Do y'all ever see something that just smacks you in the face with childhood nostalgia so hard you feel like you might cry but at the same time you can’t think of the memory that it’s associated with?
We’d lay on the grass of my front lawn. Lazy Saturday afternoon, most of the neighbors had their sprinklers running or cutting the lawn. Some of the sprinklers danced in circles and others moved in a motion that almost seemed to wave to the sky. The lovely elderly Italian couple took their paralyzed son in a wheel chair for a walk as they do everyday and as they passed our lawn, they never failed to look at us with their hands slightly lifted, wrinkles on the edge of their lips raised while repeatedly saying in a joyous cheer “Bella! Bella”. My friend and I, always laughed as we responded “Bella, Bella”, although we didn’t know what it meant at the time. When I watched my friend, I could notice how her blonde hair ran between the strands of grass. We had the same pink nail polish on our finger nails slightly scratched out, but it looked like it was light pink as the sun shined on us. We’d watch the clouds parade across the sky, the sky had a different theme that day. It wanted to show us dragons. The baby dragon, the mother dragon and father dragon, marching past us.They couldn’t see us but we could see them… I know what the word “Bella” means now, so to our youth, to our purity, and to our imagination, I have one word for you…Bella.
When you’ve been bad for so long, it’s almost a fantasy to be the good one.
“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
When I was a kid I lived in a faraway place, outskirts of Beijing, at the foot of an anonymous mountain. I would play with my grandpa who took anywhere I wanted. My grandpa was a loving man, who despite the toughness of life endured early on in life, still manages to keep the tenderness at heart. I remember that we would go out at night to look for crickets in the dark crevice under the kerb, or the excessive amount of ice cream he would feed me, with a world of firework every New Year. He was not only a parent but a friend to me, and as friends we would take these insanely long walks around the neighborhood at night, and we would talk about everything, as everything for the child was simple. It could easily just be the three solemn owls who perched silently on the Chinese mahogany in our backyard, or an exotic-looking tropical fish. I used to be very sensitive towards animals. Not dogs and cats, like most people who take for granted the prevalence of the two mammals. All that intrigued me were insects, reptiles, fish and dinosaurs. To me they were interesting, as they beat such morphological difference to human, the only organism of which we have lived experience. Their lives I didn’t understand. It was almost like that I wanted to turn into one of them, to escape farther from reality.
My grandpa used to have a big aquarium in his living room. It came as a surprise one weekend, and when I saw that giant thing standing there, I was overcome by thrill. It was a thrill that would only come back to me ten years later, when I got admitted to the University of Chicago early decision, only in a more disguised and tamed adult way, and evidently so much less intense. That thrill I felt as kid was biological. It was the best gift in human genitive, if not the worst punishment as society would eventually snatch it away without you knowing. Though it was advised to wait for at least a week to actually put fish into the big guy, I gave in completely to that temptation within one afternoon. Quickly transferring all the fish I had from the smaller tank, I felt content seeing all of them swimming less melancholically in what is nothing more than a bigger glass prison. It was only later, after I learnt what the chore it was to install such a massive device in your home, that I realized how much my grandpa had loved me.
I remember going back in grade nine. It was an intense year, as everybody was cramming for the high school entrance examination, and leisure was deemed more than a privilege to a bunch of sixteen-year-olds. I was all over the test. It was hard, but it was one thing that I thought I might be good at, only to get away from the socially toxic environment of my middle school. It was the year that I didn’t have to listen to my classmates blathering about games and athletes I didn’t give the slightest damn about, not did I have to play the sports I hated, and pretend to be someone I was not. I didn’t talk to anybody for my problems, although I was constantly on guard, trying to fit in, trying to shed whatever identity of me that remained, which seemed to me shameful and needed immediate rectification. I felt like an outsider. It was only later that I realized the the suicide I was committing on a daily basis for the entirety of my middle school life, and that though nothing could be done, it’s not too late for me to fight. I refused to talk about school with my grandparents, partly because I don’t want to taint that purity with whatever filthy people flung at me, partly, if not more so, because I thought these two worlds are not only separate and but actually largely incompatible. I vaguely realized that this might be a juncture in life.
High school felt much better, though I suppose I was simply better at hiding myself to blend in. Like an wounded animal I took on a tougher appearance, thinking it would ward off things lurching around to get me. It did, at least for a while, but it also costed me dearly, and I felt vulnerable and lost. I come home less frequently, still once a week, but my parents and I wouldn’t sleep over anymore, and my heart was always elsewhere. One day I suddenly came to the horrifying revelation that I don’t talk to my grandpa that often anymore. The walks were gone, no more ice cream or bicycle ride, and of course crickets and firework were only stupid games for kids. Even the aquarium, at the time still standing like a fortress in the living room, lost all of its luster and life. The fish were dying. They were physically disappearing, succumbing to the mystique of my maturation. All the time I spent with my grandpa, all the intimacy was gone, and it all happened almost overnight, and all those memories felt so real, yet so distant, like I was still the same child sleeping next to my grandpa, pestering him to look at me before I fall asleep, and now, out off the blue, I was a different person, an aloof stranger who I almost despised.
Last time I saw my grandpa was summer 2019. He was smaller than I remembered, still strong and spirited but haggard, showing more traits of people from his generation. Age seemed to have getting the better of him. His hearing had gone worse, and he told me that he had almost abandoned his personal enclave in the mountain cause he couldn’t climb that much anymore. I remember those enclaves, with winter melons and wild jujubes. One of them is on the cliff, from where you can see almost all the neighborhood. We used to sit there for hours, doing things I can’t recall anymore. Similarly gone was the content of our conversation, what we talked about tirelessly during our long walks at night when I rejected the idea of going back to school. It is because that we were speaking in a different language, a language that was once native to me, that was me, but was lost unwittingly to the hours. The spot where the aquarium stood was empty, like nothing was ever thereX, except for the old armchair on which rest everybody’s overcoat.
Camus says that it’s only through seeing through the illusion can we grasps the truth, and Maugham has tells the story of Charles Strickland whose inhuman callousness has made him a genius artist. But what is the truth at all? What is life and being human when there’s nothing and no one to care for? Is it possible to only have a ideal so detached from what we feel that we zealously follow and loose every bit of our soul? Looking at my grandpa, though our interaction has reduced to a niggardly minimum, and it became painfully awkward trying to find topics with each other, I cannot believe that it’s possible for any non-sociopathic human to live like that. The illusion and emotion are the reality, and the only reality we know. We are the actor, who knows the fake and farcical nature of his career, yet still pours his heart out on stage. The only solace that I seek in all that’s lost to me forever is that creation has not escaped me. What I fail to comprehend, those innate feelings conversed in the secret tongue of the past, I speak now, hopefully, through words and music, cause I know that despite how irrevocably things happened, what my grandpa gave me was so strong that it shall forever remain a part of me. Just like the biological instinct of a kid that prompted me to tears whenever I thought of the possibility of loosing him to death, the care and love has become me. I don’t believe that you can be a non-sentient artist pursuing only that haughty, hollow ideal, since that’s just no way to be human, and I don’t want to, and I can’t, not be human.
April 4, 2020
Billy Idol - Eyes Without A Face
Where do I start?
I’ve only been gone six months from this house yet I don’t remember what I did when I last lived here.
I don’t recall how I survived 18 years of life under this roof.
Harvest moon opened my eyes.
Not the ones on my face, the ones in my heart, where that little girl lies.
She’s been hiding there for years, terrified of peering round the corner lest she gets in trouble.
Now I can see her, I can reach out my hand and feel her.
Those little feet and that small smile that never reach far enough to find true happiness.
I’ve found it for you, love.
I found the freedom and the independence and the healing that small heart needed all along.
So now we can walk this quiet house together this late at night without fear of being found and lashed with harsh words and idle minds.
Where do I start?
I don’t even know how I got here.
And neither do I.
And the sudden realisation that the way He speaks to her is really triggering for me.
Because all of a sudden, it’s me that isn’t getting it right, it is me that is failing, it is me that is getting in the way, it is me that just isn’t good enough.. suddenly I feel … little
.. and I want to scream and cry all at the same time
But I don’t know if my reaction or feelings are justified or I am just seeing things that are not there
Wow. This hit, from getting sent home, suspended, desk in the office, crazy fucking mother, a year at CamH and I even spent 3 years in and out of sickkids hospital because of my mental health. I don’t think I got a childhood
sometimes i wonder if i ever turned you in
and they had asked me
that infamous question
‘tell me, where did he touched you?’
would they have even believed me?
or just change the location
from my breasts to my brain
and turn me in instead,
justice is a fickle thing when you’re a child,
i wonder was i protecting you
We romanticize the 50’s but what about ‘09?
Watch: You’re 15 again. You’re at a park with your friends in a field of daisies. You’re all stoned. You’re all wearing “I love boobies” bracelets from Hot Topic. You’re happy and somehow everything feels at peace. What a simpler time.