Small surrenders.

For a while, I never truly grasped when the platonic ends and the romantic begins. Is it in the moments when the gaze lingers a split-second longer? Is it when the body gives in to the mattress a little deeper? Is it during times when the chest yields to the weight of theirs? The answer, I have found, is in all of them. The little things.

When slanting beams of light enter a room and you notice the dust dance and turn golden, you realize there is more to that moment than you care to admit. It is the little things that make the soul dance. For in the little things, you will find unstudied moments of surrender.

For a man who has not been given the words, the body becomes the place where they make room for the tenderness. It is in this fleshly terrain that they find their sanctioned language for love and closeness. For a woman who has not been blessed with the physical strength, it is in her mouth and her heart where she finds the weapons of mass destruction. It is through her words and intentions where she wields power to make the beasts submit.

Dear reader, it is through little ways that people find the courage to become soft.

So, how does one know if the friendship has blossomed into starry-eyed love? Look to the little things. For in the little things, you will uncover whispered professions borne by the heart and soul. It is in the little things where bite-sized romantic confessions rise to the surface and become ripe for harvest.

Playdates.

At times, I conjure demons out of hiding to come and play. They slither out of the cracks merrily, asking where I have been.

I tell them I have been travelling between the phantasms of nightmares and the realities of the objective world; that I have learned there is not much out there to see; that my follies have flown me too close to the sun and now my heart is filled with embers at risk of fizzing out like falling stars, one after another.

They seethe with resentment. They see through my ruse. They know I only seek them out when I need an excuse.

“In all your joys, you never once see them through. What is it about happiness that frightens you?” they ask.

I acquiesce to their astuteness and answered, “I know happiness is akin to an eye’s glimmer, glimpsed only fleetingly. I dare not relish in the warmth, lest it burns through my skin and scar.”

“No good thing ever lasts. You are wise to come. All the others would have turned you away, but not us! We know you; only we can fathom your depths, and we have missed you dearly. What game should we play today?”

I stood in the silence, letting the question linger in the air. My mind echoing, wondering, “Why am I here?”

Our heads are large, cavernous spaces. They contain the voices, both kind and cruel, of all the people we have ever known. Some are languid and soothing, halting rogue fears and rekindling the strength that lay dormant within us. Others are vicious and relentless, gnawing at our bones and wanting nothing else but to keep us small.

I have shared my bed with the demons for the better part of three decades. In that time, I have wavered in and out of numerous consciousness, always with one foot out the door, constantly fearing the softness will show. For softness has no place in this world — women demand abrasive strength from their sisters, while men expect flesh free of mortal wounds.

I am soft, and I am scarred. My being has become home to people who have not been given the space to express their surrender to tenderness. The journey I am on requires me to unburden myself of all external expectations that serve as fodder for my yielding to the demons in my head.

I have not yet learned how to stop seeking them out in days of joy. I have not yet learned how to not become wary of happiness. For now, I will try to bask in the fleeting, rose-colored glow of my glee, breathing in its perfumes and sleeping in its balminess for a little while longer.

2019.

Before we met, I lived countless lifetimes with crumbs in my hand, secretly waiting for someone like you to find me. I came with a caveat: “Broken. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” I have been falling in and out of love with half-way lovers and waging wars with internal demons for nothing more than a promise of a moment’s peace. Despite knowing this, you came to my door and made a home on the front porch while looking for a way in. For the life of me, I still do not know if you relish in the agony, or simply possess a heart too big for this place.

For all it brightens, love casts the longest shadows — I know this in theory, but have never had the forbearance to see beyond the pain and earthly flaws… until you. In all the days I simmer in the ire caused by your shortcomings, I think back to all the times when you and all your virtues sat with me, unwavering and unruffled. For every wall I put up, you found a way to break through. I finally surrendered not because you proved yourself worthy, but because you showed me I am worth loving. For that, I am grateful and beholden to mirror you devotion and patience.

If I could give you the world, I would. But since I can’t yet, let me offer you a piece of my heart for now — a promise made in good faith. Herein lies a tiny part of a massive, complicated tapestry that has been torn countless times only to be stitched back together by kind, loving hands before your time. It has been beaten bloody and raw, but has found a way to become shiny and new. It is a gift I have given to too many, all worthwhile — each hand has basted every crevice, every valve; some parts made heavy and stiff, others sewn resilient and forgiving. There is no version of you too ugly or too dark that will turn it away. I pray that I can show you, just as you have shown me, that your worst parts are also worth loving.

There is a stillness in my breaths whenever you come by. For every minute I spend with you, I awake to the truth that I have never really known peace outside of myself until now. For every late night stirring, you bring a calm that puts an end to the restlessness clawing at my throat. With you, it only takes a moment for all the frost in the pit of my belly to thaw. Your hands are the warmth that puts me back to sleep.

This past year threw us too many curve balls for our liking. We may not have always acted in each other’s best interest, but I need you to know that you are still my home. For every time I say your name, I still live for the aftertaste. They say love is different every time, each with its own truth, but I like to believe the one I have with you makes any other love I have known a lie.

Here’s to love, here’s to faith, here’s to doing better for ourselves and each other from this day forward. As we sail through life, until my last day’s dying breath, I will always choose love. For as long as you are here, I will always choose you.

I’ll love you always.

‪Unrest.‬

My mind is a forsaken battlefield riddled with the aftermath of the war I wage against demons that linger in the fog. There is a minute’s reprieve in moments I stop and lick the blisters on the hands that allow me to hold on for life.

Funny how you would like to believe you have healed from everything that wounded you only to find in the middle of the night, in between the pauses and idle time, that the scars are still there — red, indented, throbbing.

There is no rest in dreams. The light dims as I succumb to the call of slumber. What nightmares await me under the heavy blanket of REM sleep?

The onus is on me. Damsels need not be in distress. It does not serve protagonists to linger in the excruciating realm of the known, but the road that ventures into the promise of uncertainty is lost in a haze of salty tears and unfounded hope. I no longer wish to live in the bog, but that is where the familiar thrives.

Where is the lie? Where is the truth? Who am I if I am not this?

Disconnect.

The mid-November sky has plagued fatigued humans with pelting rain and I, safe inside the warmth of a Middle Eastern diner, allowed myself to marinate in some late afternoon schadenfreude. The chaos of wet shuddering bodies standing shoulder to shoulder, trying to keep themselves warm as violent droplets of water hammer at every exposed surface has proved to be ripe for my entertainment.

The only sight more delightfully morose is the couple across me — physically together, but mentally elsewhere. Each is more gripped by the glow of their device than of each other’s. It’s a sad thing to be that close and not drink each other up.

In a time where digital connection stretches wide and blurs terrestrial boundaries, the human divide throbs stronger and grows more sinister. We have no one else to blame but ourselves in the inevitable demise of intimacy. The weather outside seems far less gloomy than the weather of this era. Our bodies create a generous home for our cracked reality, yet we let it waste away.

What good is a longer, healthier existence if we only spend it living vicariously through personas behind a screen? For what other purpose do these avatars serve than to escape unfulfilling worlds? Why do we willingly let ourselves spiral into these self-destructive follies? These are questions we allow to linger mid-air, never even bothering to look for the answers.

For L.

I know relationships are nebulous — they can uplift and defy gravy, or they can lead love-drunk sirens into the bog. I have drowned in the quagmire many a time. I have been saved by well-meaning, but tempestuous boys many times, too. But while they got me out, my body and mind didn’t leave.

The body never forgets. Pain creates a hypervigilance that manifests like frozen embers. You can never put a finger on what sensations are there, not really — they are low, hot trills that permeate the crevices of your skull, the valves of your heart. They tingle and then numb. They leave the body through the path carved along your spine and diffuse into the atmosphere — taking every bit of hope with it.

You are then left empty, as if there is no more of yourself to lose. You become a shell yet again. The hollow hums, then vibrates until it becomes unbearable. There is a burning need to fill the void with more bodies, more trinkets, more half-meant promises. I know all this. I feel all this.

It is not your fault. The world can be a ghastly place. And while people can heal you, they can also wound you. The closer you let them, the deeper the cut. You are in survival mode like your ancestors before you; like the ill-fated lovers of a bygone epoch. You have not much choice left except to fight, flee, or freeze — and right now, you are frozen still while the earth violently shifts below your feet. You can stay there and never again feel, or you can drag one foot in front of the other and heal.

You are allowed to feel weak, but you are not obliged to make yourself more palatable for the consumption of others. Allow yourself one more choice. A new way of living requires a painful awakening, releasing, unlearning. Allow yourself to soften and exist in the delicious place of the present. Allow yourself to feel small for a time until you suffocate under the weight of the narrow space, until you tire of the affliction of wasted time, that you force yourself free.

Let go of burdens heavier than your broken heart. Revisit decrepit tombstones to remember what you allowed to die in order to live. Revisit dusty shelves sagging with lessons drawn from all the places you have been.

When you give your weaknesses space to breathe, you allow the right people to see the fabric of your soul and where the threads are damaged or worn thin — to which they, at minimum, will do no further harm. Instead, they will ever so carefully start to weave their own threads in places where you are laid bare and bleeding. Some will depart, some will stay, but each will leave a masterpiece in their wake — a tapestry meant to drape on the shoulders of the willing and the worthy.

There is a magical life ahead of you. I pray that you live it.

Victor.

Today, noontime delight came in the form of crisp October air that made its way into the hollows of my chest. The blue sky yielded to gray clouds burdened with rain. I am grateful for the reprieve from the daunting dampness of a world in turmoil.

Today, my soul is less welcoming than usual, evading familiar eyes with a fervor. I am grateful for the chance to sit in my silence a little while longer.

Today, my heart is especially heavy – coasting in a spiral of never-ending autumn gloom. I am grateful for the brokenness that welcomes nurturing slivers of light.

Today, tawdry Christmas songs invade my calm, while unsuspecting pedestrians stain my once evergreen periphery. Still, I am grateful for the little trespasses that remind me I am not alone.

Today, I made my way back to my cubicle unfulfilled. The world can be a cacophony of screams and my emotions can be too loud for my body. I am grateful for the solitude.

Today, I have lost some weight by some effort to stave off my usual poisons; by some futile attempts to run away from my usual spectres. Regardless, I am grateful for my verve.

Today, I am made weary from fighting – but I still made room for the quiet shifts of my joy. I am grateful for my bouts of hope.

Today is another impossible battle won.

Thriving beneath concrete.

On the 9th floor of a 10-storey building smack in the middle of this bustling IT park, I find refuge from the corporate barrage of tasks and small talk in the handicap stall of the women’s bathroom. This unassuming oasis comes with a window pane a little too high for my liking, but has nonetheless blessed me with a view of the life below — a surprisingly pleasant mix of trees, sea, and concrete. From above, the buildings look out of place as if they were fighting for attention against nature’s calm incandescence. I stare into its splendor for as long as standing on tiptoes permits. How wonderful would it be if I was just a few inches taller?

I make my way below for sustenance and some solitude. Life on the ground is lackluster at first glance. Depending on your worldview, you will find either concrete prisons or architectural havens for hopefuls who seek fuller lives beyond what they can find in the domestic. Looking up from the umbrage, the blue and white sky glistens, unbothered by the staggering giants that block out the beating sun. How wonderful is the shade?

Life in this city teems with chaos and wonder, feeds me bits and pieces of human chagrins and eccentricities in forkfuls. In this theater, I am the adoring spectator — once removed from partaking, but close enough to witness, smell, taste, love, infuriate. It is during these moments when I transcend my inner world and live in tangible tandem with earthly glory and constructs. How wonderful is this existence?

Life is as scintillating as it is mundane. People often retreat to the curated worlds of their own design. To my left is a girl in a loose sweater, hair unkempt. She walks about and projects nonchalance for her looks, but her well-drawn brows and cherry lips give her away. How often do we pretend not to try?

To my right are meandering children forming what looks to be their earliest clique — the girl who has the food wields the power. You would do well to please this fickle epicurean queen. How wonderful would it be to live this deliberately?

As soon as I lose myself in my voyeuristic daze, a sylphlike figure taps me on the elbow and wishes me an enjoyable time with my thoughts. Must be a colleague, I thought. We have never been this proximate, she has never sent a wink my way. The only indication of our shared association can be found by virtue of our identical lanyards. How wonderfully kind humans can be.

Just when I was convinced that I was merely an onlooker living on a foreign plane, I am suddenly made aware that this theater of life is an immersive spectacle made richer because I am also in it. How wonderful it is to be alive.

🍃✨

Hard brew.

Once upon another time, there was a girl whose hopes and dreams left her aching for time to go faster. Her heart was massive, her faith unshaken.

“What could possibly go wrong tomorrow?”

Now, her cigarette smoulders in her makeshift ashtray. She’s been putting off getting a real one because she cannot bring herself to admit that she’s been a slave to this nicotine tyrant for a good part of her life now.

The island is vast, but life is short in her city. There’s a knot in her gut just kicking and screaming.

“Do people in my life care enough to love the muddy parts of me just as much as the shiny ones?”

It’s five minutes before 11. She sits and marinates in the gloom and silence. How many others share her delusions of a high-functioning adulthood?

Melancholy brews in the pot and she sips from cups filled with her own internal tantrums. She has yet to pick out what to wear for work tomorrow. She keeps staring at the clock wishing, praying for time to stop so she can while away in the standstill.

“Can I put off life for a little while longer?”

Only a few know the way she breaks. Only a few have cared enough to help pick up the pieces. Her light flickers most days and she dreads the burnout. Her grief changes shape, but it never ends.

Cinderella.

The madness of youth burns a hole through the veins. One day, you walk through life as if you are immune to its ravages. The next, you cry over stale coffee, clothes not fitting like they used to, or a love unrequited. When you look into the eyes of a beloved and see the possibilities, smell the perfume, feel the warmth so passionately, you almost forget about the impending goodbye.

What stories do we tell ourselves to sleep through the night?

Mine is of a girl whose mind is never quite right. Her heart always too big, her voice always too loud, her body never warm enough to sleep next to. She is unlovable, forgettable. Why she even tries is beyond me. She is but a blip in the cosmos, always dreading the midnight hour. For when the clock hits 12, her fairy tale ends. It always ends, be it by her own machinations or of lovers’ past and present. The truth of the matter is, no one’s hands are clean. No one comes out unscathed — her most of all.

But a life half-lived is not a life. A life in shambles has its charms. What is happiness without suffering? Suffering flays the skin raw. What other way to know you’re alive if not to bleed? To feel?

After all stories are told, all songs are sung, all tears are wept, and all beginnings begun, you see the truth of all the bodies laid bare. To us, the universe is everything. To the universe, we are nothing but atoms that fall apart at the slightest touch. Insignificant. Replaceable.

Sometimes, the universe is a person. Most times, it is a mass of regurgitated truths and heirloom follies. We live our lives never for who we are but for who we will be, for who our beloveds think we should be. Who we are is gone with each passing second. Every heartbeat is a eulogy to our past selves. We only become free after we draw our last breaths.

Inside the people we leave behind is a mausoleum of who we once were in their eyes. It is a prison we are more than happy to inhabit. It is the heaven we so desperately covet. There, we waste away day after day. The end is always too close to see. Before you know it, it’s five minutes to midnight. The fairy tale draws to a close. It’s only a matter of time until we are pumpkins and paupers once more.