a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Ruth and I watch the leaves.
They flutter in all the various shades. Golden yellow, rusty brown, a shade of purple that seems more singed than eloquent. Our backs press into rasping rocking chairs with gaps stretched thin like old taffy, and we watch the leaves wind down stark lines and interstate roads. Sometimes, the sky looks like colorful fabric and the wind seems like sparse, invisible threads. Mom says that the falling leaves are a puppet show, worked by God.
Ruth and I watch until sweet smoke curls under our legs and the moon hangs so low we can see the glare off the tops of our heads. Ruth’s hair sweeps past her shoulders, so brightly colored that I can see it through hazy bars of lamplight. She loops it around her fingers with a grin that’s all teeth. “Shall we go to the kitchen? I smell pie.”
“I hope it’s apple,” I say.
“Well, I think it’s blueberry.”
“It’s too sweet to be blueberry,” I explain, but Ruth just shakes her head, gripping her wailing rocking chair.
“It’s blueberry,” she says. “I can feel it. It’s definitely blueberry.”
I press my lips together and look away. Dad says that Ruth is like Mom, with blonde hair and pebble-blue eyes and a voice that sings like a canary. I’m more like he is. Bony hands, seaweed hair, arms that cross and dangle like swinging branches. Our faces are acute angled jaws and bunched up lips. Mom and Ruth’s faces are loose skin and gentle curvesNat is the perfect one, the only boy. He’s tall, full of skin, and when his jaw slopes steeply, his cheeks curve like apples. He smiles with his teeth, like Mom and Ruth, and he swings his arms, like Dad and me. He watches the leaves, too.
The library was an ordinary one—complete with the scent of musty books and the even mustier scent of the wizened librarian muttering to himself behind the counter.
In front of the librarian, however, a twenty-something assistant was shelving books. This assistant had attracted somewhat of a crowd of other twenty-somethings, only this crowd was primarily male. It likely had to do with the assistant’s curled tawny hair and doe eyes, her fair skin and slim frame.
It has been nearly three years since I visited my mother’s homeland of Hong Kong. The bustling crowds and skyscrapers that pierce the sky, built on mountains upon mountains of green. I have traveled to this metropolis almost every year, forcing my way through a long 15 hours of flight, so I should believe that I’d be used to its culture; the freezing air-conditioned malls remind me to bring a sweater next time, but the second we leave the facility, I want to peel off my clothes, sticky on my skin. Family dinners with gong gong, po po, ayi’s and a spew of relatives I forget the faces of, revolve around a giant table filled with roasted meats and colorful vegetables. In order to eat at the breakfast hole-in-the-walls (buns with cookie crusts and salty meat stuffed between white bread) we must take advantage of the 12-hour jet lag to eat early in the morning. To me, this is Hong Kong.
There was a time when there wasn’t war, when red meant roses, and not the wounds of a body, the tingling surge of some things missing, tides of blood out of a broken skin. It was a time when ears still knew music, singing voices and the ebullient magic of them, and not the shots made by guns.
I wasn’t born into the war; my brother was. Around the same age when I learned about the fearful avidity before stepping into a river, pants rolled up and tanned skin fondling the water, he learned about a country that was torn apart and sewn back together, stared with his newborn eyes at the seam left behind, jagged scar on the face of an entire people.
A cemetery. There are three rows of tombstones. Bouquets of flowers are sparsely seated by a tombstone or two. At the largest tombstone, three siblings, Margot, Chase, and Addie stand in front of it; Margot places flowers on the grave while Chase is holding a picnic basket. Addie opens the lid and takes out a banana.
Let’s greet them properly, shall we?
(Altogether they bow. Margot and Chase go for a second one, and Addie follows a bit slower.)
Hey Mom. Hey Dad. It’s us again. Last time we were here…was what? Must’ve been the same day last year. Time really flies, doesn't it?
(Chase scoffs, swinging the picnic basket.)
What Chase, did you have anything to add?
The flames curled around the papery, inky tales of time, turning them to dead ash. The smoky smell of thousands of burned pages and tonnes of melted leather wafted through the air in a hazy vapour that shot up to hide the stars. A girl stood before the fire, which lit up the deep night, whilst casting dark shadows, like long knives, and sent them flickering across her face. Many such fires have been started – the particulars of which this one was, do not matter. And many such girls have stood before them in a likewise fashion: too young not to have sparkly eyes and furrowed brows, but old enough for their fists to be clenched, and feet unmoving long after they are left alone with the dark, once-starry night, burning forest their only warmth.
[Content warning: violence and body horror]
Rhynn gasped for breath, the water cupped in her hands above the bathroom sink drowning her. Trembling hands pushed the water to her face, attempting to put out the fire behind her eyes. God, she couldn’t breathe. Could not think. Could not make it stop. Her frail, shaking hands smeared the water across her sharp cheekbones, up toward the freckled bridge of her nose, and painted war marks on the plane of her forehead. It felt like blood. Quaking hands scrubbed harshly at the delicate skin of her face. Another gasp crested the threshold of her lips like a rope slipping from desperate hands and leaving burns in its wake. Her next swallow was of fire.
I am inside a forest, walking on a path. I’m not sure how I got here, or if this is even real. There’s something mystical about it. I can’t quite grasp what it is, but I’m drawn to its spell. My feet move, whether I want them to or not. I have no choice but to move forward with them.
The path is gray. I don’t know where I’m going. I can only hope that my feet do. It’s chilly here and I don’t have a coat or a sweater. I can feel the breeze hitting my bare skin, sending a shiver through my body. I cross my arms tightly, trying to bring some heat into them as I continue to move forward.
There are instances in this life that continue to grasp at objects or ideas that I have failed to comprehend. What was so special about my days that required this longing solemn and inconsistent series of what others refer to as “ups” and “downs”?
I sauntered across the sidewalk of Dalsan Road in Jeongwan, where a stray dog rested peacefully on the bench next to the local supermarket. Rows of pine cones lined the streets, along with letters of cracked road marking paint. The breeze gently caressed my feet as I listened to the faint noises of children screaming and laughing. From a distance, I spotted the persimmon tree in front of my Grandmother’s house.
even as your breath dwindles
your light lives on in my mind—
permanent like my love for you,
preserved by the ring wrapping
around my finger which once
wrapped around yours with warmth—
but now your hand is cold.
The forest is still and quiet as if nature itself has stopped to reverently admire the sky. The stars shine brighter than I have ever seen them. As I sit staring, they seem to gain color. Brilliant blues, reds, and oranges overtaking the lustrous whites. I am nothing: a wisp that will fade and die quickly. While they, those wondrous lustrous lights, will continue on and on. Burning and flaring. Shrinking and condensing. Moving and changing until eventually, they fade. All will fade until, eventually, there will be only peace. An uneasy calm washes over me at the thought. Tears well in my eyes but I push them back. I am tired, so tired.
I still think about Louise from time to time.
Indeed, at dinner tables I do talk about my three years at art school in a reminiscing tone. How it paved my art dealing career, how I met Lisa Lee, how I was best friends with Justin L. Kohler, or how I was invited to Sophia Monroe’s party. But to be honest, I was a terrible student who learned nothing there but how untalented he was. My creative pieces were at best tedious, if not pathetic, and my attendance record sad to read. I never regretted going there, though. I did have fun, my instructor’s fame did facilitate my career, and I did meet Louise. I wouldn’t say she was pivotal to my life or something like that, but I do think about her from time to time.
I’m still trying to get used to the damp stickiness that clings onto my arms and dew drops that roll down slick walls in the morning. Even years after moving here, I still expect the wintertime to bring the pinkness of swelling beneath my nail beds, the painful flaking of skin. The absence of ‘wind-colds’ is still oddly out of place, ones that smear red rashes on browned cheeks and calls for chicken bone broth with the biting tang of ginger. Instead, the humidity clings fast, climbing up the walls like stubborn vines and breathes hot air through open windows from where I work.
"Hey, Lamar, what do you think you're doing?" Daniel Clements leaned over Elias with a sneer. His slicked-back blond hair and piercing green eyes shone against the bright fluorescent lights of the classroom. In a flash, Elias’ computer seemed to materialize from his hands to Daniel’s. Daniel let out a strident laugh that echoed around the classroom. "Who learns Algebra two in tenth grade? I learned this three years ago!” Daniel leaned in and whispered, "You’ll never amount to anything in this world anyway." He tossed Elias' computer back onto his desk and sauntered out of the classroom.
[Content Warning: Parental death]
From the other side of her parent’s bedroom, the mirror glittered with possibility and promise. Eve knew she couldn’t resist her curiosity any longer and she was tired of trying. Without a moment's thought, she slowly approached the beautiful antique. Yet as it got closer, Eve noticed something peculiar in its crystalline surface. She couldn’t see her own reflection, rather, the glass omitted a cold mystical fog, shielding something in its depths. Suddenly, a cool breeze swept the room and blew her hair back over her shoulders. Eve couldn’t take her eyes from the alluding surface. At the same time, an invisible force urged her to come closer. Eve raised a hand, gently, seeking to stroke the mirror’s polished glass. Upon contact, she felt a dark shift beneath her fingertips, then, everything went black.
[Content warning: eating disorders, body image]
“It’s really not that bad, Nia. You own far less flattering dresses.”
Gee, thanks Maddison, for your incredibly helpful feedback. I’ll make a point to write it down.
“I don’t know, I hate the way it fits around my hips.”
"Hi...? I’m sorry, I’ve never been here before. Is this the Cranium?”
The secretary didn’t raise her head. I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m here about the Abyss. Is the boss here?”
The secretary finally looked up. She looked me up and down.
“Oh. Are you... the representative from the Frontal Lobe Department?”
I nodded. “Yes. That’s me.”
The house is pink.
Bright pink, as of strawberry lemonade on a hot day. Like the taste of peppermints in church, rebellious. It is the color of laughter, and people to share it with.
The window edges are scalloped in white, with detailed dragons and worlds of stories written out in the painted wood. On most days the curtains are pulled up, showing the ancient wooden furniture and warmly colored interior. Cookies left every morning by the open window of the kitchen, a few missing in the afternoon.
There’s an odd disconnect. You spend two years, no, more like seven, waiting for a sort of revelation. You can lie to yourself, tell yourself you’ve found it, maybe convince yourself it’s true. You’d like to think you know when you’re lying, but you know you’re never sure. There’s the subconscious, and then there’s the subconscious. They get mixed up and twisted together so easily that you begin to decide it’s just a matter of italics, like that means anything at all. It’s cold again, the key to unlocking all sorts of truths. Except the truths are in code, and you can only catch a few images, no significant meanings, until you decide nothing in your life has been interesting at all. But you think it has, only you don’t know.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.