IT’S EMPTY TODAY.
The stage is empty, the lights are all on and streaming white fluorescent, and the floor is polished.
It was the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time that I fell in love with freedom.
I like freedom. I like the taste of freedom as it sits in a cold ball, frozen and perched on an ice-cream cone. It teeters off the edge of the wafer, but I manage to get in five surreptitious licks before mom catches me for buying ice-cream in the first place, and worst off, dripping it all over the floor.
Sometimes I feel freedom whip through my hair like sea-salt. It musses up strands with nimble fingers and teases out tangles after. My hair is usually flat, but when freedom cards through it, my hair expands, puffing up to its true volume. I wish it could stay like that forever, even though it’s not very neat and I don’t look presentable after freedom leaves its mark on my head, in the form of a tornado-ing, flapping curtain of hair streaming behind me.
Freedom is a creature that slips as stealthily as a shadow in the night; it cannot be seen against black satin sky and creeps into my bedroom when it wants to, without my knowledge. The next morning, freedom is always there, tickling my shoulders with mocking laughter and informing me of the latest secrets I’d spilt while sleep-talking – I meant to tell freedom to fuck off, but what came out was a Freudian slip: I said fuck me, all the while staring at freedom’s happy face and grinning eyes and loving the way it slid into my room in the deepest corners of the night, watching over me as I slept.
I love freedom. I love freedom as it sings me to me Siren songs of mermaids at sea, of little black boys swinging lunch-pails to school, of girls like me who are blessed, blessed with money and boobs that fill a bra and blonde hair that freedom likes to play with.
I love freedom and that is why my hair isn’t the only thing I let freedom play with; I let freedom play with myself. My being. Every fiber of my body. Me. I become freedom’s plaything, and as I run to the park – without screams of ‘watch out, don’t come back too late’ like the other kids’ moms warn – and hoist myself up on the swings and shriek a happy tune like freedom taught me and bare myself to the world, like freedom taught me, with my skirt hiked up and blouse undone and hair untied, I feel like the happiest girl in the world.
Don’t they say to live life with the person who makes you happiest? This is my attempt at personifying an exhilarating, wondrous thing called freedom.
I wrote this on a whim (definitely, as seen from the quality of this…), and it’s unedited (who am I kidding, most of the content on this blog is raw as hell), but I’m not going to be self-conscious about it. 🙂
He’s small and skinny when I first meet him. There’s not an ounce of heart in his eyes and no sign of a flush colouring the pale, unblemished skin that coats his bones, but I’m no judger of appearances. How can I be, with hair the colour of mint ice-cream so pleasurable on a hot day it’d be a sin, a sun-baked tan body and three piercings, all in questionable places?
But he’s small and skinny when I first meet him, and when I last see him, lying in a coffin with hands clasped to the front, prosthetic leg covered neatly by a charcoal-gray pant leg, he’s thick—thickened with muscle. I can tell that his eyes are more alive than they ever were, holding more heart than they ever had since the time I first met him. ‘Cause he fell with his eyes open and that’s the way he was buried.
Taking a first look at him back when he was small and skinny, you’d suspect he was just one of those kids who lived down the block and who had no girlfriend and no siblings to speak of, just a plain young boy living in scruffy sneakers and jeans edged with scruff and too-long hair that acted as dandruff curtains sweeping his eyes. Not a good look for a boy, but he wasn’t any kind of boy.
He wasn’t just that kind of guy. He was actually a huge surprise.
He was a surprise when he was born; ‘first slid out of his mother’s womb. He wasn’t a planned child and hence, even after his birth, remained an unplanned burden of his biological mother’s. She gave him up. That was in the plan as soon as she saw his face and his little body—instead of thinking about the times they’d share together, she thought about the expenses saved if they were lived apart, as soon as the umbilical cord was spliced and his connection to his mother was gone forever.
He was small and skinny the second time I met him. We met in a shed, at a party—our mutual friend Davis thought that holding parties in the shed was all things Great and Rad and Cool and Hip. I went because I’d wanted to treat myself. A week of tests was over, and I wanted to get drunk. I wanted illegal drink to burn down my throat and the feel of others’ lips on me burn through my skin.
I spotted him huddled in the quietest corner of the shed. Shed-parties were squeezy and too warm, and he was wearing a sweater. It reached til his jean-clad thighs and I threw away my cup of drink before sauntering over, chuckling, bubbly laughter flowing out of all my holes—
“Why’re you wearing this? Are you dumb?”
He just stared at me with those owlish, enlarged eyes, and didn’t speak. My eyes trailed from his face to his lips and they quirked in a smirk, as if proud that he hadn’t answered my question.
Idiot. His lips were pink and his flesh was so pale it seemed tinged pink, too.
I turned away from the small, skinny boy. I was looking for someone else, someone with hungrier lips and hungrier eyes and a hungrier heart. The drink wasn’t enough to fully consume me; I needed a stronger intoxication. That scared me.
It was then when he spoke. “Don’t you think it looks good on me?”
Well, I only saw him for a total of three times, and in fact, I didn’t know his name until the third time I saw him—he was in his coffin and no longer a small, skinny boy. It had been fifteen years since he asked me that question, and I could finally answer.
I glared down at this boy, once small, skinny, now lying pressed in a suit with hands clasped over and flower petals paler than his complexion. I hadn’t known his name but apparently he’d known mine, because I got invited to his funeral.
“Yes, you idiot. I do think that you look nice in that big sweater of yours.”
I fully intended to leave the venue, but I took one last look at him and muttered his name in the darkest tone I could muster. I turned to leave and knowing that despite attending the funeral, his name would be lost in my mind, somewhere far, far away—and he sat up.
He sat up. In his bloody coffin. And without a word, stepped out of it, my mouth still agape, and smirked. “I look good in my skin, don’t I?” He peeled it off and there stood the smallest, skinniest boy I’d ever seen.
Listen, there are a lot of other things I could be doing right now. Things like bettering my skills in first-person writing or working on getting rid of the flab around my waist (or whatever you call it—it’s a waste of words; naming your chub-chubs).
But here I am, writing to you in second-person, using slang and tone I would never use in real life(‘cause I’m too fucking scared), but I’ve already started writing, so we’re going to…keep on going.
After all, if it’s you I’m spending time writing to, then it’s worth it. Honestly.
I am telling you, honey, to stop puttering about and waiting for text messages from boys who don’t really matter. I’m also encouraging—no, scratch that: STRONG RECCOMMENDING you figure out which team you bat for, or open yourself to both, because you know it and Future You (hi, hello, that’s me) also knows it: You tend to lead on both genders, or get too tangled up in the affairs of not only your boy- but girl- friends as well.
Or, you could consider cruising down Exit 101 and ditching everyone in your life who doesn’t really give a fuck about you; go for ‘em prickled-species: cacti make good friends and coffee-sippers. Just go with it. When life throws you a curve ball, you grab it and shove it down your throat and as the white, splotched canvas slips down the tubes of your body, remember that you were too fat to ever play baseball in Grade 3 anyway, the awkward Chinese girl who had her hair done up in pigtails and who ate too many Starbursts while sitting out on the bench during games.
Go figure. This brings me to another point; actually:
Don’t ever think for one second that you’re better than anyone else. Don’t think that you’re cooler than everyone just because you’re Chinese-American, don’t think that your reflexes are quicker than most because of that one and a half years you dedicated to playing baseball—you were the shittiest player, honey—and most of all, don’t think that just because you got an eighty for Maths, like, once in your lifetime of failures that you can lapse into self-content in the subject.
No. No. The main point of this lengthy rant/unnecessarily filthed-up letter to you, honey, is to get it in your head that you can never be complacent. You have to keep practising and drilling if you want to keep on achieving. You can’t fly without paying for an aeroplane ticket and if you can’t pay for an aeroplane ticket right now but still want to fly, don’t lapse into the tempting, soothing serenades that satisfaction brings. Just keep moving on like a fucking steam-roller(I mean you’re probably built like one, anyway) and keep plodding on ‘til your jeans snap and your shoelaces break and the skin on your cheeks sags and your lips are chapped and shredded to dust.
Don’t you rest ‘til you’re in your coffin, pale arms and pale legs dangling by your body, brain shrinking and life-blood draining—
Please. Or else we’ll both end up in a greater tragedy than the ones Shakespeare wrote about—or else you’ll really end up to be Future You currently, the one who drinks all day and wallows in her broken-hearted dreams of being a writer at sixteen, with nothing better to do.
Taste-tester 1: Overflowing sinks
These days there is nothing I want to actually do, except for
mope around like the saddest animal alive, ravaged,
hair bloodied and sticking to my back like cold prickle. The heat is
definitely overwhelming, creating red haze and decorating my
nose and forehead and gaps between my fingers with beads of sweat..
…Every time I pick up the scoop with its silver
surface and its mint handle, I watch the chocolate dribble down its edges and feel the
freeze of ice cream trickle down my wrist before I actually
spoon it into my mouth. The brown colour leaves streaks into the whiteness of my clothes
and I am reminded of how my actions dirtied others who probably
who get stained way too easily, anyway…
I tell myself to wake up from my stupid songs and silly daydreams but the hurt of reality slices into me far too deep; and
... I find myself hesitating,
halting, tears slipping warmly down my cheeks like the open faucet of a sink;
I will not try, today, although I want to, because it doesn’t matter if I get
strong when all the doctors hear is a weak heart-beat inside of me. Instead, I leave
speak to anyone who will listen; telling them that I’m not strong enough to turn the tap
off so I’ll just leave it running, and wait for the sink to overflow.
My sincerest apologies.
I wrote a little paragraph of poetry to keep myself going – I must live out the blissful holiday-days slowly but sweetly, savouring each bit like ice cream melting beneath my teeth, on top of my tongue.
P.S please leave your truthful feedback in the comments, or drop me an email at email@example.com to talk more!
there are many things you can do to make your life better.
You just have to take the first step, like I did. And as someone who took the first step to salvage a life littered with broken dreams and bloodied question marks, I will tell you that it is hard. It was hard to take the first step, because it will feel like stepping on glass fragments, wearing thin-soled shoes. The bottom of your feet will spring apart in curling skin and red streaks; the First Step will leave harsh scars on the pads of your feet and remind you that it was painful to keep walking.
But that’s the thing–you did. You continued to walk. You had taken the first step, and there was no where else to go: Not backwards, not to the left, not veering off to the right–the only path traced out in the dirt was forward.
So you picked up the pace, and started trekking.
[LISTEN,] A new series that will be cross-posted on Paperguts, a new online journal that aims to cultivate appreciation for the arts (in all of its forms) within the youth community–and hopefully instill passion, inspire hopes and enable dreams.
If you’d like to contribute to Paperguts, please email your submission (photograph, music, art-work, poetry, prose, flash-fiction, letter) to