We played a game of softball Truth or Dare at your house while waiting for the sun to go down, letting the lazy evening sweep us away. There were six of us -you and four of your friends who considered your house a regular haunt, and me, the only girl, like always. We were sipping vodka Sprites casually on your large grey couch lining the white walls of your living room with its signature vaulted ceiling, with nowhere to be since it had been another sweltering day in the San Francisco Valley that August, but it was a Friday. And since it was a Friday, we all quietly felt like we needed to go somewhere in order to preserve some measure of social standing, like some perennial Millennial internal panic. I had always found the house an anomaly -a long bungalow in the Valley with a looming living room in the back that made the whole thing feel a lot bigger even though the two-bedroom house was made for a bachelor. You loved this house, because it now bore your history all over the walls: art that you’d collected over the years, and nicks on the wall from drunken minor mishaps.
E tapped on his phone to show the next instruction in the virtual card game, and he looks at me. It’s my turn.
“Oh this one’s a good one,” he muses and reads the instruction aloud. “Say something that will make us all uncomfortable.”
E had always been somewhat enigmatic for me in a manner I found hard to explain. In general, he was an open book: always down to share whatever salacious and wild story had happened to him from the night before, always unfiltered and uncensored, game to talk about anything from his kids to his cordial yet strained relationship with his kids’ mother, to the women he was currently sleeping with, to his shortfalls, to private details about his work. He could always make fun of himself even on the most damaging points, he was always the biggest flirt. He wore his demeanour -the smoothness of a laid back city playboy – on his sleeve rolled up for all to see; sure, he was over forty now and shouldn’t be partying so hard, sure he should be a better father figure to his kids, but this was his life and to hell what stuffy prudes with a stick up their ass think. And it worked -people loved him, you most of all since you looked him as a mentor, the person who believed in your work when you were nobody in this sprawling city. What is a god if not simultaneously revered, feared, and resented? Yet there was always this feeling at the back of my head that his closest held secrets were impenetrable, that his refusal to apologize for anything and change his lifestyle bordered on a refusal for self-reflection, a quiet sign of denial of brewing conflicts in the undercurrents. And because these latter suspicions kept coloring the way I viewed him, I always kept a calculated distance from him.
My eyes go cold for a moment but nobody catches it in the moment they swivel their heads at me. And immediately, I am on; I’m smirking my signature smirk, glass in hand, sitting straight with my hair tousled neatly behind my shoulders. Everyone in the room is your friend, and by extension, my friends of course.
“Okay, give me a moment. I’ve got to think of a good one.” I say playfully, and pause to think. “Hmmm… okay… I got it.”
Y’s eyes light up. I never disappoint with the uncomfortable and controversial in games like these.
“All of you want to fuck me.” I announce steadily and draw out the consonants as my lips curl up in another mischievous smile.
All the boys burst out laughing. No one denies it. You chuckle. There’s a flash of bother that crosses your face, but it’s fleeting and it wouldn’t have been noticeable to anyone else. And even to me, it was not of concern. After all, it was true. It’s the elephant in the room but obviously not the greatest and most pressing one, and it’s all in good fun. Everyone in this room is easy going; you most of all, and you never disappoint. And the game resumes with I’s turn and we don’t think it about it again as the words dissipate into the air and up into that high ceiling. Because they’re all in love with me and all want to fuck me. And we act like and tell ourselves that we’re okay with that.
We met at S’s house party in LA four years ago, a few months after my break-up with the boy who shared the same name as you albeit a different spelling. I was on my ongoing crawl out of rock bottom, having finally made strides in kicking a decade-long addiction to cigarettes that started in my rebellious teenage years as well as ending a brief bender of self-destructive behaviours to help numb the pain of my recent breakup. I almost hadn’t come to S’s party in large part because LA was so far from where I was working now and I didn’t know any of S’s friends except one (whom I also didn’t consider a friend but more of an obliged acquaintance), but S had been a kind soul when I met him -it had been so easy to talk to him the first night we met, and I thought that even if nothing grew out of our handful of run-ins at parties, he was a friend that I wanted to keep. So there I was, on a Sunday night in a beautifully and eclectically-decorated West Hollywood two-floor penthouse, paying my friendship dues surrounded by people I didn’t know, whom I didn’t look like, who certainly shared no interests. I recall vividly the ocean of black bomber jackets, skinny jeans, and bright sneakers, daring haircuts and hair colors, stunning multi-pierced ears and detailed tattoos bumping around me, constant five second scenes of hugs and drunken rejoices as I shuffled awkwardly around the party, confident that I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew, but also desperate for someone to say hello and divert my attention away from my dizzying discomfort. I hadn’t run into S yet to say hello, but given the number of people who were squeezed into this penthouse amplified by the fact that I wasn’t exactly a go-to friend to say hello, I knew S would probably have to bump into me in order for me to have the occasion to say hello. When I’d wandered close to the kitchen, that was when I caught a break.
“Hey, you wanna play beer pong?” A tall wiry guy with wavy blonde hair and of course, a black and white silk bomber, yelled at me from a table tennis table that he had been refurbished -at least for tonight- as a beer pong table. When he realized I was startled by his greeting, he laughed, and nodded, “Yeah, you, the one who looks like a lost deer in headlights.” And as I gingerly walked over, he had instructed that I be paired up with you, the scruffy brown-haired guy, clad in black skinny jeans and a black novelty shirt, with tattoo sleeves laughing to his friend -not about me, you were too caught up in the moment talking to him over the loud music to notice your newly-assigned beer pong partner.
Someone had put us on the same beer pong team, but we were a poorly matched pair. You missed almost all your shots while I made most of them, which hobbled us to victory by slim margins and I constantly rubbed that in. Fuelled by the increasing amount of alcohol in my blood, I spent a great part of the night loudly complaining to everyone about how bad you were at the game and that I deserved a better partner. And every time I complained, you would shrug over your shoulder, palms open, and smile at me beer in one hand and ball in the other. The smugness pissed me off, but in my drunken stupor, I laughed, took the ball out of your hand with playful force, and would begin the next round. There was something startling about you, but I refused to think about it so I wouldn’t start digging myself something that resembles a well, so I dismissed it as an annoyance about your character. You pestered me with constant quips about my competitiveness in that game, where you tried to make the argument that this made up for how devastatingly bad you were, and silently I didn’t want the night to end.
“Never trust a pretty girl with two different colored eyes”, you whispered in my ear, once I missed a shot that I had loudly and haughtily announced that I would sink. I smirked and wouldn’t look at you, like some hapless attempt to save face when my heart was already lost and somehow dangling in your hands. And how right you were: I couldn’t even trust myself.
I went home with you that night. We both saw it coming and I just let my feet sweep me away.
I was 22. You were eight years older. You woke up from the sound of my slamming your cupboards looking to make breakfast, and complaining that you were so much of a bachelor that you didn’t have basic breakfast foods. I see eggs and bacon in the fridge, but where’s the toast? Where’s the cheese? Mushrooms? Avocado? Come on, you live in Los Angeles. How do you not have a single avocado in your house? You didn’t like my questions but you were amused. Later as we sat at your table munching on the eggs and bacon, me visibly defeated, we laughed over our mutual agreement that it was a decent hook-up and that we should do it again. And before I knew it, I flew across the country two weeks later to see you again. That time around, I brought eggs, milk, and cheese so I could make myself an omelette in the morning, and you thought it was the funniest thing ever when I carried that grocery bag into your house. But I didn’t care.
Actually, I did care. A lot. But I couldn’t tell you that. I didn’t know what to think about you: you were charismatic, effortlessly humorous, amusingly and kind of alarmingly immature. I tried to convince myself that I held all those qualities against you even though we had that in common. Yet I knew deep down you were kind of, sort of everything I’d ever wanted in some manifestation that I hadn’t anticipated. We hooked up casually for almost a year and fell out of it for a while due to busy schedules, and the situation felt like the childhood game of holding bubbles in your palm: now you see and feel it, and next, you don’t feel anything at all. The high would last for a night, and then afterwards for a fortnight, we would claim there was never anything there except some remnants of chemistry that you could wipe off your hands and onto your shirt to be forgotten. And we laughed and I acted like it didn’t start to hurt every time the morning came around, like how can you hurt when you weren’t supposed to feel anything at all?
I vividly remember the one time I tested the waters, and instead, just dove head first into the sharks. We went to Dave and Buster’s, one of your go-to casual haunts for a typical meal, and I insisted it was a date.
We’re grabbing dinner and you took me out for a night of fun. I said.
Yeah, but a date requires both parties to agree that it’s a date. And we’re at Dave and Busters to eat because I like the food. We’re not here to play games so therefore it’s not a date. You retorted.
No it doesn’t. You can accidentally go on a date. You chuckled at that.
Fine. I replied. Let’s ask the girl working the prize counter.
I laid out my case for both parties’ amusement, and she ultimately agreed with me. I bought us 20 tokens. On me. I said gleefully, looking back at you. You shook your head and smiled. We used all of them on a basketball game. You won only because I’m atrocious at basketball.
You naturally lit up every room you walked in. You could start a conversation with anyone so effortlessly that I would feel a small pang of resentment. I’d watch you from afar at our mutual friends’ house parties and it never ceased to impress me how everyone could fall for your sneaky concoction of easy-going California cool, a red solo cup in hand, and a smile that would spread to your eyes. It was an open secret that we were hooking up and it was not at all exclusive, and I played it off as though it were an afterthought for the both of us. Because I too was supposed to be cool. I was what Gone Girl would call a Cool Girl, except I wanted so badly to convince myself that she were real, she was me, that I had somehow defied the laws of physics and wholly embodied the girl who could drink beer and hold her liquor without gaining any weight, who could laugh with the boys, who didn’t treat anything too seriously. I wanted to be cool among your friends, who were all jet-setter creative types who always knew what the next big thing would be. They were underground Valley royalty, whereas my only LA childhood connection was a smattering of years growing up in Brentwood. You could tell that I was a kid from the Hills (by some liberal means of naturalization, I suppose) from a mile away. I never really fit in. In hindsight, I’m not sure why I had even tried.
Eventually it caught up to me though, because like Gone Girl’s Cool Girl, she doesn’t exist. And when you feel like you’ve been living a lie on weekend nights for a full year, it breaks you the instance you let your mask slide and are forced to confront the truth. So I said I needed to talk to you on a Wednesday afternoon out of the blue, and I know it must have been a strange message to receive given the nature of our usual conversation. I asked for 30 minutes of your time; I needed to talk. I would fly home afterwards. Please. I pleaded.
You know I’ve never actually visited your house without sleeping with you. I muse as I stepped apprehensively into your bungalow. We were both standing awkwardly, too stoic for this to feel familiar or natural. Not sure where to keep our hands, how to stand, where our feet should go. How ironically comical this all was given that down the hall from your foyer in the enclave of your bedroom, we had never had that problem.
First time for everything. You said curtly. There was silence that we both didn’t know how to cut or fill. I think you knew what was coming, but thought it was ludicrous that I would bring it up now. You had been working that morning, clad in a black hoodie and flannel pyjama pants, hair dishevelled, stubble out to play. It was heartbreaking to see you dressed like that -it would probably be the last time I’d see you so unfiltered.
I told you that I couldn’t keep doing this. I told you that it was fun at the beginning but I slowly realized I liked you too much for this to be nothing. This had dragged on for a year and I was kidding myself. And if this was going to end, I’d rather have the Band-Aid ripped off in one go than have this prolong itself into something that felt like self-torture mixed with false hope, to endure this game knowing I would never win. I cried and told you not to hug me.
No, just let me go through with this. It’s not you, you’re a good person. You’ve been nothing but honest about where you saw this going. I said. I don’t hate you. I just… I just needed to do this, and I’m going to cry but I’m going to be happy after this.
I smiled weakly through tears. It really wasn’t your fault. I just needed to be honest with myself.
About a month later, you asked me for lunch and I knew that it was futile to fight the urge, so I said yes. When I got on the plane, I kept telling myself that I was crazy to fly across the country once again for some remnants of false hope that I still had left in my heart. I was apprehensive when my car pulled up to Chateau Marmont, slowly walking to the back restaurant with thoughts racing through my head about whether or not this was a joke. When we sat down, exchanged platitudes, and ordered our food, you asked me if I wanted to go to Dave and Buster’s afterwards. You know… like a date, you said. And your smile curled up and reached your eyes and I felt my stomach drop and my heart break once again. And immediately, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke or a pity gesture or I was dreaming this. I felt a lot of things, but I was feeling so many things at once that it was difficult for me to compartmentalise and lay out exactly what I felt. I don’t understand where this is coming from. I told you, rather bewildered. You told me that you had thought about our parting conversation quite a lot over the past month, but not by choice. I would pop into your head as you were doing other things, and you began to realize that you kind of, well, missed me around your house, in your car running errands with you, and going to Dave and Buster’s. Specifically, you told me the amusing and grand classic story of how you had gotten a blonde into your bed and it was going so horribly for so many reasons that you knew this would make a great story. So you had started to laugh and turned to the right to tell me exactly that, except I wasn’t there on my usual side of the bed, and there wasn’t going to be me on that side of the bed any longer, and in some strange twist it started to feel lonely in your bachelor house without the usual plus one. And I laughed sheepishly at the story and told you that I didn’t find it that funny at all, because I actually still really liked you and frankly, this story wasn’t really helping any cause. So you digressed, and said you acknowledged that it wasn’t executed well since you hadn’t fully thought how you were going to tell it but just that you needed to tell it when I got to lunch. And I smiled, I said I understood. I said that whichever way this story goes from here, I would not win.
And despite all my reservations, I went with you anyway to Dave and Busters after that lunch. I went home with you that night just like clockwork except this time we didn’t punch out. I was just shy of 23. Your birthday had recently passed. I hadn’t said happy birthday.
I had a reputation for jokingly charging my friends $1,000 exclusive of travel and accommodations as a wedding-date-for-hire because I knew all their mothers and peers, and was a good conversationalist. I also loved going to these weddings because it almost counted as crashing them. I’d done about 14 before you asked me in the car while we were running an errand if you could hire me as a wedding date for a family friend’s wedding. It was three weeks after the Dave and Buster’s Official Date. Your parents along with your extended family would be there . You said you’d throw in an extra $2000 if that would convince me to come. You were nervous asking me. It was the first time I’d ever seen you nervous and uncomfortable. I smirked and didn’t look at you so you could save face just a little.
For you, it’s free.
And when I said that, you kept your eyes on the road and didn’t look at me. And you were trying not to smile, but I could tell. It was settled then: it was another date.
When E had said “Say something that will make us all uncomfortable”, I had immediately thought of something else. The thought came naturally to me since I’d been thinking about it for a long time although I had never told you. It was something that I knew would have won me the whole damn game, ended the game, cleared the room. And it was a sore topic, frankly, as its forms came up in more and more often as you had gotten older and your parents had been insinuating that they were hoping you were going to settle down and have a family soon. But I did’t know how to bring it up without it seeming like a terrible omen.
You see, it would be World War III if we ever broke up.
That was what I had really wanted to say.
It would shatter us. We would never truly recover.
Everywhere around us stood the signs that we won’t last, but neither of us would dare touch the topic: how your friends have kids but aren’t married anymore (or never were), how you still travelled for work, how I had gotten approached about a civil service opportunity in Detroit but haven’t divulged it to you. You would have been so proud of me in some alternate universe or some universe that existed two years ago, but not in this one. Because it is unsaid that I would eventually move to LA and we would live together. And that expectation is supposed to come to fruition soon, if not yesterday. But it is complicated and you hate this topic getting brought up in social situations and with your parents, so we pretend that this arrangement of my living in New York and visiting you almost every weekend like in the nascent days is working fine, like we are still hooking up with nothing to lose. But obviously the most hilarious part is that it wasn’t, but no one wants to point out the omen until the omen has consumed everything.
And that’s why we’re here now, in this living room with its vaulted white ceilings that now seemed to cave us all into this roomy glass-pocked prison. The sun is shining bright and bathing everything with light. E has brought his legs all the way up on the couch, lounging comfortably like he owns this place; no care in the world. It’s not like he would put his legs down if any one of us called him out on it anyway. And I am the only girl in the room, with thirty articles of clothing stashed messily in the right side of your closet like I live here every once in a while. And the game continues. And we all sip our drinks. And the elephant stays in the room and grows larger each day, but it’s a big airy living room, high ceilings and all. So it can grow larger than most elephants can. It’s an anomaly that it can grow so big and show no sign of bursting just yet.
And he taps the screen. Another instruction shows up. It’s not my turn.
I never disappoint with the uncomfortable and controversial in games like these.
I say it. Out of the blue.
I got a job in Detroit. I think I’m going to take it.
And then the elephant disappears. But the room doesn’t clear like I imagined it would. The boys are still here and one of them looks up and nods as a polite gesture and gets his head back in the game while the rest are waiting for O to come up with a good answer. But your eyes train on me. Because you understand the ramifications of what I’ve just said. Your head is now completely out of the game and it feels like it’s just me and you in the room. We looking at each other. I breathe in.
I have so much to tell you.
devil in the form of a whore.
and in many ways she was exactly how i had pictured her, the girl you loved when you were 17. wealthy, put-together, working in fashion, beautiful, thin, white, auburn red hair, tall. nice smile. ambitious.
kept thinking about what it was like when you were 17. what you looked like. what you sounded like. what you feared. what you didn’t know to care about just yet. how serious was this.
do you still talk? ever taken her out for dinner? ever reminisced about young love? ever laughed about it afterwards? spoken about growing older. spoken about life in LA.
what does she think about what you do. what does she think about the fact that you never quite grew up but somehow still found a way to grow so self-assured and unapologetic. what do you think about yourself in the context of your 17-year-old self.
that in some ways i forgot,
had finally learned to unlearn my ways,
stopped wondering where you were, how you’ve been, what you’re thinking about right now. that in so many ways, I too had forgotten about you long enough to forget why I needed to.
because maybe it’s time that i write limericks for amusement for newspapers that want them, and stop sending you free-form nonsense silently begging you for a glance.
with you, i was always, always sure.
there’s been a lot of things that i’ve read lately that require so much emotional labour. like this world is extremely shitty and i don’t know why i feel like there is onus that i have to do something, and i think that’s a good thing to feel accountable, but these problems are so much bigger than me. and what if these things eventually consume me? i’ve been reading so much about what’s happening in Yemen in terms of the blockades on international aid and how it’s one of the worst famines if not THE worst famine in history, and so many people are dying purely out of self-interest and international relations between OTHER countries. and all this stuff about the threat of a i t h a t i completely think is a merited conversation that needs to involve fewer white men and idk how you combat this if not with regulation but there is not enough expertise in regulation to truly do that. and so stories about disenfranchised people and homeless people in my city and in the cities that i visit, and i’m not sure what i’m supposed to do with those stories because they are so taxing. like i can’t help everyone. this is an institutional problem. how do i change it. how does one person change a system. how does a non-white person change the system. how do you overthrow everything. how does widespread anarchy start.
and on the topic of emotional labour, i’m getting really sick of being the friend who has to devote so much emotional labour into friendships like i am so through with that, i feel like people are wasting my time, i just don’t want to talk to you, i don’t want to get invested in your problems because it’s so taxing and there’s too much happening in my life and i don’t feel selfish about this because i’ve been made to feel guilty about too much.
and she brought him up a few weeks ago and i haven’ t quite shaken it off. like a story that you dig into the ground and somehow someone has dug it back up thinking it was some memorabilia you had meant to keep. and i don’t know how i feel about it. weird. like it makes me sad, like wistful in some ways, and i just wish i could bury those feelings and those memories that have been holding me back from moving on with my life. like i wasn’t lying when i said his white shadow follows me around everywhere in this city. that everything has an association with him. that i can’t. i just can’t bear this.
so overall i’m just so overwhelmed in my head. i want it all to turn off. i want to be at peace though i know nothing that goes so at peace and functions in so much quiet is a good thing. like the silence becomes unbearable. like i am typing mid-november, watching leaves die and peel themselves from branches with the nudge of gravity from my bedroom window, and i am so heavy in my heart and so confused and so so so frustrated by this world. and it’s like there is never a happy median, there is never a moment when you can truly be content, be alive, be omnipotent in your own capacity without understanding the toll that that happiness takes on the rest of the world. like you can’t rest until it is all fixed, like you can’t rest until justice is served in a land and time when that has never ever happened. like you can write stories and hope that you can type out this anger, this outrage, this exhaustion. hope that it lives through these words and no longer in your lungs. like heartbreak is something that can be isolated from a heart and live on a page. like the broken glass is just diamonds and it’s all shining onto you. like how could i possibly be the person i am today without the trauma, frustration, and position that i have attained and have yet to attain and will never attain. like how income inequality is not a problem that a lot of people benefit from and does that make me complicit? like how happiness is a disillusion, like how can you look away and turn the other cheek when there is so much wrong in this world, and how do i sleep at night.
how did i ever fall asleep in the first place?
Dear 20 year-old me,
I want you to know that your letter made me cry. It made me relive some of those memories of what compelled me to write that letter in the first place, it brought me back on that cream-coloured white couch just past midnight while I typed my heartache and exhaustion away in the dark as my roommates slept, because I couldn’t sleep and you know why. I have so much to tell you, but I don’t know how you’ll take it. I hope you’ll smile through the tears welling up in your eyes, I hope you’ll burst out laughing, I hope you’ll lay back on that couch and know that life is funny, life is complicated, life is unpredictable, yet life is meant to be.
I’ll cut to what you want to know the most: you never said goodbye to him. Notice that I didn’t say you never got to say goodbye. You got your chance and you avoided it at all costs, but I promise you, it was the best thing you could do. You see, when you left the city for part of the summer, you learned something about him that absolutely broke you, thanks to your obsessive inquiries (decent euphemism, right?) about his life. And it was probably the worst and best thing you could discover, because you ended up crying on A’s couch by yourself for four weeks straight and heading on 10 km walks, and it was torment but also the greatest relief, because despite how painful of a realization it was, it was the only thing that jump-started your recovery from your depression. And yes, looking back, you were indeed depressed. You couldn’t get out of bed, you couldn’t sleep, you had such low self-esteem hinged on what some boy thought you meant to him, you couldn’t get him off your mind in a manner that is unparalleled and dangerous. And the storm blows past, because he became someone that you didn’t know anymore and didn’t care to know, and eventually he broke up with the Perfect Blonde Girl That You Were Never Going to Be. And you are genuinely fine. You are not heartbroken. Trust me. It gets better, your heart heals. He becomes but a statue that commemorates 2013 and nothing more.
On another note, I didn’t move to New York City, didn’t snag that dream internship at NBC, didn’t buy that PS1 bag, still don’t own a leather jacket, still single, and didn’t even end up applying ton Columbia. Perhaps you are disappointed, and if I saw even a twitch in your face as your eyes welled up again, I would slap it right off of you. You see, your skin did clear up with time and with less stress, you bought a Givenchy Pandora instead, you bought black Alexander Wang ankle boots and they’re so chic and bad-ass, and you just started a new job in a field that you don’t yet know about but by which you will become enamoured and fascinated after you graduate. You started running for complicated reasons (let’s use the term “heartbreak” very loosely here) and you did lose weight -enough to occasionally fit into a size 2, you read like a fiend sometimes and you paid for a subscription to The Atlantic (which I know is weird, because you don’t even know much about The Atlantic right now). You still read trashy teen fiction. You bike to work sometimes and it’s a good 25 km trip. You still write. You dance briefly after you graduate, but you stop for a good reason. You do a different type of dancing now that’s more casual and you love it. You cut your hair short (bet you never saw that coming) and you’ve been rocking that since you graduated and might never go back. But that was the only way you got rid of the stringiness, and frankly, your hair doesn’t grow as shiny and long as you age.
You know, life has this funny way of going in full circles, of ending where it began, of beginning where it just ended.
First, you end up downloading this app called Vine and you spend countless hours on it, in A’s bed when you sublet her room, laughing at the videos in hopes of forgetting about him -and just so you know, it takes you about eight months to a year to fully get over it. You share the videos with your friends, and the community of content creators later influence your life in very funny ways. And in the fashion of things coming and going, Vine abruptly shuts down in 2015, and you’re not sure what to do. It has gotten you out of an agonising heartbreak, and suddenly it is no longer there to amuse you. You survive. You start listening to this one kid’s two podcasts and you love it, and when some girls in his videos have hoop earrings and they look fantastic, you end up buying yourself a pair and you look superb.
The tricky thing between the person you want to become in your head and the one on paper is that they are starkly different versions of your expectations. You want someone to be okay with themselves, but this same person to meet all of society’s expectations of what it means to be great, to have it all, to have that glamorous Blair Waldorf life. But you come into your own in those five years: you learn who you are and who you are not, and who you want to be. The first prompt stems from the act of buying lots of clothes that don’t really fit but you buy them because they look nice or seem expensive, especially a pair of mint Lanvin calf-skin ballet flats, which you liked since they were designer but in hindsight acknowledge that they were the worst purchase you have made in your life so far -they get dirty really fast, they were not meant for wearing outdoors, you walk funny and ruin the heel in about two weeks, and you really could have used that $600 for other things… badly. The second prompt comes from your experience at your new school, which is such a culture shock and humbling experience that you couldn’t possibly fathom it as you sit on that couch crying over a boy who will never love you. It is this second prompt that is so sobering on the fact that you are NOT at the top of the food chain even though you feel like you and your friends own a corner of the school, which will make you re-examine everything about who you are and say you are, who your friends are, whether or not you have appreciated your friends enough, and who and what you want to be. And these two things will force you to take inventory of your life, to reset your expectations to something more genuine and realistic (which is not equivalent to the act of settling), and become more comfortable with yourself. Like how you are not wealthy and shouldn’t pretend to be, because it becomes apparent really quickly. Like how you are quite introverted and hate going out. Like how you have gained an incredible amount of weight from the lack of sleep and exercise, but pretend you haven’t until none of your clothes truly fit and you hate every recent photo of you on the Internet. But trust me, this takes years to figure out. You’re only really coming into your own once you turn 25, and you still don’t have it all figured out, but you’re okay with that and you know you’re heading in the right direction. And there comes this moment where it dawns on you that you need to be yourself, and for the first time, you understand what that means.
Besides that watershed moment of coming into your own, you also realize that life is bit more complicated than moving to New York and becoming a media mogul. First, there’s the harsh realization that media jobs don’t pay well. Second, there is something that you didn’t anticipate in your simplistic five-year timeline: the ramifications of the U.S. presidential election in 2016. These have profound implications on where you eventually set your sights for your career: you want to work in media regulation, not the media business, and you ultimately want to help citizens.
You travel. You see the world, but not all of it. You finally get to see LA and all the places that you learned about when you were 15. You saw the pole at Archer. You saw Santa Monica pier. You go to New York several more times by yourself, and rarely the same places. You watch gentrification unfold and it worries you. You go to London, Paris, Costa Rica, DC for a conference that makes you question everything, Charleston. You realize that you love travelling by yourself, and you also love your friends. You know of a lot of places you want to visit, you learn that you are not a backpacker, you feel jealous for people like DJs who get to travel the world all the time, everywhere. You don’t have severe wanderlust, but you know you cannot stay in this city forever. And funnily enough, you start questioning if New York is even the city where you’d like to move. Maybe you would like to move to the West Coast, but not San Francisco.
You remain friends with your college friends. A goes off to school abroad and it feels super weird. And the other A returns from school abroad and now she’s home and it feel super weird. The friendships weaken, let’s be frank, and it’s sad, but it’s still there. And it works. And you all love each other in this complex web of relationships and drama that you’re not necessarily involved in but affects you nonetheless. You still see V on occasion, you make new friendships. You realize that as an adult out of school, it’s actually quite difficult to make new friends let alone meet people. You grow very close to your high school friends, and this is a friendship that even now I hope will last forever. That these are strong women (and men) who have grown up with a background like yours, who understand what it was like to grow up in this part of town, who are not ashamed of where they come from and where they will go, and you should never ever ever have to defend your neighborhood, defend your story. Events will test your friends’ lives and composure, so be there for them. Love them. They love you.
Two men enter and exit your life in these five years. None of them you truly love, but they change you. They make you a better person: one of them makes you better after you no longer speak to him, and the other is like a rude awakening and a blessing at the same time. You write so many poems and letters about the latter, he frustrates you, he haunts you. He means well; he just… changed his mind. The former is the reason you started running, he is the reason you started getting involved in the arts, he is the reason you got involved in your city. Because he didn’t believe in the arts, he didn’t believe in the city. He made you realize that actually…. you might just be a socialist. And an anarchist in Theory clothing. The latter was perfect, and that’s when you realized that you weren’t on the same page. The latter made you rethink a lot about yourself, about your self-worth, made you stand up for yourself once. The latter still hasn’t left you, still his shell comes up in casual conversations, his white shadow always present. All you want to do is stop living in his shadow.
I’m not sure if I feel good enough now. Instead, I think the conversation has evolved into whether or not I feel more comfortable with myself, and where I want to go next. Because I’m ravenous for the next, I know that I cannot stay in one place, I cannot grow complacent. And my goal is not to become something better than myself, but how to make myself better -there is a difference that you wouldn’t discern, my dear 20-year-old me. And so in many ways I have learned to trust myself, to know that I know myself better than anyone, that my direction is the best direction. That I am proud of myself, but it took a long long time to feel this way. And it was a long and arduous and tough journey that I felt like I would never overcome at times. That I do not regret anything, because this is how my life has played out and I cannot change it. That no, I do not wish things had changed with the boy, because I wouldn’t have grown the way I have grown, that I wouldn’t have known how to handle vulnerability otherwise. And most of all, I am glad I left. I am so so so glad that I left where you are right now, I am so so so so glad that I did not stay. Had I stayed, I would never have had so many about-faces, I would have been even more lost. I would have perhaps never realized what I wanted to do and what I was capable of beyond the world that was composed of your house, locker, work, and school in that 20 km radius. Maybe there is lost potential, but you learn to look forward, not backwards. So as I am recounting all the things that have happened in your life, I also look at this letter to guide me forward, to figure out what is still left to do and what I might want to add or remove from that list. And it always makes me smile to review all the things that I have accomplished, and all the things that I have achieved that were never part of some to-do list.
Thank you. So much. For this letter. I love you, I love you, I love you. Most of all, thank you for the advice. I needed to hear it, I needed that reminder. You’re not naive or dumb, you just don’t have the advantage of hindsight. Life comes fast at you, kiddo. Trust your own decision-making, laugh at yourself, go out with your friends, don’t watch Breaking Bad (please… oh please… the timing was so wrong for you to start bingeing this show), and focus on school. Because doing well in school will pay off. And be yourself because that will save you a lot of grief. And have fun. Have so much fun.
With so much love,
25 year-old Me.
mama you were right about everything and now nowhere feels like home.
sitting on the aluminum roof of a french row house on a grey almost cloudless day. you can see all the other roofs for miles on end, and they’re all pale grey and white just like the one you’re sitting on. it’s cool to the touch because the sun hasn’t touched its warmth here, but there is a serenity to it, a breeze, a feeling of insignificance. the roof is slanted so you wonder if you’ll fall if you edge a bit too close, if your foot catches on something and your body starts to slide down. there is some mystical european beauty mixed with what may be esoteric bliss. it’s not super warm. but it it everything.
sitting on a hot cream sidewalk on a bright day around beverly hills roads. there’s almost no breeze. it’s almost quiet. plush green strips line your line of sight. time is endless, you have nowhere you need to go, but everywhere that you want to go. this. this is everything.
it’s raining and the fluorescent school ceiling lights above make the room bearable. there’s a slight dampness but nothing irritating. you can’t hear the rain drops because the bustle of the classmates around you is everything you can hear and see. the walls are white but they’re not perfect, lined with mahogany window frames. it’s warm inside, and it’s much cooler outside. it’s somewhere in england with navy-clad boys’ blazers and rain boots abound. it is everything your little mind can hold in this little world. it is everything you can remember from your childhood’s rainy days.
the polaroid from the club with the graffiti’d walls. music loud, it’s warm. you remember the flash. it’s everything in that moment. and he grimaces while she smiles, and she twirls in her heels and eventually leaves, sits down at the diner with a bottomless cup of coffee in hand, waiting for the sun to rise, and somehow LA has become Seattle and Seattle becomes Cincinnati, and the girl with the blonde hair, one blue eye, and one brown eye, who laughs too loudly sometimes but also knows how to fill a whole room with quiet is looking out the window full of sunshine. and then she looks back at you. and her smile is worn -she’s wearing it like a soiled cardigan she hasn’t had time to change out of. and she smiles tiredly at him and says she is sorry with both her hands still on the white cup of coffee, but she must go away for a long time. and he braces for the blow in this jack-in-the-box of a woman. because the girl is a storm encroaching and she just won’t turn over the cards, won’t hand in her key to the cupboard of secrets, won’t take him along for the dance with sharks even though she will dance with him every night. even though she has danced with him getting lost in the sounds, in the people, in him. she says she loves him but how can you really love someone if you won’t stop playing russian roulette with the devil? and she brushes his hand, traces her finger up his tattoos, stops weakly at his elbow, sighs, gulps, takes a breath, sighs again but this time it comes out like a stifled cry, says she is so sorry again, doesn’t know what to do with her hands because she does not deserve his touch. he asks when she will come back. she says soon. but don’t wait for me, she says. puts her coffee down, throws down a bill, swallows her pride, swallows everything, storms are a-brewing, she can’t look at him anymore because she doesn’t deserve to. he shouldn’t forgive her, but she knows he will even though she will never forget the guilt of that. she leaves. she doesn’t twirl out of the room this time. this time she walks. she doesn’t dare look back. she’s left more than him in that room. gets into the car that’s been chartered to Cincinnati to take her to a private airport. her stomach is in her hands, how can lungs drop so low? when the door closes, she lets herself cry. she knows she has done this all to herself, yet somehow hurt herself more than she has hurt him. flash, and the polaroid comes out. flash again, and the whole world goes dark. flash again, and it’s all white like a blank page, unwritten. but don’t settle in too comfortably, because even though nothing has been written on the page does not mean the words that will fill them will be good.
maybe the feelings are passing. maybe the fear is overcome by the view, by the vastness, by you, by everything you have come to recall from those memories. those feelings. it feels like home, even though you are definitely, undeniably not home. it’s the taste of the air, its feel and temperature in your mouth, on your skin, tickling your nostrils as you breathe in, and then when you breathe out. it’s these moments you remember, that you cling to. that have long passed, but you cannot no matter how hard you try forget them. you do not grieve. you reminisce. and it’s nice.
I wrote this on Xanga on March 29, 2013. I found it again, like I’ve always thought I would, because I remember this poignant and eloquent letter so vividly; I remember reading it through tears, covered in a blanket of exhaustion on the living room couch of our house.
Dear 25 year-old me,
Please tell me you got that dream internship at NBC and now you’re working for the big dogs in New York City. Please tell me you live in a cool apartment in the Lower East Side, you own that PS1 bag you were constantly pining for, you have that leather jacket that you saw at the mall last month, and you go shopping with your friends regularly for new heels at Barneys. You know, I became a 25 year old Blair Waldorf with less drama and more smarts? Kind of like that girl in 13 going on 30: you have the glamorous life, which is what you always wanted since you were little. Oh, which reminds me, did you end up getting into that program at Columbia? Nice. How about a boyfriend? Nice. I hope your skin cleared up too, you lost tons of weight, you fit in a size 2 now, and you look amazing in bodycon dresses. You lost the tummy fat, your hair is less stringy, and you actually go to the gym on a regular basis. I’m not even going to ask if you cook, because knowing you, the answer is no. Besides, you probably go out for dinner every night. Life’s good.
But beyond the tangible aspects of your life, what’s going on in your head? Is it any better? Do you feel good enough now? Have you made it? Are you happy? Are you proud of yourself? Are you finally okay with yourself after 25 years? Do you still reminisce about lost potential? Do you still compare yourself to others? Do you regret anything? Do you wish you had stayed/left? Do you think you’re selfish because you chased after what you wanted? Off topic, but how did you ever pay to go to school in New York City? I hope you maintained integrity the whole way through; I pray for the both of us.
To be honest, I don’t really care what happened to you. Well I DO… but I don’t know where you ended up. You could be lying in a ditch right now near Cincinatti, living at home, or travelling the world. All I know is that you exist somewhere down the timeline, and YOU know what happened to me. All I want is for you to tell me that I will be okay.
Did it end in heartbreak? Did I say goodbye or did he? Or did we just grow apart without a goodbye, like it tends to end for me? Did all of it lead to nothing? Did something happen? Did something BAD happen? Did it end just as badly as I thought it would? Did we lose touch? Did he ever tell me the truth? Did I ever tell him how I felt? Did I ever yell at him and tell him how I didn’t trust him and that he played me and I knew it and I kept letting him roll the dice? I feel like it was never meant to be and I think I have willed myself into feeling vulnerable, just to live a little, and I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. I want to have my heartbroken, just to feel that. Was it real? You know, how I felt about him. Was it just lust or foolishness? I hope it didn’t come to define me… it’s spreading through me and I’m fighting back, but I have no idea how this will end. How’d you do it in the end? How the fuck did you do it? How did you move on? Remember D? Remember C? Those were childhood friendships that ended so badly and it took you forever to be okay with it. Sometimes, you still haven’t gotten over how badly things ended with C, so I can only pray extra hard that J won’t fucking destroy your life, your mind, your sense of self-worth.
In all honesty, I want to cry a little if there’s a good reason for it. I want a good story that you can tell when you’re 23 and walking in a park alone with that guy from work. I want you to feel that you can trust someone, you can open up, to be vulnerable, to let yourself lose sometimes. I pray that you are stronger than I am right now; I pray that you can handle disappointment, you can have some guy string you along until he leaves you on the ground, and you slowly but surely help yourself up and dust yourself off. I pray that no one will ever get in the way of your dreams and desires. I pray that you will be wise in what constitutes selfishness and personal drive. I hope you are prepared for the real world in the way that I am not. I hope you still write. Otherwise, you’re probably insane. I hope you still sing and draw and play piano and maybe even dance. And even now that you’re in NYC, I hope you still make some time to go biking.
Are you still close friends from people in college? Besides, what happened to some of them? Are they better than you now? Are they happier than you? Are you okay with that?
I hope you still read too. I hope you love to read. I hope you still love those trashy teen novels once in a while… because… well… you know us. Fuck what everybody else has to say, we still love ’em. I hope bad grades never stopped you from pursuing literature, that whatever a certain professor might say/do that enervates you, you can breathe and move on and get on with your life. I’m rooting for you kiddo. I’m rooting for you to learn from all the mistakes I’m making right now and that you’ll make better mistakes in your life now.
It’s weird to give advice to someone older than you, because you’re less wise, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Please know that you’ll always be good enough. Nobody’s perfect, regardless of how you might will yourself to believe that. Please know that everything will end up all right, even if you cry at night, thinking about the same things over and over again. Please know7 that no one knows you as well as you do; take people’s advice with a grain of salt and trust your superb intuition. Please know that the people in your life do not define you, even though you used to say this proudly, but rather, you define yourself.
Please know that I won’t be too disappointed if you didn’t end up going to New York City (yet) to head Time Warner, but that day will come.
Please know that I love you, that I trust you with your decisions, and that all I want is for you to be happy.
With all my love,
20 year old me.