was not earlier, even much earlier,
That it pulled in, late, the very moment
You irrupted onto the platform. It was
Natural and miraculous and an omen
Confirming everything
You wanted confirmed. So your huge despair,
Your cross-London panic dash
And now your triumph, splashed over me,
Like love forty-nine times magnified,
Like the first thunder cloudburst engulfing
The drought in August
When the whole cracked earth seems to quake
And every leaf trembles
And everything holds up its arms weeping.

From Birthday Letters, a collection of poems written by Ted Hughes to his wife, Sylvia Plath, in the years after her suicide.

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?


15 hours since I last saw you, 1,429 miles now exists between us. I’m slowly coming down from the high of the days we spent together. The feel of you lingers. I stare at the scenery outside and all I see is you. Your smile is etched in my mind and when I close my eyes, I feel your lips. I hold onto you, willing you to stay with me as more miles stretch ahead.

49 days and 6,152 miles from you. I can feel your magnetic pull from across the Pacific Ocean. I am a cluster of raw nerves. Crushed by an all-consuming need of you, I can barely breathe. They hand me compliments and tell me they miss me. Can’t they tell I’ve already given my heart away? There is only you.

55 days and 459 miles from you. Days of hope and conviction are followed by waves of doubt and dejection. What if I don’t reach you in time? Everyday presents a new threat as it brings me closer to you. I re-play every possibility in my head countless times. I see us meeting for lunch. I’d casually ask about your dating life and when you tell me you’re seeing someone, I’d say I’m happy for you. I imagine us having dinner and when I accidentally profess the depth of my feelings for you, you’d look into my eyes and tell me you feel the same way. Maybe I won’t see you at all. Maybe I had already missed our ending.

66 days and 89 miles from you. I search for your face in the stars. When I fail to see it, every speckle of light becomes a universe in which you and I co-exist as strangers, as friends, as lovers. It occurs to me that we might never be anything but in transition. Dread creeps in as I speed down the freeway. I stare ahead and there is only darkness.

I am wrapped in you. You ask me how long it’s been. It’s been anger and joy and triumph and doom. I’ve been watching the second-hand move for an eternity, trying to not let the tick get under my skin, waiting for it to bring me to you.

“Not that long,” I answer.
“It feels like you were gone for years.”
“So listen, I have to go back in a few months.”
“For how long?”
“Another year, or two.”
“Are you excited?”
“I’m afraid I’ll never see you again.”
“You’re the one who keeps leaving.”

You’re inches away and unreachable. If I could fold the world so that my city lay on top of yours and me next to you. If I could leap across the Pacific Ocean and land outside your door. If you ask me to stay. Don’t ask me to stay. They tell me distance won’t matter if we really want to be together. They don’t know anything.

The Man Made of Dreams

I once made a man with my dreams.  I embellished upon the skeletons of his existence.  His name was real; I had indeed met him and spent a few hours with him here and there.  I had a vague image of his smile, like an old photograph in sepia with the edges slightly curled.  I couldn’t recall his voice but was certain that I would recognize it at once.

That much was true.  But the rest was an illusion created by my dreams.

Something about him compelled me.  At first I thought it was physical attraction, then I hypothesized chemistry, until finally I realized he was a blank canvas upon which I painted my ideals.

He was worldly, ambitious, and together.  Not quite accomplished yet, he nevertheless had the potential and drive to get there.  He was not the most charismatic man, but he smiled easily and often, assuaging all concerns of falsehood.

He was a seeker of adventure, a challenge for my otherwise conservative nature.  In the face of life’s many disappointments, he was an unyielding optimist, armored with his humor, anchored by his character, never taking his eyes off the ball.

He complimented me.  Where my weaknesses lay, so did his strengths.

Our conversations never bored me.  We would seat ourselves for an early dinner and find the entire night behind us in the blink of an eye.  And still there was so much more I wanted to say, so many questions I hadn’t asked.

On one particular morning as I walked to work in the cold, my insides knotting over the stress of the upcoming day, of incessant and endless work, I thought of him.  He flashed through my mind suddenly with the gentle glow of a newly kindled fire, warmth spread over me and I stopped trembling from both the cold and the anxiety.

Thus was the man.