STORY TIME: As some of you know, Oreo O’s had their re-release June 23rd, and ever since then, I’ve been hitting up a Walmart each day in hot pursuit of my childhood memories. Tonight, I decided to put my education to use and put on my researching hat, utilizing walmart.com’s handy product finder to search the nearby Walmart’s for my beloved O’s. Lo and behold, it said “In Stock” at the store closest to me. HOWEVER, when I clicked it, all that came up was a grey OUT OF STOCK message. Retreating to the search bar, I clicked on the Walmart near Biola and the Walmart that was second-closest to me in the opposite direction. Aisle A-16. Aisle A-14. THEY GAVE AISLES. I told my fellow Oreo O’s enthusiast Jason Huang and the OG finder of Oreo O’s at his local Walmart Terrance T Chang that I was embarking on my quest. Godspeed, they said. Godspeed indeed. I ran down the stairs, prompting a question from my mom about what was happening. DESTINY IS HAPPENING, MOTHER. I pushed my trusty MPV to its limit racing out of the garage. Which Walmart do I choose? It’s getting close to closing time, after all. Then, it hit me. BIOLA. There was a measure of providence at play this evening. I raced towards Alondra, turned, raced towards Valley View, turned, and pressed on ahead. It was within reach. Would I be disappointed, or would it be complete fulfillment of my June 23rd desires? Chris Yuen, in his famous “Question of the Week” during Sunday school, came to mind as I answered “Oreo O’s” in response to “What is your favorite cereal?” Thank you, Chris. I looked at the Walmart that lay before me – Neighborhood Market. I’ve got a good feeling about this. I rush to park, parking in a spot with some words on the ground. As I left, I saw that the words were, “Clean Air Vehicle Only.” I grappled for two seconds with just going in and rushing out only to trust that the O’s would be waiting for me, wanting me to play it safe and not get into trouble with the law. I rushed into another parking space, outwalking a couple ahead of me. Aisle A-16. There are no A’s here. But there is an aisle 16. And there is cereal in that aisle. I began to smile but realized it and tried to avoid smiling in a Walmart, as I am told that Walmarts are not the best places to be (to those people, I say HA! Walmart is the safe haven of cereal delights…I hope). My head is literally pounding now as I fight back disappointment and the anxious squealing of the kid inside. I scan the cereal aisle, walking to the very end. Nothing. Maybe I missed it? I walk back the other way. Nothing. A group of people start talking about which cereal to get, and that’s when I spot them. Hiding next to Pops and Cocoa Pebbles (decent cereals in their own right) were my GOAL, my FULFILLMENT. I could hardly believe that these people were talking about Cinnamon Toast Crunch – haven’t you had that available to you for the past ten years?! WHAT ABOUT OREO O’S?!? I reach deep into the shadows that tried to forbid our long overdue love, and pulled out a box. And then another. And then another, for remembrance’s sake. And then I snagged some whole milk because it’s the most flavorful and I saw that Hilary Duff drank whole milk, and she looked wonderful. I want to look wonderful too. My journey was over. I finally secured my O’s. Thank you, Manager David White, for stocking Oreo O’s in your Walmart – you have delivered precious childhood memories unto me. If you’re in the area, 14865 Telegraph Rd., La Mirada, CA 90638 is the store to hit. I would keep them all to myself, but, like the Gospel, it ought not be held in but shared with everyone around me. Thanks for being a part of my journey.
He woke up before his alarm had a chance to crescendo. Why even have that feature if the slightest sound from the alarm was enough to wake him up? Just in case he managed to sleep through the noise, perhaps. He snoozed the alarm and lay on his back, waking up with his eyes wide shut in deep reflection about his love life. After all, what else does one spend one’s time alone thinking about? It was only natural that he found himself thinking about the futility mingled with desperation that he shouldered day in and day out. He considered how he had skipped in and out of interest in various women he encountered, musing on the reason for the instability. Maybe it was a weird vibe or her being too self-interested or him being too insecure or maybe it all didn’t matter that much anyways and he would be fine with the first one who’d have him.
It was his loneliness that caused him to drift from one person to the next. At this, he put both his hands behind his head, eyes alert now as they gazed past the ceiling. He saw now how naïve he was in thinking that he was actually able to love someone else; how could he when he failed to even love himself? That was the reason he chased here and there, after all. If he could just see that someone else could see something good in him, then he’d be happy. Then, he’d know that he meant something to someone. Then, he’d realize that he was worthy of being loved. Even though he had friends and family, it was his loneliness that knew him best, and it was his loneliness that he loved. It let him push his problems onto other people, projecting a lack of understanding and empathy onto those around him; loneliness let him comfortably deceive himself into thinking that he was taking the high road by suffering their misunderstanding and “appreciating that they tried.”
What could he do about it? If he was lonely with his own company, adding more people who weren’t him, couldn’t think like him, didn’t know enough about him would only serve to magnify the alienation. He kept laying in bed, dreading the masks he would need to put on just to get through to the next time he would be laying in bed. It was never about the other people; a person like him would never be good enough for someone else. He didn’t wish himself on anyone at this point. All he could hope for was the day that he’d learn to just be okay with who he was. Maybe then he could look for something more.
Chase woke up that day before snoozing his alarm a second time. However, he had not risen from his slumber with the peacefully exasperated sigh common to many houses across the world; today was the day the streets were required by law to be clear due to some kind of local project to refurbish the street curbs, and his van was still parked outside. 7 AM to 9 PM. 7 AM to 9 PM. What time was it? 8:18 AM. The covers were thrown aside in a flurry of morning anxiety.
He began his run that morning with greater zeal than normal, but it was not so much a run for cardiovascular health as it was for fear of his car ending up in an impound storage facility. Grabbing his keys and foregoing his wallet, Chase sprinted outside in the half-awake daze of the earlier hours, backing his van onto his lawn before trudging back inside. He walked through the door he had left open, and closed it behind him before walking briskly to his room and turning off his already sounding alarm. He shrugged silently and turned about face to retrieve his earbuds from the top of the miniature refrigerator; he was already up – might as well actually go for a run.
The sky was awash in formless clouds, but enough light came through the clouded canopy to create a canvas of bright grey, barely discernible from white had it not been for the defining contrast of the elevated greenery. Birds whistled and squawked in vaguely nearby trees on indiscernible branches, and the soft wind gently berated his ears. Bushes quaked gently as he looked onwards into the stillness. Air came into his lungs smoothly and stirred his body to motion.
He began to stretch, leaning towards the wall, feeling the muscles limber up gradually, then he set off, putting his earbuds in along the start. As he ran, he sped up to acclimate himself to the subtle chill grazing his skin. His breath became slightly more labored, but he continued his dogged pursuit. Why run? He ran from his asthma, keeping the wheezing at bay once a week with a two-mile run. He ran from a lack of discipline by forcing himself to adhere to a routine that was not of particular enjoyment. He ran from the problems weighing on his heart at the time, clearing his mind in the morning to prepare himself to meet the world that day.
He finished the two-mile cadence, and found himself wheezing slightly as he ran out the end of the path. It was a sound not unlike the distant cry of seagulls by the ocean, and it concerned him.
*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.
I once heard a story about a fall from glory
a prince become slave whose end was kinda gory.
Young genius shown at the age of twelve
and into his dad’s work did he choose to delve.
All by himself with the teachers of the temple
showing them miracles and the God they resembled.
He was the best man at a later wedding
Turning water into wine and guest’s lips he was wetting.
But this great man encountered teachers who had floundered
each speaking against him, man it was a downer.
So downward he descended into this realm of mortal beings
Speaking of the great things that he himself was seeing.
Soon twelve friends appeared at his side asking
for more of his glory, for in it they were basking.
They were not full in wisdom but had hearts to follow
Little did they know he was a man full of sorrow.
In that final hour, he took his last breath full of power
and with his sacrifice did upon humans shower
blessings incomprehensible and somewhat invisible
rising three days later, he proved to be invincible.
A gospel to spread, he now sought out his friends
who each had a strong message to send
in the form of letters and addresses
telling of God’s Son and how He blesses.
Their message reaches out now to modern ears
blessed are they who receive what they hear.
I see a world plunging deep into darkness
devoid of true life and full of dread starkness.
With reason they combat the invisible truth
with all the fibers of their arrogant youth.
But that which is seen is made from that which is not
so put away all the battles you have fought.
Redemption at hand yet it is casually dismissed
the world wreaking havoc with religion as a cyst.
But to follow the Son is not even close to religion;
it’s the cause of a spiritual decision.
Labeled blind for trying to seek out the righteous,
I pray for the world should it try to incite us.
Blind? Nay, merely looking with split vision
as I admire the works of God and His solitary mission:
He came not to judge but seek and save those who were lost
yet it is hard to do when they don’t believe in the cost.
The price of your life is worth more than you think
from the shirt on your body to the rock on your ring.
Your life was paid for in full by pure, untainted blood
a love everlasting and mercy that does flood.
Dismount from your throne of “knowledge” and look God in the face
for it is then when you will know the truth of your deservéd place.
As he yawned with the exhaustion of a man who slept too late to be waking up so early, he groaned out of bed and into the bathroom. There was the smell of lavender, like someone had used his fancy liquid hand soap, but he was the only one in the house, and he had just woken up. Perhaps it was leaking? He picked up the bottle, examined it, and set it down, scratching his head in bleary, apathetic confusion. It was probably some stupid April Fool’s joke. There was nothing wrong with the bottle, not a crack anywhere he could see. He felt the familiar clench in his bowels, and knew it was time for the morning ritual.
Sighing, he sat down and began to take the children to the pool. That is, he defecated. Today’s experience was a pleasantly soft ordeal, sliding out without much strain. He exhaled fully after holding his breath in from the initial release, feeling the cold tile beneath his feet, and feeling the cold seat slowly warm to the temperature of his rear. As he felt the familiar emptiness within his stomach signaling the end of his time on the porcelain throne, he began to reach for the the toilet paper, but paused. The soon-to-be-soiled paper was coming from the bottom up, not from the top down. Who on Earth could have done this, he thought. He attempted to remove the inner tube of the toilet paper dispenser to flip the roll upside down to his liking, but discovered that it had been glued shut. I must be dreaming, he sighed. So, with eyes squinted shut, he dispensed what he perceived to be enough toilet paper, and found that he must have yanked too hard, littering the bathroom floor with excess toilet paper. He could feel his spirit begin to crack within the pit of his heart. He bent down to tear a segment of the fallen bathroom tissue so that he could wipe, then proceeded to clean himself. After he wiped, he discovered, with gradual mortification, that a brown streak ran up from the toilet paper past his wrist, past his forearm, up to his bicep. He began to cry. Why is this happening? What have I done to deserve this? I just wanted to relieve myself…
He looked down, and discovered that the toilet paper was gone. He reached desperately over to the cabinet to find the extra rolls. Instead, he was greeted by a raucous explosion of noisemakers, leaving his knees quaking and without a doubt that he had emptied himself of refuse. With his heart pounding and his head furiously attempting to stave off a headache, he took a few moments to make sure he caught his breath. Then, he got up with his head down grimly, knowing he had not entirely cleaned himself – he came to terms with the fact that he had no other choice. He grimaced as he pulled up his pajama pants, knowing that they would need to be washed promptly. As he flushed and met his own gaze in the mirror, his spirit crumbled within him as he saw that the brown streak ran all the way up to his right eyebrow. He washed his hands in the sink, which thankfully worked, and found he couldn’t remove the brown streak that marked him, so he just wiped his hands off on a towel before he realized that he was smearing it all over his towel. Resigning his life to his circumstance, he tearfully began to stuff the towel into his mouth, hoping that he might suffocate himself and end his misery.
And then he woke up with a start. He had broken into a cold sweat, and was looking about himself in a panic. He looked at his arm, and it was clean. He checked his phone and it read April 2nd. Relief. Relief? He felt the clench in his stomach, and stumbled into his bathroom, and he almost fainted.
There was the smell of lavender, the toilet paper was the wrong way, and his towel was smeared brown.
As rain graced the front lawn with its mild pitter-patter, he sighed as he turned his eyes from the window back to looking longingly through an old photo album. The fact that he had a photo album at all already hinted at the amount of dust he had to blow off before opening it. Eyes watering before he even got to the first page, he waited for his coughing fit to subside before attempting to make out individuals, years younger than they were now, on the glossy, colored rectangles. He saw familiar pictures of him as an infant that had been embarrassingly shown to every family acquaintance, family photos at various scenic locations and unremembered birthday parties, and his dad’s transition for donning glasses that made him look like a human fly to lenses that made him look like a pretty fly human. These were all just memories now; re-creating some of these events wouldn’t even be possible.
With a sharp intake of breath, he saw his first pet, Buddy. How had he forgotten him? A warm golden retriever, Buddy had been with him during his teenage years, loyally sitting at his side through all of the unspoken troubles that rebellious teenagers inevitably go through. He remembered throwing the frisbee as far as he could and watching Buddy race after it, then laughing as he watched Buddy jerk his head from side to side trying to throw it back to him. He remembered sitting on the couch, watching the television, and seeing Buddy amble along and plop down right under his feet – he remembered Buddy’s breath swelling slowly up and down against his legs. He remembered…
He killed Buddy.
As he pulled into the driveway late at night, that foolish, affable, loyal creature bounded right in front of his car and the consequential thud said enough. He ran out of his car without a second thought, but it was already too late; Buddy lay still, never to catch, nor attempt to throw, another frisbee again. He forgot about how he cried as he held the cooling body in his hands, waking up with a blanket draped around him. He forgot about walking into the house, shivering, holding Buddy in his arms, and collapsing in a chair, hearing what his parents said to console him, but not understanding anything they said. He forgot the months spent in quiet everywhere he went, swallowing bit by bit the guilt that had consumed his soul.
He got over it eventually, but they never talked about it again in that house. Buddy was in many more pictures in that album, but something suffocated the desire to continue reminiscing on the matter. It was raining that day as well. Suddenly, the rain outside intensified in volume, and it took on a more menacing tone, a rumble of thunder, a glare of lightning. He saw the headlights of his car rove into the driveway, he felt the thud, the rain washed over him. How quickly it was all over, years of companionship ended by an exaggerated gesture of welcome. He missed his Buddy.
He had no idea how long he had been repressing this memory. It has been decades since he even thought of Buddy, much less the circumstances in which Buddy had been killed. He never got another dog, nor did he ever desire another pet. He always felt pangs of melancholy echo in the chambers of his heart when he saw other dogs, but he figured it was just puppy love. He sighed. He thought he had suppressed recalling the tragedy for so long because he took the life of what had been his best friend – turns out he had just been saving it for a rainy day.
He held the door open as his son gripped his coffee and met the brisk autumn air. They sat down on an old wooden bench in the park, one that had seen its fair share of romance, grief, and crumbs of bread from ducks being fed. He stared at the worn, rusty bolts in the wood, and wondered about the city’s use of its finances with regards to public restoration projects. Typical of the city to go for the grand gestures rather than paying attention to the existing detail falling swiftly into disrepair. His son turned to meet his eyes, staring at his stress-creased, bleary-eyed smile.
What are you thinking about, son?
He almost snorted. His father had asked this question to start every conversation they had as long as he could remember. Couldn’t he think of anything new after thirty-five years?
Not much, Dad. Just thinking about work and the wife, all the bills that need to be paid, my co-workers being paid more than they deserve, my boss being the most incompetent slouch I’ve ever seen in a professional workplace. I’m thinking about how communication between my wife and me has crumbled to the point where sighs take up more space than words between conversations. I’m thinking about seeing myself go grey every morning in the mirror, and all the alcohol I’ve been drinking to numb the years has been adding to a slowly rounding paunch. I’m thinking about the screeching alarm I wake up to every single day, reminding me of the miserable routine that I’ve thrust myself into, hoping one day to make enough money so I can retire to a life of golf and cigars.
But of course, he didn’t say any of that. Instead, his son just sighed.
Nothing much, Dad. Life as usual.
His father’s mouth formed an “o,” but his voice failed to escape his lips. He wondered about what had happened to this son of his, who used to talk freely and laugh easily. He thought on the years of joy they shared together, and somehow, it didn’t add up in his head. Had he gone wrong somewhere in guiding his son’s life? Had he been overbearing at all the wrong times, misunderstanding what his son was telling him? It had to be his high school friends; he always knew the wrong crowd would get to him, and they ruined his relationship with his only son. It seemed like every time his son looked at him, all he could feel was disappointment, as if he’d let him down somehow.
Whatever happened to us, David? We used to be so close. Now, we hardly have six words between the two of us. Was it your friends in high school? How could a few years with the wrong people have changed you so much? You’ve become heartless, David – please, remember me and remember all the times we had together.
No, Dad. It wasn’t my friends in high school. Don’t blame other people – who you don’t even know, mind you – for something that isn’t even their fault. The problem is, Dad, that as I got older, all I could hear about was how great you thought I was going to be in college, how you thought that I would make a great attorney, and how you had my whole life mapped out for me. Things were fine as a kid, but the older I got, the less I had a say in my own life. You’ve made me care about things like politics and paying the bills and bickering with colleagues when all I wanted was to make a difference in the world. But the world got to me, and you got to me, and there isn’t a thing any of us can do about it now. So just leave it there and accept what’s happened. I’m not the kid you used to know because you’ve just made me yourself. There’s no life more miserably wretched than the life lived out disingenuously, and you’ve made this life I live wretched with how you talked on and on about the petty problems you had at work, or the innumerable mishaps that didn’t really mean anything in the long run, but you focused on because you liked to hear yourself talk. You never cared about my dreams and aspirations, and you sucked my own life right out of me, slowly filling me with grey nonsense that only you care about. You stole the unexpressed genius of my youth and replaced it with a jaded set of eyeglasses from which I now look at the world. I suppose you think I should thank you now because you’ve helped me see the world as it is, but no, I won’t thank you. It’s not something to be proud of when you lose faith in your own perspective; it’s tragic, and now that I’m mired in this replica of your own story, I’m never getting out. Hopefully I won’t have a child because that way, I won’t run the risk of ruining his life as well. That’s some good parenting, Dad, you did swell. I’m making money and I have a house and I pay all my bills, but you know what? I’m dying day by day. My dreams have deserted me, and now I’m grasping in the darkness, my only hope is found in the current lack of it, that maybe some day, this lifelong nightmare will be over, and my eyes will be washed clean from the blindness I’ve been living in. But until that day, I have you to thank for the life I’m living, or having, rather; it would be a travesty to call what I’m currently doing living.
He got up and walked away after pouring the last of his heart out to his father. He left his cup on that wooden bench. His father stared at the emptiness occupying his son’s spot, hands trembling. Quietly, he lowered his head to his knees and clasped the back of his neck with his hands. He really had let his son down, and he just let him down for the last time.
He was just the weird kid that sat with the group during lunches, always a little to the left of you – far enough where he wasn’t sitting next to you, but close enough for it to be obvious where he wanted to be. No one really spoke to him, and people always whispered about how weird he was, how he never said a word, and they wondered why he even bothered sitting there. You always wondered about him, but you never felt like he was doing anything out of place, so you left him alone. You sometimes wondered about his expression, often catching him looking at you as well, but he would glance away just as your eyes fell upon his face. It was difficult to discern what went on behind his long hair, but any time you did catch a glimpse into his soul, it seemed familiar. Somehow, you knew what you saw; you both walked through the same trials, but you chose instead to put on a different mask. You smiled through the abuse, the tears, the screaming fear. You deflected invitations to lounge at your place, choosing instead the guise of mock humility in hopes that flattery would divert attention away from your broken household. You almost wanted to ask him how he was doing, but you feared that the resulting empathy would weaken your defense.
And so you went on living.
All through high school, he just sat there. Every lunch period, he would wordlessly sidle over to your general left, letting the backpack strap slip off his right shoulder to the ground, and sit. People stopped whispering about him eventually, sharing the belief that he wasn’t hurting anyone, so why bother? Yet you knew how much he hurt himself – you saw a scar that peeked out from underneath his long sleeves, and you could only imagine how much it hurt to be so near to friendship but never partake. You understood. And you never tried to change it.
And so you went on living.
You walked home everyday from school, opting to take the scenic route so that you could prolong the time spent away from home. You’d see him get picked up every day, looking straight ahead wordlessly as his mother drove off. You felt the silence in the car, and grimaced. Even if it was a forty minute walk, it was definitely preferable to the suffocation of that disapproving, insatiable silence. You exhaled as you found yourself at your own doorstep, apprehensive of the conditions that lay behind the slightly dented door. It stuck if you didn’t push down on it as it was opening, but it wasn’t too bad. Sometimes you’d be home alone, and you could actually do your homework in quiet. You’d make yourself a sandwich, and fiddle with your guitar, playing things mindlessly until you heard footsteps at the door. Putting away the guitar, you’d sigh and spread out on your bed, praying that the door to your room would stay closed.
There was no such luck today as you opened the door to the cries of your mother screaming at your father. Rushing forward to hold him back from killing her, you bit your lip as blow after blow rained on you. You crumpled. As you fell on your knees, hunched over, you felt your spine give out from the beating. With your eyes shut tight, all you could see was black and red, clenching your jaw so tight your teeth groaned under the pressure. Your breath leaves you and you fall forward onto the musty carpet, unable to respond to fading calls of your name.
As you come to, you realize immediately that you’d been taken to the emergency room. You sigh grimly, wondering when your life came to the point when you worried first about the medical bills that couldn’t be paid before you worried about your own health. You look over at the small table beside you, and you see a card with your name roughly scrawled on the cover. Curious, you open it, and begin to read.
By this point, I’m fairly sure you still don’t know my name. But that’s okay. I’m happy to be known as the quiet kid who sits on your left hand side at lunch. It always felt like we had a connection. It must be some kind of inescapable fate that led me to writing this card. I know you don’t know much about my life – I’m not even sure if you care, but I feel like I need to tell you this because maybe you do. Here goes nothing.
Every day at school, I walk around and try to keep a low profile. I stay quiet, and I try not to do anything weird, other than stay really quiet. At lunch, I go over to where you and the other people sit. If you’ve ever wondered why I’ve been drawn to your group, it’s mainly because of you. There was a moment, I think it was sophomore year, when you put your mask down, and I recognized myself in your eyes. I was walking in the hall, and caught sight of you opening the door to the bathroom. But what I saw wasn’t typical you. Your eyes gave it away; I saw the hurt you kept inside. I didn’t know what to do. At first, I just hung out with your group because you were the only one who would let me sit there and not ask questions or tell me to leave. I think your friends caught on, and so I sat there with you guys all through high school. Something about watching how you talked to your friends and how you paid close attention to what they said was really admirable. It’s like you held onto every word they said as if it was the last thing you’d hear them say. You rarely talked much about yourself, and I wondered why your friends never noticed that you would always dance around their questions about you – especially the questions about your home and your family. I wanted to talk to you, to have you listen to what I had to say, but I couldn’t even hold eye contact with you longer than an instant. And so I just watched.
I never would have guessed that you’d be going through something like this. Even though my parents are divorced, they’ve never laid a hand on me physically. It’s the emotional abuse that did me in. Feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, the desire to just be accepted for who I am and not what I do, I’ve thought it all. Eventually, I started cutting, and the peace that filled me in those moments was the only thing I looked forward to at home. My mom stopped talking to me since my dad left us, and she either works or sleeps. She never knew about my hobby. My dad, well, who knows where he is? I try not to think about him because I don’t want to run the risk of becoming anything like him. One day, my mom overslept, and so I had to walk home. It’s about a thirty minute walk, and along the way, I stopped by the ER. I don’t even know why. I stayed to see patients being rushed in, usually unconscious, and as I went in more and more after school, the staff grew to recognize me. They would let me in the back sometimes to see the people being taken care of, and I wondered what it’d be like if I was the one laying in the bed. Would anyone come see me? So, I began staying longer and longer, hoping for people to wake up so that I could hear their story. These people became my daily friends.
Still, I cut. Some days, I could go without it, but some days, I would spend as long as I could in the bathroom, watching my anxieties flow away in a crimson calm. Today, I avoided cutting, and went to the ER instead. I met Henry, who was paralyzed from the neck down, and Mary, who suffered third degree burns all along the left side of her body. And then, I met you. At first, I couldn’t even recognize you because you were swollen. Your mom was crying about how your dad beat you, but once she saw that you were being taken care of, she left. The nurses said that you needed a blood transfusion, and went to look for your mom, but she was nowhere to be found. I wondered out loud if I was a match, and the doctor searched for your records. We’re both O-negative. They set me up and drew blood, and the blood transfusion was under way. Guess it was a good thing I didn’t cut today, huh?
Anyhow, they drew enough blood and sent me on my way. I stayed in the lobby to write this card, hopefully my story didn’t annoy you too much. I just wanted to say thank you for not pushing me away, and just letting me be who I am comfortable with being. My mom was often silent at home, and it killed me; it seemed like she never forgave me for my dad abandoning us. But when you were quiet, I understood it as an invitation to do as I pleased, and I’ll never forget that. Hope you get better soon.
Stunned, you put the card down. You never realized that this was how he felt, and you began to regret not asking him how he was. It might have cracked your defenses, but you now understood that you needed one another more than you expected to help each other get through the circumstances you were both in. You lay in bed with your left hand still holding the card by your side, and you felt like reaching for the remote. As you turned on the television, the first thing that was on was a news report about a vehicular homicide. You tried your best to sit up, but froze as you heard the identification of the victim. It was Joshua. Apparently, he felt faint as he walked up the hill from the emergency room, and fell into the street, where a car, unable to see past the crest of the hill, unknowingly ran over his limp body, killing him. You broke down. You tried your best to yell, but your body denied you the capacity to. You covered your face with your hands, clutching desperately at your hair, not understanding why this happened. Each breath you drew brought you more pain as anguish racked your body. You cried quietly until the tears no longer frequented your face. When the last staggered breaths were drawn, you realized that Joshua, this complete stranger to you, gave his life that you might live. With that knowledge, you fought to find closure through it all. You found disbelief, you found anger, you found humiliation, and you found guilt. But finally, after everything, you found gratefulness.
And so you went on living.
He shuffled into the room, head bent, chin tucked, letting his book bag drop to the laminate floor below. Unable to bring his eyes level with the rest of the class, closing his eyes granted him a nightmarish reprieve from living in the present. Memories of shared smiles and time spent together studying after school flooded his senses. Her scent danced as a shadow across memory’s plane, growing with every deep inhale. He raised his hand as his name was called for roll, not looking up. As his heart thumped Daniel, David, Delia, the next name stilled his heart. Oh, that treacherous word that he had loved. And yet, he found it not in himself to despise her, but wished his own name to have been blotted out from the chapters of time. In his mind, she was still the most precious thing in his heart. Within his heart of hearts, he desperately clung to her as life – she had stolen his past and present with every breath of her existence.
Yet the words they exchanged scorched through his hopes and scorned his dreams. Calmly spurned as just being “another guy who wanted her as a trophy of some sort and not taking into account her own feelings and personality and who she was,” she turned and walked away from the hallway and apart from his soul. How could he have shown her that he would have held on until the last breath he had was hers? That every minute he conceived of could easily be spent on her? How could he have known what she meant when she said some of the things that she said to him? His analysis was his end. He realized it wasn’t his time, his dedication, his anything that she wanted. He realized that perhaps he hadn’t known her at all, that the mask she wore so well had preyed upon his own predilections. What an idiot he had been to think that she treated him any differently, with any more attention or devotion than she treated others.
He looked up and color vanished from his sight. The drab green chalkboard became awash in a disruptive grey, oaken tables took on a stark pallor in contrast with the tired darkness of the plastic chairs. Forget it all, what point is there in paying attention to anything anyway. His own naiveté and innocent passion drove him headlong into the disappointment of his life. He felt at once selfish for expressing his desire, hateful for thinking of his own wants over hers, sorrowful for the loss of her presence, regretful for his decision to speak up, wistful for the times before he made his grand gesture, nostalgic of times when they hardly knew each other, and hopeless as he considered the future ahead without her. What a blow, the silent fury of a tempest borne of a single, impure desire. And that purity, had it ever really existed? He felt ashamed as he condemned himself more and more for only approaching her out of shallow interest, without any consideration of improving her quality of life. His own life felt wretched and his soul corrupted by the taint of attraction. The vanity of his own romantic pursuit disgusted him as he became more and more convicted of his own stains. Daniel, David, Delia…disappointment.
He stood up, swinging his book bag over his shoulder in one motion, the red and black flannel bleakly hanging onto his sunken shoulders. Eyes facing downwards, the only sounds heard were those of the sliding of a chair, and the friction of his rubber soles aggravating the laminate beneath his feet as he walked out, managing to close the door silently behind him as he looked on to a life of grey expectations.
Under a clear blue sky distracted with white clouds, the young man heard his boots crushing the snow underfoot.
She was only sixteen.
He remembered their times together every waking moment, from the giggles on the grey, rusted swings as children, to braving the emotionally taxing dramas that sometimes come with middle school. Her tears she would bring him, and in turn, he brought her the comfort of laughter and reassurance. His frayed relationship with his parents often caused him to leave home, and he inevitably turned up on her doorstep. And she let him in.
I wish she was here.
He saw a man ahead of him, already kneeling at the place he himself had kneeled at every year. Confused, his pace quickened until he drew near the man, slightly out of breath and flustered – though not from the increased cadence of his steps. The man looked to be about fifty years old, with dark brown hair entangled with streaks of grey. He wore a weathered workman’s jacket, blue jeans, and tired working boots. Upon closer inspection, the boy saw that his face was lined with canals formed by years of stress, anxiety, and loss.
The man looked up at him without shading his eyes from the shining sun, nodded, and rose to walk away.
Who are you?
The man sighed and said in a low voice, I’m her father.
So why haven’t I ever seen you here?
The man’s eyes darted away, a flash of vicious indignation further scarring his face. But, he relaxed, and a weary sigh overcame him.
How many years have you been coming to visit her, young man?
Every single one of the eight years since she passed, sir.
I see. Were you two friends at school?
We basically grew up together, sir.
The man murmured, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
I suppose you deserve an answer then. Each year since she passed, I came to visit her at sunrise. When she was still mine, she loved going to see sunrises because that was one of the only times she could see me leave the house for work. Then, she got that disease, and I spent longer hours at work to earn more money and try to pay for her treatment. But because of that, I saw her less and less. I – I wasn’t even there when she passed.
I know. I was. What kind of father are you, leaving behind your daughter when she needed you by her side the most?
Did you love her?
I said, did you love her? Because if you were just friends with her, you wouldn’t have been there in her last moments.
Yes, I loved her.
At this, the man’s face broke into a smile, throwing the young man off guard.
What’s love to you, kid?
The young man hesitated, unsure of what to say to someone who was possibly the girl’s father. His mouth was left half-open before he closed it and swallowed, preparing himself to answer.
Love is when you care about someone so much that they’re all you can think about every moment of the day. For me, it was spending time watching sunsets with her. I asked her why she stayed out to see the sun go down, and she would only ever say that it was because there was nothing for her to do at home. Love is when you devote yourself to learning all about the person you love, when you are willing to suffer what they suffer so that they’re not alone. It’s considering that at the end of the day, the life you live has been affected so deeply by that person that to lose that person would be to lose a part of yourself. The Good Book says that love is patient, and that love is kind, sir. I cared about your daughter more than you could understand. She knew the parts of me that I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone else, and she shared the deepest parts of her life with me, until her life experiences were almost mine. I think that’s what love is, sir.
The man looked hard into the young man’s watery eyes, holding him there in his gaze for a while. Then, he spoke.
You’re right about love being all of that, for a young man. That’s how I remembered it too, when I was chasing after her mother. But there’s a part of love that you haven’t quite experienced, and I don’t blame you. Love never ends. That’s in the Good Book too. When you were describing all of that, yes, it’s true that love is devoting yourself to learning all about that person; yes, it’s being willing to suffer what they suffer; yes, it’s about having them become a part of yourself. But that’s not all. When her mother died, there was never a day that would go by when I would tell people that I cared about her, because that care never ended. So when you say that you cared about her, that she knew you and that she shared with you, you really do put her in this dirt we’re standing over; don’t you talk about all those things as if they were in the past, but speak of them as the truths that they are, in the present. Every day after her mother passed, I would come visit her and talk to her as well. When you love someone, she doesn’t need to be there for you to experience things about her. When you love someone, the world is constantly reminding you of her and how she is. I still love my daughter, kid. She’s not gone because so many things remind me of her. I’ve just retired, which is why you found me here so late, but I still woke up for the sunrise to spend it with her. Call me crazy, but I saw her smile as that sun peeked over the mountains there. But, that’s enough of that. Point is, if you love someone, even the separation of death won’t stop you from loving that person. Keep loving her, kid; she’s never been gone anyway.
With that, the man turned to walk away. The young man watched him go, tears falling from his eyes like rain.
Oh, wait. She left you something, underneath the pillow she slept on at the hospital; the nurse gave it to me when I visited the hospital late at night after she passed. I never thought that I would meet the young man she wrote it for, but you’ve got to be the one.
The young man trembled as he opened the letter, and the man, with his hands in his blue jeans walked off, whistling.
I love you.
I know you normally don’t start a letter off like that, but I just wanted you to know that that’s the first thing I thought when writing this letter. I think that, as much as it hurts me, I don’t have much time left here. The doctors and nurses have been wonderful to me, so pay them a visit and thank them for me after I’m gone.
By now, I hope that I haven’t been wrong in thinking that both of us love each other. It’s funny, I kind of knew that you always liked me by the way that you would always watch sunsets with me, no matter what. I guess it was my way of testing how loyal you were. But, you never missed a sunset with me, and I’m assuming you won’t even miss my own personal sunset. I was never really interested in the romantic parts of life; I just watched sunsets because I thought they looked pretty. But eventually, it was more than the sun setting that I looked forward to. I loved the way that you would walk me home slowly after it got dark, the way that we could talk about anything at all that was on our minds, the way that you looked into my eyes and made me feel like I alone captured your attention. The other girls at school always really liked you because you were so nice to everyone, so respectful…and so handsome. It’s weird, but I feel like growing up together never created an obstacle between us. It sounds so silly, but it’s like we were just made to love each other. I wish I didn’t have this disease; I can only imagine how hard Daddy’s been working to pay for all of this. But, I know that you and I will be with each other forever. Daddy used to always say something like “Love never ends,” ever since Mommy passed away, and I believe him. I know that eventually you’ll go off and marry a beautiful girl who adores you and would treat you as you deserve to be treated, that you’ll have a loving home and a wonderful future; I hope that you won’t forget me in the process. I know it’s unfair of me to do this, to ask that you let me occupy your heart when I’m about to leave this place, but I hope that in that big heart of yours, you can make space. Anyways, thank you for visiting after school every single day and bringing me wildflowers that you pick up along the road. They always make my day, even when I’m feeling horrible. I hope that this letter gets into your hands; I’ve told the nurse to tell Daddy who to give this to, but he might not know it’s you because he’s never met you before, and I’ve never talked about you with him. I started this letter with my love, and I’ll end it with my love, so that you know that my love continues on from beginning until whatever end may come. Take care of yourself, and keep on loving the people around you with as much love as you poured into me.
I love you.