(written for brooklyn film & arts festival nov 2018)
Do you think of me still every day?
I know I do. Think of you, I mean.
Today I wondered if you got up and showered and meditated or maybe you were more dreading work and played video games for 2 hours in the morning. The bottom line being, you still got up in the morning: woke up to your alarm, set the night before for a realistic 9 AM, because New Yorkers are realists, and workaholics, and even if it unfolds in a morning where in order to face the day at the onset and push back that feeling of knowing how bleak things really are, that constant scratch at the back of your throat and against your tongue that tastes like acid and rot, you have to use some brief escapism in the form of button-mashing at a small screen of incredibly stimulating glitchy colors and graphics, you did your due part and woke up at the right time, at the right place, ready to go after several hours.
I woke up today in a small room without a window, in a railroad-style apartment off the corner of Franklin and Prospect. I live right next door to a cheap Chinese takeaway place whose fried chicken plate I’m still curious about. I’ve paid 650 a month for this room, for two years. I slept in it maybe twice in that time. I’ve lived two lives and sometimes had two of everything but I haven’t even tried that fucking Chinese place.
You hated trying new places, which many a 15-year old’s astrology-themed Tumblr told me was surmountable to being a Cancer man. And, jokingly, despite the incongruity of your own outwardly ambiguous ethnic makeup and relative youth and disposition towards good light in an apartment without having to pay rent the rough equivalent of a black market vital organ, you always repeated how much you hated Brooklyn, refused to move to Brooklyn, would never live there, you don’t want to get SHOT AT AFTER ALL (and note: this has to be read or said to oneself with the utmost dryness in tone and also respect to aforementioned ethnic makeup, or else you might want to throw a chair or dirty sock, like I did) and if I wanted to come see you I would be able to find you just fine right here in Manhattan.
Nobody lives in Manhattan under the age of 30 unless they’re coming from the American Psycho model of Wall Street bro, I told him.
You shrugged and, disentangling yourself by about 40% from the cuddle jungle, resumed working on your laptop.
The silence as a response unsettled me. I did live in Manhattan, kind of-sort-of-but-not-technically, through you. And I hated the feeling it gave me. It was a queer, indescribable tingling heat sensation that hovered around the back of my head that I had to keep pushing down but would persistently rise up again like heat and air and evaporated shit. This feeling was mostly about how unaccomplished I felt, and feel constantly still (because: that stuff never really goes away especially when you’re raised in a first-generation immigrant home of thrifty Koreans who grew up under the trauma of their parents’ remembrance of wars and occupations and America Saving the Day, and an outlier of a particularly Catholic and unaffectionate mother who, having never received sympathy or empathy for her own artistic endeavors and fantasies, was not keen nor equipped to dole such things out to her children).
You came from a much poorer background than me, somewhere deep in Philadelphia; I was raised in whitewashed Californian suburbs, where everyone voted under a blanket of socially liberal and fiscally conservative politics and where my one Indian friend’s house received a letter from the HOA asking them to ‘please remove their giant elephant statue for disrupting the environment of the overall neighborhood’-- but that’s besides the point, I had no conceit of the world, or desire to, being shy and dreamy and not white in this white town, but perhaps if I watched enough old Godard movies I could be French--
So I just daydreamed for years and years, until a rude awakening came in the form of my mother killing herself and jerking myself awake, but also killing any hope for imagination for years to come. (I’m still waiting for it come back. But at least now I’m working on it. I’m trying my best.)
So. You worked very, very hard, had to, to get to where you are, and I think you might still be struggling with all of the silent truths and injustices behind that. I just ran away.
I ran away to New York, to run away from my father’s terrible sadness that would have no relief or end, to run away from a string of infatuated men slash sadboys that I suddenly, as a late-blooming just-turned-20-something, found myself entrapped in and with no clue on how to proceed, to run away from what seemed to be an endless routine of school and intellectualism and art that I frankly felt nothing for anymore and from working in a coffee shop to * ・゚✧pursue my dreams ✧*・ (or a whim).
And by running away every so often from Manhattan and that scary feeling of unworthiness and alienation and that enormous invisible gap that seemed to always loom between us (if only because I put it there myself, and fashioned the braces, and tightened the bolts), I found refuge in Brooklyn. I still worked at a coffee shop. But I loved the people there, the feeling of, however cheesy it feels to say, community, that I had never been able to find in the enormous expanse that is northern California (and even less so in the increasingly overpopulated strip of Silicon Valley that continues to do its best to push us all out), the fact that I was sat in a small shop tucked into the corner of a residential tree-lined neighborhood and every morning I said hello to these people until eventually they asked me what I want to do and I would shrug, not so comfortable and initiated yet to be wholly, New Yorker, honest, but reply cheerfully: ‘I don’t know, but my boyfriend makes way too much money but also hates his job and himself so I guess not computer engineering?’
But in the end people move away and move on; the sweet youngish couple (a half-caff soy latte and a no-nonsense cappuccino) with their newborn confess their need for a lawn and more sunshine, which is apparently to be found in L.A. and definitely not in a 500-square foot studio that, despite its stylishness, is still constantly on the defense from black mold outbreaks; neighborhoods shift and expand, brownstones get ripped up for modernized condos, and others get zoned for historic preservation. (They’re such beautiful old buildings.) I left, to work in publishing and actually make less money after taxes and PURSUE MY DREAMS (and whims) and maybe even to start drawing and writing again and be able to feel anything inside of myself that might still be remaining there after loss and childish loneliness and untreated trauma, anything of my old dreamy self with too much imagination and not a dearth, instead of the constant squeeze on the under cage of my ribs, that painful mixture of panic and fear at my own uninhibited sadness.
We’re all in Brooklyn, trying to write and draw and sing and act, carving out a small nook for ourselves in an already overcrowded city, trying to find our people, build our communities. I have found more in Brooklyn than I have ever found anywhere else. But I’ve also found loss, having tried to forget it, and relearned it; and newly learned that loss takes on more forms than one, and where is your home if you’ve always put it in a person and that person is too scared to move to Brooklyn or tell people at work that they’re not actually white or be able to say or just grasp at the multitude of intangible things that are torturing them, those things that keep growing and growing as every day a new report of a gunman shooting up a club bores holes through our eye skull retinas and the government’s response is to have the president shout and then a cop kills a man for standing about minding his business and being black and the president just shouts louder until you can’t even hear yourself think
I wonder if you’ve put up those linen curtains I recommended, the ones in the sandy beige tone.
You always did like your taupe hues.
I’ve started working weekends at a coffee shop, to keep my mind busy, to keep my body active, to do literally anything including spilling coffee grounds and various varieties of steamed nut milk all over my shoes and clothes for hours on end, just to not have to think about you and your beige apartment and your smile when you looked at me so intently and deeply when we lied next to each other at night and how much it hurts still.
Also, I missed getting free coffee.
Honestly, the most Brooklyn thing about me is that I worked at a coffee shop for almost three years. That’s really it. I am so thoroughly Californian, in ways not apparent to myself, and am constantly reminded of it by strangers and coworkers and by my own wistfulness walking in the muddy grey slush-and-trash soup canvassing the street up and down Nostrand in the dead of February, enchanted by the presence of snow.
I am not yet jaded, I tell myself.
Just terribly heartbroken.
We were cuddling on the couch, trying to find ways to tangle more in each other and maximize warmth and efficiency in surface area grazing. Something in between MMA wrestling and low-intensity low-impact pilates. Weird and soft large rodents, turning and twisting until legs became locked branches and an arm was braced underneath the expanse of a back and up over the other shoulder and I would move from my favorite spot (burying my face into your chest, doing my best squirrel impression in order to burrow into it and create that space for myself, where your heart should be) to the other cold shoulder.
You paused at one point, coming up for breath from your spot buried in either a nook in my clavicle or armpit (definitely my least favorite) and studied my face intently to establish the recognition of an Important Thing you were about to Say.
“Can I tell you a secret?” You whispered, coyly, the ends of your lips slightly upturned like it was a joke (and it almost always was). The snowfall outside was light but caught by the wind tunnel traps of the high-rise buildings surrounding us, in this strange and severe glass and steel box high up in lower Manhattan. It looked like a blizzard outside to my untrained west coast eye and so I felt a chill go up my spine and snuggled closer.
To hear better.
“I don’t actually hate Brooklyn.”
Today I wonder if it will be the day you write me and call me and say everything is going to be ok, I understand things more clearly now and myself and you and us and I think we should be together because it feels right and we can do it better this time
I don't cry anymore unless i almost force myself to, like sometimes if i need a reprieve from feeling not really any way about anyone or thing and can remember this thing i have lost and can still mourn
it's sad isn't it? but i am still trying very hard, harder than before
i'd like you to be proud of me, but
I’ll do it whether you are or aren’t.