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"I have stories for you, and they do not have endings."
This is what she told me on that day under the bluest sky, that day our paths crossed for the first time. "What do I need stories for?" Looking back, I was always ready to turn my back on her, but was never resolute enough.
"We all need stories. And many people need stories to go on and on."
Somehow she got to me, somehow I said yes I'd like her stories.
She wasn't lying when she said they're all unfinished.
It's summer and she's picking out tomatoes at the market nearby when she hears his voice behind her. Truth be told she already caught a whiff of his cologne a few seconds before he spoke. It was one of those moments when she knew something to be so true that she almost willed for it to be false. She wished she was imagining it. In a few seconds she went from disbelief to certainty to denial, and has convinced herself that she was not going to let herself feel love, and then hurt again. However, she finds herself turning around...
She is 11 and she is in a swimming class at 4 p.m. There is rain, and the grey clouds are not helping her any. She dreads these swimming classes because she is uncomfortable in a swimsuit. She thinks she feels this way because her classmates look very comfortable in theirs. She sits on the far side and wishes that no one will notice her lack of participation. She wishes it so hard that years have passed, and still no one's paying attention to her. She's always thanking the rain and grey clouds on that fateful swimming class day.
The theater has an ornate decor. He feels out of place standing by the door with stained glass elements he is too nervous to make out what. The first time he looked at the door he saw blue roses as big as his head, the second time he saw orbs, now that he's looking at it again he reconsiders that they may as well be discolored clementines. He fidgets with his watch and discovers that it had stopped at 7 p.m. It was 7 p.m. maybe half an hour ago. She is late. Again. For the 122nd time.
"You know you trust someone when you can sleep in their presence without worry." He learned this from his mother when he was little. He figured everyone learns this at a young age. He is grown up now, and a little boy's head is lolling beside his right arm. They're at a jeepney that is moving too slow on a humid day. The boy's mother is asleep by now. Finally the little boy relents and lays his head on his arm, and the softness of it causes the grown man to fight tears as he thinks of his own mother.
I dreamt of buttering bread, a house with many rooms, a gate that wouldn't lock, a ship with its lowest level filled with dead bodies and sinister men, a shoe, a boy with long hair, you and I sitting on a knoll, I dreamt of you several times in the past two weeks and I almost asked you, did you dream of me, too? I dreamt of a natural gas field explosion, I dreamt of safety, of danger, of a van just for baggage, my mother pregnant in her late 50s. I keep waking up confused, rattled, amused, disbelieving, hopeful,
He believes in fairies. Though he hasn't seen or felt one. He spends every day wishing for an encounter with them. Every morning, he walks through the woods behind his house. For the whole morning he just walks and walks, believing that he could be lucky to see or feel a presence. In the dewdrops on the leaves, maybe through the dappled sunlight, maybe he'll find tiny footsteps, maybe something will whisper, maybe he will meet a nasty fairy, he'd be happy just for anything that has to do with glitter and magic, it is now day number 3,629.
She said she was going to explain to me why Kazakhstan is so large, and she said it in a way that made me wonder if the size of a country could really be explained? I held on to her promises like a child waiting for sweets and play time after a long day at school. She kept telling me to wait a little longer, good things come to those who wait blah blah blah and true enough eventually her promises sounded like blah blah blah to me, literally, I had to tell her to shut up. I'm not kidding.
He likes seeing her in that yellow dress, the one which, when the sunlight hits it, she becomes like an angel because it almost looks white. And then, whenever she comes near his desk, her yellow dress serves as his pick-me-upper amidst the drab office world he chose to live in day in, day out. She smells like fresh laundry and powder all the time and he wants to just be near her every chance he can get. Her smile is like a sunny Sunday with just the right amount of breeze. He likes her quite a lot.
He wants to solve the mystery of The Subtle Ways We Make Amends. For example, his best friend flaked out on him on a very important day so he told him off and asked him to please not speak to him for a while. Now, this friend was distraught and wanted to make amends. But he is also full of pride and, not wanting to be obvious, used another person to "apologize" to his best friend, who then embarked on a mission to find out why people don't just, for the love of God, say what they feel outright. Why
The boy and the girl meet for elevenses every Thursday at that corner café with the angry waiters, who have low tolerance for ill-mannered, entitled people. Both of them enjoy watching the waitstaff lash out at customers, obviously new to the place, who complain and act snooty at the slightest perceived error. I digress, the boy and the girl who are fond of elevenses on Thursdays are quite fond of each other, too. Only, they are hesitant to admit this. But the waitstaff knows. The day undulates through their conversations and they always end up wishing it's Thursday again.
There is a way to erase a memory for good. First, it must be a bad memory. And in order for it to be erased, all the good memories associated with it must also go. If you disagree with this rule, then, here's how to pre-erase bad memories: Avoid being happy. This is foolproof. See, the existing ones are there forever, you can only keep them in an imaginary chest but never get rid of them. I know you came to me looking for a way to erase the memories you have now, I'm sorry for wasting your time.
Sometimes I let my imagination run wild. And in that place where I go to meet you, you are happy and content. You have no concerns about the weather like you often do. Your hair is unkempt but in a good way, like you've found a way at last to let the little things go. It makes me glad seeing you that way. In that place where I go to meet you, your laughter is thick with hope. You pound on stuff as you laugh, like you can't be contained, it's almost scary to watch, how happy you have become.
"...feelings not easily made without need." Is her favorite line from a song, she said. You devise ways to remember a person, if you want to. And you don't do it at will, it just kind of happens. In her case, I will remember her by this song. She listens to it when she's taking a shower, when she's on the bus, when she's in line waiting for something, when we're having coffee. I've learned to make out the muffled sound from her earphones. It comforts me to know that it comforts her. "God bless that smile on your face."
In Bangkok there is an alley that leads to a doorway with elephant-print dresses hung at the sides. Step through the threshold and the smell of something spicy cooking assaults you, but only if you step through. Step back out and the smell disappears. Step right back in and it comes back. Step further in and you will feel wet, furry things on your forehead. Elephants. Baby elephant snouts. Then they will speak to you, yes, speak. "Welcome," is what they say. Sometimes they are kind to warn you "Step further in and you'd never be able to leave."
Her relationship with her father consisted of voice tapes, long letters, and weekly phone calls. She grew up in a home with no adults, and learned early on that her decisions counted, especially if they were bad. Every Christmas she would receive a package from Lisbon with the message "to my little princess." In the first 10 years sure, they were precious reminders of her dad's unwavering love. But nowadays they are mere reminders of his decision to abandon her. There is guilt disguised as love, she realizes, as she prepares to throw her collection of identical sad ballerina figurines.
"Earn a child's trust and you're all set." This is the only "rule" in this new world he found himself in. "That's it?" he chuckles. He has always been a proud man. "That's easy," he said, even if he has no prior experience in earning a child's trust. He doesn't even think to ask what will happen if one can't accomplish this task. And so he is put to the test. The child "assigned" to him is petulant. And of course he responds with the same attitude. And, oh you know what happens, he fails the test. The punishment is...
Take me to the aquarium and sit with me there for the whole morning. For lunch I want the two of us to ride the tramvia to this forgotten street where there is an old woman maintaining a panciteria. It's really not forgotten, see, because I remember. My father used to take me there. In the afternoon, I want us to talk about the old woman. Her tenacity, her trust in people, her will to do the same things day in and day out, even on days when no one comes around. I want to understand that kind of strength.
It was one of those 2 PMs when the rain was hesitant and so it was very humid. This is her favorite kind of day, because the anticipation for rain makes her giddy. She gets her usual iced hazelnut latte, but with less ice and more espresso shots than necessary. These days it is a necessity to be extra aware always. But see, when people say "always" they don't always mean always. But her? She does mean "always." She has been awake for 38 days by today. Her hands are shaking as she repeats "22 more days, 22 more days."
She was dreaming of a cold afternoon in HK when the fire hit. In the dream, she was walking with her brother along a busy street looking for cheap clothing shops. Rapid knocks woke her. "FIRE, WAKE UP!" her other brother's voice. She has an emergency bag ready for incidents like this but in her panic, she couldn't locate the bag. Instead she picked up a plastic bag full of dresses and elaborate party clothes she was meaning to give away. Her home was gutted. Nowadays, you can spot her wearing ornate clothes, walking among refugees wearing their tattered ones.
At first she knew that she didn't love him, that she was only fond of him. It was even often disdain that she felt for him, which oddly, made her more interested in him. Somehow it didn't bother her that she didn't care to know how
felt for her. There was the assurance of a daily routine. Three months in of living together and she begins realizing that yes, she'd like for him to always be beside her on afternoons after work. Smell him, hear his voice. How does she tell him without giving so much away?
"I am assuming my father learned at an early age that there is nothing more dangerous than showing your true self. I think a lot of us learn that, and it actually may be true. But many of us try to unlearn that." http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/style/missing-a-father-i-hardly-knew.html?_r=0 The cliches are the facts, right? Maybe not, but sometimes yes. I keep a photo of my kids in my wallet, because that's what a lot of dads do. I show them off to strangers. I'm confused what it achieves.
Somewhere in Las Vegas are orange roses. Winters are harsh thereabouts, he once walked home from the bus stop wearing a thin shirt and a denim jacket--these meant "layers" where he came from. He learned that day that somewhere else, something could mean something else entirely. Then summer came, and he learned that it's unwise to leave the house on days when temperature hits more than 100. He met her by the house where the orange roses are. Whenever he passes by he stares at the flowers. "But you're" changes meaning if you make it "and you're," she said.
Her idea of a treasure hunt involves extracting distant memories from old people at the park. She sits on a bench every morning waiting for a particular old man to show up, this man is her favorite because he says things like: "I have so much to ask my mother, and I often wake up reeling from a dream, thinking, crying, telling myself -- I wish I had asked my mother about that." She is pained by his voice, but is comforted by it as well. Today the old man is taking too long to show up, she begins to fidget.
"Movie scenes where the characters sing together in an automobile always make me cry, even if the scene ends with the characters laughing about it."
"You know what else makes me cry? Hugging. I hate seeing people hug. I hate in a way that...you know, I love it and it makes me cry, that's why I hate it because I don't like crying in public. You get me?"
Ants Marching by Dave Matthews Band, also #41. Those songs make me cry. Listen to them and report back to me, see if you feel the same."
There is an old playground not far from my house. A rusty slide, rickety roundabout, and a forlorn pair of swings populate an eerie spot with suspicious-looking trees. No one plays there, at least in the last three years I've been passing by. It's not neglected nor is it forgotten. Every Monday it looks like someone cleaned up, and there is a bouquet of yellow flowers in the far left corner. From afar it looks like a yellow ball. A closer inspection informed me they were flowers, a little boy poked through the trees and told me the same.
He wears dress pants like he's worn them all his life. The cuffs land on his shoes in this delicate and elegant way that makes her think he has measured his pants with uncanny precision. See, many things about him scream "utmost care." And yet there is a warning of abandon every time they are close to each other, as if something could come undone at the mention of a wrong word. She wonders as she stares: How can someone dress up immaculately and give out a vibe of chaos? She's smitten almost to the point of panic so she...
On Tuesdays there's a street fair wherein people from the mountains sell pebbles. These pebbles are rumored to cause prosperity and never ending happiness. They cost how much, one will ask, and the people from the mountain will point to their chest, where the heart is. "My heart for a pebble?" someone will say. The people from the mountains will nod. "It's not for you, it's for people you love," the mountain people will say. Most will walk away shaking their heads. A few number of small children think about making the purchase, and some end up closing the deal.
There is a spot in Baguio where fog settles just below your knees and if you take a photograph it will look like you're walking on clouds. There is a photo somewhere of a boy with his back turned and fog is enveloping him. In that moment when I took that photo, I believed I was in love with him. And that is how I see him most days--disappearing, walking away, disinterested, even now that we call each other friends. "Some emotions don't have names," I often tell him. And he responds, as he always does: "Names are dangerous."
My favorite thing about him is his plaintive voice. When he sings? It's even more attractive. He sings during the most surprising times. At the mall, while we're eating, at church, during sleep. Well, now they're not surprising to me anymore. I still enjoy watching people getting startled though, especially at church when he suddenly blurts out a Passion Pit song. I like that he's strange and unapologetic, I like that he's redefined "strange" for me, I like that he buys flowers on ordinary days and ignores me on "important" days. On Christmas Day he likes going to the beach.
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