a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
a space for youth writing & mental health discussion
for my 母亲, mǔ qīn, meaning mother
Sitting before the bathroom mirror, you once told me that blood is like memory. The veins, you said, tether hindsight from one generation to another, a thread of instructional chapters meant for nothing but motherhood. My grievances are yours to relive, you explained. I hope you only see them through me, in passing.
[Content warning: anxiety]
New Year’s Eve, the end of another beginning, always seems to bring about a bittersweet sense of melancholy, an in-between phase. For some, Christmas lights still loom over balconies while, for others, it is just another regimented day. This year, instead of spending this obscure holiday in the comfort of my own home, I have been coerced by my mother to attend a soirée of sorts. Just a bitter end for me this year.
There is a glass between you and all of your dreams. And up in the sky, somewhere along the stars, a smoky white trail of hubris sits. I am telling you now so you don’t forget. When you wish upon a star, it does not listen. Stars don’t grant wishes. This is the way the world works, between inklings of draught and the suffocation that comes when you lose your chest. This is the way the world forces your falter.
Stuck in a world of our own,
Humanity was always a world away,
It was just the sea, my mother and me.
I should have listened,
The sea has destroyed us.
He follows me everywhere I go. I could walk, run, or skip down the street and he would follow. There’s no discrimination between dark alleys or busy thoroughfares. The only thing that has meaning is his need to occupy my head, spreading the buzz up and down my spine and through every channel in my brain. I can’t remember what it's like to go a day without his nasally voice just behind my ear. His presence is an annoyance that bothers me daily but also doesn’t affect me at all. The buzz might impede my ability to think clearly, but it’s also unnoticeable. His leash on me creates dialectics that even I don’t understand.
[Content warning: police brutality, racial violence]
“The angels in heaven gon’ sign your name if you book your ticket for the Freedom Train. HALLELUJAH.”
I heard Grandma Lottie singing in the other room. I knew what day it was. When I heard those eerie, raspy words, strung together like an elegy, I always knew exactly what day it was. But I asked anyway as I walked into the room.
[Content warning: alcohol use]
For around five minutes every day in Summer, a narrow shaft of light filters through the window and reflects off of the heart you made me in middle school. Usually around four-thirty. It’s made of clay, but when it shines it looks like it would crack like glass. As I watch it glow, my phone vibrates in my pocket.
Unknown caller. Arizona.
She was born from the ocean on which she lived and was raised by the winds that breathed life into her. Adelaide, the girl with hair of fire, spent her days dancing along the cliffs above the waves with her face buried in the story of another world. Her feet were molded to the outline of the rocks, perfectly gripping the earth as she followed the path to the cave by the beach, which was, in a weird way, her home. Over time, she had accumulated pillows and blankets to make a bed on the sand and had gathered every book she could get her hands on and stacked them, in alphabetical order, along the damp rock wall.
All you can see are a person’s eyes. Or at least that’s how I see Jake. Six feet away under FoodMart fluorescent lights. I recognize his shoes from Chemistry class. Red Adidas with Sharpied on stars. Six months ago I would watch them while the teacher talked. Just because they were there. Under the chair next to mine. It looks like he doesn’t recognize me, but I see that his eyes are green. I hadn’t noticed them before.
5 is pink
5 is pink. Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s soft and fluffy, like a cloud torn straight out of the sky. It’s marshmallows and candy all rolled into one. She’s looked at thousands of shades of pink and hasn’t been able to find the right one. None match the 5 in her head. None match that glorious color.
She sees the 5 on her class schedule and automatically smiles.
It was silent today. No hurried footsteps. No sound of tearing silk. No cries of anguish. Payton wiped at the dewy glass. She sat and watched.
The cast of the shadow of the oncoming cold, bitter winter surrounded three figures. There was only the slightest hint of physical intimidation from the aloof stances but the verbal intimidation was obvious. Inside the circle, sat a woman, hair draped in white fabric, eyes downcast. Her body kept upright- afloat almost- by her arms, secured around her waist like a safety jacket. As the sharp dug at her hijab, her face tilted. The movement revealed her face. Payton’s breath halted. The window seat instantaneously tight, suffocating in the vast space of the book shop.
Guard your roving thoughts with a jealous care, for speech is but the dealer of thoughts, and every fool can plainly read in your words what is the hour of your thoughts.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
The images flickered. Stilled. Continued. Flickered. Stilled. Continued. The pull of the cassette tape like a vacuum, endless yet unmoving. Its dull hum synchronous with the movement of a dangling mobile above. Once, vexing. Now, welcoming.
Manuel’s neck fried under the cruel Texas sun. His favorite long-brimmed Toquilla hat would have protected him. Instead, a baseball cap was a scant substitute. Carlos, his boss, demanded, “Look like you belong here. Not a lawn monkey.”
Manuel picked up a heavy saw and climbed the first of five large oak trees. His usual partner had called in sick. The two were the only Ecuadorians on the landscape crew.
Hours later, Manuel’s t-shirts and pants dripped with sweat. The saw frequently slipped from his grip. I am going to finish cutting the last branch and come down for a short siesta, thought Manuel. He was perched on a thick tree limb when it snapped. For an instant, Manuel felt the cool breeze on his wet skin as his small body plummeted to the ground. The bliss was snatched away by the agony of the saw landing on him. The world around the boy faded black.
I. The Goldcutter
Most people remember my mother for one thing: her golden hair.
Everyone used to treat it like it was something to behold, but I’ve always thought hair was hair and that was it. Then again I wasn’t blessed with Mother’s blondeness, or her beauty for that matter, as both Mother and the other neighborhood matrons have been keen to point out.
In the slender branches of an oak tree, a small songbird alighted gracefully, the branch trembling slightly under its tiny feet. The wind whispered as the bird’s eyes darted around, scanning its surroundings. Suddenly, the bird lifted its head, letting a melody pour from its throat: four short, gentle notes, followed by a rapid trill. The bird paused, looked around, and then repeated the melody.
The lights, a clouded soup of streetlights, lights from apartments, lights from flashing Times Square signs, headlights, and the faintest glimpse of stringed fairy lights draped across trees with a delicate touch, reached towards the stars painted in the canvas above, meeting the darkness in a never-ending battle, a sign that humanity -regardless of ego and pride and self-worth- would always fall to Mother Nature. The urban light towered far above the skyscrapers, but even it ended.
Most things did.
(After Jamaica Kincaid)
Eat your breakfast faster, you’re going to be late for your first day of 8th grade. Make sure your skirt doesn’t go above the knee and wear underpants under your skirt. Listen to the teacher and don’t crack jokes with your friends during class. Adults take first impressions seriously so remember that before you make any choices you’re going to regret. After school, make sure you don’t skip any of your academies and put in all your effort. You have math, art, English and piano today. When you’re done with your academies, don’t eat junk food so you don’t lose your appetite just like you did last time when you ate a whole bag of hot Cheetos secretly before dinner. Also don’t use all your allowance at once. I’m not giving you more this week. Please check on halmoni and halabuji on the way home and pick up some side dishes from them. Halmoni said she is packing bulgogi, doenjang jjigae, radish kimchi, bean sprouts and your favorite galbijjim. Thank them and hangout and talk to them about your school with them for a bit before you come home but don’t be too late. It is dangerous these days.
A single raindrop perched on the windowsill, solitary and serene.
I was lonely for a long time before you joined me. I walked alone in the night, letting the stars lead my way, never believing that my solitary journey would ever come to an end.
The drop was pristine and pure. It was clear and transparent. It sat silently, glistening in the sunlight. The perfect picture of tranquil.
You crept up on me quietly as if I wouldn’t notice, as if I would miss your skulking figure in the darkness of the night. You stayed in the shadows, letting them mask you and protect you. You watched me from afar as I continued on my endless journey. For so long you remained in the safety of the shadows, refusing to venture out and for so long I remained oblivious of your presence.
I remember when I first saw him. Never had I seen a man look so beautiful. In the dimly-lit tent, where all the village drunkards sat for an hour or two, he was the main attraction. All the clinking mugs and raucous laughter came to a standstill as soon as he entered the tent.
I remember how I had forgotten to rub my hands in the chilly December air when I saw him twirl. Shivers which would have made me uncomfortable were left forgotten, like everything else except him.
He was a tall man, and so fair that I wondered if he had come from the moon. Just like how people must’ve wondered when they looked at me, the only fair man in the village. Not anymore. He was just like me, perhaps even fairer.
[**Content warning: self-harm, suicide. If you, or anyone you know, are struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, help is available. Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741.**]
“Perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take is to be seen as we really are." - Cinderella.
The prettiest people are the most pretentious.
That’s the difference between me and them. I know I’m broken. I know I need fixing. But the world isn’t a wish-granting fountain. We don’t wish for things and they magically happen. That’s the difference between fairy tales and the real world. Most people’s lives are fairy tales. I wished I had parents who would fight over me and a best friend that didn’t burn. A best friend that wasn’t burning in my mind. I don’t wish anything. Not anymore. I only have three lessons.
When hunger struck Yeong-Su, it was like the venom of a snake. It was long, and painful. It wasn’t like the hunger one gets when it is time for lunch. It was the type of hunger one got when starved for days. Yeong-Su had been spending time with his friends when an artillery strike wiped out his neighborhood, one of the many destroyed towns in Incheon. The Communists in the North were responsible for the flattening of Yeong-Su’s town, and that was why he scavenged for food every day. Although he found nothing, he would always search.
Let’s say there’s a time-travelling machine that only I can use. I am thirteen again and Grandma has finally passed away. I know she didn’t leave any will. Or an inheritance. It’s the winter of 2005 again, the coldest winter since 1992. It won’t be this cold until 2019. Jindos are tightly leashed inside the homes for the first time, because the dog houses are covered in thick snow. At the burial, father and I are wrapped in geese feathers, under a black umbrella.
In the pulpit, my aunts and uncles are giving eulogies. They speak in a dialect so strong, I can hardly understand it. My city-born father is staring at his feet. Whether of respect for his mother-in-law, or to hide his boredom, I am still not sure. No one is crying, so I don’t cry either.
[Content warning: death & grief]
She doesn’t want to believe it.
All the air is pressed out of her lungs; the world sinks in a blur, but not enough to make the devastating sight unintelligible. Sirens blare furiously in a monstrous cacophony as she collapses on her knees; hands shaking as she tenderly strokes her son’s hair. Upon contact she recoils her fingers as quickly as a child from a hot stove. But instead of heat it is the coldness that terrifies her; in the brief touch enough heat is stolen to turn her lips blue. She holds his hand in a cold caress.
His eyes are glassy, and he lies still like a cold kiss of death. It can’t be real. It doesn’t feel real.
What would life be like, she thought, if I could stop time?
Only a hundred pages to go, she said to herself. She hated this; researching why the printer at the office didn’t work was never what she imagined herself doing on a Friday night ten years ago. Thirteen-year-old Josie would’ve been repulsed.
Her whole life had been planned. She would finish her novel, sell it, make a name for herself and write books until the day she died. Josephine Taylor, best-selling author. She could almost see herself on the billboards and the headlines. If only she had the time to finish her novel, it would only be a matter of time before the world knew her name.
[Content warning: domestic abuse/violence]
Lalita does not know where the babies disappear to.
Amma is pregnant again. Her faded cotton sari rustles against the skin of her swollen stomach, and the glass bangles she wears have clearly become too tight on her arms. Lalita watches her as she eats her rice in the kitchen. She doesn’t know if this baby will die too, like the past two--they were twins, Amma told her--did. Her grandmother says people go to Heaven when they die if they are good. Lalita hopes she’ll go to Heaven someday too, a heaven filled with sweetmeats, fried fish and chicken curry.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.