Preview

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Track 1: Dodie – Secret for the Mad
Tuesday, 2:30 pm

Dear Jake,

They never tell you how difficult it can be to remember someone’s voice long after they’re gone. You can try to imagine and replay conversations in your head but these memories come out more like hard-subbed silent films rather than talkies.

It’s only been a week, but it feels more like a year had gone by without you. I’ve never been good at grieving. Or timelines. Or keeping track of the days. To be honest, the entire week feels like one long sleepless, staggering night I’m not allowed to see the end of. Like I’ve been waiting for morning to come, but every time I emerge from my sheets to check for sunshine, all I see is more darkness.

I hate everything about this, Jake. I hate that I need to cope with something I didn’t ask to be in. I hate that it happened so suddenly. Although to be fair, how do you prepare for something like it anyway?

It’s in the middle of summer and the heat is killing me. I’m looking outside the bookstore and I’m seeing a traffic jam at the intersection and it’s so weird to see it at 2:30 in the afternoon in the summer. I guess what I’m saying is that everything is an anomaly. You not being here. This unforgiving heat. The terrible traffic.

I will never get used to this routine, so I guess it’s a good thing that starting next week, something will change about how I spend my days. I can’t even remember the entire conversation I had with Dr. Silang about the teaching post, but I somehow ended up accepting a part-time teaching position at the university. Yes, the classes that you were handling.

If I could describe how I feel, I think the most accurate word I could think of right now is dread. About living up to everyone’s expectations. About interacting with the students you left behind and who adored you. About seeing you in each one of them. I know that this is a rather pathetic attempt to hold on to your memories and to pretend like I didn’t lose my best friend. But every day, I keep trying to remember your voice and how your laughter sounded like, and it’s getting difficult, Jake. So maybe I could find them in the classrooms that you occupied and in the students whose lives you’ve touched.

I know that it will never be the same, but here’s to hoping I still find you in other people, Jake.

Always,
Matty

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Strong

I see you.

You with the heavy heart, and even heavier feet. I know there are times when you can’t decide which one is harder to carry, so you stay in one corner, not moving instead. I know you watch the days change outside through your curtain, praying for rain during summer days.

I know that it’s easier to brace yourself for disappointment than happiness. That it’s something you could bite your teeth into. It’s the thing you breathe in every morning, along with the smell of toast and coffee. I know you drag it around the house like an old teddy bear you can’t get rid of because then, what do you do with your empty hands?

I know people see you like the time bomb in movies where they can just cut the obvious red wire and the bomb stops ticking and everyone is safe. I know you feel that you are more like fireworks. Beautiful only from a distance but could burn anyone when they get closer.

I know that you have days when you can’t recognize anything good. That the only sound you hear are fire alarms going off in your head, telling you it’s time to run far, far away. But I wish you wouldn’t.

You’re so used to writing about your struggle and calling it creative names that in the rare moments you choose to be strong, you don’t understand it. In the moments that you get to be strong, it feels like someone else is wearing your skin.

But I’m here to tell you that strong doesn’t always mean comfortable. Sometimes it’s cutting your hair instead of something else. Ugly haircut be damned. Strong doesn’t always mean beautiful. Sometimes it’s spending 10 minutes of your 15-minute break crying in the dirty bathroom stall, but at least showing up for work. Strong doesn’t always mean hard. Sometimes it’s sinking into a tight hug from a loved one and letting yourself be taken care of.

I see you.

You can’t live inside your bedroom, let alone inside your head. You won’t get a star stamped on your hand every time you get through the week without crumbling. Most days, no one will even notice that you have your Courage badge digging through your skin. Most days, no one will congratulate you for trying.

And I know strong sometimes feels like turning your bruised heart inside out, almost dying in the process, and then entrusting it to another person. But strong has never been easy. Or painless.

But sometimes, someone notices. Someone tells you your hair looks smart. That your skin is glowing. Takes your heart and carefully tucks it in their jean pocket. You look in the mirror and you really see yourself.

And I see you. I know it’s been hard and I can’t promise it will get easier in the next few days or weeks. But sometimes during the hottest days, we get rain.

Even on the hottest days, it rains.

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 no 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.”