Hey, remember when?

“For a while, all memories of you were dyed in pain. It always stung, always hurt. At times, it would sit on me like a boulder, this grief, and I would consider the weight on my chest, and like anyone with a boulder on their chest, I would ask myself if it was really happening. “

Lights
Art by: Unknown Artist

I remember you.

I remember the way you used to talk, the way you used to laugh.
And this is new.

For a while, all memories of you were dyed in pain. It always stung, always hurt. At times, it would sit on me like a boulder, this grief, and I would consider the weight on my chest, and like anyone with a boulder on their chest, I would ask myself if it was really happening. Other times, it would be just a pinch, some sharp pain that faded fast. But I would keep rubbing the phantom ache away, not having anyone to glare at for causing it.

Today, there was nothing of that.

Today, I made a joke about how you’d react to my brother’s new haircut.
I spoke as if I were you.
I laughed with all the others who knew you afterwards.

I think the pain from all those times, it was from thinking that your memory would die, too. Like I’d lose everything of you, not just your sarcasm or your kind eyes, but the warmth when I think of you, too. I thought because it hurt so much to have you taken from me, that everything good goes away one day.

But today, I spoke as if I were you.

You see, before, I grieved you.

Now, now, I remember you.

And in the midst of all the emptiness you left behind, that is the sweetest difference.

 

The Oldest Happiness

“In these last moments, it will always be the quiet, innocuous days that stand out most. Nameless and blurry, anonymous as they may be, I revisit them with a warm, gooey feeling even now. “

AnnaPan
Art by: Anna Pan

When I die—or at least right before—I don’t think I will think about all the crazy, wild things I will have done. In these last moments, it will always be the quiet, innocuous days that stand out most. Nameless and blurry, anonymous as they may be, I revisit them with a warm, gooey feeling even now.

Late breakfasts eaten on the terrace
The warm glow of the sun on round cheeks
Easy chatter and even easier laughter
Midnight conversations spoken in hushed tones
The spaces between printed words where you get lost in a novel
Finding out a surprising thing about a sibling
Watching kites in the sky

Or quiet, otherworldly afternoons-turned-evenings, dipping wooden spoons into mounds of delicious, melting ice-cream. Staring ahead, above the clouds, wandering past the limits of the Earth, travelling to moons and planets far beyond. Then being startled back into the here and now by very fluffy cats. Then wondering what life as a cat is like.

It’s all such idle contentment, such effortless happiness. It’s the oldest happiness I know.

 

The grief in her eyes

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Art by: Maria Ngyuen

If Grief is a look, then I saw it in the eyes of someone not much older than I today. And it was only a flashing moment, only in the slight squinting of eyes against the harsh sunlight did I see the mark of Grief painted there. She sat, leaning into the hard seats of the moving train, her eyes closed, as if nursing the pain that had been gathering for 3 years now.

3 years. That’s what her arm tells me. 1967-2014 and a few birds flying away into freedom. I could not catch the name written across her skin, but I have a feeling it is something in between “Mon Coeur” and “Mon Amour“. My heart, or My love.

The dulled tingle of Grief awakes again now. I imagine how it must have been, 3 years ago. I imagine the shock, the disbelief.

Then plummeting into reality, crashing into the overwhelming truth and thinking that you did not sign up for this. This wasn’t meant to happen. It is a breach of all human laws and of all fairness, all decency — and the person you have known and loved all your life, the person you have not had time to cherish yet, is “no more”.

But what does “no more” mean when they have never existed more wholeheartedly for you than in that moment?

But I, 3 years ago, I was probably stressing out about an assignment. 3 years ago while she cried, I was probably binge-watching some show. The day she went to get her skin inked, I was probably lying in bed, quietly contemplating the meaning of my existence at unruly hours, my gaze shifting to the stars for guidance. It always baffles me how your world can change and turn on all its axes three times over in a day without it ever meaning anything to anyone else. To others, it’s just a regular Tuesday that will soon be lost in a sea of everydays, gasping for breath in the foam of memories and ultimately sinking into nothingness.

How strange a thing it is, to exist.

How much stranger it is to be when Grief claims you. When all of the sudden, there is all this love that has nowhere to go. All those ‘Be careful’s, ‘Have a good day’s and ‘See you tomorrow’s that have no place to be. So you keep them in, you close the lid. You close your eyes one day in the stuffed train and let the world be.

3 years is a lot of time for anything. But not for Grief.

 

 

Mother

Warm, slow breaths that come and go, as soothing as the tide that washes the shore to-and-fro.

It is ancestral, this rhythm. One I have been hearing ever since I was born—no, even before. It is a rhythm the soul remembers all too well but the body cannot recall.

Her soft, slow breaths. Calming, soothing.

They are no different than they were when my body was so much smaller than hers, so small and fragile that she could cradle me in one arm.  Even her heart, it beats the same rhythm in spite of the years, in spite of the tragedies that broke it and the losses that shaped it.

Her gentle, comforting breaths.

And yet, when I look at her, I can see that everything has changed. Because now, I look down to see her face, now she looks small. The hair that once was black is now grey, the skin that once was firm is now soft and delicately wrinkled. My body is so big now that it could cover hers like a blanket.

Before, she never was anything but herself. But now, she is tired. She is worn, her weary eyes telling the tales of Life. These eyes, they contain such untold depths. In them, I could see the joy, the pain, the sacrifices and the pride, even the hint of dreams yet to fully grow wings. I could see a life, a soul painted in eyes that have been looking at me since before I was even born.

She saw me, when no one else could.

And even now, she sees me in ways no one else can.

But I am scared of how the years are passing her by. Scared of how she grows smaller even though she stays the same, as though she were a flower that was slowly wilting, folding into itself before rejoining the earth.

But flowers are not eternal…Flowers—are not eternal.

Yet I choose to gaze at the flower, thinking it to be as beautiful in the glow of spring as it is in the cold of winter. I choose to gaze at the flower in both bloom and gloom.

I choose to look at her.

But now, I also want to see more. I want to see more of Life etched into the specks of her eyes. I want to see more wrinkles on her face, more grey hair on her head. I don’t like watching her get old, but if that is what she must do, then I will not look away.

Fear The Shallow Waters

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Art by: Ana Santos

You know, one of the greatest fears people have is that of depths. The depths of the sea, the depths of a deadly fall, the depths of despair.

But I, I am afraid of shallowness.

I drown in shallow waters, in the recesses of my own mind. Like a fish in a tank, I long for the ocean. I long for depth and breadth and dimensions that are limitless. I do not want to be self-contained, I want to bleed colours into the ocean and scatter golden scales wherever I go. I want to turn myself inside out and wear my darknesses and lights like a shirt I’d been wearing wrong my whole life.

I want to dive and jump and sink and get lost. I don’t mind dying if it means I get to live before I do.

But shallow living?

It is only one kind of death followed by another. First, the soul. Then, the body.

But when the soul is dead, what is there left but an empty box? A meat-coated skeleton, a hollow vessel that only echoes back what you throw at it?

Yes. I, I am afraid of shallowness. I fear blandness. I fear not darkness nor light, but this dull grey in-between, this murky puddle that is everyday life.

The Monster, Death (Short Story Part I)

lifeanddeath_caa671_5321296
Artist Sadly Unknown

He had sought it out earlier than most.

At 16, he was calling upon its name, the one word leaving his lips in a painful howl.

It met him then, tearful and grieving as he was, and the sight of it, more than its sudden appearance stunned him into terrified silence. He had expected a monster with bloody fangs, the foul stench of dead bodies permeating its coat of black. He had recoiled, merely imagining the merciless bead-like eyes, hungry to witness yet another slaughter.

But the real thing was so much more terrifying. It was eerie and…beautiful, though he could not see its face. It was clothed in flowing robes of white to which clung a light, sticky coat of dust and grit. It advanced with grace and not murderous intent, as though it could not walk but only fly.

He stared, still stunned at this ethereal entity that could only be Death.

And though its cloak, like a veil on its face, betrayed nothing of what might lie beneath, he could still feel its strong, binding gaze on him.

Death remained still, waiting as if.

And that was when the reality of it all came crashing down on him. Here was Death, this murderer, standing before him, all dressed in white.

“My friend! My friend! You—you murdered him!” he bellowed, his shaking finger pointing at the white, otherworldly figure.

Tears stung his eyes once more, and the pain in his chest returned tenfold.

There was Death, standing before him, its robes of white billowing around like the very air around him was sacred. And his friend, his friend laid in the earth, buried under the ground, never to surface again.

The thought of it, of his friend’s lively face now…dead, now covered in dirt sent his heart beating to a mad rhythm. His eyes screwed shut in spite of his desperate attempts to keep them open, for fear of Death that was still, he felt it, gazing into his very soul.

As he gasped for breath and struggled to open his eyes, a smell of dirt and smoke hit his nose. The air around him grew colder and suddenly, something glacial and wisp-like pressed against his forehead.

As his head fell back into the darkness, he could recall only one thing.

A voice, clear and pure, unlike any he had heard before, uttering words he would never forget:

“Many die of broken hearts.”

The World Will Miss You

nekoktaz
Art by: Neko Katz Illustration 

Have you ever wanted to stop existing before? Not die—no, that’s too…drastic. But to just cease existing. To have your presence wiped away like words on a blackboard and to leave the world unchanged, undisturbed— as though nothing had happened.

Well, I have, and as much as I want sometimes to just stop existing— I can’t.

Because I take up not a space, but many spaces in this world—unwittingly, involuntarily. I cannot help but exist with a complexity I sometimes wish I didn’t own. But I do.

I am the child, the friend, the person who smiles at you and nods in the middle of a conversation when everyone else has stopped paying attention. I am a random smile you catch in a crowd, the person who orders the same thing every Friday at the café you work at. I am a voice speaking a familiar tongue in a scary, foreign place. I am a face that looks like yours when you are frowned upon for looking the way you look. I am the novel I hold in the stuffed métro, the one that holds dear memories and has warmth gushing to your chest on that grey evening in the lonely, buzzing metropolis.

And when I go, I will leave all these spaces empty. And that will change the world in its own way.

So I cannot stop existing. I cannot go silently, and pretend to be going the way I came.

If I am here now, it is because I entered the world with a bang, with a piercing cry into the noisy world that said:

“Here I am.”

So if I can’t go quietly, if I can’t go without knocking over a few lives, then I should as well go the way I came, with a piercing cry into what they call the void, in a voice that says quite immaturely, quite laughably —like foolish lovers who carve their loves on unsuspecting tree trunks— something, something along the lines of

“I was here.”

And this is a cry the world will hear decades after I am gone: in my books, in my paintings, in my art.