There is a boy. He is seventeen. He is young. He sits in his mother’s house. Don’t we all? His world is small. He is looking out the window at it. He is slowly driving onto the expressway of it. He calls it a freeway, I tell him it’s not called that where I’m from, he still calls it a freeway. He is a little bit afraid. He is excited. He is brave. He is me when I was seventeen. We are sitting in my mother’s house. We are all here together, talking. At night, when no one else is with us, he tell me stories of him. His cat is laying on the rug in his room. His cat looks like my cat. He likes pizza. Of course he does. He likes pizza with meat, like most Americans, I tell him he’s got it all wrong, that he needs more veggies. When the pizza is gone, he tells me more. He lives with his mother in a small city in a small apartment. His world is small. He goes to school online, somehow, isn’t it amazing how children use to go to school in tiny rooms holding chalkboards, that’s what the books all say, but he goes to school online. In my almost old age I can almost understand it. His parents are divorced, and that seems to matter. My parents never divorced, but that doesn’t mean they were together. He sits with his cat and his dog and he tells me. Some clock goes off again and again at the start of every hour. It sounds like the grandfather clock that lived in my grandmother’s house, but his runs on batteries, not the swing of the pendulum. The story isn’t straightforward. He is his own narrator. There are questions I have that are not asked or answered. Listening, it is a mystery that never plans to reveal the answer, that never knows where it is trying to go. He might be getting a job soon. He’s so excited, he tells everyone. He is kind. He is silly. I notice we all start to sound the same, make the same jokes, our accents merge into one, we all say freeway when we mean expressway, we all turn a little southern though we were born elsewhere. His mother is not kind to him. We only hear the story that he tells. He might not be kind to his mother. She might be ruining his life. She might be saving it. There might not be anything to save. What damage will we do to other people? We are all laughing together at midnight. My jaw is sore from grinning. It was not like this before. There was no happiness in sitting alone, not this much. We sit together. We tell our story so far. There are questions we do not answer, things we don’t include. There is a expressway that runs from me to you. It might become a freeway before it gets there, or something else. The police came to his mother’s house one night, weeks ago. They put handcuffs on him, or so I imagine, it was one of those unasked questions. When he sat there in his mother’s house, he was still the boy who loved pizza, who was afraid of driving on the freeway, who took silly pictures of his cat that looks like mine. I imagine the clock chiming in the background, the cat winding around the officers’ legs, his mother sitting sternly, trying to teach her son some lesson of life. It is some story I don’t know. I am looking through the window at it, wondering. We might hear about it, someday, but the story is not straightforward. There are many blank pages that will never be written, that might be left alone, that might be filled in later. Imagine an empty pizza box. There is a circle of grease on the bottom of it, where some restaurant worker put the steaming, cheesy, meaty thing. They closed the lid, pressing down on the cardboard. He might be that person someday. His mother might have been. The policeman might have been. You might never know.
“I hate my life,” he says.
And then he goes quiet again, the alcohol only letting that much out.
There is no response.
He is drunk and he is too young. But the years keep coming and he ages unwillingly. There are new things he is supposed to do and the birthday parties are less colorful. His blue bicycle is rusted and people don’t notice him as he walks down the street. He is himself. He is supposed to be a man.
What do we have in common?
What do we have in common, I wonder, as he tells me little slurs of himself.
“I’ve been thinking a lot.”
He never tells me, but slumps down in his chair, giving in to gravity.
He is calm and sad. He likes pictures of the sky. He thinks about constellations. I think about constellations. Remember how small we are? Who decided he has to grow up like this? Into this?
There are no other signs of hope from him. He does not seem hopeful. How could he be? How am I? I want to tell him, but there isn’t a short sentence for clarity.
What do we have in common? It must be something. We are so much the same. It is simple and laughable and sad. It is drunk and alcohol and stars. It is remembering how to walk down the street alone. It is music and turning it up too loud and turning it down again. It is midnight again and again and again, and mornings, and afternoons, and cooking ourselves our own dinners. It is loneliness and searching the sky. It is an easy something, something to hold onto, something to become.
He drinks and falls asleep. He will rinse out the bottles in the morning and send them to be recycled. He will keep growing up into this. He will become it. I hope he will keep looking at the sky. Somehow it can be easy to miss.
1. It’s so hard when someone you care about is hurting. There’s only so much you can say (over and over again), only so many smiley emojis to send. You really can’t fully understand what they’re going through. You can be there for them, but how useful is that?
2. Stop filling time. You’re not supposed to be that person. Remember all that stuff you want to do? Why aren’t you doing it?
3. More and more I appreciate people who say offensive shit because people are becoming so SENSITIVE about EVERYTHING.
4. Do what it is you do.
5. People told me about Bob’s Burgers. They said I should watch it. Did I listen? Sort of. Did I listen soon enough? NO! It’s so good.
6. It doesn’t have to be your fault. Maybe it’s not anyone’s fault. Really.
7. “You’re so chill.” I am?! When did that happen? Huh.
8. When did everyone I talk to start using slang all the time? It’s like I no longer speak English! It’s like I’m old!
9. I should probably stop assuming every super awkward person I meet has Asperger’s. Oooops. I’m like a walking, very specific, WebMD!
10. I feel like not having a cell phone is going to add years onto my life, just in the amount of stress reduced alone from not having to wait between each text message.
I’m sitting on the upstairs staircase looking out the window and I’m crying. I’m watching leaves blow past, tumbling, and I can see them, picture them in every moment they’ve ever blown across that patch of land. I’m thinking about the decades of years, the piles of blowing leaves. I’m listening to my dad and my uncle, who are downstairs talking about Christmases of the 1960s. They’re talking about my grandparents, and the piles of presents under the beautiful pine trees. I’m watching the leaves blow and listening.
“Wasn’t that something? Creeping downstairs, hoping that Santa’d come, wondering if we’d been good enough for presents that year? And there would be presents every year, Mom would make sure of that. Do you remember the piles of presents, stacked up around the tree? Man!”
You sit down on the stairs because you feel like you have to and you watch the leaves blow out the window even though you’ve never done that before and you cry and you don’t know why. It’s everything. The past and the present and the repetition and the memories. The old black and white television shows that your dad watches and he says, “When I was young, T.V. was good and music was music!” And he pats you on the shoulder and it makes you feel sad.
And your great-aunt, your grandpa’s sister, she shows you the wedding photo of your great-grandfather, at the funeral of her sister. You are surrounded by family and you talk about death and memories and everyone cries together and she hugs you tighter than she ever has. You listen to distant relatives all talk about this person that they’ve loved all their lives. And they are a stranger to you, all of them. You listen like it’s another story from some other place, some other family.
All of this is swirling like old leaves in your head. The same problems repeating in your life like another Christmas on the calendar. You wonder what it would be like if your grandma was alive, if you had known her. You wonder if you would be brave, if she would’ve helped you to be. You wonder what all of your past Christmases would’ve been like, if you would know the names of those second cousins, if you would still be sitting, crying on the staircase.
The leaves keep blowing and it doesn’t matter. People have died, leaves have crumbled and grown and fallen again and again. Children have awoken on Christmas morning with the feeling of magic, have grown up and become Santa Claus, have felt scared and weak, have cried at funerals and lost loved ones or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Grand memories have faded from old minds like dying once-fresh-cut pine trees. People have watched squirrels climb trees and leaves blow across their lawns. Year after year.
1. How to not make friends: refer to someone as “ethically flexible”. Oops.
2. There are a lot of terrible things happening in the world. People are allowed to talk about/mention/feel sad about different things, even if you feel like those things are not as important/tragic/terrible as the things you think are terrible/tragic/important. Just like people are allowed to be happy, even though there are terrible things happening. No one has to wallow in all of the misery at once. You are not the director of the world’s actions. You don’t get to proclaim what’s important and what’s not. Basically, shut up!
3. sometimes it is forever; other times it is nothing at all.
4. Do some people just enjoy being cynical? I can’t understand it. How can you even have the energy to be so mean-spirited, hateful, angry, blunt, wrong, foolish? Does it give you some kind of pride? Does it make you happy? Does it feel like you’re doing the right thing? Are you lashing out at some unknown attacker? What are you doing?! What. Are. You. Doing. Just stop! Good grief. Do you need a hug?
5. At some point, no matter how nice/funny/smart/good-looking someone is, the little things they’ve done or said that you’ve disliked in a deep-down sort of way add up. And it’s sad, heart-breaking, whatever. But it happens. And they just aren’t the person you thought they were/you didn’t know who they were to begin with.
6. good things from the past month of my life: sparklers in the middle of the road at midnight, polite strangers, tiny presents of tiny stickers from tiny children, mail from Panama and America, learning possessives in French (but please don’t ask me to actually prove it!).
7. You can do it all differently tomorrow.
8. Orange Is the New Black is a great show! I never believe it. It’s always true.
9. It’s real fun living in the middle of a giant city, especially at night, when you hear murderous screams/manic laughter from outside your window and you’re never sure if it’s either or both or just a crazy alley cat.
10. We’re more than halfway through the year, World, and I’m not really sure if we’re being any kinder to each other. Let’s try harder. Let’s all keep going.
mumbling bumbling baby strollers full
the dull circle of life
late night tuesdays
brown eyes, grandfather-like face.
too lacking to continue
another engagement, ring finger
expensive white dresses heaped in dusty piles of time.
another week goes by
filled with old and new flat people
not what you thought they were
insulting the men you want to love
ignoring everyone else;
it’s all going very well.
He started traveling when he was 23, 5 years ago. Now he’s lived in 6 different countries, speaks 4 different languages, has a lot of great photographs and memories. And, much of the time, he is happy. But he does not have happiness. He says all he really has is his guitar. People that move around on their own, he says, they need something other than people to hold on to. He has his guitar, he says. His traveling companion.
His hair is long, kept in brown dreadlocks. He’s from Germany, but he sings in English and whatever language of whatever country he finds himself in. He is content, happy, to sit on benches across the globe, strumming and singing with the people, the crowds, that quickly surround him when he plays. He brings joy to them. Him and his guitar.
I wonder if he is happy after he packs away his one possession, after the crowds of people leave. I wonder how he is strong enough, if he is strong enough, to have been going so long on his own. I wonder if he lied, if he’s actually terrified and lonely, or if he does take something else along with him on his travels — bits and pieces of people: the old man’s laughter, the girl smiling as she recorded him singing with her cell phone, the busy people who missed train after train as they stood in their subway station, singing. I wonder if it is enough for him, to have a part but not a whole.
I sat on the beach on the faded old towel I’d brought from home. Home home. Stolen from my mother’s laundry room while packing for the big move. The adventure. Also known as South Korea.
The tiny salty waves crashed on the shore as I stared out into the blue and chewed on some dried mango chunks. An Austrailian dude and his big yellow dog drew a large crowd of interested Koreans to the exact spot on the beach that was located in front of me and my little towel. We all watched together, smiling and laughing, as the man threw a pinecone into the waves and the dog happily retrieved it over and over, barking at his owner when the pine cone was not thrown again quickly enough. After ten minutes of this, the man and his dog walked on, and the crowd dispersed, and again I sat alone watching the ocean, holding an empty dried mango bag.
I would see them both again, the man and his dog, Sadie. I would hear him call her name each time she ran too far down the beach. I would see her yellow fur wet from the ocean waves. He would recognize me the next day, the white girl from the faded beach towel, as we stood at the intersection together, waiting to cross, to leave the beach and go back from wherever we both came from. He would look back at me over his shoulder, just for a moment, saying nothing, and I would avoid meeting his eye.
And then I would cross the street, leave the beach, and go home. But not home home.
And since I crossed that street, I’ve been thinking about it. Home. And what home means. And where my home is. And the things people need to feel happy in a place. The things that make you want to stay. The lack of things that makes you want to leave.
People. Love. Comfort. These things?
People. People to see, people to talk to, people to be friends with.
Love. People to love. Things to love. Places to love. To be happy and in love with yourself and your current place in the world.
Comfort. To be safe and happy or at least ok with your home. To like where you are. To feel like you’re actually going home when you go there.
What else? What makes you want to stay? Is it harder to know unless you leave?
It felt like going home to leave that beach. But also, it didn’t. It felt like leaving. And it felt like I would still be gone once I arrived. Yet, I stay.
He said his name was Darcy. He said he was 47, although I probably misheard him, and he’s probably 27. He said he grew up just across the river from me, a few hundreds miles away, in another country. And there we were, meeting on the other side of the planet, somewhere in the jungle of Thailand.
I saw a wild monkey that day, as we drove away from the jungle in the tour bus. There he sat, on the edge of the dirt road, chewing on some kind of fruit. I blinked and he was gone, we had passed him, but he stayed in my mind for several more minutes. A monkey. A wild, tiny monkey. What an adventure my life is turning out to be.
These are not my words. I read them, translated them, because they were in some language I can’t speak. Spanish? No, Portuguese. The words said that everyone has dreams. But that some people have dreams when they’re not sleeping, too. Some people live their dreams.
Today is my birthday. I woke up, on the other side of the planet from where I was born, alone in my tiny Korean apartment. My family Skyped me and sang me happy birthday, holding up the chocolate birthday cake they baked and frosted to celebrate with me. I “blew” out my candle and made a wish. I thought about what else I want to do with my life. How do I want to spend age 23? What do I want to do? Where do I want to go? What sorts of people do I want to meet?
When I ended the call with my family, I didn’t feel particularly adventurous. Part of me wanted to immediately pack my belongings, leave Korea, go home, and have a piece of cake with my family. And I could, of course. I could go. But what kind of story is that? Where are the wild monkeys in that tale? What dreams would I be living, then?
A larger part of me wants to stay, wants to go on more adventures, do more things, dream more dreams. It’s always been this way, for all of my 23 years.
These are my words, translated from whatever is up there in my head. Sometimes it’s hard to read, sometimes the grammar isn’t so good. I don’t really know where I’m going, anymore than I know where that monkey is right now. But it’s okay, because so far it seems like I’m going along just fine.
1. I hope you are happy.
2. People are still living their lives even when you can’t see them.
3. You are beautiful, you know that. Tell me why you need to keep posting poorly-lit pictures of yourself to prove it.
4. Our planet is both the largest and smallest thing that exists; the largest hunk of rock you’ll ever live on, a tiny speck in the universe. You can be thousands of miles (kilometers?) away from someone, and yet they’re just at your fingertips, on your computer screen, in your pocket. Big and small, near and far, finite and infinite.
5. Yes, Frozen is amazing. But think of all the other great Disney songs young kids are missing out on! Someone dig out the Lion King/Aladdin/Little Mermaid VHS!!
6. If you appear to other people to be what you dream of yet becoming, what are you? Who are we all trying to be, anyway? Are we even trying to be anything?
7. For the love of all that exists, please can we stop saying “literally“?!! Even if you actually truly really mean literally. Just don’t. Get a thesaurus. Stop. Stop. Stop.
8. Someone save me from my apparently über-Canadian fate. Irish? Italians? French? Is anyone out there?! It’s me, Margaret. Wait, what?
9. It makes me sad that when someone asks a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, the only socially acceptable examples are, “A doctor? A lawyer? Scientist?” No one says artist, philosopher, barkeeper — whatever. It’s 2014 and we still can’t speak the truth.
10. You’re not alone. Even when it feels like it. Even when you physically are. You’re just not.