International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Stories
you told your friends you were coming home, they didnt believe
you. And, later, when you mentioned it to them that you were coming
home to stay, they couldnt believe their ears. Of course,
you didnt blame them. After all, you had told them the same
thing every year; how it was going to be the year that you would
finally settle in Jakarta. Six years went by in the blink of an
eye, and what promises you failed to meet seemed to have been
forgiven, if not forgotten.
You knew then, as
you do now, that your experience in America would carry some god-like
credentials to the people who had never been there; people whose past
you shared with much delight; and whose present you still shared from
a distance. You wanted to tell them everything you discovered in another
country, but you kept finding yourself unable to destroy all the things
theyd come to believefor some vain reason you failed to
understand, being in America somehow put you on a pedestal. It was as
though you had reached nirvana, mingled among the gods and goddesses,
and become one yourself in the process. Because of this you didnt
have the heart to tell them the truth. Or, maybe you were avoiding the
truth along with them.
But none of it matters, anymore. You are home now, much to everyones
chagrin. Two weeks ago, you arrived at Sukarno-Hatta Airport at a little
past noon and told your family not to bother meeting you there.
You hailed a cab, like regular people.
Your father was at the office; your mother was out shopping with friends;
and your sister was in school. Your friends offered to do you service,
but you only thanked them, saying it wasnt necessary. You werent
used to asking for help. America taught you to be self-dependent, and
you had every intention to do right by it.
In spite of your absence, you didnt want your homecoming to be
a big deal. So you came back, all of your adult life packed into a single
suitcase, as though youd never left.
Inside the cab, on your way to your parents house where you were
raised alongside your sister, Anne, you noticed a couple of things which
startled you about the city: the roads were well-paved; and there were
billboard signs everywhere advertising cigarettes and baby diapersyou
werent used to any of these. You had prepared yourself for the
worst: a city in which nothing was in order; a metropolitan that stank
of irony; a whole world existing in and of itself because everything
that had come to contact with it would leave it to abandonment, like
You asked the driver how long the billboard signs had been erected,
and he couldnt give you a straight answer.
Quite a long time, said he, looking at your reflection in
the mirror, Three, maybe four years?
Three, maybe four years, you recited these words inside your head, and
you started to wonder what you were doing four years ago. You were working
at a publishing house as an intern, you thought, in Cambridge, two blocks
away from Porter Squares subway station, where you usually got
your morning paper from a tall, lanky, Latino named Juarez. You were
twenty-two at the time, and you had just received your Bachelor Degree
from some community college you had accidentally discovered on the internet
before you left for America in the year 2000.
After graduation, you left the campus housing and got yourself an apartment
in Davis Square, which you thought was convenient because you would
only have to endure a fifteen-minute commute to work.
The lease was signed in September, and you had to pay a first and last
month rent for a total of twelve-hundred dollars, so you called your
dad and asked for a loan. He wired two thousand dollars into your account,
and you saved up the rest. Months later, you would begin to work your
way to pay himwhich he always said was not necessary, but you
did it anyway. Your American-self demanded it.
As a graduate, you were allowed to work legally for a year in an American
company. If you were lucky enough to get sponsored by the same company
or other companies, in time, youd be eligible to apply for a permanent
residency (which was exactly what happened to you).
However, it took you a total of ten weeks to obtain a working permit
from the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) in downtown Boston;
and several more years to obtain the residency status. The job was something
the school had applied for you, and the pay was okay, so for the first
twelve months you worked grueling hours with people you barely knew.
The taxi stopped at a toll booth, and the driver had turned to you for
some cash. You reached into your coat pocket immediately, pulling out
a dollar bill. You apologized to him briefly, before memory caught you
by surprise, and you reached into your other pocket, from which you
produced a five-thousand rupiah bill. You gave it to the driver, and
he gave it to the woman sitting inside the booth. The light in front
of you suddenly turned green.
You looked out the window and saw cars passing you by one after another.
The sun was shining bright above you, and its ray of light was bouncing
off of the front shield, creating a ball of rainbow on the glass surface.
You tried to remember the last time youd seen the sun shining
Last summer, you murmured to yourself, and a smile came across your
faceyou had a girl last summer, her name was Amanda, and you were
in love with her. Your smile went away as soon as the taxi came to a
sudden halt behind a long line of cars, all of which was not moving.
Whats wrong? you asked the driver, leaning forward
to get a better look at the road ahead.
Probably an accident, he replied. Theyve closed
off three other lanes.
You leaned back in your seat, glanced at your watch, which showed you
the U.S. Eastern Standard Time. It was two thirty in the morning, which
meant it was one thirty in the afternoon where you were. You had gotten
pretty good at calculating time differences since you left to America
six years agoit helped you remember the appropriate hours to make
long-distance calls. Once, for your sisters birthday, you had
called her from halfway across the world at four oclock in the
morning Jakarta time, and she yelled at you in response. You learned
How long do you think its going to take? you asked
the driver again, growing impatient now, the line was at standstill.
I dont know. It could take one to two hours, hopefully less,
said the driver, tilting his head to catch your reflection in the rearview
In America, you said to yourself, the city could be sued for this sort
of thing. But you didnt say anything more to the driver. You closed
your eyes, instead, and tried to get some sleep.
When you saw your mother, you cried. You swept her into your arms and
told her how much you missed her. You also kissed the back of her handa
new habit you had acquired for all the years spent away from herand
you offered her numerous presents you had thoughtfully gift-wrapped
before you departed from Boston.
Later, when your father arrived at the door after a long day at the
office, you greeted him with a respectful nod and a handshake that was
firm and solidyou wanted him to see you as a man now, instead
of a boy. He congratulated you, threw one arm across your shoulders,
and told you how good it was to have you home. You presented him with
a few gifts, as well, but he didnt open them. Your sister, Anne,
never showed up. She was staying at a friends house to study for
her exams, but she called to check in on you. The two of you got into
your usual banter, and she promised to be home tomorrow. She asked you
to wish her luck on her exams, and you did. You had bought a bottle
of perfume and a few shirts for her, but you didnt tell your sister
this over the phone. You were embarrassed at the common values of your
gifts, embarrassed to admit you didnt know what she likes now
that she is no longer a teenager.
You lay on your bed that night and saw the posters you had taped to
the wallsMichael Jordan, Scotty Pippen, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird,
and Charles Barkley in various positions on a basketball court staring
back at you from behind layers of uncollected dust. You championed them
once, and you remembered how crushed you were when the news reported
of Magic Johnsons early retirement. You already knew what HIV/AIDS
was, but you didnt understand what it implied. You remembered
what your friends told you back then: the Johnson in Magic Johnson stood
for what hung in his crotch, whereas the Magic for how he took it from
behind. You didnt believe them then, but you laughed with them,
anyway. You were young.
The next several days brought you to the here and now, at a dinner table,
surrounded by faces which, in the past, were familiar to you and which
now seem altogether strange to look at. They have aged, your friends.
Half of them are married; half others are still searching for their
true loves; few dont care whether they will ever be married, your
They are gazing at you, begging you to spill the beanswhat is
America like? How are the women? Did you go to strip clubs? Did you
meet someone like Demi Moore in the movie, Strip Tease? Did you fall
in love? How was work? Whats it like to work there? Did you like
it? Hate it? Did you drive? Did you do drugs? Did you get high? Did
you have sex with someone while you got high? And so on.
Lighting a cigarette, you give them a quiet smile. You find yourself
speaking to them in a way you never spoke to them beforethere
is detachment in your voice, an expression of boredom on your face,
and as you pick and choose which questions you are willing to answer,
you realize that you, too, have aged.
When you are done with your little monologue, one of them leans forward
at the table and asks you why you decided to come back. Seeing the way
everyone glances at you, you understand they all share the same question.
You run this small trivia once through your head, and then twice.
I got bored, I guess, you say to them, which is replied
by loud groans.
You got bored in America? asks Anton, your seat mate in
high school. Hell, Jakarta is boring! We want to leave this dump,
and we hope to God it will be to Americaand you left it because
you got bored ?!
Seriously, did you get into some kind of trouble? asks Julius,
the friend you used to run laps with, who is now a father of two little
girls. Did you get deported?
It just makes no sense, really, adds another, looking across
the table at you from behind a bottle of beer. How could anyone
leave America? Its the land of hope!
You are mute. You dont want to defend yourself against them, nor
to tell them the real reason you returned to your home country. You
find yourself, unexpectedly, just as far away from them as when you
were still in Bostontens of thousands of mileage spent to be among
them will remain between you and them. You suddenly get a headache,
everything spins violently before you. Exhaling, you excuse yourself
to the mens room.
On the bathroom mirror, you take a good look at your own reflection:
your face is a bit square-ish, a contour which everyone in your family
shares, especially your father; your eyebrows are thick and dark, like
your mothers; and you have that small scar on your forehead which
is the result of a fall when you were a toddler. Around your lower jaws
is a grey shadow of a bedding of small hairs, and you remind yourself
to shave them in the morning. There are veins on your face, neck, and
arms that are a faint color of green running under your skin, carrying
inside them a passage of youth which have gone by but whose trails are
stuck inside you, like a disease. Then, you look at the way you dress:
a combination of soft yellow-colored shirt underneath a brown tweed
jacket with a thin padding patched on the elbows, and a pair of faded
jeans. You dress the same way you always did in Boston during this time
of yearexpecting the cold win to attack you at any given moment
(ergo, the jacket). Its autumn now, you think to yourself. Leaves
are turning colors up in Maine and New Hampshire.
You open the tap in the sink, let fresh water puddle in the cups of
your hands, and you bend forward to splash it against your face. Your
slightly crooked nose drips with water, followed by the rest of your
countenance. You reach for the napkins on one side of the wall, pull
a few of them, and wipe your face with it. You convince yourself this
is a new chapter the new youwhich is a mixture of your two
You return to the table and to your questioning friends. You resume
your seat and study their faces for a while. Then, the inescapable happens:
you begin to answer them in a confident tone which you borrowed from
someone else; you tell them everything they want to hear, stories from
the great New England; you twist and turn the plot so many times it
resembles none of your own; but you amuse them, make them hold on to
their stomachs while laughing, and you take credit for this. You shine
because of it, the way you did when you told them you were leaving the
country six years ago, and you stop yourself from rationalizing your
You become their god in a matter of hours, and long after youve
gone home and tucked yourself into bed, they will be thinking of you
stillwanting to be you, needing to experience everything you have
experienced. You make them laugh, and in turn, they make you omniscient.
When the hours surreptitiously roll into dawn, you dream of things you
rarely dream about: monsters and aliens taking over the world. You taking
Your mother fixes you a plate of fried rice in the morning for breakfast,
which was what you used to have when you were younger, but you cringe
at the table, trying to figure out ways to tell your mother how you
are no longer able to down a whole plate of rice so early in the day.
You hardly ever ate rice when you were abroad, and your breakfast intake
consisted of a cup of black coffee you bought from the Dunkin Donuts
shop around the corner of the street where you lived.
However, there you are, seated at a table in the dining room of the
house you grew up in, surrounded by the family you were born into, and
expected to eat the rice your mother has cooked for youperhaps
out of habit, but mostly because she loves you. So, you tell her nothing.
You express gratitude by shoving a spoonful of fried rice into your
mouth, and then another, and another until theres nothing left
on the plate. Your stomach feels as if its about to spontaneously
combust, but you smile and you drink the orange juice your mother has
prepared for you. The taste of vegetable oil against your tonsils is
almost unbearable, and you struggle to get it out of your head. Your
father tells you about the profit he has made in the last six years,
the conventional ideas hes left behind, and the new ones he has
come to embrace. Your mother is quiet, finding herself mute at the odds
of your return, speaking only when spoken to.
Moments later, you rise from the table and excuse yourself, carrying
your plate and silverware and empty glass along with you, when your
mother immediately pulls herself up to her feet and snatches each item
away from you.
Thats my job, she says to you, half insulted by your
gestures. You just relax.
But you dont want to relax; you need something to do. Something
to keep you busy. So you leave the dining room and climb up the stairs
to your bedroom. You have been thinking, since you came back, to clean
it up a bit, strip the posters off the walls.
You see your bedroom door is left ajar, though you could swear you had
closed it. You hear the sound of someone working their way through piles
of papers behind the plank of wood, so you lurk your head to see whos
inside. Bik Minah, the house servant whos been working for your
family since you were in kindergartensixty years old and already
a grandmother of five little children (or so your mother said to you)
was bending over your bed, tucking the edges of the sheets underneath
A strange, foreign thought takes hold of you. Suddenly, you object to
her presence inside the most private space that is your bedroom; to
her candid manner when you walk past your own doorway toward her; to
the bright, full smile on her aging face when she captures your figure
towering beside her.
Eh, Aden, apa kabar? she approaches you, reaches for your
hand and shakes it. You notice she calls you Aden, which is not your
name, but a nickname she gave you when you were little. Maaf,
Bibik baru aja mulai beberes di kamar Aden.
You want to correct her, for her to start calling you by your real name,
Ardianshah, instead of some silly nickname she came up with decades
ago. You want to sit her down and tell her how you cant even remember
the person she keeps calling for. Youre a grown man now. A man
who has made his living; who has had his heart broken; who has traveled
beyond his meansyoure not the boy she once sang to before
you went to sleep. Youre not anyones boy, anymore.
Thats okay, Bik Minah, you say to her. How are
Im fine, she replies, and you notice the whiteness
of her hair. My youngest daughter just gave birth to her second
son last night, so Im very happy.
Another grandchild, eh? you tease her. And yet you
havent looked a year older than the last time I saw you.
Ah, Aden, bisa aja. She taps you slightly on the wrist,
signaling some form of familiarity to your psyche, your body when you
feel like a stranger near her. Bibik permisi dulu ya. She
excuses herself from the confinement of your bedroom, leaving you all
alone, pondering things you havent pondered in so long. You sit
on your bed, run your fingers on top of the sheetssmooth, almost
silk-like, which also give off a familiar scent of a detergent brand
your mother uses.
You lied to Bik Minah just now about the way she looks, because she
does look older to youmuch older than you expected her to be.
That was your other self talking: the self which is accustomed to making
people feel good about themselves through a string of innocent lies;
which administers hope in a world where there is none left to savor;
and which is so prudent and proud of its ability to carry on a masquerade
in a room full of savagesbusiness executives, flirtatious secretaries,
jealous colleagues, and back-stabbing strangers.
In America, you remind yourself, nothing is what it seems. And that
was what you should have told your friends last night, but something
held you back. You wanted to play god, even if only for a short while.
Thumbing through the old address book, you find her under K, for Kayla.
When you dial her number, your heart skips a beat, your mind processing
random moments from a long gone past. You look at your own handwritingscrawny
letters filling up the pages in various colored inkand you try
to remember the last time you had written with your hands.
Then, it comes to you: a visionthe incursion of memory which takes
hold of you. The last time you had used your hands to write was a month
ago, in a park, on a yellow legal pad, jotting down thoughts you found
impossible to utter. You dont know where that note is now, and
perhaps you threw it away along with other scraps of writing you had
accumulated over the years.
Hello, a voice springs from the other line as you hold the
phone receiver to your ear. She sounds excited, you think, almost as
if shes singing the word.
Kayla? you mutter, your own intonation falls flat on your
Ardian? The Ardianshah? She sounds surprised.
Well, Ill be damned, she says, laughing as she does.
The prodigal child returns.
Can we meet?
I dont believe this.
Are you busy? Cause if you are...
What has America done to you, lover boy? she asks lightly.
Of course, I can meet you. Tell me when and where.
Where are you now?
She groans, and you smile when you hear it. Work, she replies.
But Ill leave early.
Who are youSherlock Holmes?
Do you drive?
Yes, I drive. I have my own car now. She pauses. Why,
do you want me to come over and pick you up?
Nono. I can borrow my sisters car, you reply.
I was thinking to pick you up.
She doesnt respond for a brief few seconds. And then, Lets
do this: Ill go home, take a shower and change into something
nicebecause, frankly, my suit is killing meand you can come
and pick me up at
seven? Hows that?
Seven, you mumble, reaching for a pen to jot it down on
a pink post-it next to the telephone. Great.
Ill see you then, she says.
Waituhdo you still live in Kebayoran?
God, its so good to hear from you!
Yeah. You, too.
See you tonight.
As you put down the phone receiver, you are surprised to find your sister
already standing in the doorway. Anne, at the age of twenty-two, has
blossomed into a woman you barely recognize. Her short hair has grown
past her waistline, and her face is now attributed with make-up coloring
which accentuates each bone structure on her countenance.
Hey, she walks toward you, wearing the shirt you brought
for her, which had the face of her favorite cartoon star, Mickey Mouse,
embroidered on the front side.
Hey, you nod at her, smiling. Whats up?
She sits on the chair behind your computer desk, crosses her legs, and
leans back. You look good, she smiles back at you. Your
skin is a bit lighter, and theres something about your face.
What about my face?
I dont know, her voice drifts off. I cant
put my finger on it.
You approach her, bend yourself forward so your eyes are level with
hers, and make a silly expression. Maybe youre dazzled by
my good looks, you tease her, pouting your lips the way female
models do on magazine covers.
Suddenly, in an outburst of familiar gestures, she pinches your nose
between her thumb and forefinger, leaving you breathless. I think
its the wrinkles.
You place your knuckles on her scalp, and do a quick stroke. Please,
leave my room, I need to change.
What, you got a hot date or something?
Do I know her?
Maybe, maybe not.
She rolls her eyes upward. Well? Do I?
You open your closet, examining your collection of shirts. Oh,
I also need to borrow your car.
Not until you tell me who youre going out with.
No one you know, you lie.
No one I know? Really?
Yes. You think about it. No. You realize you
dont know what the correct answer is, anymore. Forget it.
It wouldnt be Kayla, by any chance, would it?
You turn to her, usher her to the door. No. Stay out of it.
Cuz I heard different.
She takes her car key out of her pocket, and dangles it in front of
you. Forgetting something, dear brother? You reach out your
hand to grab for the keys, but she retracts them away from you. Tell
me her name.
Her name is get out, you reply, snatching the key from her
You are about to push the door close, when she holds it with the palm
of her hand. You know, theres something else Im curious
Why did you come back here? She folds her arms across her
chest. I mean, after all these years of not wanting to come backwhy
Because. You shrug.
You smile wide. I missed you.
She rolls her eyes backwards and turns to leave your room.
You wear a pair of black khakis and a pair of leather shoes you bought
last year at Nieman Marcus. Each pair should cost you about three hundred
dollars, but they were on sale, and you got a half-price discount. You
put on a clean white shirt, and then a matching color of sports jacket.
You drive a hard bargain with yourself on whether or not to wear a tie,
but you eventually decide against it. You tell yourself youre
not meeting with the First Lady, though you are meeting with the first
person you had ever fallen in love with.
At seven sharp, you arrive at her house. You double park across the
street, and stand at the green gate before thrusting your arm through
the space between the protruding iron fences and reach for the doorbell
button. You press it once, twice.
You can hear low murmurings in the distant between Kayla and her father.
He is telling her not to stay out too late, and she promises him to
be home before midnight. You remember the way her mother died, years
ago, from heart attack, and the devastation she went through the following
months after that. You shudder at the thought.
You hear footsteps coming to approach youthe clicking of heels
against the marble tilesand you reposition yourself in front of
the gate. Eyes forward, shoulders straight, hands on your sides.
Shes wearing a low-cut red dress and a pair of red, Gucci shoes.
Her hair is still wet from the showers, and dangling off her ears are
a pair of earrings you gave her for her seventeenth birthday. She takes
your arm, kisses you on the cheek before you have the chance to greet
her, and you lead her to the car. You open the door for her, wait until
she settles in, and close it. You come upon the drivers side.
She shakes her head looking at you, and you begin to command the wheel.
You choose a prestigious restaurant, Six Ribs, and you buy her flowers
from the shop next door. Kayla doesnt mind it, but she isnt
comfortable carrying a bouquet of flowers in her arms. So you offer
to put it in the car while she orders for the two of you.
Preceding the main course, you ask for a bottle of wine from the maîtred,
a 1960 Chianti, and you are surprised when he doesnt ask for your
ID. You say nothing to Kayla. When the maîtred returns with
your wine order, you pour its content into two glassesone for
you, one for Kayla.
She lifts her eyebrows, smiles, and raises a toast. You make small concentric-circle
movements with your hand to let the wine air out, and you dip the tip
of your nose into the glass before you finally raise the glass to meet
Kaylas. She laughs, but you dont know why. When the glasses
make a clinking sound, she says, To youmy one and only.
You dont know what she means when she says it, but you dont
Over well-done steak tips and mash potatoes you converse. You learn
about her engagement to a local actor, about the way he proposed to
her, and how much her father adores him. You learn about her new job
as an Accounting Manager at an international corporation based in Brussels,
Belgium; and her hopes to travel the world. You learn about the accident,
the horrible car wreck she was in two years ago, which left a permanent
scar on her inner thigh. She doesnt show you, but telling you
is enough. You learn of all the birthdays you missed while you were
gone, the gradually diminishing desire for celebration, and how she
enjoys the comfort of spending that particular day in the company of
her closest friends. You learn about her trip to Europe, where she met
her fiancé three years ago, where she had also lost her virginity.
Eventually, you learn about the pain, the anger, and the disappointment
you have caused her by leaving. You were both very young then, but love
knows no boundary.
Over dessert, she asks about you.
What do you want to know? you ask her, sipping your wine.
Everything, she demands, leaning back in her seat, a few
strands of hair fall across her face. For starters, what made
you turn your course?
You sigh a deep sigh and look her straight in the eyes. Then, you avert
your eyes back into your wineglass, as if the answers were there all
along, waiting to be fished out. I got bored, you say, repeating
what you already told your friends the night before.
Bullshit, she says. You didnt leave me because
you thought America was interesting.
What, you frown.
You had desire, Ardi, she mumbles. Something even
I couldnt compete with. It would take more than boredom to pull
you out of there.
You shrug. You dont want to talk about it. I guess I fell
out of love with it, you say.
The way you fell out of love with me? she gives you a short,
I never fell out of love with you, you argue.
Was there a girl involved?
Did it hurt?
Did what hurt? You finish your wine, and pour another glass.
She is fixing her eyes on you in a way that suffocates you, so you shift
in your seat. I dont know what youre talking about.
I can read you like a book, you know, she says, leaning
forward. Always have.
Things have changed, you say, flat.
Im not the same person.
You have the same soul, she relents. The way you walk,
talk, and sit is differentbut its still you. Somewhere in
there, she points at your chest. Still the same guy who
pretended everything was okay when they werent.
Theres no girl, you convince her, downing your wine.
Whats her name?
She smiles, genuinely this time. I told you my secrets, now its
your turn to tell me yours.
You look around, your eyes go over a crowd of men and women seated a
few feet away from you, muttering words you dont understand. Their
body language tells you how they are safe in each others company,
but when they let out a giggle or a nervous laugh, you suddenly get
a glimpse of their own discomfort which, in so many ways, matches yours
at the moment.
You examine the way the maîtred moves from one table to
another, a smile tattooed on his face like a clown, and you wonder if
he is having a good day or a bad one. You wonder if people even care.
A momentary lapse between tables lets you in on secrets no one else
knows: the small bursts of emotion recognizable in the manner of his
walk, his arms sway, his perpetual gracefulness. Then you wonder
if he knows that you know.
By the time you turn to Kayla, shes waiting for an answer, the
way your friends waited for an answer. You search for the god inside
The girls got nothing to do with this, you reply,
trying to turn off the deafening sound of an alarm which fills your
eardrums from the inside. I just thought maybe I could use a fresh
So there was a girl?
You take a moment to pause, feel the surface of the wineglass against
your skin. Amanda, yes, you hear yourself confiding to Kayla.
Was she nice?
Beautys relative, you respond, which sends a polite
laughter across the table.
She makes you laugh, cry, throw fitsall the things living
All of that, you say, exhaling. And more.
You loved her?
Did she love you back?
I hope so.
Then, she dumped you?
Your throat narrows itself into the size of a straw, and you cant
breathe. It must have been some chemical reaction, you say to yourself,
or perhaps the beef you dined on had mad cows disease. You want
to laugh, but you lose the moment. You close your eyes, wishing you
are somewhere else. Everything inside you is turning spasmodicallyeverything
has to come out. You excuse yourself from the table, and run to the
bathroom, where you lock yourself inside one of its stalls and sit on
the floor, hugging the toilet bowl. You vomit. Your head spins in a
You are quiet in the car, driving Kayla home. Through the traffic lights
and freeways and bridges your mind wanders off. The radio hums softly
from beneath you, where the speakers are installed, and you remind yourself
to tell your sister to rearrange her sound system. You think of roads
similar to this one, which are built in another country, filling up
space in another world, where your soul now lays barren. You think of
the routes youve traversed to get to this one, next to the woman
you once loved, not knowing where you are, or where youre going.
Something inside you demands for an explanationa seam of reasons
to connect all youve lost, and the possibility to reclaim them.
You are furious at the world, defying its unwritten rules and regulations,
willing to bet anything for a second chance, to expel truth.
Truth, you repeat to yourself. You cant feel anything. You are
Im sorry, Kayla says once you hit the breaks in front
of her house. The light in the living room is still on at twenty to
midnight, and you imagine her father sitting on the sofa, waiting for
his daughter to come home.
Ive put you in distress, she says, taking a deep breath.
I shouldnt have asked so many questions. I should just be
happy that youre back.
Im happy to see you, you say, returning the gesture.
I hope your fiancé isnt too upset about me taking
you out to dinner.
He isnt, she shakes her head. He never gets
Which is why I always try to get him mad, she confesses.
Or get him to feel something.
I thought he was an actor.
Thats the problem, she smiles warily. He saves
it all up for his acting. The fool.
Pause. She unbuckles her seat-belt. Her hand is at the door, but she
does not move.
A loveable fool, nonetheless, you say, buying time. Your
She nods, but without claim. She must be pretty special, that
Whatever. She turns to look at you, her eyes commiserating
your unfortunate life, though you believe she doesnt know what
it implies. No one does. You loved her, right?
I love her still.
Right. She sighs, tears escape her eyes. Your immediate
reaction is to run your fingers across her cheeks, but you restrain
yourself from doing so. You stay back, pull a pack of tissue from the
backseat, and offer it to her. She laughs through her tears. God,
this is pathetic.
Stop being so goddamn concerned all the time! she screams
at you. Show me something, anything real about you. Please.
My life is a joke, alright? she turns to you, glass-eyed.
My father made me accept the marriage proposal for some business
deal. I hate my job. I have never been anywhere outside of this god-forsaken
country, and I dont think wishingno matter how hardis
going to do the trick. I never went to Europe; I only said that to impress
you. I had to have been somewhere beautiful, like you have. She
takes a moment to readjust herself in the seat beside you. I didnt
lose my virginity because of love. He and Iit isnt love.
It never was. I didnt even like him. She inhales deeply.
The first time we did it, I couldnt breathe. I kept telling
myself it was not happening, that Id imagined it all, and so I
held my breath until my face turned blue, until blood dried on my skin.
It wasnt rape, because Id let him. But it wasnt something
I wanted to happen, eitherthat much I know.
Kayla looks down at her hands, her trembling fingers which she dutifully
keeps upon her lap. "You see, when I had the car accident some
time ago, I was grateful. Believe it or not, I wanted to die. Get it
over with. Yet, here I amand of all peoplewith you.
She blows air out of her mouth in an exasperated gesture, and then,
I hate birthdays because it reminds me that I am alive, another
year has gone by, and nothings changed. Nothings changed.
You break along with her, and you instinctively pull her into your arms.
You want to protect her, though you know you cant. You cant
do all she asks of you. You cant undo the last six years. Your
heart sympathizes for her, but doesnt share her burden. So you
tell her lies to make her feel better.
Its going to be okay, you whisper into her ear. Youre
going to be fine.
She releases herself from you and quickly fixes her hair, her make-up,
her posture so that it will resemble the one you saw beforeconfident,
witty, untouched by lifes cruel tragedies. Sure, I will,
she says to you, mirroring herself on the small mirror of her compact
powder case, tapping the soft, underside of the padding onto her flawless
countenance. Then, as if struck by lightning, it comes to you why you
left her. You did fall out of love with her, long ago, and you were
hoping she wouldnt know.
All I hear, for six years, is how wonderful your life is in the
great Ah-me-ri-kah, she continues, closing her powder case and
tossing it absent-mindedly into her purse. How successful, how
rich, how convenientand Im sick of it. Im sick of
being the one left behind.
No one left you behind, you comfort her.
She sneers out of irony. So you say, she breathes aloud,
almost hissing the words out. After you left, everyone felt sorry
for me. The way they looked at meI can still see it nowmade
me want to throw up. I felt like one of those women whose husbands left
them for someone younger, better, sexier. I was a lump on the street.
Kay, we were teenagers, you try to reason with her.
I loved you, she snaps. And I would have loved you
still if you werent so goddamn difficult to love.
You withdraw yourself away from her, mentally creating an alternate
universe to which only you would have access. You study her face, her
body language, her words, and none of it makes any sense to you now.
You let silence fall between you and her, until you can hear her breathe
beside you, her heart throbbing next to you like a drum.
I need to know that your life isnt perfect, she says,
an air of calm takes hold of her. I need to know that no matter
how deranged, how unbelievably messy and sad mine has become theres
still a part of you I can relate to.
You process this through your mind, the small of your brain which contains
information beyond its capacity to restore them, and you feel a shiver
down your spine as you part your lips open to speak. So much of who
you are is no longer here, in this world or the world before it, yet
somehow the rest of you is in the car, with her. You want to save her,
but you keep trying to figure out a way to save yourself. You dont
know if you can, anymore.
The word slithers out of your mouth from the deepest corners of your
brain, and the moment you say it the world begins to close in on you.
A cloud of mist descends from the evening skies like a bad omen.
I have cancer, you say. The hair behind your neck stands
erect at the sound of your own voice. Your body hurts all over. I
came home to die.
Oh my God. She places her hand over her mouth, her voice
a muffle behind her fingers. She reaches out to you, touches your face.
But you know it isnt love, and instead, its mystifying twinpity.
Im okay, you tell her. You draw a deep breath from
around you, sucking in every ounce of air as though for the last time,
and you exhale. Ill be okay.
The way she wraps you up in her gaze makes you feel vulnerable, but
you dont let yourself cryyou dont even know how. For
the first time in what seems to be eternity, you begin to develop a
strange sense of sympathy toward yourself, and everything which looked,
tasted, and felt bitter now appears full of colors. Adventures.
You bring yourself back to the moments when you sat in the doctors
office, behind one of those long, white corridors at Massachusetts General
Hospitals, waiting for fate to either pardon or punish you. You remember
the way Dr. Greenberg called you into his chamber, holding in his hands
a stack of files which would determine your entire future, how his eyes
told you everything you wanted to know before he had a chance to speak.
You remember the hours you spent inside the tube, lying helpless as
they ran a scan over your body, a million of colors blending into one,
your eyes unable to see anything else other than the plastic roof over
There were other hours, of course, which you spent throwing up into
a basin next to your hospital bed or staring up at the ceilings above
you, trying to remember the last time you ever felt as excruciating
a pain. And then, the other hours you lay on Amandas bedpale,
weak, ready to collapse. You never told her what youre telling
Kayla now. Amanda never understood why you left, and she never will.
You had planned to write her a letter, and you went to the park one
afternoon with a yellow legal pad in hand, hoping that as you watched
other lives passed you by you would gain enough strength to appreciate
the one you were about to leave behind. But, the letter sat on your
desk for days, weeks until you lost track of it. In the end, you just
left. You packed everything you could find into a cheap suitcase you
bought at the mall, and you abandoned all that had become your whole
You could take comfort in Kaylas arms as she offered it to you,
but not you. You take comfort from no one, because America has taught
you that while no one takes either fame or glory to their graves, pity
follows you even in hell.
You like playing god because it makes you invisible to others; it makes
your pain dull and insignificant compared to their unfulfilled desires.
You want to be omniscient because it lets you in on secrets no one can
ever knowthe brief seconds or minutes in everyones lives
when everything they ever believe in turns its back on them. And its
not travels which taught you this. Rather, the bigger picture of things
as youve come to see them. When death is at your door, everything
falls into place. You become immune to lifes adversities, and
you can no longer lose.
You reinvent nature, behavior, truth.
And the truth is you didnt come home to stay. Youll leave
again when the time is rightmaybe to a parallel universe much
like this one, or maybe to hell. You dont know. What you do know
is that youre going to be okay. As long as you keep feeding them
innocent lies, tell them everything they want to hear, no one has to
© Maggie Tiojakin May 2006
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