a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
Fluffy cotton balls have stopped dripping from above and retreated to the sides for the sun to shine. The tiny puddle of fresh rainwater in the middle of the unevenly paved path reduces to a darkened patch on the cement, leaving behind only an earthy scent that permeates the air. Stripped of its bath, the snail draws its head up in slow motion, scoliosis cured. Antennae perking straight up, he scans the gigantic world around him like a lighthouse looking for a lost ship in the blue abyss. Except the snail is lost in the lethal dosage of a sunbath. To the left, the snail picks up the quiet odor of a friend. The safest way home is to trail a road already taken.
My life can be described as an indescribable monotony. Each day I wake up and leave my soft bed (my sleep never lasts long enough.) Each day I do tasks that seem to regenerate. Each day I take a nap at 3:00 p.m. Each day I engage in simple and meaningless conversations. Each day I eat, but I retain no sustenance. Each day. Each day bleeds into the other like the blood coursing through my veins, traveling to my heart and my lungs and my brain.
[content warning: eating disorder]
I am imperfect, and the stretch marks on my thighs are constant reminders of that. Jagged, thick lines permeated my legs, and kept me locked up in a cage of my insecurities. I am imperfect, and I would die to be otherwise.
Growing up mixed is a blessing and a curse, because where I've benefited from rich culture, and fascinating histories, I’m burdened with the expectations of beauty from two sides. When you're a kid, you aren’t conscious of the fact of your imperfections. There’s an innocence of childhood that’s lost when you grow up, and that’s hard to get back once it’s taken.
I think the moment it fell apart was when I realised there was no God. And if there was a God, he died the moment Cain’s stone hit Abel’s head. He’s all knowing, so merciful. I can (and I do) write essays and essays on the glory of God. I’ll see him in hell though, even in his misery, I’ll see him relish in the splendor of his capabilities. God, if you’re so great, why do you need to be worshipped? My mother says God doesn’t need us, we need him. But the creator of the universe, He (capital ‘H’ in ‘He,’ always a capital ‘H’) who made us, made us to need him, so doesn’t he need us too? I have no one to turn to when my forehead burns up and palms get sweaty, no one but him. If God’s real, that one thing, that need to be needed, makes me want to be his friend. Is there no one left on earth?
Every winter break, our family would go back to Korea. We never missed a winter trip there, and we would always visit Grandma’s house a few kilometers south of Seoul.
A few years ago, we arrived at Incheon after a four-hour flight from Manila. The December evening in Korea rested just over zero degrees, just some clouds floating by in the sky. The air was dry, my nose slightly hurting from the cold. I wore a thick sweater and some gloves. I had changed into these clothes during the flight, from a short-sleeved shirt to a long-sleeved one
Across my grandma’s house is Manseok Park, where, every morning, butterflies would circle the hedge bush that flanked the gardened paths. I would go there every other day to walk around the park reservoir and I would always hear the ducks quacking on the water surface. Often, I would see joggers along the pathway and office workers spending their lunchtime by the waterfront. Boxwood and bunchberry surround the outer ring of the path. Some daisies sprout out of the bushes, around which a lone butterfly circles.
I’ve stopped trying to get out of bed, and I rest my laptop on my stomach. Water droplets form on the screen, hairline cracks creep up the sides. The glass melts into a sludge onto the keyboard, and I shut my laptop and pull the blankets over my face.
[content warning: body dysmorphia, eating disorders]
Twelve jellybeans. One hundred and thirty-one point seven pounds.
Three and a half squares of dark chocolate. One hundred and thirty-one point eight pounds.
(It’s alright. I’ll let myself go to one hundred and thirty-two if it makes you feel better.)
The first time I looked at the scale I gasped, a flashing one hundred and twenty-seven staring me down.
I grabbed rolls of squishy fat, grabbed them until they turned blue, purple, red, picking at the skin until it bled red, purple, blue. It’s still no use.
[content warning: self-harm, sucide]
I tell myself to breathe in and out. My fingers tap the desk - steady and fast like the sound of my beating heart. My left leg shakes like it always does when I am anxious as if there is a rumbling earthquake happening right below me. My parents stared at me with glassy eyes, looking at me without recognition. It was like they forgot I was their daughter, and I was instead replaced with some foreign alien from a different planet. This broken, red-eyed monster sitting in front of them could not possibly be the daughter they raised. I wait for the doctor to tell me their plan of action like a defendant on trial, waiting for sentencing. The air is thick and heavy with unspoken words, unshed tears, and a million questions.
“Ow, why would you do that?!” I exclaimed angrily, tenderly rubbing my stinging red cheek after getting hit.
Gio loomed over me, his shadow towering over mine as I stumbled to the ground, my hands behind me pressing against the cold oakwood floors of the house. My eyes widened as I saw his right arm raise once again, and I immediately squeezed my eyes shut while shielding my face with my hands and arms, bracing myself for the impact.
(waves crashing, wind whistling, sound of ocean spray, collision with midnight)
I would be lying if I said I didn't miss it. The unraveling. The scorned breath of the ash tray, the pooled black dripping from its sides like god, broken-hearted in the almond tree mistaken for a movie theater. But this is how we danced, our teeth born to sea, bodies sprawled against the wet part of the sand, singing the song of our mothers' broken heels.
One morning in summer, I wandered along the entrance of Sudi Causeway, which the poet Su Shi from the Song Dynasty built across West Lake. A scent of fried dough drifted from the entrance, beside which stood a small restaurant named “Cong Bao Hui”, the main dish that it offers for breakfast.
This is the kind of rain that falls down in sheets, the kind that makes the sky into a blank, crinkled sheet, torn by jagged bolts of lightning and ripples of thunder. The light flashes across my textbook, and I think of the way it mimics a flickering flashlight. My father’s eyes dart between the smudgy road and the cars that are but blurs of red and blue and black with windows melting like ice cream.
[Content warning: disordered eating, body image, and suicidal thoughts]
A skeleton stared at me through the glass. Its eyes were sunken in, cratered by a deep blue. They watered. Its cheekbones were sharp, plump cheeks sucked away into nothing. Its lips were tinted purple, the corners settled in a frown. They quivered. Its skin was dull and pulled tight, showing each minuscule wrinkle. Goosebumps rose on its narrow arms, causing it to shiver against an imaginary breeze. Exhaustion weighed the skeleton down. The skeleton’s head struggled to stay up, bobbing on the too thin neck against its knobby, protruding shoulders. It clenched the edge of the bathroom counter weakly with blue tipped fingers. The skeleton’s eyes met mine through the glass, a tear sliding down the stretched, grey skin. It was lifeless. It was me.
[Content warning: death]
April 14th, 1912… Passengers, captain, crew, staff and Thomas Andrews himself impotently watched the once deemed “Unsinkable” Titanic sink to its culmination in the depths of the icy cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean taking down Her grandeur and glory.
September 11th, 2001… Americans and the rest of the world watched helplessly while two planes rammed into the World Trade Center, symbols of the economic monopoly of the Americans.
I kissed the tree in my front yard.
There was no tongue, no substance behind the kiss--just my pink lips against the bark.
I traced the trunk's gentle grooves, whispering a thank you to Mother Nature, my voice lost in the night.
[Content warning: eating disorder]
In the 6th grade he told me he loved me.
To be a pre-teen is to experience death while you are alive. The chaos of middle school hallways and the frantic commotion of trying to open a locker, could be enough for a brain to combust. Teenage girls get their periods and teenage boys experience voice cracks. Change is abundant and it started with him.
[Content warning: mentions abuse]
The nostalgic fingertips of childhood still extend out towards me to this day, grabbing ahold of me, flooding my mind with images of how I once saw the world. I regard these brief flashes of my past with a protective tenderness. This little girl is precious to me--I want to protect the good, I want to embed those moments into time so that they may never disappear.
My forehead was pressed against the cold window of the car. I looked up at the gray sky and tears rolled down my cheeks. Everything was wrong. The color of the sky, the streets I drove past, the faint smell of fish that lingered in the air. I started fantasizing about how I could make my escape. Perhaps I could splendidly jump off the car and hitchhike my way to the airport, and then, somehow, go back home, back to Bogotá. My chaotic fantasies were cut short by the loud honk of a passing minibus and evoked in me a single terrifying thought; today is my first day in a new school.
Words. Words have always fascinated me. The way they flow, the way they sound, the way they look. Everything about them captivates me and intrigues me into wanting more. Words can build statues out of sentences, or they can create people out of paragraphs. Infeasible concepts that everyone says is just fantasy can come to life with the click of my keyboard. Anything can become possible. The whole world is at my hands when I have words.
You sigh as you hop into your bed, and think about how, after a long day of Zoom classes, you have to stare at your computer screen some more as you write college essays. On top of homework, chores, and other responsibilities at home, you also have to figure out how to write 500 words about why you want to move from the temperate Bay Area to plow through six feet of snow to attend class at the University of Michigan. You want to just write, “Because I want a college education and I want to make money when I grow up,” but you know you can’t write that, because you’ve put in too many hours and you’re too close to the end to let your frustration show now.
[Content warning: eating disorders]
I had been staring at the yogurt for over an hour. The bowl was filled to the brim and sat a few inches in front of me on my desk. It was taunting me. I could imagine closing my eyes and sliding a heaping spoonful of that thick, cool, creamy yogurt onto my tongue. I giddily anticipated the way it would melt away in my mouth, slip down my throat, and land into my empty waiting belly; my stomach growled in anticipation.
But my arms were paralyzed. I couldn’t lift my hand and reach for the spoon. There was an angry voice in my head louder than the quiet pleading of my empty stomach.
Words hold power. And words of power often begin at an individual's roots - heritage, ancestry, descendance. Yet there is an irony in that the same words that hold power, if not clear and obvious, can be rendered useless.
As an adolescent, ‘identity’ was a word that lingered with me. It’s important. Being true to yourself was emphasised and hammered into me - and those around me. A true emphasis on striving to become a name with a face, not a face within the crowd. Yet each time I'd write down ‘Who am I?’, unending blue lines stared back at me.
I was neither fair or dark - somewhere in between. Born and bred on Australian land and soil, yet on my back lay the weight of distant, cross cultural ancestry. My father's side is a clash of European and Aboriginal descent, my mother, Maori and Maltese.
They call us visionaries. Sorcerers who tailor statues with a flourish of the hands, weavers who stitch dreams with gold gossamer thread, virtuosos who sleep in the skies and marry the clouds. They call us adventurers. Voyagers who foray through unmapped territory and chart the paths for others on crisp scrolls. Daredevils who juggle knives and speak in tongues of flame. They call us nonconformists. Rebels who cannot be bound by ropes, chains, or promises.
The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live –Confucius
If Confucius was right, then my mother lived delicately, treading a tightrope as thin as the slices of her twice cooked pork.
When she ate her first American hamburger, she had complained. “Ai ya. Why is the meat so big and thick? Where is the Americans’ refinery? With a hulking piece of meat like this no wonder they all in debt. Americans cannot save.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.