Jun 23, 2014

What I've Actually Been Doing This Summer

This post is gonna be done slightly Jack Kerouac style, inspired by On The Road and laziness. I realise I never really explained what I was doing in the States, so here goes. 

I was awarded with the Summer Writing Fellowship by Yale-NUS to go to the University of Iowa for two weeks to attend their creative writing course, and I decided, since they were paying for my plane tickets, I might as well make the best of it and go around as much as possible. 

The night of my birthday, after NGO Bootcamp and a chill-out with a few lovely people at Vivo,  Wei Liang and Derrick arrived at my doorstep with cake and a beautiful framed set of photos of us, and the dudes fetched me to the airport. 

My first stop was Mississauga, Greater Toronto, where I stayed with my mum's friend's family. Over the weekend we drove up to their cottage.

Then I stayed for a couple of days with Zach, and he and Nik took me around, which was really fun. Also met the primary schoolmate Bryson for dinner!

Then I left for Ann Arbor, and just getting there was another crazy story. I changed train itineraries at the last minute and had to get to the other end of Canada, find my way to the Detroit border, and then find my way to the train station to get to Ann Arbor. Thankfully the bus driver that got me past the border also had a bit of time, and helped me out. He was from Albania I think, and we talked a bit about how Singapore's doing, and Japanese hentai. Also, apparently you can get an orgasm by having someone else stick their tongue into your eye????!?!?!

 I only had two days in Ann Arbor, but i absolutely loved the vibe. Brown brick buildings infused with the energy and creativity of youth.


Ann Arbor is where I met the friendliest strangers. From the Potbelly's guy and the live singer to the NeoPapalis girl to Billy the liquor store guy, everyone seemed genuinely interested in you, and wanted a good chat. I was alone, but felt far from lonely.

Then I moved on to Chicago for about a week, where Fang Jiunn and I started at the theatres with Maleficent and ended with The Fault In Our Stars - the day-before premiere!!! Walked down the Magnificent Mile, got some Garrett's, checked out the Bean and a gay bar in Boystown, etc. Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, UChicago. Our apartment had two adorable cats - one was practically a dog with its attention-seeking meows and nudges, and the other was a beautiful timid tricoloured female.

And then it was Iowaaaaaaa
and I cannot emphasise enough HOW MUCH ART THERE IS. okay? okay. just understand that this town, while small, is alive with music and art and nightlife. All these young people looking for a good time, all these creative people looking for some energy, families looking to dance. I love it. I love how the whole community comes together to make music and hold festivals. I'm so glad I got to spend my time with Hamid. I learnt a whole lot in the two weeks of our writing course - I gained so much invaluable feedback about my writing (which I hope has improved) and a whole lot of ideas from everyone else. The pieces I put up on my blog are all pre-edited, so while I've received comments about them, I haven't gotten around to doing a second draft. During the course, I experimented with a lot of different things, like dialogue and stories inspired from other stories (e.g. Isaac), and while they probably aren't my best pieces, they were fun to try. 



So, my bus from Iowa to Chicago reached really late thanks to traffic, and I missed my train to Pennsylvania. Thankfully, Fang Jiunn hooked me up with the Carnows, and I spent the night at a beautiful home. And I'm so glad I got to go to The Pancake House again - that Danish Garden pancake!!! 

So, on the road again. I had a wonderful five-hour chat with a guy called Brian, and it was lovely seeing a person grow up through his stories - from childhood memories to high school to getting married and having kids. 

Okay, let's do this.



iowa bar-hopping, among other things

I guess it's what comes with being a college town. At night, even after the live concert in the heart of the town where everyone's gathered round and families are dancing, the streets are more than alive. Music and loud voices become one, young people take over every square foot of sidewalk. $2 beers, $25 for 21 pitchers (?!?!?!!), $4 long island teas. Packed college bars, packed with noisy young people, gosh, never anything like it in Singapore. Also, because bars are a casual and cheap thing, there's none of that crazy dressing up for clubbing that you have in Singapore. We were in shorts and slippers (okay, that was probably pushing it a bit too far).

In America it's apparently common for bars and clubs to be kind of the same thing - the bar also has a dancing area. The town goes mad with life. It's incredible. Wild young vibe. All you need in any place at all is young people.

Gosh, we had the best time. Some hilarious moments. Eden, S13. Unfortunately when we finally got into the mood to get up and bop around to the beat, the music stopped because it was 2am. (It's really safe in Iowa City, so being out at night wasn't a problem.) We got really bummed about it so we continued to roam the streets downtown to see if there were any other places open. The kids were still all over the place, just sitting around and talking, but gradually it started to fizzle out, and by 2.30 it was pretty empty. Bummer. We should have left the house earlier. 

Things I loved about Iowa City?

- The bar-hopping was definitely fun. And so cheap. Wouldn't be able to do that in Singapore. 

- Writing alongside hilarious retired white women. (Hamid and I were probably the only people from outside North America, and on the first week, we were 2 of the 3 people who weren't working or retired.)
Our Week 1 prof, Hugh Ferrer
- Friday evening public concerts, and the whole town being there, and families dancing along.

- Murals and sidewalk prose.
 

- Farmer's Market on Saturdays, with live music and kids chalking up the sidewalk and art classes.
  

- The art & music festival the weekend we arrived, and the gay pride the weekend we left.

- All the adorably-painted benches and Herky statues and public pianos.

- The Hemleyyyyyssssssss, and Scamper the absolutely affectionate cat.

- Our visit to their friend's place - they have a friggin' farm.
 

- Watching Hamid read everything aloud in that stupid patronising tone. That crazy fellow. I'm so glad I got to spend my time in Iowa with him. ^^

Jun 19, 2014

musing

I wonder
Who these people
Really are

And are we just trying to be naughty
Like the sixteen-year-olds we were, falling over ourselves for black and Jack and smokes and forbidden loves
Are there images to upkeep
Do we cry because we feel we should, blow our problems out of proportion because that's what we do
Do we take happy photos and sad things to be Mysterious, or because we can't decide on what we want to be
Do we type a certain way to achieve a certain impression
Are we struggling to Be Something

Our Friendship


(I think back at the times I cried to the point of your exasperation, until you refused to comfort me anymore; the Bublé fangirling moments; laughing at the Ramayana and the Odyssey; the nights I hated everything.

No more sadness, though. By the time I return from my backpacking trip, I’ll have learnt to depend on myself for sustenance. And then I can love with strength instead of weakness.)

Our friendship is a huge clunky interstate train zooming along the railway tracks. The carriages pick up all sorts of funky things along the way – vegetables, elephants, wooden planks. Sometimes they’re colorful and lovely to look at; other times they’re heavy, and the carriages groan and creak a little. But no load has ever derailed us. The carriages never run out of space; they just keep adding on. And the train keeps on going.

 3 june / chicago

Jun 18, 2014

gentlemen (v2)

You can't expect her to know when to stop. They hand her the clear potion and she downs a shot for every boy who has given only to take away. She sells it like the worst kind, but she can’t stop, there's no point. Your soul can't regenerate: once a piece is lost it's lost forever, clinging to the feet of yet another, someone whom she thought would last longer than the moment.

She thinks of the 6ams; she rolls over, her head nestling against his back, and he stirs awake to find a stranger wanting more than he paid for in her drink. Walks out the front door, and she glimpses a shred of herself stuck onto the underside of his shoe; he drags her soul out to the sidewalk.

Him is a thousand hims, a collective; they once had names faces memories that made your spine chill, shiver with heart-trembling intimacy. But the more she remembered, the bigger a piece of her they tore away. It doesn't heal: the rip remains red and raw.

Shots make you numb. That's the only way. Here's one for the boy who explored the whispers of the bushes with her when she was fifteen. Who smoothed over every rise and filled every crevice. Who moved with her every breath.

Here's one for the boy who held her hand and said she had more beauty than she thought. She thought he was like the rest, who wanted her before they would look at her seriously, so she gave him what they wanted. He had run away in the night; she heard his sobs when he awoke and realised it was done. He still took a piece of her when he left - a bigger piece than the rest.

She’s on the floor now, the marble that feels like home. Shapes are bending over to take an amused look. Go on. Look. she wants you to join her. Show her you won't walk away.

Touch her. She wants it. Look at her eyes. Touch her, give her the electricity of hope. Stop refusing, she's scared, like you don't want even the least of her anymore. You're making her worried. You're making her cry.

Aside: Looking For Alaska

I started and finished John Green's Looking For Alaska today, because I was at the café with Hamid and we had decided to skip the optional morning lecture for the first time ever (kiasu asians) and I had finished my homework and didn't have On The Road with me, so I thought I'd start on one of FJ's eBooks. It was a pretty engaging read, which is why I'm up at 2.20am typing about it and haven't started on the writing assignment for tomorrow. Anyway, it left me with one unimportant comment and one thought:

Unimportant comment: Thank you, John Green, for making one of the main characters an Asian! An Asian who's great at rapping and can't do math/programming! !!!!!!

Thought: Why is it that when someone close to us dies, a part of us dies too? When one's page in the novel of life is torn out, our pages tear along with him. Maybe it's because the book also made mention of the Buddhist belief of interconnectedness: as much as we like to believe we are separate entities, our own free person, we are all intricately woven into the fabric of one another. We aren't really free, are we. We tie ourselves to those we love, and we have a responsibility to those to whom we matter.

My Kindergarten Story

Kindergarten was a very rich experience. I was in NUS Faculty Club Childcare Centre, 9-5, where there were 3 playgrounds and daily afternoon naps and showers and Friday morning workouts and lots of cute creative exercises like lying on the grass and drawing the clouds.

My kindergarten experience was pretty political. There was this pretty girl, Connie, and everyone flocked to her. She was the leader of the pack of all the girls in the class - except for two girls who were "different": a dark-skinnned girl called Joan and a girl with glasses called Rachel Ho. I liked Joan and Rachel Ho, and I'd play with them until Connie came, and out of fear I'd say "I'll play with you later okay" and join the rest of the girls. Connie had a best friend, Rachel Ng, and the two of them would shun the 'outcasts' together.

There was always a proper way to do things: once when we all made noodles together and had to set the table we argued about which side the chopsticks should be on. Rachel Ng and I were on opposite sides of the table and we hadn't yet understood the concept that my right would seem to her like her left. As we laid it out they were chanting "single, double, triple, fourple..." and I was like LOL IT'S NOT FOURPLE but I didn't know what the correct term was. Once Connie tied the ribbon on the back of her dress all on her own, without looking, as all of us watched in admiration. And when we were drawing the clouds, I drew an elaborate one that looked like the face of a girl, and Rachel Ng sneered and went "Clouds don't look like that."

One day, Connie didn't come to school, and all of a sudden everyone was playing with everyone. I found this weird. I went up to Rachel Ng and said "I thought you didn't like Joan and Rachel Ho?" And she was like, "It's okay lah, Connie's not here today, she won't know."

At the end of our school year I made an autograph book, and I had instructed everyone to find their names in the book and put a little photo / write a message there. And Connie, Rachel Ng etc. found the page with Joan's name on it, coloured it wild with crayons as they laughed, drew a stick figure with a speech bubble that said "wo hen xiao" i.e. "i'm very crazy".

I feel bad about portraying Rachel Ng this way. She wasn't mean or anything. She had a very pretty smile and laughed a lot.

Just my kindergarten experience. I'm sure they're all lovely people now. My best friend in kindergarten was a French girl called Lydia, who returned to France in our second year. I also remember Rachel Ng biting into sugarcane and having her two front teeth fall out. I remember telling Benjamin(?? I don't think that's his real name, but he reminds me of my P1 friend Benjamin) that my dress had "spaghetti straps" and he said "Mm, can I eat them?" and I somehow found it very funny and flattering. And playing Street Fighters with Koh Ti Kiat as we sat cross-legged at the door waiting for our parents to pick us up.

And of course, that one time in Chinese class where our incredibly scary Chinese teacher asked if it was the 7th or 8th day of the month, and the class was divided in responses - "七!" "八!", and the guy next to me (Benjamin??) said "七七八八" (qiqi baba, a phrase to mean "chaotic / all over the place" which was very apt lol) and I repeated it louder: "hahaha, 七七八八". And then the Chinese teacher stopped and hollered: "什么七七八八?!" and I was like, shit. She made me stand in the corner behind the computer monitors as punishment, and I remember trying to hold back my tears.

Anyways, kindergarten was a great experience. I loved the playgrounds. I'm glad I had such a rich experience that taught me so much. Now primary school was also an incredible experience, and it'd take too long to write out.

Jun 17, 2014

not family

for a lovely friend: i promised i'd do this for you

Home is not home. Home is not a place where you don’t feel safe. Friday evenings the caretakers at the Salvation Army encourage those who still have families to pay them a visit. I take the longest route home, drag my feet to the door. Every week I convince myself that it will be different, that they’re probably too old and tired to shout anymore, but the raised voices seep under the door and ring through the hallway and taunt my irrational hopes. Friday evenings I stand in the doorway and try to get them to notice that I’m home. My father’s too incensed to notice, and my stepmother hates me anyway. Friday evenings I sit at the sofa listening to them quarrel and throw things. When I cannot take it anymore I run to the room and shut the door and pray that my crying drowns them out.

He’s just arrived at the Salvation Army. New kid. I join him at the swing and I learn that he has just lost both his parents. His calls himself Pri. Fifteen, just like me. I tell him about the rabbits in our playground and the one time we saw a snake, but it’s six-fifteen now. I have to go. I feel bad when he asks why. And I hate my parents, I wish I was the orphan. “Don’t say that,” he says. “And don't feel bad. Actually, I’d love to visit your family, if you’re okay with that.” “No, you don’t want to, they do nothing but argue all day.” But he insists.

I struggle to put the key in the lock. The sound of something being hurled against the wall. He notices, puts his hand over mine, gives me a smile, and for a while the smile is the only thing in the world that matters. I turn the knob. They’re arguing about how he left the lights on again and can’t he be a more sensible person they don’t have any money how will she survive with his bullshit – “mum, dad, this is Pri.” They turn to look. “What the hell you bring a boy back for, bloody bastard why your daughter such a prostitute-“ “Stop cursing my daughter you fat piece of shit-“ I look up at him nervously, apology in my eyes, our hands tightly clasped behind our backs.

“Hey, look,” he whispers. “Your dad just called her a fat piece of shit.” He imitates my dad in hushed tones: “fat piece of shit, you fat piece of shit.” A giggle escapes my lips. For the first time, I don’t cry.



Jun 16, 2014

Just Different

A crisis from the past hangs over the family, and it shaped who its members have become. Another event has happened recently that reminds the members of the past crisis. But they have learnt never to talk about it explicitly - it brings too much pain. You should show your characters to have complex personalities - more than one big trait.

The dinner table. Every night, it almost feels like an extended family reunion. Dad lays out the cutlery. “So, who’s saying grace?”

“I’ll do it,” Sandra offers.

“No.” Mum interjects a little too quickly, widened eyes. Pause. She reassumes her posture, looks down. “I’ll do it.”

 Dad looks down quietly. Sandra stares at her mother with a laser gaze.

“Our Father, thank you for keeping us together as one family, covered by Your blood. Let Your righteous love be in this household. Bless the food, and our time together. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

The sounds of cutlery against porcelain. It is silent for a long while; no one looks up, forcefully absorbed in the way a meatball always evades you just as you think you’ve got it, and pounces into a cushion of pasta for refuge.   

“Honey, could you pass the salt, please?” “Sandra, could you pass your mum the salt?” Sandra slides it across the table. “I said you.” Mum doesn’t touch it. “But she was closer to the salt.” “What, now even the things I touch contaminate you?”

Mum resumes silence. Dad seems to be intrigued by the food.

“Mum, I’m still a Christian, you know, you can still talk to me.”

Continues chewing. “There’s no point talking if you’re not going to listen.” “Well, at least you can tell me what’s going on?”

“Don’t call yourself a Christian. Don’t call yourself a follower if you’re not following Him.”

“But I love God! And I’m trying! I’m trying to be the best person I can be!” “No you’re not!” Fork clumsily scratches against porcelain. “You’re not trying.”

“Sandra,” Dad begins in a firm voice, “you know that no matter what, we still love you, and we’re there for you no matter what-“ “Oh, stop patronizing her,” Mum interjects.
“Mum, what if you just tried listening to my point of view, stop freaking out, I’m still the same daughter, nothing needs to change-”

“YOU’RE NOT TRYING!” Silence. She takes a deep breath. “You’re still the same daughter? How much have you been keeping from me? Was I wrong when I thought I knew you? How much about my family don’t I know? Why does it always have to wait until it explodes like a bomb?” “Mum, stop it. There is no bomb.” Pause. “Nothing has changed, I’m still the same daughter you know, and I still love God, and I’m going to still be your daughter.”

Silence. You can tell Mum is unconvinced. “Why couldn’t God just give me fine, normal, God-fearing children, why is the devil taking away the family,” she mutters. Sandra flinches at ‘normal’. “Mum, stop it. What are you talking about. I’m still here.” “YOU MIGHT AS WELL NOT BE.”

“Mum I don’t get why you’re so worked up. It's just one aspect of my identity. I just love someone different, there are so many other things that make me who I am – for one I’m a Christian-“

“Don’t taint that word with your filth.”

All the years of Mum’s passing of judgments at passers-by, of divine threats, of ridiculously intolerant stances, are gathered in Sandra’s eyes and hurled back at her with a single, hard stare. Then she gets up. Grabs her slingbag. Leaves the house. The reddish-brown door swings close with a force.

“Now what, dear? Our daughter has just left the house! Are you chasing the whole family out one by one? What do we have left?” Dad bursts into aggressive tones.

“It’s not my fault they are what they are!” “It’s probably just a phase, you know girls have these experimental phases at that age, and the girls' school she’s in, you gotta give her some time!” Mum flinches. Sighs. Her elbow rests on the dining table and she runs her fingers through her hair.

“Now what?” Dad continues. “We have no children left?” “What, it’s my fault?” “Have you thought that maybe, if you weren’t so ugly in your religion, none of this would have happened?” “Well God isn’t some nice softie, he’s got some rules to follow!” “But our command isn’t to judge! It’s to love! And look at what you’ve done!”

Mum puts her palms to her forehead, she is worn out. She sits deflated, defeated, a tired stray dog at the end of the day.

“She said she’s still out daughter, right? She’s coming back?” “Yes.” “And she’s still a Christian?” “Yes.” “Okay.” She breathes. “Okay. Then we haven’t lost her.”

Seven blocks away, Sandra hides in a different bed, her face wet with tears. A hand is stroking her hair. A kiss on her forehead. She knows she is not alone. She is writing a letter. “Dear Tim,” it reads, in shaky handwriting. “I used to blame you, I used to think you were a terrible person, but now I understand. It’s hard to keep your faith in a household like that. Mum has only become more edgy. But I don’t blame you. How’re you holding up? Maybe we could meet sometime?”





**
i don't know if you get it, my class didn't get it, but the girl just came out of the closet about her sexual identity, and her brother became an atheist and left the house. Comments welcome! Should I try making it more explicit?

Iowa: Week 1 writing comments

(This is really just for my own info so don't bother reading it)

My prof of one week, Hugh, has seen Isaac, Prevaricating, Parcel, Lying and To A Friend.

Some big comments about the pieces that easily come to mind include:

1) Isaac - The reader's interest was peaked at the part where Abraham comes in and his expression has changed, because the reader knows something Isaac doesn't. But for the rest of the time Isaac's just confused - "okay, he's confused, so what?". The tension is deflated; the dynamism is lost; the readers don't feel the need to participate in the piece anymore. Maybe Isaac could do something. Maybe Abraham could give him a choice - what would he do? Maybe Ishmael could try to take his place?

2) Prevaricating - Molly kind of deflates the whole thing. Maybe I don't need Molly at all. And the last bit at lunch break is probably too in-your-face. The readers get it without me having to say it. There should be more show, less tell.

3) Parcel - I probably didn't need so much room description stuff. (I feel that way too. But it was a scenery description exercise, so. Maybe I could make the descriptions more relevant / add more to the mystery.)

5) To A Friend: The B in the story, the person the narrator's writing to, doesn't really seem to know what he wants. He probably needs more of a personality - is he just passively taking whatever comes, does he want both? The narrator is also very passive, and you also don't get a sense of why she likes him - it just seems like a dumb crush or blind desperation, because what makes their friendship so special etc is not fleshed out.

Aside from the many very helpful comments he gave on each piece individually, I asked my prof what he thought I could work on in general. He felt that my narrators often lacked agency - while you could clearly see their interior processes, they often didn't do anything; they were rather passive. And often my pieces didn't move forward - there was no evolution of emotion or action. Hamid used the word "dynamic", which probably captures it best. My pieces aren't very dynamic. I usually have quite a bit of character development, but not much plot. Also I had to try and get my heart into my pieces more. I said that was funny, 'cos I usually "bleed on the page", and this week I just decided to do that less. He said yeah, but bleeding on the page doesn't always get you a story. Which is true.

Other interesting things I learnt included using colour to your advantage in your imagery - e.g. a red cooler box on a green field. And leaving some things out, including the most obvious things, because the reader wants to do some work too. You don't have to give it all to the reader. In other words, show, not tell.


Stuff that comes out of Hamid's mouth when he's annoyed that makes for good pointers:
"If you want to write a story you need to have something to say." - there has to be a solid point to writing your story. It should stir up something in people. If you're just going to write about a strand of hair in your soup and it doesn't have a real purpose to it, why make people spend the effort reading it?
"These stories don't have stakes."

Jun 14, 2014

Mollie the dog


It's 9.30pm, the sky is beginning to get dark. Hamid and I return to the dining table. Java House coffee, check. Laptops check. I gotta churn out eight pages of really good work, better and longer than ever before, because I and the rest of my class will be working on it the whole of next week. Stress.

Whimpering and whining from outside. It breaks my heart, but she's not allowed into the dining room. It goes on for about five minutes and then I can't take it anymore so I open the door. Mollie was just beginning to give up and was walking back towards the kitchen, but she turns around and sees me and gets all alert and barks and runs over. I am greeted by a wave of panting and tail-wagging and paws. She stands on her hind legs and reaches for my thighs. Stands up, loses balance and falls back down, stands up again. Her tail is going crazy. So full of excitement at finally getting some attention. She doesn't stop, you know. It goes on for a long time. Such a huge burst of love, like seeing a close friend whom you thought was dead.

I sit with her for a while, and she lets me pat her. She nuzzles against my thigh, licks my hand, everything. All this while I'm thinking, I've always wanted a dog, but I'm never around enough. I barely spent any time at home even when I lived there. And I love travelling. When you get a dog you essentially buy a package of love, and love isn't conveniently picked up and dropped whenever you want. You have to be able to give the dog the attention it needs. The poor thing would be so lonely otherwise.

I'd better get back to work, I think. I get up and go back in to get my phone so that I can take this picture of her. As soon as the door closes Mollie is whining. I come out again. And it's been all of two seconds but dear Mollie repeats the ritual of euphoria.

Oh, dear Mollie. She's still whining now, even scratching the door.

Jun 13, 2014

To A Friend

Three characters: A, B, C. 
B and C live together (they're married / attached), and A's their neighbour. A likes B and courts B. B pushes A away politely, but the responses evolve over time. At the same time, B tries to get closer to C, but C is often away and it doesn't work.

(Note: Please, please, this is fiction. I borrowed some objects and situations from real life, but pretty much all the major things are fictional. I made it such that any of the characters could be A, B or C; and because there was so much love involved, I decided to add a touch of hate.)

Dear friend,

The day you told me about her was the day I realized how much I loved you. I was gripped by a fear that I might lose you to someone else. Also, in a sense, the day you told me about her was the day I started to love you. You trusted me. Your hands in your pockets, your trembling voice, my promise to keep it a secret. Perhaps now you needed me more than ever before, and because of that I quickly came to need you in a way that suffocated us both.

I helped you get closer to her, but maybe it was all a ploy. So that when you wanted to ask her to the dance, you had to practice on me first. So that I’d be the first to know what was going on. So that I could be there to lend you my shoulder when she only seemed to bring pain, and maybe, just maybe, I would win.

The day she moved in with you I knew I had lost a battle. But I was still your best friend, and best friends fill spaces that a lover just can’t. I continued to come over every day when she had class at 3, occasionally with coffee or a granola bar, and I’d sit on your bed as usual and watch you do whatever you were doing, and you’d keep me updated. At first you were still warm and cheerful, but after a while you started to talk less and game more, and show less interest when I was around.

Then one day as you were going back to your apartment you heard me crying from mine. You came in and I was hysterical, because I thought I had completely lost you to her, that I didn’t mean anything anymore. You pulled me to you and you stroked my hair and you said no, there was no such thing. I was so important. What would you do without me. Attached people needed best friends too. I watched as your hand took mine. I said I don’t know. I just felt so insignificant. I needed you far more than you would ever need me, and I needed so much. “Funny,” you mused. “The way you feel about me is just like how I used to feel about her.”

I know.

And I wanted to say, if you know exactly how I feel, why wouldn’t you do something about it? Then it was seven o’ clock and she was back and you gave me one last squeeze and left. The door closed. I heard you say “hey babe” in the corridor and then her chuckle, silence for a moment, then your door creaked open.

That night, you thanked me for reminding you of those painful days of your own, and that you were so lucky to have her now. I felt listless. The next morning she came over and said you told her about what had happened, and she felt bad that I felt this way, and that what I shared with you was a very special friendship and she wouldn’t forgive you if you gave it up for anything. Whatever. I was pissed. Why did you have to tell her? Now my weak desperate neediness was made public, now I was an object to be pitied, an obligation. When she left for her three-o-clock class I stormed into your room and told you that. “You know what hurt me?” you said quietly. “It hurt me that after I told her all that, and that I was lucky to have her now and everything, she didn’t say anything about us. It was only about you. That I should be a better friend and all. I was like, could we focus on us for a while here?”

I guess we were all pissed. I stormed back out. You were confused.

I would have stayed away from you if I could, as an act of rebellion. But I was too weak, I had too little dignity to pretend I didn’t need you like that. And I knew that if I stayed away you wouldn’t come over anyway. It would just be me, hurting. And so the next day I came by again, with your coffee, and you continued gaming without looking up.

She started sticking these little notes of love and bible quotes and song lyrics on my door and I hated it. I hated her pity. But I knew that if I hated her I would be losing again. So I entertained her. I gave her tea packets, I returned the post-it favour. I guess she felt guilty every time you were together. She’s a girl, she knows how a girl feels.

I would come sit on your bed every day at 3pm, and you’d talk about how you took her out for a nice meal or you suggested you go feed the cats together and she’d just always seem tired. She was helping out at an animal shelter now, and she was always talking about what she had to do. All these new exciting novelties, and you were just the one she came home to every day. She was too used to you, you said. She didn’t know to treasure it. You felt like maybe you should go away for a while, but maybe if you did, she’d be too caught up with everything else to miss you.

How much you echo my own words, I thought. How much I hated how every time I came over, if you said anything at all it’d be about her. And every time you gave me breadcrumbs of attention I devoured them like an exhausted sailor, but it was never enough. I guess we’re all a part of this chain – we give all of ourselves to someone else, hoping to be filled in return by them; but they’re busy giving all of themselves to other people, and we’re all being filled, but not by the right person, so we keep on feeling empty.

I started to write you all these notes of gratitude or advice, I gave you mix tapes. You thanked me for every note initially, and you’d reply me face-to-face, but after a while maybe I burned you out or I pushed too hard and you started to ignore them. I guess there was only a tiny space in  your heart for me, and I was trying to expand it. But you would fight back by refusing to cross the mental boundary. You’d push me out of your thoughts and force her in instead. You had to keep the 80-20 status quo. On Valentine’s Day I gave you an onion with the Carol Ann Duffy quote, and you and she made me onion soup the following evening. Do you know how much that hurt?

All this while she wrote me more and more post-its. You’d see them as you left your apartment and you’d be like, “what about me?” and you’d shower her with more, hoping for something in return. Oh, you could have them. I detested them. I threw them all away.

Then one day she left for a three-day mission trip and it was too quick a goodbye. I heard the lift come, I gave you four minutes, and then I knocked. “Let’s watch anime,” I said, hoping to lift your spirits. Maybe you were too polite to refuse.

In the show, the lead girl had helped her best friend get this girl, but by the end of it she had grown so dependent on him that she couldn’t let herself lose him anymore. The difference was that the guy felt the same way about her, so there was no pain to deal with in the end. No rubble.

I started talking about it again, a slow broken pace at first, and then I was crying. You were silent. I ran out of words. I tried to lean into you but you backed away. I looked up. You were evidently uncomfortable. I just needed some reassurance.

I’m writing you this letter because I need to get away from this place for a while. Maybe a month or two. I got an internship in China, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m guessing you’ll find this letter once you start wondering why I haven’t come by. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be too caught up with her to miss me. The two of you can go make your onion soup and feed the cats and she won’t have to feel guilty. And when I return, I will have found the strength to give and receive from myself alone until someone’s willing to give back.

Lying

In ten minutes, write a piece that starts with "She loved his lying".

She loved his lying. She looked forward to the lunch breaks, the ‘ping’ as she walked through the doors, his cheerful compliments. “Hey, Kare Bear,” he said today. “Look at that dress, you hot shit.” She smiled a little too widely. He always called her Kare Bear. Anyone else who tried to call her anything other than Karen would’ve gotten a cold hard stare in response, let alone Kare Bear, but this one was cute. Just this one.

“Okay, so is it a BLT or a Cold Cut Trio today?” he looked up, a six-inch Honey Oat bun already in his hand.

She knew it was just customer service. Compliments and light chats never cost anything, and it got people coming back. Well, it got her coming back. Everyone else just thought she liked Subway. She couldn’t tell them. Who would be desperate enough to cling on to an acquaintance who said nice things to you just for your money?

“How about tuna today,” she said.

“I’ll give you a free drink if you’ll do your hair like this again next time. Damn, I’m a sucker for ponytails.”