Broken Dream(er)s

For the sake of this exercise, let’s say you are 5 years old.

You have the early memories of this cool uncle: the one you hear all the good stories of, who takes you to places you haven’t seen before. After spending some time with him, you realize that he is beyond suitable to nurture your potential and cater to your needs. When you’re around him, it feels safe. It feels right. It feels like home.

You sheepishly ask him if you can stay with him longer. He says maybe (it means no). You beg and cry. You can’t bear to leave him. You have already grown to love him, as you would your own father.

So, you stay. He doesn’t fight you, or tell you to leave. He turns a blind eye to it all.

For the next handful of years, you grow up in the suburbs, in his home. You play sports with the boys and sleep over at the girls’. You race bikes and climb trees. Trade Smarties for Reeses after a long night trick-or-treating. You pass notes. Camp with your troop. You join clubs and teams, play instruments, get the top grades, and at quite the young age,  emerge as a leader. You hit the milestones of childhood into puberty with the same group of friends, who see every awkward second of your transformation (braces and spin the bottle, yes that too).

But one day you finally realize: something’s different between you and everyone else. You buy the same lunch, but on their plate is fresh chicken, and on yours? The knockoff brand. Your uncle tells you: to what they are entitled you would be privileged to have.

When the others start driving, he takes away your keys. “You’re too dangerous,” he says. You look in the mirror. You don’t look dangerous. You don’t feel dangerous. But soon you begin to question your own integrity. Am I dangerous?

When you bring home a list of scholarship offers, he tears it into shreds. “College is not for you,” he says. You are angry and hurt. You want to rebel against the intellectual ceiling he puts over your head.

When you begin a doctorate program, he doesn’t rejoice. Instead, he says, “I’ve given too much of my money away to the neighborhood kids; there is nothing left for you.” So you hustle. You begin this 24-7 madness of a sleepless hustle. You wear yourself thin.

When you share with him your vision to make the house a better place to live in, he shakes his head and reminds you: you live here. But this isn’t your home.

You work harder, in ignorance, thinking maybe one day he will change his mind. You pay his rent, treat him well, do him proud — overachieve because achieving just isn’t enough — though deep down, denial aside, you know he will never adopt you.

Then everything changes.

It all changes the day he brings home a foul woman with loud opinions. She is your recurring nightmare of 22 years. You plead: “Not her, date anybody but her,” but he diverts his eyes away from you. He does not hear what you have to say. The whole neighborhood chimes in: “She’s not right for you.” He still doesn’t change his mind.

Before the shock wears off, they marry. They honeymoon. They have children of their own.

As a power hungry tyrant would, she orders him around: do this and do that, and well, he does just this, exactly that. She tells him he needs to take control, because their names are the names on the lease. This is the piece of paper that dictates it is so. She urges him to start fresh, to build a a white picket fence to keep their children in and dirty orphans like you, out. Let’s make things good again.

And after a lifetime in the only home you’ve known, he looks you in the eye and says, “You should leave.” He knows you have nowhere to go. “No means noooo~” she taunts, hiding behind his shoulders. He hangs his head in shame, and she, with arms crossed, towers over him and taps an impatient rhythm with the sole of her shoe.

She throws a vase across the room, but it is you that is broken.

You are weighed with disappointment, watching the cool uncle you once loved and respected allow a symbol of hatred to take a collar to his neck. He used to be strong. He used to be tall but now it’s hard to tell by his cowered, slumped posture.

There is a knock at the door — it is a neighbor who has heard her from the distance. You have never seen him before. He is holding two brooms.

You take one and sweep. You sweep the pieces of glass, side-by-side with the stranger, without saying a word. You sweep, not knowing if another vase will fall, or if will be thrown and crack your face. You sweep and clean the home for your uncle, with the slightest hope that she’ll move on and he’ll go back to being normal.

You hope if you sweep hard enough, you’ll make it feel like home again, and he’ll finally come to understand: you’re as good as family.


 

To the workers at New Economy, CUNY Citizenship Now!, MinKwon, and other DACA advocates: thank you for the broom.

Advertisements

Would You Take A Dollar Now, or Get Ten Dollars in a Year From Now?

How does a baby learn to latch at the sight of a nipple? Why do New York commuters tirelessly gaze to the left, when standing at the subway tracks? Why, upon reading these words, do you expect this sentence to end as a question?

It is in human nature to anticipate.

In a lifelong endeavor of identifying patterns, we draft mental connections between such linked phenomena. To every effect, we search for a cause. Did I sleep poorly because I drank too much coffee? We act, to cause an effect. I will avoid it today, so I can sleep better tonight. It can easily be said that our ability to form a predictable chronological order is the basis for learning.

It can even be argued that experts, in any specialty or field, have become experts precisely by mastering the art of pattern recognition. It goes beyond Wall street, beyond science. Just as the best taco man in the West Coast has discovered which beef to lettuce ratio draws in the most customers, it is implied that the best soil yields the best crop.

And like these experts, we use our ability to predict the near and far future to determine the next best choice of action. Why? Because it is in the best interest of any individual to operate in an economy of effort in relation to time: two of our most valuable and priceless resources. Surely, some things in life cost more self-investment than others.

Everything we do, every person we choose, and each seemingly insignificant decision whittles down to intrinsic calculations — Will this produce a profit? Do I have to apologize to my boss?  Should I microwave the hot pocket with the paper cover on? Does this person push me to be better? Do I stay in this relationship? Should I sleep in another hour? Why am I here? Is this worth it?

As a long term planner, you debate the disparity between what you anticipate and what may actually happen. You are more likely to sacrifice the present for the future. You are, to put it simply, an investor. However, as a short term planner, you act upon instinct. You recognize the far future but appreciate the present much more. You are a gambler of action: a doer. You are passion over logic, thrill over safety. Most of us fall somewhere along this spectrum.

 

 

* * * * * *

 

I’m not the kind of person that has a near death experience and decides to, from then on, “live for the moment.” No, I’m not going to quit my jobs, get a cliché tatted on my arm, and dedicate my life to an unfulfilled bucket list. It all comes down to finding a balance.

Ambition is a great trait to have, but sometimes, I get so caught up on doing things for others and my future self, that I neglect what I want right now. I think this happens to many of us, especially those who have goals to reach within certain time constraints. I’m not here to self pity, or to create a diet plan of what I can or can’t do. Rather, I’m allowing my desires to guide me, even if it leads me beyond reason or comfort. You know the little guy in the back of your head that tells you when it’s a bad idea? I’m putting him on mute, because in moderation, new is good. New is becoming.

The take home point is: if you are an investor, become a doer. If you are a doer, become an investor. Do not remain a static point on a dynamic spectrum of planning. Your mind is three dimensional.

Which brings us back to the million dollar question: Would You Take A Dollar Now, or Get Ten Dollars in a Year From Now?

One choice over another may bring you greater success, but you’d benefit more by supplementing your repertoire with a new way of thinking, of anticipating & doing. Fuck what you’re used to. Choose the other. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood; why not take both?

 

Dear Johnny (Part 2)

Maybe you could call it apathy. Comfort?

I don’t think that’s what it is.

Johnny, I’m knee deep in responsibility these days, and I feel like I’m wading. It’s not that I don’t want to be here. I really do. I have so much going for me that I can’t seem to put it in words.

But when you’re constantly surrounded by intense, driven academics who thrive off approval and grading and measurement of successful outcomes (after all, that is the quintessence of physical therapy), there’s this incredible pressure to prioritize every test, every little detail. And that’s what I’m lacking. Yeah it’s perfect timing, just in time for finals and the busiest time at work. I’m dragging.

It’s almost been a year since you’ve been gone, and I still talk to you in my head… when I think of how transient and unpredictable our lives are, it’s hard to believe that a GPA, or praise, matters as much as we’re led to believe. How inconsequential it is whether I get a 100 or an 80 — because I talked to Anna and Jason and Jay the other day, and it scared me shitless that people like them could be gone in a second. People like you.

But maybe it matters. What do you think? Maybe it should matter.

It’s conflicting, because a part of me is feels like I’m at the tail end of a dream; it’s like I’m playing tag with my dreams and it’s so close I can almost feel it. But at the same time, I’m wondering why I’m not –um, I don’t know– on a boat buck naked with a pina colada this second. I think, if you were alive, you’d see how much I’ve changed. You’d say I don’t need a distinguished career to help others –and you’d be right, I know.

It’s weird talking about you in past tense, like you only used to exist.

 

Like I said, I still talk to you a lot. But you know better than anyone else, there’s a difference between being listened to, and being heard. Sometimes, I get frustrated talking to you. It’s like being surrounded by others but feeling completely alone.

I talk to you the way I used to talk to God, back when I had one, at least. I question, I provoke, but I never get a reply. I have to use my imagination, but what’s the fun in that.

I’m really happy these days, though.

I don’t like that there’s some sort of trade-off between being truly happy and keeping perfect grades in perspective, but it is what it is. I’m pretty sure no patient has ever said, “My physical therapist changed my life; did you know she got a 4.0 in college?” and I’m banking on that.

Otherwise, I might be screwed.

 

Oh, by the way, Trump is president.

know.

 

Miss you bud.

Jane

The 30th Time I Saw Myself Die

“Are you fucking crazy?!”

He grabbed me with firm hands, jerking my shoulders to square up to his own. I could see his lips moving, his eyebrows were screaming, but all I heard was a deafening white noise. People were screaming, pointing at me. A woman was covering her mouth with both hands. Like I had done something wrong. Like I had killed a cat with my bare hands.

I pressed pause.

The bodies around me froze in place. Their gestures were still yet piercingly loud, hands and arms spread open to match their fury; the man gripping my shoulders had so much tension between his eyebrows I wanted to dig a finger into his skin. Help the guy relax a little. Good god, man, you’re going to pop a vessel. 

I poked at his forehead, but it didn’t work. His face was  scrunched into a rock solid, mean expression. 

I clicked rewind, and watched the events play back. I could see myself jogging from down the block. I had on thin spandex shorts and a heavy black hood, and peaking from underneath were two green cords that coalesced together to plug into the phone in my pocket. My head was nodding to some Kendrick bit, and I was lightly bouncing to the rhythm, taking note of the blinking red crosswalk light. I still had time to cross. I waved to Jose, the neighborhood fruit stand man, and smiled at the little old lady at the end of the block, swiftly jogged onto the pavement of West 157th —

And BOOM. 

Like a homerun slugger splintering from impact, the metal body of a black Caddy caved  against my frame. It dent sharply, like the exhale of a collapsed lung, cloaked in tar and years of bad habit. At maybe, 60, 70 miles an hour, the fuming machine rammed directly in my side, flipping my lifeless body in circles like dice in cupped hands. It crushed bone into dust as easily as a giant would a flea. As the screech of braking tires overtook the orchestra of horror, I pressed pause once again. 

Resume.

The Cadillac blared its horn as it barely missed my back. It skimmed so close to my body I could feel the whip of my clothing as the wind snapped my sweatshirt against me. I didn’t gasp. I didn’t react. I just kept running… until he stopped me in my tracks.

I faced the man then scanned the crowd once again. Their terror had quickly dissolved to anger, to shaking heads and disgusted faces. He let out, “Are you fucking crazy!?”

I mean, I think that’s what he said. (I was never really that great at reading lips.)

I removed my headphones in time to hear the rush in his voice, “You almost died. YOU ALMOST DIED.”

My heart was a steady 50, maybe 60. I shrugged. “I’m fine.” 

I tugged my hood over my eyes and casually resumed my jog. The crowd shook their heads in a bitter grumble, and I left them in the cold clutter behind me.

I pulled up at the next red light, and removed my headphones once more. I almost died. I almost died? 

There, standing alone, I shuddered. 

I shook with fear — not because I was an inch from death, but because close calls have happened so many times they no longer phase me. This comfort I feel, is uncomfortable. My apathy makes me reckless. 

After all, I’m the protagonist and the narrator — I can’t die. I have chapters I haven’t gotten to yet.

The signal turned white, so I returned the beat to my ears and my feet to the streets heading to Harlem. As I slipped past the row of cars stalled at the red, I could feel their headlights following me, testing me, watching the litter of emotion I was tossing behind. 

The Text Message Break Up

Untitled

“I’m never going to talk to you again. See you never,” the message read.

Following a delay just long enough to process what he had sent her, in attempts to subdue the passive aggressive anger railroading through the text –because God forbid he actually let her have the satisfaction in knowing she got under his skin– he quickly typed and sent another: “Lol.”

Because Lol says Hey, I don’t care.

Lol means You don’t phase me, though she really really does. Without even trying. Damn it.

Upon receipt of the message (she had briefly glanced at the text from the sudden glow of her screen), her long, slender, unmanicured fingers clicked the power button on top of her iPhone to hide the message from view.

Seriously? she thought, eyes rolling north to a blanket of lids. Must you be so dramatic. 

The coarse brush of annoyance was enough for her to immediately decide: this kind of demeanor is not worth a response. She thought, can’t we resolve our issues like grown fucking adults… In person? Using words? 

How many times —she reflected on previous encounters that all too similarly left the same sour taste in her mouth– am I going to get dumped by a friend through a text message. 

She could not determine whether it was her that had become too insensitive, or if the modern digital culture forced others to grow soft, to wrongfully take 100-something character texts, in the absence of context and any sense of real human connection, to heart.

When you live in a world where lives, though consciously filtered, are put on display, it is incredibly easy to jump to conclusions that reside far from the truth. So, could she blame him? No. But the disappointment came from the fact that there exist people who breed a hatred from a subjective assumption and go the extent of cutting ties, void a conversation. Just a bitter, premature See-You-Never.

Never? Good grief. Never is hasty, you silly child — an impulse quite often regretted. 

To leave the opportunity of a text reply as the ONLY venue of communication… How does one reason with an irrational mind, in words that must again suffer the path of interpretation?

You don’t. 

You can’t, she just knew. This is why an argument on the internet has no end. This is why you cannot put sense into the head of religion. THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T ARGUE OVER TEXTS.

Was she lacking empathy or were they lacking maturity? She could not say it was either, because the former wasn’t true (or so she truly believed) and because there wasn’t enough juice in her superiority complex to sway her to the latter.

Good luck with your life, he added soon after. A miserable touch. It was surely meant to provoke, or to prod a response. But such petty behavior warrants dismissal.

I know you want me to, but I will not plead, she mentally noted. Why in the world would I chase after something that allows no explanation. Effort, in all scenarios, deserves reciprocation. Don’t you think? Of course you don’t. Your head is steaming, and elsewhere.

Over the years, she had learned about the brevity of relationships with the emotionally rash, but more importantly, the undeniable insignificance of such. They come, they go, like uprooted flowers in the wind –mere visitors caught in a passing storm, leaving the slightest trace of their beauty and a lasting impression of their hideous rage.

Who’s Your Daddy?

19H.jpg

“Excuse me,” he called out, extending an arm towards a freshly ironed blazer hurrying in the opposite direction, “do you have a light?”

Startled, the young suit backed away. “Um, what, no–” he began to say, but upon noticing the lit cigarette pinched between his own two fingers, he realized his cover had been blown. He dug through the clutter in his pockets as small clusters of tourists and business men worked to dodge their stagnant presence in the middle of the busy sidewalk. “Shoot, hold on, I have it here somewhere,” he said. He pulled out a receipt, a crumpled dollar, a set of keys.

The other man waited patiently, tugging at the loose strings of his worn clothing, smiling meagerly at the effort. The corners of his eyes wrinkled when he smiled.

“There,” –with the flick of a lighter, a weak flame appeared at the young man’s hands– “do you need a smoke, too? I might have an extra.”

Before he could reach back into his jacket pocket, the gentleman in rags shook his head and reached down for a box by his feet. He carefully unconstructed a light green box, wrapped with pristine care and a silky bow. As passing bystanders craned their heads back in curiosity, the man removed from the box a small cupcake with a candle on top. Leaning in towards the young stranger to light the candle –the suit had forgotten about the flame in his hands– the older man smiled proudly and said, “Happy Birthday, son. Now make a wish!”

The Unharbored Harbor

15H

In a trembling hand, I held the broken edge of a coffee cup. It was stained, not with coffee, but with streaks of blood.

Glowing specks of heat –mixed pieces of ember and ash weightlessly cascading through the thick air like snowflakes from Hell– illuminated the walls of dusty ravines around us. A deafening blast from behind had struck my senses numb, diminishing my perception of the world to a muffled residue of what it used to be. I could see her silhouette shifting to view from underneath the pile of wreckage; her face, splattered by war, defined agony in textbook form.

I drunkenly stumbled sideways, submerged by a deepening ring resonating in a spiral of disorientation and chaos. When the body is faced with shock, it either gears into action or shuts itself down. Mine seemed to linger in limbo, undetermined whether to pursue the former or the latter. Had I been trained, or had even expected the slightest bit of danger, I could have been better prepared.

But I wasn’t.

It was early Sunday morning, and I was sitting across the patio table from the woman I’d like to call my wife. As the silk of her robe danced with the gentle breeze, I admired the soft curvature of her womanly frame. Her features were mild, but pleasant — even the fragrance in her hair cast a hypnotic serenity over me.

As I drew the mug to the edge of my nose, I consumed a large waft of coffee vapor, but the fumes of espresso turned to fumes of burnt flesh before I could process the slight of hand.

“Glenn, darling!” she cried out to me, pointing to my periphery. I turned in time to see a flock of bombers headed directly our way. The aircrafts were shedding lines of missiles in a similar manner of water droplets trailing a wet bullet against the wind.

I knew, in that moment, the house was not enough. The naval base, the doberman. Oahu was supposed to be our home in paradise. I had promised her a sanctuary for our child, but it dawned on me that he will only know the inside of his mother’s womb.

Clutching both shoulders, I dragged her lifeless body behind a pile of bricks and held her up to my chest. She had fallen unconscious. I could feel her breath slowing, so I grabbed her tighter, as if somehow I could contain the oxygen within her body using the width of my own. If I could give her life, I would.

Panic shrieked as missiles struck around us; in a crumbling terror, I closed my eyes and guarded the only two in the world I was too late to save. To this day, I am still afraid of the dark.

December 7, 1941