When Lydia came home for the weekend,
she chattered merrily for an hour about her friends –
boys who bought her popcorn,
girls who brought her gifts,
all the friends she loved dearly and generously.
“But unnie, but as for you, big sister, I’m really concerned,” she said, frowning into my eyes.
“You’re so afraid of loving people, you’re so mistrustful of even your friends.
We’re learning about Emily Dickinson these days – your favorite poet!
And I always tell my friends that I’m afraid you’ll become a recluse like her one day.”
She laughed. “Peeping out to greet visitors through a crack in the door,
Retiring into greater and greater seclusion and embracing solitude.
You aren’t becoming like that, are you?”
At her words, I felt a little sad – a little guilty,
and could not find words to reply,
because in a way it was true.
I had never been much for playing energetically
or socializing or making small talk or teasing my friends,
and now that I had graduated I found myself shrinking away from people more and more.
Girls who had been friendly with me during high school asked to meet up, and I refused;
boys questioned what in the world I was doing holed up by myself, and suggested we go out to the movies,
and I searched for excuses and found myself immensely relieved when they came.
I am always thirsting for the warmth and stability of relationships,
and yet I can’t muster up the heart to go out and try to renew old ones,
because I’ve already felt dissatisfied at their falsity, their cold politeness,
the lack of devoted affection.
Maybe it’s more so because our “gifted” high school was so university-oriented:
everybody had ranked first in their middle schools, and vied for first at school as well.
There was much jealousy, much distance, and much careful politeness.
I found myself wishing for more.
That isn’t to say there weren’t kind people in our high school:
in fact, the majority were reasonable, good-natured students,
often cleverer than I was, and complimented me much more than I deserved.
But I could never quite open myself completely to the people around me,
and I think very few of my friends saw me for who I really was.
Perhaps the shock of seeing some of my best friends leave me during my first year of high school,
when I was too inexperienced in relationships to understand how to keep them,
still resonates in cracks that haven’t healed.
Or perhaps the hurt of knowing that almost everyone outside my family
that I’ve reached out to most deeply in affection
have either come to leave me, dislike me, or drift away from me.
I hold onto old wounds too long;
even when I’ve forgotten about their existence,
they subconsciously send pangs that still make me wince.
I mentioned this in the hearing of a younger student, who blinked at me in surprise.
“You, Esther?” she asked, very kindly. “I never thought you would feel so mistrustful of people.
Whenever I came to your room, it was full of friends who were seeking you for help,
friends who seemed to like you so very much!
I thought you were very popular and very loved, and envied you a lot.”
But I didn’t. Feel loved, I mean.
And when I graduated, I watched the relationships I had worked so hard to maintain
dissolve like sand between my fingers.
I know it’s very wrong of me to feel sad over the hollowness of my relationships
when I haven’t done very much to approach others first,
and in fact I’m drawing away from everyone now.
I earnestly hope I don’t sound proud or standoffish or conceited,
as if to say, “Oh, none of you are worth being friends with!”
I don’t mean that at all: I only mean that I feel sad,
because I don’t have many to give my heart fully to and feel loved in return.
One of my schoolmates told me some advice as good as any: “Suck it up, princess.”
And I do understand that I have very much to be grateful for,
and my present sadness is probably quite as much a fault in my personality as anything in my environment,
but there it is.
And lately I’m feeling conflicted because it seems that the few I do love,
the few relationships I treasured like solid pearl,
all clash dreadfully against each other, and against me, until I feel as if I could shatter any moment.
But I still can’t help dreaming of relationships that mean more than cool respect or vague praise,
more than polite colleagues or fans,
I keep dreaming of relationships where I can open my heart,
be unafraid of being understood,
and feel certain that every inch of love I pour out will be received with joy.
Well, don’t worry, Lydia; there’s always university.
It’s only because I treasure relationships too – too much,
and it pains me to maintain anything that has the shell without the substance,
that I withdraw and shake my head in distrust.
I have a long way to go before becoming a full-blown recluse yet.
The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —
Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —
I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —
image courtesy of madeline wikler
It’s not long, this corridor –
Barely twenty seconds to walk from one end
To the other.
But time seems to slow down
And dimensions stretch on to infinity
When you turn around the corner
And lock eyes with mine.
As always, my eyes begin to flicker down –
But I think there’s more than anger in your lips this time,
Not just coldness or hardness in your eyes –
Not only the marble rainstorms gathered on your brow –
Almost a smile, almost a hint of recognition, almost
A faint trace of the old warmth.
Arrested, transfixed, my glance wavers tremblingly as I meet your eyes.
You refuse to look away. You stare straight into my eyes for all –
And then, just as we brush by each other,
Almost touching shoulders, air colliding, our worlds touching briefly,
You whispered, for the first time in months, “Hello, Esther.”
And my heart leaped
As I beheld a rainbow.
image courtesy of uncyclopedia
The girl scribbled narwhals and unicorns on the peripheries of her glittery purple notebook, but her eyes were fixed steadfastly on the boy sitting two rows away from her. Dark eyes, tightly compressed lips. She could have traced the lines of his nose and the hollows of his cheeks with her eyes closed, as sailors knew how to trace the paths of the stars, because she had watched him so many times, wondering, wondering. She watched him scratch down calculations with his pencil. He erased a number, changed his mind, and rewrote it. He looked up and caught her eye, and blushing, she looked hurriedly back down at her notebook.
Once upon a time there lived a white narwhal and a unicorn. They both had horns, long spirals of smooth, hard swirls lacquered glossy as seashells. Their horns had grown from bitter roots of pain in their hearts, but had sprouted from their heads as symmetrical shapes of beauty. When they looked into each other’s eyes and understood the unspoken tears that had given those horns birth, they understood each other. And they felt that that painful tugging of heartstrings that humans call the beginning of love.
She watched him push himself back from his chair, stretch as he got up. Her heartbeat quickened. She leant over her notebook, but her words had stopped flowing. Only the thick pound of blood in her ears. When she looked up, he was walking toward her. Midway he stopped, turned around abruptly, and circled the room as if hesitating. Please come, she prayed. Please, please come to me. After circling the classroom slowly three times, he swerved and came toward her.
“Did you finish solving all the math problems I gave you yesterday? Were my notes helpful?”
She looked up quickly and smiled at him. “Thank you,” she said. “They were really very helpful.”
“Do you have it with you right now?” he asked.
“In my locker. Why? Do you need it back?” She jumped eagerly to her feet.
“No!” he blurted. He blushed. “I was just…wondering…”
He turned and walked quickly away. Their fragile, shining one-minute conversation was over. He talked like this to her every day – every word a warmly glowing bubble of joy which burst and shattered into invisible fragments as soon as he turned on his heel and walked away.
One day the girl looked at his desk, and he was not writing. He was not solving questions. Instead, his head was in his hands, and he was shaking. The girl did not think. The girl acted. She rose to her feet and went to him first – for the first time. She touched his shaking shoulders.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
He looked up, but his eyes were cold and as far away as a distant planet. “Obviously,” he said, his voice clipped and terse. Obviously meant Shut up and leave me alone. But the girl loved him, and so she heard, I’m hurting. I need you. Please help me.
“Won’t you eat lunch?” she asked.
“No. I’m not hungry.” He scraped his chair forward and looked away.
She walked downstairs with a heavy heart. A boy adorned with pimples and a clean white smile semaphored her from the entrance of the cafeteria. “Buy a glass of lemonade!” he called. “Only one thousand won a glass! Cold and delicious!”
She bought two cups.
Back in the classroom, she placed the cup carefully next to the boy, who had buried his head into his arms now, sliding down deeper as if trying to be swallowed up by the dusty classroom floor.
“If you won’t eat lunch at least have something to drink,” she begged.
“Oooooooooooooh,” squealed a gaggle of girls and boys in the classroom. “Ro-maaaance.”
The girl wanted to hit them. What did they know about romance?
“I don’t like lemonade,” the boy said calmly. He pushed the cup gently away and got to his feet. “I appreciate it, though.” He walked out of the classroom, and the untasted lemonade quivered lemony yellow and clear in the filtered light.
The girl did not run after the boy. She pursed her mouth around her straw and sucked cold lemon water. It tasted bitter, like rejection. She tried hard not to look hurt, even when kids shifted to glance at her. Her face stiff with the effort of indifference, smooth as riverbed sand, she drifted slowly back to her own seat and picked up her pencil.
But the horns that had drawn them together split them apart again. When they pulled close with love and longing, the narwhal’s horn impaled the unicorn’s heart. The unicorn’s horn dug into the narwhal’s flesh until blood flowed plentifully, bathing them both in red. And they both died, saying to each other, “We are not a metaphor. Not for anybody. Not for us. But we did try.”