Beachhead.

Boxes litter the magical space that housed me for five years. I say magical because within this 18-square-meter abode is where my dreams feel most alive, most within my reach.

Today, I am retreating to my parents’ place… for good. For now. There is an ache in the hollows of my chest. I was steadfast on not moving back to that sleepy city. Every fiber of my being still protests. But my pride must relent.

The dull metropolis of my childhood is a living, breathing contradiction. Filling its streets are dull crowds with colorful minds, miserable people with hollow hearts and sharp tongues. Privy neighbors satiate their restlessness with their unwitting victims’ latest conquests. Buildings have stayed the same for decades. Dreams collect dust on top-most cupboards.

That city is a museum for the nostalgic — frozen in place, refusing to ride the flow and ebb of time.

Most who stay only do so because they fear the unknown. Most who leave refuse to come back. But those who do? To be fair, there are those who left their hearts there; those who have seen it all and done it all that its slow, steady pace serves as salve to their battered souls.

And then there are people like me: those down on their luck, forced to tolerate the humdrum of provincial inertia.

It’s not so bad, I lie to myself. My family’s there, at least. It’s not so bad. It’s not so, so bad. Rinse. Repeat.

My family is the Sun, and my heart is the Earth. But where there is love, there is also drama. And I thought I had successfully escaped it. No one tells you blood-borne grief has a penchant for pacifists. Running away is futile.

Silly, silly me.

There are things still to be packed. I drag my feet in an effort to stall the inevitable. To my right are wine glasses, glinting in the afternoon sun. To my left lays a half-empty soju bottle, begging to be rid of its wild limpid spirit.

So, I toast. I mourn. I celebrate. I say thanks.

I toast to me and the wars I have won in my balmy solitude. I mourn the hopes that were never born. I celebrate the dreams I was lucky enough to witness take off. Finally, to this 18-square-meter beachhead, I say thanks.

I gained proper footing inside your four walls. In the wars I have waged against conformity, you were a strategic piece of blissful heaven. I have found myself in you.

Even though I am raising my white flag, it is not in defeat. It is in hope for better things to come. Life is funny like that, after all. You win some, you learn some. You get everything you have ever wanted, but not all at once.

You were my home. While I am choosing to leave, you will always stay that way… at least in daydreams.

Oh, how the Broken betray themselves!

Sweet memories swell and rush into a river along Poet’s bend.

The Broken ride their sentimental boats, dipping their paddle blades against the rippling force that tugs and breaks. Their stomachs churn as their arm movements match the racing of their hearts. Thud, thud, thud — pounding thick and sour liquid in the backs of their throats.

Bodies shaking, mouths clenching, organs shifting higher into their frozen lungs. Breathing becomes Survival’s labor, sipping air frantically like a cold drink in the heat of summer.

The last time they’d given themselves over to Love, it had sacrificed them on Disappointment’s altar. Now, they are left to fight the roaring waves of Memory and plunge into Grief’s ecstasy once more. This is their routine, coming and going like the tides that beat on what remains of their hope.

Yesterdays are all they have left. So, they fight to catch them; bottle them up for safe keeping. There is a soothing quality to the bygone days, after all. Remembering each touch like it was a worship, like they were delicate centuries-old artifacts, makes the Broken come alive.

Once more, they are made to believe they are worthy. One more time, they allow themselves the luxury of being whole again.

But at what cost?

Three.

Three years ago, a window opened and your light crept in — slowly, then all at once. This letter took a similar unhurried pace: needing twenty-six days to arrive at the words. So much has been said, felt, overcome.

Three years.

Our redemption resides in how little has been lost. No single otherworldly good has been taken away from Eden’s garden, only bittersweet lessons added to grow into honeyed fruits ripe for our picking.

Three years.

Today, hatchlings chirped at the trails of white across the blue sky. Magnificent metal birds thought to be their kin left them there as sights to behold; as abstractions to ponder on from afar.

Love was once like that for me: curious velvety streaks stark against vast cerulean canvas, only meant to be adored or gawked at from a distance. I, the hatchling, still sticky from naiveté and afterbirth.

Love — always just out of reach; always far beyond what my sometimes-juvenile mind can grasp. Three years past.

Inside this mortal vessel, the heart played second fiddle to the brain. I dared not delude myself into believing the heart is capable of anything except giving into losing fancies. In absolute truth, I dared not deceive myself too boldly lest I be disappointed. I was none the wiser.

Three years.

Love doesn’t hurt. I’ve heard this spoken often then. Three years with you, I believe this to be true now.

When storms rage, you are the lighthouse that guides me safely to shore. When freezing, you are the balmy calm that sways me away from sinister sleep. When restless, you fill the growing void with peace.

Three years.

Thank you for your light. Thank you for your warmth. Thank you for your solace. My weary bones are made sturdy, my soul knows no hunger, my heart is rid of fear because of all that you are.

When the next tempest hits, I will anchor myself with the kindness and wisdom that drip from your tongue. When the chasm proves too great to overcome, it will be your hand that pulls me out of the depths. When doubt casts its shadows, it will be these three years I will fondly look back on to shake me out of the haze.

I’ve loved you then. I love you now. I’ll love you always.

B.

Four years without you took roots like prickly flowers on arid earth; flowed through like hot liquid down our throats. While we miss you miserably, the muddy cracks make space for light; the burns radiate warmth. We are better people because of you. I hope you’re well 🖤✨

Exposed.

I slit my wrists open and the exposed vein bled out the horrors of my barely-there childhood. My chest echoes hollow from all the pain and crying. I am birthed to be nothing more than a dam of misery. I am birthed to be nothing more than a shrine of my mother’s lost youth.

I was born on a September night while storms brewed in the horizon. My mother bled like she never did before, her hips dipped in and out of pain. I was born from the ashes of her dreams. Her sorrows gave way to a life full of promise and yearning.

Her bed is where she will lay unfulfilled for decades to come. I am my mother’s savior — all her hopes made flesh. For a moment, as most women are wired to feel when spawning their young, all her failures seem so trivial as she looked into the eyes she carved from her flesh.

But I still catch her in daydreams. She traces the silhouette of her “maybes” and “if onlys” as if she could bring life to them just through wishing. She lives through me because it is the only way she knows how.

Her skin bleeds rose petals from the thorn crown she wears. Her floor scattered with relics from her adolescence. What hopes and dreams died with her that day she found out she is with child? What medicine does she take for her restless heart?

She said her life has been multiplied by four; that she is reborn one child at a time. Still, she gets lost her in daydreams. We are her surrenders. We are her hopes and dreams and “could-have-beens”. She comes to life sipping on our tantrums. She sinks her teeth into our tears.

But my mother is also the monster under my bed; the bottomless canyon I keep falling into. Her name conjures nightmares and I constantly slip into the void of her creation. My mother has carved me empty.

Written on my wrists are the words she repeats into my ears:

You have surpassed all I am, all I ever will be. You will be my saving grace — all my dreams realized. You will pull me out of the gaping wound of my own mother’s doing. You cannot leave me behind. You will save me. Please, save me.

Call of the void.

I do not remember the last time I felt safe. Even in moments of pure joy, a lunatic impulse to rouse the corpses out of their graves overwhelms. A fear seeps into the cracks, reminding me not to let my guard down. Yet, I welcome it.

Perhaps this is both my delight and my folly — wherever the void’s hands moved, my body is as yielding as water. Submerged in the rapture of the deep – hundreds of fathoms down and still sinking – the fumes of the bog still faintly cling to my nostrils. The air escapes my lungs, but the effervescence of my fears keeps the heart beating.

I am perpetually on top of a skyscraper that has seen better days — every inch of its vertical space occupied by chaos and dust. Malice overcomes the rose-colored haven in my mind. I let it. Thick and heavy, I feel every quiver of its breathing.

Atop this high place, the void beckons and I come alive. For every paramour or friend weighed and found wanting, my knees numb and a coldness creeps under my skin, eventually making its way into my spine. Yet again, I come alive. In the humid stillness of noons, when my reserves deplete, I bask in my viscous humanness and I come alive.

Heaven is the opium for the credulous and the afraid, uncertainty is mine. Neither herb nor alcohol comes close. So, when the void calls, I jump.

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?