Meant to be read out loud and as sonorously as one can afford to.
You probably don’t know this, but I’ve been writing a lot to you lately – for one, I find myself more inclined to write to you than work on my dissertation when it rains at 10 AM in Palo Alto and I’m listening to the faraway beeping sounds coming from the garbage truck out the window, beyond the rain’s soft scrim. I never find the courage to read anything to you out loud, I always find excuses not to read to you because they’re fragmented, I was too drunk, I was too sober, or what have you… so I thought I might as well invite you here. That way, if there’s anything I always wished I could talk to you about but couldn’t because of fear, I’ll be coerced to say it here and you’ll be forced to listen.
If you know one thing about me, I get scared easily. I am a scaredy-cat, and my so-called spirit animal is a chicken. Turns out, throughout life I’d be afraid of some ridiculous and embarrassing things to admit – turning on the gas stove, lighting a match, opening a soda can, splitting disposable chopsticks, goats at a petting zoo, people asking me where I met you, since I’ll have to say, “the internet,” and finally, reading my own writing addressed to you, in your presence.
Miss Gim Joja, my first-grade teacher, taught me a practical coping mechanism to address fear that I still use to this day: count numbers from five to one, and breathe deeply, to parse my own thoughts through what I am actually afraid of. The mechanics of this being, according to miss Gim, the concentrated act of counting that would dissipate my fear. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, breathe. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, breathe.
Little did I know back then that counting would eventually evolve into writing. Perhaps she always knew, Miss Gim, that I would be a chronic writer. While I wrote, I wasn’t afraid; typing turned into a ritual, and handwriting became a talisman. Sometimes, it didn’t even matter what I wrote. But most of the time, it did. Because unlike counting, writing doesn’t have a formula.
So here I go. Parsing through discomfort.
Lately I’ve been going through a curious condition. It’s like my brain lost a particular nerve. I don’t get hungry until I get starved, and I don’t get sleepy until I pass out. I feel like I’m floating when I’m walking, and I get afraid to lose gravity and fly away if I ran. I feel cold and feverish in the evenings, but icky and sweaty throughout the day.
I don’t know how to describe it other than… well, let me put it this way, I am not sure why I am staying put. You know, other than the obvious, “because I was born and it takes far more energy to stop once you get the ball rolling…,” I sometimes wonder if I’m actually appreciating life as much as I lead everyone around me on.
No, I am not depressed. That is precisely the kind of question I’ve been dreading from you. No, I am not suicidal. You know me – I would tell you if I were. This is not me crying out for help. This is not even a secret. In fact, the strangest thing is that I am not depressed or suicidal as I walk from work to home barefoot. In fact, I have been more afraid of death and dying than I have ever been in life.
Perhaps it was the accident I witnessed the other day, not so long ago. One of those common on-campus crashes by the death-trap roundabouts between Campus Drive and Serra Street. A biker hit a car and glided across its front window, flew across the street, to fall face down in the ditch. It was a rainy day, and I was in the car. No, I was not driving. You were. I remember getting out of the car and approaching the biker as she remained convulsing her arms and legs, contorted in strange angles, crumpled with her face down in the ditch full of rainwater. People swarmed by us, onlookers. A man was talking to the police on the phone. Someone’s grocery bag spilled out an onion. You turned to me and told me to call 911, but he was already on it – the witness to our crash, who happened to be walking by that morning. I could not answer because my voice, head, and heart seemed to inhabit separate bodies. I kept shaking, knowing that the biker, within the limited amount of mobility she had with one side of her face, fallen flat in the ditch, head slightly askew, kept peering into my eyes with her right eye. I could hear the witness explain to a cop that arrived with the emergency crew.
“She was going at a full speed, and she ran the stop sign.”
“She didn’t slow down?”
“No. I don’t think she saw the car at all.”
Then he came to us with his notepad for the formalities. You stood there, shaking, shaken, worrying, panicked, benumbed, while telling him everything you knew. I held your right hand, regretting how I made you drive us to breakfast.
We never heard back from anyone from the site again. In a sense, I am relieved. I have been worried about her incessantly these past two weeks, and I would like to believe no news is a good sign. More than anything, I have been worried about you. You tried to find her online, on the Stanford University material science webpage, almost afraid to see her there. But you did not find her. You were crushed.
I have a confession to make. I walked into Tressider Union last week, saw a familiar face, an Indian girl with expressive eyes, look at me from across the table at Starbucks. Her eyes met mine. She turned away. I looked at her, I placed my order, and I looked at her again. She turned away again.
I wanted to go up to her, but I didn’t know what to say.
“Hi. Were you in a car crash recently?”
What if she said yes? Then it would all be true.
But perhaps this uncomfortable numbness goes even further than the accident. Perhaps it goes eleven years back, to my collegiate days in New York, in 2006.
I always thought, if I could make myself look sicker than I actually am, everyone would love me more, repent how they’ve been to me all this time, and come back to me to ask for forgiveness. That was the plan. I slit my wrist hoping it would go deeper than the pain so that I would almost die but not actually die, somehow getting me into a coma as fast as possible since I want to be in more danger than I could feel it. You can call me an impostor. Or a fraud. Or a fake. But it’s all good, since that didn’t happen. I lie bleeding for a while but I don’t feel myself fading away. I take thirty pills of Trazodone, hoping it would do the job but not too painfully. I wait.
The coma doesn’t come. Where is it? Where is everyone trying to save me, why is no one worried about me? Where are my friends and floormates? I open my door. No one. Rats. I walk out. No one. I take the stairs down one floor. I walk over to the elevator. I wait for the elevator. The door opens but there’s no one inside. I take it to the lobby and walk out of the dormitory. I walk around the block holding out my bleeding arm. No one seems to notice. I walk across Amsterdam Avenue, holding out my arm like I’m proud of it. Cabs honk at me, telling me to cut it out and cross already.
I walk all the way to St. Luke’s Roosevelt hospital. I walk into the emergency room. I tell one of the nurses I have an emergency. She asks me what’s the matter. I tell her I overdosed and I slit my wrist modestly, so I feel faint. She looks at my arm and tells me to wait until someone can help me. I slink into one of the chairs for forty minutes feeling defeated, watching more dire patients actually gulping for air as I envy them, looking around the room witnessing all kinds of real emergencies while I come up with stories for my own suicide attempt.
Perhaps it’s guilt. Along with fear, another through-line of my life.
I was five when they told my father he had less than three months to live. They thought he had persevered for so long already. They said it like we should “let him go,” as if we were the ones holding him from leaving life, as if he himself was fine with leaving. That’s what bothered me the most; rather than my father’s mortality itself, the panel of specialists making me feel guilty for not allowing him to die. It was the first time I saw the cruel side of academics, those who were authorized to give orders, those I was taught to be thankful to and look up to, those I would aspire to join one day.
My father was always an academic himself.
That day they told my father he had less than three months to live, I felt guilty for the first time for not letting him die. Whenever I would ask my father to confirm whether this is true, he would say it is – he can’t leave me alone, I was too young, he’s going to live, as he smiled like a respectable father. I thought it was cruel of me to keep him suffering in life. I wondered if it would be better to miss him forever than to live in guilt. I asked him how long it took him to finish grieving for grandfather after he passed away. I wanted to have a heads-up so that I knew how long my sentence was. I did want to mourn and suffer for the loss of my father, but I didn’t want to be trapped in mourning and suffering forever. I worried incessantly that I would spend my entire life grieving and repenting my father’s death.
I mourned before he died, and I started to treat my father as if he was already dead.
Many years later when he would still live, I periodically made sure to confirm that I was ready for his death that was always happening, every day, all the time, gradually, then suddenly, inside of my head. Perhaps I knew and feared he would live, after all. Perhaps it was jealousy on my part, that he was closer to leaving me than I was to leaving him. Now I had more things to feel guilty for – that my desires were abnormal, that no one should know I had such thoughts, no one could truly understand and love me for who I am.
And if someone ever did, I would start mourning for her death the way I did for my father.
Then I met you.
On the internet.
I have always had a fear of public speaking, and I have always had a fear of reading, out loud, what I’ve written to you. Because writing is one thing, and reading it out loud is another. If writing brings things into existence, reading makes them real. I can tell you I was joking, along the way, but I still said what I read, and I still meant all that I said.