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.