Monster

There is a special kind of monster that lurks in the hearts of those left behind.

This one doesn’t keep me up until 3 in the morning because I’m already used to that, the odd sense of peace when the world is quiet.

But it paralyzes me in the most ordinary situations. Somehow I will find myself in bed at noon and feel invisible roots digging through my heart, making their way to all corners of my room, and I will realize I won’t be able to move for days and can’t explain exactly why.

When I stare at my ceiling, my mind will automatically flash a montage of where I could have gone wrong, which move I miscalculated. Did I seem too eager? Was it too much for him? Did I not give him enough space? But I argue, “I was ready to give him the entire universe, so how could he have had too little space?”

I never like talking about this particular brand of hurt. It seems unnecessary to dwell in it. It’s a maze of emotions I’ve gone through before. No matter how many ways I ask why he didn’t choose me, it will always lead to the same answer. There is not a diplomatic way of unloving someone.

But I have to get up from my bed at some point, try to wrestle through the roots, learn how to say it’s not my fault over and over until it doesn’t feel heavy anymore.

I will have to paint over the unanswered questions I see on my ceiling, maybe draw a few flowers instead so I can look at something pretty when I question myself.

I can pretend this monster doesn’t scare me. I can storm off from everything with all the willpower I can muster, but it still won’t matter then. I had only myself all this time. It had been only my heart.

And you. They will never know who you are. You will just be another pronoun in a poem I tried my hardest to brave through writing.

Because here’s the funny thing about this kind of heartbreak. Nothing technically ended. Because you were never there to begin with.

Last Christmas

“Oh my god!”

“Calm down, Matty.”

“But….OH. MY. GOD.”

“Jesus Christ. It’s a bootleg copy of Borderlands, Matt. The cover isn’t even printed properly. That looks like the printer ran out of ink and the person put back the same paper three more times just to get something on it.” I survey the cover of the bootleg Borderlands DVD I gave Matt as a Christmas gift. I should’ve picked a more convincing copy, but from his reaction, I guess it’s not a problem at all.

“Thank you, Jake,” he looks like he’s tearing up. I swear to god if he cries in the middle of the library, not only is the entire university going to think that we’re definitely gay. Everyone is going to assume I broke up with him five days before Christmas, too.

“Matt, could you, for once, not cry in the library while we’re together?” I practically plead, rubbing my temple. “Or at least before you break down completely, where’s my gift?”

Matt’s face changes instantly from emotional to barely containing his laughter.

“Really?” I stare at him. “Are you kidding me, Matthew?”

“Relax, I have your gift right here. But before I give it to you, I want to remind you that the rule was that we will give each other something we sincerely think the other would appreciate and love.” He tries to explain very carefully as if I wasn’t there when we first talked about the stupid exchange gift that was Kate’s idea, who isn’t even here.

“Does this mean I’m getting a box set of Harry Potter from you?” I feign shock.

He scoffs. “Sure, in exchange for a ratty copy of a game, I spent two week’s worth of my allowance for your Christmas gift.”

“Hey, I wasn’t the one who was about to shed tears over it just two minutes ago.”

“I wasn’t going to cry!”

“Your eyes watered, Matt.”

“Shut up, I did—“

“Your handkerchief definitely looks a little wet from the tears.” I squint at his handkerchief from across the table, so he hides it immediately.

“Jake, for god’s sake, do you want the gift or not,” he says dryly.

“Yes! But if I don’t like it, let it be known that our friendship is effectively ruined. You had been a great friend. I am not sure I will miss you that much, but rest assured that I will think about your Xbox often and I might send you a message at 3:00 am randomly asking if it misses me, too.”

“You know what? I think I might prefer that after all. Alright, I’m just going to throw this away and I’ll see you when I see you, but you will never see my Xbox again.” He says the last sentence a bit more loudly so a few people in the library turned their heads towards us and smiled, and I roll my eyes at them.

“He literally meant an Xbox!” I hiss at the next table. Some of them I recognize as classmates in a minor class Matt and I took only because the room in which the classes were held had the only functional air-conditioner back then. “It wasn’t a metaphor for anything, Melissa! Stop being nosey!” Melissa giggles again before going back to studying with her friends.

“I hope she fails her Statistics class,” I say, turning back to Matt. “But more importantly, dude you’re building this up way too much. This means there’s a bigger risk I will be disappointed.”

Matt had this smirk on his face for about five seconds more, and then he puts a box in front of me.

“Oh my fucking god,” I exhale. “How did—”

“Meh. I knew some people,” Matt cuts me off, his tone nonchalant, clearly getting the reaction that he wanted from me.

“But where—” I don’t even know why I’d ask. It doesn’t actually matter. But it’s just the greatest gift ever. EVER.

“You’re the only person I know who’s this crazy about Jollibee’s tuna pie, Jake. I swear, your poop is going to turn yellow soon.”

“Matt,” I answer, shaking my head violently. “Don’t ruin this moment for me.” I proceed to hug the box containing 36 pieces of frozen tuna pie from Jollibee, for me to consume in the next few weeks, until they become officially available again in time for Holy Week.

“You are so fucking weird, Jake,” says Matt, but laughing a little.

“Says the one whose girlfriend’s hair is green,” I shoot back. “You can leave me alone now, Matt. Leave me alone with this beautiful thing and go find your girlfriend.”

“You’re welcome, buddy,” he says, finally standing up. “Please try not to make out with it, okay?”

“I’ll try.”

Kate’s Song

Explosions in the Sky – Human Qualities

The night wanders away from me like every good memory from an aging mind. Slowly at first, and then suddenly it’s sunrise and I have to ponder over every decision I’ve made that got me here.

I broke his heart.

And in every minute that passes between us in silence, I can hear the crack grow bigger. All his questions wanting to get out of the little spaces between his hesitation and the sheer will to appear strong.

A coffee mug sits in the middle of us, so unassuming. It was the first thing I ever bought him. It says “Phony” in screaming red letters, a word from one of his favorite books. And now it screams back at me so loudly–I guess that’s how it works.

By the third hour, we have exhausted all our words, and we talk in head tilts and sighs. Our movements calculated, precise. He gives me a look that says, “I think I sort of understand,” and I shake my head to answer, “you know I’ll always love you, right?” But I keep the rest of it with me.

I don’t let out what kind of love is left in me for him. I make no movement to indicate that it’s the kind you will always wish you had more of, but don’t regret not having anymore, like a favorite TV show they cancelled too soon, but then the ending makes sense and you make peace with it.

Sometimes there are disappointments so great and palpable you know it had to happen for you to grow. And I know I’ve erased every role I had in his life with one mistake. I will never be Girlfriend, Best Friend, Confidant, Crazy Cat Lady, Murakami Fangirl. I will only be Cheater.

I circle my finger around the coffee mug rim and can almost hear his laughter from the first time he used it. I pick it up, wanting to channel whatever residue of joy was left from that moment. He stands up to look at me and says two words I never thought would ever hurt far more than anything else in the world.

“Keep it.”

The Fall

These days, people come up with clever names for everything. We call sadness hashtag-relatable. Our heartbreaks prompts. Someone’s illness a beautiful phase. And somehow you become not just accepting but mainstream. Not just indie but hipster. Not just lover but savior.

I have been called many things. People tell me I’m weird, and judgy, and cold, and blunt, and denser than the Dead Sea. That’s okay. People also tell me I’m interesting, and strong, and lovely. They also tell me I’m brave.

We’re so slow in recognizing things.

Somehow it’s called courage rather than oversharing for telling these stories. Without flinching. Referencing everything in past tense or in third person as if all of it didn’t just happen to me last night.

But more often than not, I still can’t call it by its name, because it’s not permanent. It comes in waves. I convince myself I don’t suffer from it, I merely experience it. As if saying “experience” could make it sound like I go trekking or sky diving. When all I could ever imagine is diving from the 22-storey building.

And somehow that’s called poetic rather than unsettling.

On days that I’m doing okay, I question if it was even real. If what they always tell me had some truth in it. Am I really just overthinking things? Could I have made the day better if I forced myself to get out of bed? Would things have turned out differently if I didn’t tell them, that one time, that in my dreams I can clearly picture myself dead?

Will people still call me lovely after that?

When all of the sick scenarios I’ve imagined myself in are splattered on the concrete and passersby keep guessing what I looked liked with my head intact. But I don’t think I’ve ever kept my head intact.

People have clever names for everything. Phase. Episode. Incident. Attack. Clipped versions of my early mornings and dull afternoons that drone on and on. While that image of me becomes clearer. Dress perfect, arms outstretched; a ballerina frozen in mid-dance. And I think–

We’re all so fragile and careful on not breaking our bones, thinking flesh is more expendable. We always think the softer ones are more expendable.

But there is no redemption after this. There is no clever way of labeling depression. You can’t call it by your past lover’s name to make it more familiar, more tangible. Nothing poetic about the literal breaking of everything you are on your way to the ground.

I’m not here tell you flowers will eventually grow on that block of concrete surrounded by police tape.

On days I’m not doing okay, I forget what it means to be a person and all the clever names I thought had memorized and remember only that image of me on the ground. And I write it down. I write it down and maybe tomorrow I’ll remember to wash my hair. I write it down and tonight perhaps I’ll eat dinner. I write it down. The impact. The wind in my hair. The heart-stopping end. I write it down.

And then maybe I’ll recognize myself again.

The Scene at the Library

“He’s gay.” I heard someone say for the sixth time since I entered the library and started reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was at the part where everyone was gushing over Viktor Krum, and for a split second I thought the boys behind me were commenting about him.

“Jesus Christ,” I murmured to myself. All I wanted in life was to read the book quietly without a group of underdeveloped boys ruining it for me by saying the same taunt over and over again. And it wasn’t even witty. What the fuck is so creative and brilliant about calling someone gay as an insult? I swear to god bullies are nothing but airheads.

I promised myself I wouldn’t react because it wasn’t what I came here to do. I came here in the comfort of the library to enjoy the silence and my new book. Why are these sleazeballs even here? Aren’t they supposed to hang out at the basketball court or an empty classroom or somewhere else according to clichés?

“His hair is the gayest,” someone else said behind me, and the rest of them giggled. What a promising mind, this jerk has.

“Excuse me,” I said while turning around to face them. “Could you please tone it down? I’m trying to read here.” I looked at the kid at the table beside them that they were referring to as gay and did a quick check. It’s the skinny kid who transferred to our school a few days ago. He’s reading a book called Flowers for Algernon and thought to myself damn, you’re really not helping your case here reading something that has flowers in the title, kid.

“Mind your own business, Jake,” this tough-looking boy told me with a scowl on his face. He was my classmate from a couple of years ago and he was dumb as a brick but was also rich as fuck, the combination I hate the most. I also remember something distinctly embarrassing that he did back in freshman year that earned him the nickname Doody. Of course he bullied most of the students into never calling him the name ever again or his rich daddy will expel them from our top-rated, private school. But I’m not most people and I could care less about being expelled.

“Listen, Doody,” I said, looking at him directly in the eye and making sure he absorbed those two syllables with which I practically baptized him again. “Get the fuck out of the library if you’re not going to read or I might just be in the mood to retell the Tale of the Doody.”

“I’ll have my father expel you, asshole,” he hissed at me but his voice was shaking, so I was encouraged even more.

“Sure, but everyone will still know you pooped your pants during last period in freshman year,” I answered in one breath, and his minions snorted, trying to hold back laughter. “Oops.” I said as a follow-up.

Doody was about to say something I suspect was incredibly witty and off-putting and possibly could even be considered the comeback of the year, but right then the librarian hissed at us to be quiet. And instead of staying without being able to answer back, to my relief, they stormed out of the library instead. Satisfied, I returned to my book and continued reading.

Precisely three sentences later, someone tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Hey.”

“Holy shit, can’t people just let me re—,” I said as I put my book down, yet again, and turned around. I stopped when I saw that it was the kid from the other table. “Oh, hey man.”

“I just wanted to say thank you for making them leave,” he said while staring at his feet instead of me. He looked like every cliché underdog in every teen movie and YA novel.

“You’re welcome. I really just want to read,” I answered frankly, but it came out more like a plea. The thing is that the book came out a few weeks ago and I found the time to read it only today because there was too much schoolwork that had to be done first.

“Yeah, I understand. Thank you anyway,” the kid said, not taking his eyes off his feet. And then he started rummaging for something in his bag and I just waited there for a few awkward seconds not saying anything.

“Here, take this,” he said, finally, handing me a sandwich. I was a little taken aback at the gesture, but took the sandwich anyway. “I don’t really like tuna, so you can have it,” he assured me.

“So to show me how grateful you are, you’re giving me your reject?” I said jokingly. “Yeah, okay cool.”

“No! I just mean—”

“It’s okay, dude,” I assured him, smiling. Man, this kind can’t take a joke. “I’m Jake, by the way.” I said, reaching my hand out for a handshake.

“I’m Matt.”

“Nice to meet you, Matty.”

“No, not Matty. I hate that name. Just Matt,” he said, a little panic in his voice.

“Whatever, Matty,” I said, ignoring him. “I’ll see you around campus, dude. Now get the fuck out and let me read, okay?”

Matt just nodded and awkwardly made his way out of the library. As I got back to reading my book and sneaking a bite of the surprisingly delicious tuna sandwich, I thought, that kid was alright.