A smoke, a drink, a blink.


Irving Penn, 1949.

When I look back through my old creative writing, usually one of three thoughts cross my mind:

  1. This is better than I thought it would be,
  2. This sucks, and
  3. God I was so emo.

But for all that self-deprecation I afford myself so readily, there’s also the sense that I was more in touch with my darker emotions and eager to see how I could capture all that subjectiveness with the objective logic of word and line. Truth be told, sometimes I feel like I’ve closed off the better part of me and my deeper emotional potential, because I’ve gotten so tired of working on relationships that never work, and so terrified of being wounded.

And it’s true that for all my heartache in the past thinking of the unwilling goodbyes I would have to utter and all the once beautiful budding relationships I would have to watch wilt all too quickly, hanging listlessly from bone-dry stalks, letting go of opportunities has gotten all too much the easier.

So for my “emotionless” (well, not really, but relatively speaking perhaps) self, here are some words from a past self to help current self put definition to what I’m feeling.

* * * * * * * *


The other day at the mall, I beam proudly as we walk towards the parking garage. Even though the keys jangling in my continually moving hand are hardly new, I don’t care – I have all the freedom in the world on wheels. I could go anywhere!  San Francisco, San Jose, exotic locations like LA, Vegas, and New York? Thoughts swirl around together in a big funnel, only to be expelled in a loud gasp as I sprint over to my car.

Who the hell scratched my car? I yell, wildly flailing my arms at the gas cap. I yelp, gasp again. And what’s this? I cry, pointing at the ambiguous dark spots dotting the side of the passenger door. Never mind that they might scratch off.

My friends look at each other and knowingly shake their heads.

Yup, it’s a new car alright. They smirk.

My cheeks flush a bit as I pretend to ignore them and continue fussing.

It’s always like that in the beginning, one of the guys says to the other, both crossing their arms, You notice every little thing on your car.

Yeah dude, everyone obsesses in the beginning, the other agrees.

Everyone obsesses in the beginning. You beam in constant admiration of your new ride, shrieking when it raineth too hard, cursing the stick that falleth on the hood, hollering hell when your brother dare dreameth of touching the wheel.

Time passes, you still shake your fist at the man who dare “love” tap your car, flick off the gravel that embarks to make way for a whole firework of cracks to lighten up the windshield, kick the bumper for even daring to consider falling off. As long as the engine’s running and the tires don’t blow.

Former feelings of elation dissipate into mere hard practicality — of course the car will be scarred — pretty soon you’ll be scouring the listings for the latest models — a month later, you’re financing your latest treasure.

Do we take the same approach with our own living selves? A baby is born, initially given meticulous care, gasp at its first fall, face twisted up in horror as it begins to cry, soothing words of, Shhh, baby, Mommy’s here, second fall, ah it’s going to get hurt anyway, oh well, indolence initiated and embarked upon, just keep the Neosporin at hand is all. A few years later… first heartbreak sends puppy love spiraling into oblivion, dreams dashed like eggs against a window, fragile entity crumbling, yoke bleeding down the pane, hungry eyes helplessly watching from the other end of the glass unable to the cease the destruction, declarations of I could never fall in love so deep again! Second heartbreak, darkness overshadows, one is unable to see, unable to move, caught by the freezing chill of warming cozy brutally snatched away, but young heart wising up to experience feeling the spark of meek anticipation of falling in love again with someone completely new. Third heartbreak, anger, blind fury, hurt pride, bitter loss in the game of “love.” Finally, a smoke, a drink, and a blink. Face forgotten. Do we grow so accustomed that even heartbreak ceases to… break?

I, for one, have plenty of those bad break ups you share at cocktail parties and make your audiences rolling in fits of pity laughter. For instance, there’s the boyfriend who had his friend break things off with me via phone. The conversation went:

Me: Hello?
The Friend: Uhh, hey.
Me: Who the heck (I was still clean-mouthed back then) is this?
The Friend: This is John.
Me: Um, okay.
John: Uhh, yeah, sooo…
Me: So?
John: Mike wanted me to call you ‘cause uhh…
Me: “Uhh” what?
John: He… doesn’t think things are working out.
Me: Okay, so, what, he wants a break up?
John: (Hurriedly) Oh not that! But, uhh, he doesn’t think things are working out.
Me:  So, he wants to break up?
John: Not really, but he really doesn’t think things are… (struggles, then sighs) working out.
Me: So he wants to break up?
John: Uhh, yes.

There’s also the freshman year boyfriend who emailed me a break up letter three days after confessing to me on my birthday that he still had feelings for his ex; and the guy who told me he needed to break up because he needed time to himself and who also allowed me to walk in on him with his new girl a mere week after my tears. Then he accused me of taking things too seriously.

One thing I wonder is how in the world half the world so justifies accusing me of being playing the field hard when the other half (i.e. most of my boyfriends, as well as most of my most trusted advisors) so enjoys accusing me of being “too serious” for my age. How does that juxtaposition of speculations work?

The other thing I wonder is what the past me’s in the throes of heartbreak think of myself as I ruthlessly mock my own self. Would my past me’s be angered by my cruelty? Disillusioned by the passivity fueled by hesitance to indulge myself in the act of committing? Saddened by the absolute lack of affection I now feel for the previously desired? Or would my past me’s envy me my blasé nonchalance as I pass my days free of dark burden of pain?

On the flip side, as I place the necessary dampers in case emotion goes haywire and immediately stand guard at utterances of sweet nothings, I marvel at the my willingness to throw aside all to love someone so wholly, so completely, that the mere abundance of emotion by itself erases all trace of doubt.

Alright, not quite love, but at least likeLike wholly.

It startles me almost making me cringe how ready I was to place my hopes in my boyfriend, without foreseeing any possible resistance from his side.

Have I become bitter and hardened? Oblivious to the scratches and chips and cracks of all the traffic I’ve already encountered? Do I really shake my head at a younger me in knowing pity, or in envious awe?

It is easy to envy others; but when that envy is directed towards yourself, what do you do?

I once read a story about a young man who boasted about his perfect heart. Endlessly, he bragged about its lack of imperfection, its impeccable, unsullied being, showing its smooth, unmarked surface to all who gathered round to admire.

While he’s in the act of boasting, an old man walks up and slowly shakes his head at the young man.

Dear young man, he says, your heart is beautiful, but alas, mine is much more so.

And he proceeds to show all his own heart. Chunks have been torn out and replaced with other chunks not quite the right size and shape; there is not a spot where the surface is not uneven.

The young man begins to laugh, as well as the people around him — not in mockery, but rather in pity of a clearly deteriorating mind.  Can you not see, he asks, That my heart is clearly more beautiful than yours?

Dear young man, the old man replies, It is not the flawless heart that is beautiful, but the scarred. For I have loved and been loved in return; have you?

The young man grows silent. The audience grows silent. Finally, the young man graciously reaches into his heart and tears out a chunk. The audience gasps. He takes the chunk and offers it to the old man. He asks the old man, Will you accept this from me?

The old man smiles, then tears out a chunk of his own heart. Here, you can place it right here, he says.

There are a few brief clips of memory from the age of three that flash back at me in idle moments of the day. I watch as I sit giggling in youthful mirth on the ground, next to the VW Buggy my father diligently works on… I am being dragged by the car across asphalt… I am hauled up in my father’s arms, my hand held out in front of us, pointing the way for my father wildly sprinting up the stairs, blinking, and I watch as the blood drips, lining the steps we don’t retrace…

I often find myself stroking the rumpled skin lining the curve of my right hand in blank contemplation. Once in high school, the motion was caught in glance by the corner of my father’s eye.

That scar… you still have it? he asked.

I shrugged. Yeah, looks kinda funny huh?

When there was still a small red dot marking midpoint between thumb and index finger, I used to imagine my hand as an elephant.  Index finger trunk laying long over thumb lip.

I’m jolted back to present with a light sigh from my father. It denotes a deep sense of self-remorse.

I stare at his back as he walks into his study, then look back down at my hand, blinking pensively.

Huge blanks spot my own memory like the pox, but I suppose my father still carries his regret around shoved in a pocket, staring at it for long periods of time when it happens to slip out of the deep recesses of his pocket and glare blindingly back at him from underfoot.


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