don’t allow whatever has hurt you to turn you into someone you’re not
don’t allow whatever has hurt you to turn you into someone you’re not
My parents used to gift my brothers watches every Christmas. It started when they became teenagers, and continued from there. The excitement in their wanting eyes after unraveling small tin boxes will never leave my mind. Memory is funny that way, I think – what sticks, what doesn’t, what hurts… what doesn’t.
I’ve never been one for jewelry. Not when I was young, and hardly, even now. But the tradition carried over to me, too. I was either 13 or 14; I can’t rightly recall my exact age. But what I do remember is that it was one of the last Christmas holidays I would spend united with my parents and both my brothers.
The watch was purple, and clunky, and beautiful and I never wore it.
At most, the watch could tell me what time it was, but why couldn’t it reveal all the times I should have watched out for? Pointless, timepieces can be.
When I was 15, I had my first boyfriend. He asked me out “officially” on December 16th. I’ll never forget the date. Not because it’s sentimental to me, but because weird things always happen to me on the 16th of months, and this was no different.
So when Christmas rolled by, I found myself standing on his front porch – my mom parked in the driveway, awaiting my return. He stepped outside for a moment so we could exchange presents, and gave me a warm hug that engulfed me with his scent I used to love so much. He then put a small-boxed gift in my hands. I knew this cube shape as intimately as I knew my boyfriend’s weak spot on the left side of his lower waist.
But I opened it with feigned surprise. A small, simple, silver watch – I put it on my wrist out of gratitude and he kissed the back of my hand. The gesture made me squirm, and I walked back to my mom’s car unsettled and never wore that watch again, either. When we inevitably broke up some months later, one of the last text messages I ever received from him, which was a lyric from one of his favorite songs, read, “Time will tell.”
My response? “Watches tell time, when do you want yours back?”
My best friend Ramon came to visit me in Berlin during the summer of last year. He had been country hopping around Europe and wanted a few days with some familiar faces. As he unpacked on my bedroom floor, he pulled out a small black banded, gold-faced watch, “Here, I saw this and thought to myself, ‘this would look nice on Trinh” and got it for you.”
I put the watch on my desk, knowing I’d never wear it. But being eternally grateful for such a thoughtful best friend.
Some months later, I reunited with him and James for a road trip in Ireland. And when anyone ever asks me if I have siblings, these are the two souls of layers, cells, and constellations I will talk about.
Last September I went back to Texas. It had been over a year since I had been back on American soil. It’s the longest I’ve ever spent away from home. I got to stand up in one of my best girl-friend’s weddings, I travelled across the state with my parents, I got to see my older brother for the first time in years, I drank and ate to my heart’s content with my favorite group of friends, I faced a few people from my past, I kept a promise to myself and asked out the girl I had met the night before moving to Berlin, I cooked with my mom, I got up early at dawn with my dad to watch him water the grass in our front yard, I got insanely drunk and danced with someone who made me feel uncomfortably comfortable, I took flowers to my grandparents, I created memories for the constant film in my head. I didn’t know when I’d be home next, so I did as Trinh would do… slept 4 hours a night and spent as much time with loved ones as I could – time is the currency of love.
Which leads me to you and that last car ride together.
My prized golden Honda hadn’t been driven in over a year, so it wasn’t surprising to me when it started acting up. But I had a wedding I needed to be at, and I still needed to get my nails done before. I knew though, I would ruin them on the drive to the wedding venue. So I called you, and of course you said yes to taking me.
I asked you what shade of red I should paint my nails, and let you choose from two options I had narrowed it down to.
While we waited, we talked as we had done many times before when we had lived together before my transatlantic move. I told you about the girl I was crushing on and you urged me to take courage. We talked about the current political landscape and you asked if I felt weird coming back home to a Trump presidency. We discussed further plans of meeting up in Budapest or Vienna, after having vacationed in Rome earlier that year.
I should have told you then how much you meant to me. Had I known it was going to be our last conversation in person, I would have said things that mattered and were important.
I would have told you that you were the older brother I always wanted. I would have told you that living with you was one of the happiest times of my life. I would have told you that your kindness and generosity changed me for my better. I would have told you how I love you in ways I didn’t know existed.
I didn’t realize I’d be back in Texas a few months later for your funeral.
And so, I can’t tell you these things anymore, so here I am writing them after just celebrating a birthday.
And fuck, the realization of knowing I will never get another birthday text or email from you just… sucks. I will never get to discuss God, politics, love, literature, future goals, or food recipes with you again and just all the other topics we obsessed over together. I won’t ever get a text asking ‘are you hungry?’ and coming home to a meal after a long day of work. I won’t ever get to hear you teasing me about feminism and gender roles while you’re the one cleaning up and doing our laundry. I won’t ever experience coming home drunk and happy out of my mind with you still awake to make sure I’m safe and have enough water in my system before sleeping. We won’t ever do Sunday brunch again, and I won’t ever get to take ridiculous pictures of you knocked out and snoring on the couch. We won’t ever get into our argument over Apple versus Android, and we won’t ever go to the gym together only to end up at a restaurant afterwards. There are so many ordinary occurrences I won’t ever get to experience with you again, and so many of them play through my mind daily – and I just miss you, and will always miss you. There aren’t many emotions that get infinitely suspended through time – generally they change or get redirected or distracted or moved on from – but I will always, for the rest of my present conscience, miss you… and you will always be missing from me.
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long for me to properly acknowledge how much of a loss I felt, and to be really honest with myself – still feel knowing I won’t ever get to see you again. It doesn’t get any easier, no matter how much time passes. I’ve been trying so hard to reconcile my heart and how I’m supposed to process grief. If it’s through alcohol or acceptance, I’m still unsure. Maybe there are other options you’d suggest (actually I’m sure of it), but how will I ever know that now?
I started wearing the watch Ramon gave me a few months ago. I feel naked without it now.
It’s a daily reminder to myself, to spend time on the people I love and to live my own life to the fullest – experiencing and feeling every moment as much as my human heart can. At the end of it all, that’s all that does and will ever really matter. Who we spent our time with – as it is one of the few things we can never get back.
I love you, AJ… always have, always will. The time I had with you I will never forget, and I just hope I’m making you proud.
Until we meet again, yours always,
Texas now, Texas forever. Home is the feeling you gave me.
5:00am July 14th, 2017
I let you sit on the inside seat. It always makes you feel safe, and I don’t mind the outside, nor do I mind sitting beside you.
It’s something another friend commented on once to me in private. How you and I never sit across from each other on the metro, but always beside one another. I didn’t think anyone else was paying attention to us.. I didn’t think anyone else had noticed. The observation makes me wary about how we act in front of others, but only because I don’t know what the hell we are.
But drunk at 5:00am in the morning, observations nor inhibitions really matter now, do they?
You leaned your head against my shoulder and directed my attention to the window on your other side.
It caught my breath, and a comfortable silence ensued between us.
The sun was beginning to climb between the stairs of clouds – diligent dawn. I had never seen the Berlin sky this shade of blue, snippets of pink and orange piercing through the light.
Finally our stop came, and I asked if you wanted to watch the sunrise.
“Absolutely,” you said playfully, mimicking my voice I use to mimic our professor, “wouldn’t have expected not to with you.”
So we climbed up the stairs to the platform, which overlooks the city. It is perhaps one of the best sunset spots in all of Berlin. Who knew it would also become a favorite view for the sunrise, too.
I immediately leaned against the railing, both of my arms dangling over the top, after snapping a few quick pics. I wanted to enjoy this moment – a beautiful sky with a beautiful girl – a girl I wasn’t supposed to find beautiful. But that’s the thing about sunsets, right? Doesn’t matter if no one is watching, they’re still beautiful. It’s how I ultimately feel about you, too.
You stayed a few steps behind me, taking your own pics. I let you do your thing without too much fuss. Nothing could pull my attention away from the one thing I love the most: the sky, in all its wondrous, mysterious forms.
And then effortlessly you did something that broke my concentration. Your arms wrapped around my body and I felt the heat of your breath against the side of my face.
Initially, it made me clench up – because it made me feel vulnerable. As physically affectionate as I am, even with friends, I don’t tend to let people hold me. It’s usually me doing the holding. I don’t know why, but I find it such an.. intimate gesture to let someone hold me. To let someone experience me this unguarded. To let someone make me feel safe – in a romantic way.
I thought you were just going to hug me and let go, but you kept your arms linked around my body. It’s the closest we had physically been since I had tried to unsuccessfully kiss you a few weeks prior.
Well, it was the closest I had let you get to me since then. In the weeks after our awkward half-kiss, I stopped being affectionate with you. Even as just friends, because I didn’t want to confuse myself with more mixed signals. I didn’t want to trick myself into thinking you liked me the way I liked you. And once I stopped initiating physical contact with you, well, then you started to take lead — and I will never understand women.
So I let you hold me. I gave in to desire. I think you did, too. I leaned my head against your chest, and we stayed in silence watching the sunrise for a good 15 minutes.
And in that minuscule window of infinity, nothing else mattered beyond the small magical world of us. Just you, me, and the sky signaling a new day.
Then you loosened your grip from my body and also leaned against the railing, your arms also dangling over the top.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I see why you like it so much.”
I moved my arm between the two of yours, and the tips of our fingers linked together. I knew I shouldn’t have – I had been resisting for the last few weeks to not touch you. But after being held by you, my mind kind of just said fuck it, you’ve just let this girl hold you, might as well enjoy it to the maximum.
“I love it, so much. It’s always what I miss about home. The vibrancy of the colors. Do you know what else I love?”
You turned your gaze on me, the blue of your irises bright, while the white of your eyes a light shade of pink. Sunrise, looked like morning in your eyes.
I turned my head to the side, to the opening entrance of the station.
“Look at all the people who have stopped to see the sunrise, and all of them taking pictures. What I love is watching busy people stop to admire beauty, recognizing it, and acknowledging it.”
I looked back at you, and saw you smiling at me, the sunrise steadily growing more business blue than passion pink.
You and that ridiculous smile, with your ridiculously cute dimples that makes me feel like a ridiculous girl with a ridiculous crush.
“I think the best part of it is over, shall we?”
I nodded in agreement, and turned around to walk towards our apartment building. But not before feeling your hand slip between mine.
It surprised me, honestly. I didn’t think we’d hold hands again. I thought our small moment of weakness was over. It felt too intimate for me, for us, for “just friends.” Or whatever the hell we were trying to be.
But it also felt normal, comfortable, even. We are used to each other, physically and emotionally, as it seems.
I’ve watched many sunsets with many people. It’s something I love to do with my loved ones. It’s always been so special to me.
But this morning, I learned to love the sunrise just as much. It’s the first time I’ve deliberately watched it with someone. I’m having so many firsts with you.
But I don’t know how long this lasts.. how long we last.
It wasn’t a perfect day for weather — but it was a perfect day for Berlin.
Although, the rain did prove to threaten my plans for the day, you still wanted to meet.
I waited for you outside of our apartment building. Warschauer Strasse. One of the main hubs of Berlin, always bustling with busy bodies and enthusiastic drug induced tourists. The energy of the day was especially electric due to the kultural festival — an entire weekend filled with foods from all over the world and multiple music stages displaying local bands galore. I had been the previous night with friends, and ended up eating my life worth in Argentinian empanadas and pad thai.
My friends told me not to take you there, at least not to start off with. It was too loud for a first date — too chaotic. But I disagreed, I liked the noise, I liked the colors, the distractions from awkward conversation.
However, I took their advice. Instead, I suggested we started out with a photography exhibition from one of my favorite photographers, Mario Testino. I had already seen an installation of his in both Madrid and NYC.
So around 15:15 you finally met me outside. You were late, and I had counted on it. I was on time, and I’m never on time unless I’m nervous. But I needed the time to calm my nerves. Truthfully, I don’t know why I was wound up about it. I had spent time with you before, but in groups, and our flirtatious conversation and affectionate ambiguity had been taken lightly. I never let myself take romance too seriously. I don’t know if that’s because of my own insecurity or because I’m as laid back as I claim. Maybe, a mixture.
You looked nice though. You were in color — green and pink specifically. Mentally, I noted your favorite colors. I liked this about you, the vibrancy.
You smiled and we greeted, and then we were on our way.
The metro ride was particular. I couldn’t look at you, or else I would have just kept smiling like an idiot. So I never kept eye-contact with you for longer than normal. Plus, my uncomfortable habit of looking at someone in the eyes too long — I didn’t want to make things awkward within the first 10 minutes.
It took us about 30 minutes to get to the other side of Berlin, to the museum that hosted the exhibition. Turns out, the museum had the wrong address on their website and the installation was actually in a sister building about another 20 minutes away. However, by the time we would have gotten there, we wouldn’t have had enough time to see it properly.
“We’re going to laugh about this later in the future,” I noted, a bit disappointed.
“Why later? It’s funny now,” you answered back, with your dimpled smile.
So instead, we decided on having a drink, at a Mexican restaurant called Que Pasa.
Was I tempted to have a real drink, and by real, I mean alcoholic? Yes, absolutely. Especially since it was already 5pm. But I didn’t.
My desire to want to spend time with you sober superseded it. The times we had hung out together with our group of classmates had always somehow involved ending up drunk, and us walking home together. I’d walk you to courtyard between the both of our buildings just talking and star-gazing. Well, what little star-gazing you can do in a city of clouds — undoubtedly drunk. You even invited me into your apartment once, but I didn’t make a move. I didn’t want to and I also didn’t know what was going on. I just wanted to enjoy whatever was happening without moving too fast.
So I chose a Sprite instead.
You drank a hot chocolate.
And we talked about family and aspirations and school for a few hours over a loaded plate of nachos.
You told me you were a vegetarian for a few years of your life. So I found it ironic when you chose chicken to coat the chips. Well, we all have our guilty pleasures, I suppose.
Afterwards, I asked if you wanted to go to the festival and check it out. What I meant was — do you want to try all the food stalls with me and dance around and be fools together?
You aren’t originally from Berlin, but have lived here for a good four or so years, minus your year abroad in Korea. But you had never been to the festival. It’d be your first time too, and I was happy to experience this with you.
We walked around for an hour or so, before you decided on what you wanted to eat. A delicacy from Hungary — I can’t quite remember the name, but it’s their version of a pizza coated with garlic, a white yogurt sauce, and cheese — again, you also added meat: salami, this time. Said it reminded you of your father.
“You’re going to have to deal with me eating a lot of garlic… hope you don’t mind.”
I found the comment odd, but I didn’t mention it. Just said I wanted to try it how it’s meant to be eaten.
So we sat at the picnic tables put out beside the food stand, which was also placed right beside one of the many musical stages of the festival. It was a German group playing songs in many different languages. French, English, German.
We stayed watching them for 20 minutes or so, while you ate. We hardly spoke at all. But it wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to find in a person. when you can shut the fuck up with them and still have fun.
Once you finished, we got up to leave. I walked ahead of you into the crowd, while the band continued overhead playing a song. I didn’t understand the lyrics, but I figured it must be German since I couldn’t catch any French.
Then I felt your hand on my shoulder and I turned around to look at you.
“Kiss me now, and I will be in paradise in Heaven.”
I am sure the look on my face betrayed me. I’m not that great of a liar. So after a few seconds of looking into each other’s eyes, I blurted out, “What?”
“It’s the lyric they just sang,” you said, as you smiled casually and then led me out of the crowd.
I closed my eyes and followed you, wondering if that was what the song had really said — wondering if I had missed my chance.
But let’s be real. I didn’t know if we were on a date or not, honestly.
A few days earlier, we had gone on a picnic with my group of friends. I had invited you, and you accepted. There was lots of food and lots of alcohol — two of my favorite things. So naturally, we got very inebriated.
Afterwards, we walked from the park to my friend’s house to continue our day of fun. While we strolled to theirs, you and I somehow ended up side by side. I can’t quite recall what got us onto the topic but we had both mentioned how we wanted to hangout, but not get super drunk. Since the past few times had all ended very drunk, but that’s what happens in large groups of socialization.
“We should make a date out of it.”
I was pretty intoxicated at this moment already, but I remember it. The “date” word. It took me by surprise.
“Yeah, okay, we should.” Then I asked when and we were trying to figure it out, but got interrupted by our friends and their intruding conversations.
So when we finally decided to meet up, just us two, it was never explicitly stated if this was our date or not. I wasn’t even sure you remembered what you said, or if it was just drunken words, so I didn’t bring it up. I just thought I’d go out with you and figure it out during. If nothing else, I wanted to be your friend at least.
That was a dumb idea — but also very brilliant because it took the pressure off of a label.
After eating, we decided to check out the parade. So we followed the crowd into the fray. You put your arm on my shoulder to keep hold of me. I was too nervous to grab your hand. I had told you previously in a different hang out how intimate holding hands was to me, possibly more important than kissing.
So I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable — even though we had already held hands in the club, but that was different. I was drunk and friendly then.
Now, I was sober and interested — and that’s a deadly combination, for me. Once we got to the street the parade was on, the crowd tightened. So we crossed the street to the other side to be on the less busy part, or so we thought. Once there, we realized how packed it was, too. I let you stand in front to see, and I stood behind you.
One of the first floats we saw represented Ghana. The truck had a DJ and many dancers in the back. And there was a massive following of Ghanaians dancing around the truck to afro-beats and their own mix of reggae. This excited the energy in the crowd. People were chanting in solidarity and enjoyment, and dancing around with bottles in hand. You turned to look at me, with the biggest smile.
“This is awesome, look at all the colors and dress they’re wearing!”
I grinned back at you in response, and for the life of me, I cannot remember how it happened. I know for sure I didn’t exclusively go for your hand.
But I know it wasn’t just you either.
It just happened.
And there we were, in the middle of a huge raging crowd, looking at each other, our fingers intertwined.
You turned back around, and I expected you to let go. But you didn’t. Instead you gave my hand a small squeeze, and we stayed that way for a long while, watching the rest of the parade. I couldn’t concentrate much anymore though.
All I could feel was the heat between our skin, and how nice it was to hold your hand — but also how confusing.
We decided to cross and go back to the festival grounds to get more food — as I hadn’t eaten yet and was getting hungry.
There was a knot in my stomach, but it wasn’t from hunger. I realized in this beautiful moment that it was the first time I have ever held hands with another girl openly. Without shame, without secrets, without guilt.
I’m 25 and before that Sunday, I had never held hands with another girl so freely. Not with my fling I had before I moved to Spain, and not with my almost 4 year relationship. Not with any of the girls I “dated” in between, either. I hadn’t felt comfortable enough with myself yet.
And here I was, holding hands with a beautiful girl. A girl who didn’t make me feel like I needed to hide what I felt.
And you know, her and I can turn out to be nothing. We could stop talking today and never speak again — and I will always remember this moment, and how she was and always will be part of a very important experience for me.
Maybe this is why holding hands is so intimate for me. Because I’ve never done it before with someone and it felt so… normal.
No one gave us weird looks, or ridiculed us, or said anything out of the ordinary.
But it was you, too. You didn’t pull back, or make it feel awkward. Just comfortable.
I can’t describe it properly, how it made me feel. Just that it felt so normal. It’s the first time in my life, I’ve felt like a girl who likes another girl and that’s normal.
I’m sure at the end of the night, I could have tried to kiss you.
I didn’t want to though. Why ruin the moment? It was enough for me, to have your hand in mine.
A little after midnight, we decided to go to a bar. One of my favorites. Madame Claude. I only had one beer — one. That’s it. At a bar, filled with alcohol. Guess I was enjoying you so much. You intoxicated me.
We stayed until about 4:30am, when we decided it was time to go home. Time had escaped me. I couldn’t believe we had spent nearly 14 hours together. I had mentioned it to you at the bar. How I had other plans just in case our hangout was awkward, and you told me the same. You had been out until 4/5am the past few nights and were really tired. And had you not been enjoying yourself, you would have used this as a reason to excuse yourself earlier.
We both laughed harder than we meant to, I think. It was good to know I wasn’t the only one nervous.
As we walked home, some random drunk guy asked you for sex in German. Said you guys could do it really fast. You scoffed and turned him down. But he kept trying to talk to you. I really didn’t understand anything at the moment, with my limited German skills.
But then I felt your hand slip through my arm, and you pulled yourself closer to me. I knew that feeling perfectly, without you having to explain. You felt safe around me, and kept your arm looped in mine. You walked close to me, on the way home. Eventually, dropping your arm to hold my hand instead.
“You’re comfortable to be around.” You said, before letting go of my hand so I could open the door for us.
We stood at the base of the stairs. Normally, I would walk you to the courtyard between our buildings up to your door to your building. I don’t know why, but I didn’t this time.
I just hugged you, and you held on to me for longer than a regular hug.
“I know you’re tired, so I’ll let you sleep.”
You smirked at me, and said breathlessly between us, “I had a really good time.”
“Me too.” I held your gaze for a few silent moments. Even in the dark, your blue eyes were crystal clear.
And then I watched you walk away — and I couldn’t help but wonder, if it was a date or not.
But I knew, even if it wasn’t, I’d always remember it for more important reasons.
Art hated her name. It was a reoccurring thought she had many times, as daydreaming always seemed to lead back to this point. She couldn’t help it; she wasn’t one for attention — especially as a painter.
“You create art, yet hate Art.”
“Is that your real name, or some sort of starving artist alias?”
Once a boy had tried to charm her with, “You are Art.”
Regretfully after, she had let him kiss her.
Ironically, in one of her sketch journals, she had begun writing down all the quotes she had thus far heard from her name. On the cover, she had painted in angry bold blocked letters, “NOT ART.”
Art sat in the bus, nervously. Her glorious yellow chariot seemed to be taking longer than normal to get to her destination. She rolled her eyes, half annoyed at her self, half impatient with the uncooperative weather. The rain drizzled patiently down the window beside her. She leaned her forehead against the cold, damp glass and watched each droplet race downwards. She tried to choose the bead of water that would make it all the way down the window first.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at trying to distract her thoughts, Art wondered what her visit to the doctor’s would entail.
She felt awkward about the situation. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been to the gynecologist before, for her annual checkups. But this was different. She thought further back to two weeks ago. The weather had been the same, it’s the only reason she could recall the memory so vividly. Embarrassingly enough, it had been her twin brother who had convinced her to take a pregnancy test. So there she was, locked up alone in his apartment while he was away at work. He had bought the test for her and had it set on the counter inside the bathroom.
Why the hell am I doing this? She had been repeating the question over and over to her self. But she took the test anyway, because she was sure of her virtue. Above all else, Art loved experience. However, her idea of experience seemed to differ from others. She admired the experience of not experiencing. Defiantly enough, she had initially rejected her brother’s help, claiming her status as a virgin proudly.
But the test came up positive, and her brother became negative about her declaration.
“Nice book you’ve got there, Not Art.”
Art blinked over her dried eyes a few times, so that the person in front of her came to focus.
“Can I sit by you?”
Art nodded nonchalantly, and scooted over for her friend, Hades.
“What’s up Hade?” Art asked automatically, absentmindedly, anxiously.
“Going in for work, actually. This weather is kind of suiting, don’t you think?”
Art thought about it for a silent moment, and began laughing hysterically and uncontrollably.
Hade was a mortician — and he loved his name.