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
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.
The sun was setting overhead, and I could feel it, the vibrations. The trickle of momentum started at my feet, rupturing my locked knees, I swayed from side to side smashed between the bodies of my two best friends. The background bass overpowered our voices, and all I could hear was my own heart enthusiastically pounding against my eardrums. Each pulsation reverberated throughout my body, growing energetically with enthusiasm… and also impatience.
We were having fun, no doubt. But we wanted to get inside the festival grounds. We had been standing in line for over an hour and a half already, and the high from anticipation was slowly transforming into annoyance. The security was obviously overwhelmed with the exuberant crowd lined up in zigzags outside the gates. Angelica suddenly grabbed my hand, and in response I took hold of Ramon’s. She forced her way to the front, dragging us along with her. A twinge of guilt abruptly struck my conscience when I looked back to see all the people we had moved in front of… and then I heard Ramon call my name, pulling me out of my own senseless thoughts. Turning my attention back to my two friends, I saw him raise his phone for a selfie, and I genuinely smiled. It surprised even me — how effortless happiness could be.
After being patted down, very intimately I might add, by the entrance guards, we finally got in. Angelica had a few friends from her university meeting us, and she particularly wanted to introduce me to a certain someone. We had talked about it a lot in the weeks leading up to the music festival. I wanted a new experience, and I think Angelica wanted to give me that — as my parting gift, before I moved to Berlin.
Remembering this, I suddenly got nervous. I didn’t know what expectations I was supposed to have — or supposed to fulfill. Thank god, we had all pregamed before coming. The bottles of flavored vodka had been a good call to buy, it reminded me fondly of high school, and drinking with my best friend in our hotel room was something I’ll always hold close to my heart.
Although, it isn’t about the alcohol — it never is. It’s about the memory being made with someone, the time you can’t ever get back, the pure euphoria of new experiences with a soul your soul recognizes; this everlasting infinity we call the present.
I stayed close to Ramon, while Angelica and her friend Andre, led us around the different music stages searching for the meeting spot. Night had settled already, and the only blinding light came from behind DJ sets, and from the small stands selling beer and food. I was lost in my own mental musings when I finally noticed we had come to a halt near one of the water stations. I stood a few feet away from them watching one of the bands play, while they huddled around in a circle.
“Nice, let me record her.” I heard Ramon say.
“Fine, but don’t be obvious, I don’t want her freaking out,” answered Angelica.
Their voices pulled me out of my drunken isolation of thought, and I rolled my eyes impatiently, realizing they were talking about me. I tried moving myself between their shielding bodies to say something cheeky, when Angelica once again, grabbed my wrist and pulled me forward in the middle of the circle they had created — she held my palm upward toward the sky, and then her hand dropped from mine at the same time as someone else’s hand took hold.
I looked from Angelica to this new person that had gone unnoticed until now. She had this look in her eyes, like when someone knows something more than you do. It made me uncomfortable, so I withdrew my hand from hers. It was a peculiar way to meet a stranger for the first time.
“Trinh, this is my friend, Grace,” Angelica said coolly, a twinge of excitement hidden behind her voice.
I mustered up a nervous smile in response and held out my hand again towards the girl in front of me. I was trying to be relaxed, and not let my anxiousness override my laidback drunkenness. Instead she gave me a hug for a greeting, and this I appreciated. I hate shaking hands; it’s too formal for me.
My enthusiasm for the sudden friendliness erased my initial anxiety, and I embraced her back. I heard Angelica laugh sardonically, and suddenly there was a spotlight in my face. Ramon was shining his iPhone directly against my dilated pupils, and also pointing his gopro in my direction, “Okay go!”
And then I felt it, the irreparable impact of her lips against mine — the collision of chemistry commencing.
At first, came the endorphins. Alleviating my uneasiness, setting each follicle hair on my arms ablaze — unleashing a hungry desire for the person pressing her tongue against mine.
Soon followed by oxytocin. It had to be. How else could I be physically intimate with someone so suddenly? My hands gripped her waist, and she pressed her body into mine, like old lovers do, with no time to waste.
And finally — the injection of dopamine. My neuron synapses were forging and firing off new paths to my remapped brain. Or perhaps, it was serotonin. I mix up my neurotransmitting chemicals. But what I felt was elated joy, my heart pounding sporadically against my rib cage, causing a warm and calm feeling between my ears. My body was comfortably on fire.
The quartet of happiness — the chemistry of ecstasy.
I thought to myself, as I stepped back and pulled away from the touch of Grace.
It was unlike any kiss I’ve ever experienced before. Powerful, and intoxicating, and unexpected… I found myself simultaneously craving more, but being extremely overwhelmed by euphoria.
My mental capacity for logic fled my body, and my vision increased in magnitude.
Time no longer felt like a restraint on my dimensional body — its influence disappeared. The speed of light changed for me… perhaps bent is a better word. Light fragments reflected deeper and faster colors. In any direction I looked, everything seemed to be magnified. I felt the world spin beneath me, one axis degree at a time.
I put my hand in front of Ramon’s camera, and gulped a large amount of fresh air to catch my breath. He patted me on my back, congratulatory. Before I could turn back to Grace and ask what the hell just happened, I felt Angelica’s hand slip into mine again, pulling me forward through the swarm of bodies towards the main stage, the others following behind.
The Chainsmokers were set to play in an hour, and people were already gathering in mass around the area. Honestly, I don’t really much care for them. It’s Halsey I was there for, if even just for her voice. Her music had saved me once upon a time, when I promised myself I wouldn’t let anyone complete me.
Yet here I found myself unguarded with every sense of feeling heightened, my Walls of Jericho surrounded by souldiers of light. I realized in this moment I had been wrong, to not want to let people complete my heart — to complete my human experience, and like I’ve said, I’m addicted to experience.
Grace’s kiss had given me clarity I didn’t know I needed — for the tantalizing significance of being alive, in basking in the infinite, of the sacredness of friendship.
The Universe’s little reminder, “You can’t keep Love out of your house, even if you tried.”
Cheers to friendship, I really am surrounded by the most beautiful souls.
Why I Am Who I Am
“Happiness is best when shared.”
Being the only daughter definitely has its advantage, but inside a car it doesn’t. My two older brothers always get the window seats, and yet again, I found myself squeezed in the middle of them in the backseat. They both had their heads leaned against the window, and were fast asleep. I didn’t understand how the excitement wasn’t keeping them wide-awake.
The sun was just rising; dawn steadily breaking the deep purple horizon. My parents animatedly sat in the front seat, holding hands, and singing along together to Total Eclipse of the Heart. My mom was in the passenger seat, thumbing through the map with her free hand, and my dad keeping his eyes on the stretched out highway.
We had about 12 hours to drive to the coast of Texas: South Padre island. Every summer we took a family vacation, and this year was my turn to choose the destination, so I picked the beach, I picked the sun, I picked the clear water.
I watched you grow, while I withered. That is the life of a tree — your tree.
You used to sit on one of the thickest branches that extended out towards the sky, and climb to the top to pick my peaches. I’d watch you toss them down to your brothers, while gathered them for your grandma.
I’ve watched many human generations of your family.
The older you got, less time you spent with me. I think perhaps my roots adapted to this change of pace, as each passing year I developed less and less fruit.
But on the summer your grandmother passed away, you stayed in her house for the following month like you used to during childhood.
Time is linear, my dear child, but growth is not.
“El huevón limpia doble.” (The lazy one cleans twice.)
In May of 2012, I had just arrived home from my second year of university for the summer. I was halfway through my undergrad studies of Biology, and left uninspired and out of place. So I welcomed the idea of going home, of being around friends, and family — of feeling like I belonged.
The drive from my university to my small hometown in Texas is about a 9-hour drive through many different terrains, one I have begrudgingly learned to cherish. Long drives and music really have a way of clearing the mind.
When I finally arrived at home, it was midday. My mom would still be at the hospital working, and my dad just getting off. It didn’t bother me however, our empty house. I preferred it this way, having the alone time to unpack my things for my summer stay without the bombardment of questions from my parents.
While putting away my things, I heard the faint sound of my front door being opened. Getting up enthusiastically, I ran over to the living room to greet my dad and hug him. He smiled lopsidedly at me and kissed the top of my head, “It’s good to see you mija, home feels better with you here.”
My dad took off his boots and put away his things. He turned on the TV and I could hear the news in the background. This struck me as unusually odd; he never listened to this bullshit, normally he’d annoyingly be watching a sports channel. While I let the food simmer on the stove, I walked over to the livingroom and sat with him. Then I soon understood why he had it on the news, his focus was on his phone. I peered over at what he was concentrating on, and saw his scrolling through his sports app. Laughing, I snatched up his phone from him and stuffed it behind a pillow, “You can look at that later.”
His rubbed the scruff of his uneven beard, and looked at me playfully, the corner of his mouth curling upwards in his fatherly smile, “I’m hungry.”
In the background, the news anchor in his haughty voice announced, “North Carolina becomes the 30th state to ban gay marriage.”
It caught my attention, and I frowned turning my head to the screen.
“North Carolina is no longer a shadowy place Trinh, now we can go there,” my dad said smugly, in a terrible reference to a Lion King quote by Mufasa to Simba.
I turned back to him, surprised, speechless and with anger welling up in my eyes.
“Whoa mija, what’s wrong?” My dad cupped my face, and looked at me intently. I didn’t know where this reaction was coming from, or where my delicate courage came from when I managed to accusingly utter out, “Why shouldn’t I be able to get married wherever the hell I want?”
His facial expression registered from confusion to understanding to blind anger, his hands dropping from my face, as he engaged me in a stare down battle.
The doorbell interrupted us, signaling my mom being home. I was frightened; my impulsive revelation to the non blood related man I considered my dad couldn’t be taken back.
I used to loathe the smell of your perfume, and all the ways in which this single scent could make me re-live an overwhelming amount of better off forgotten memories.
Our last encounter, two years ago, ended terribly. On Christmas night, after we had had dinner at your parents, you told me you were seeing someone else. Not only dating someone new, but fucking him too. My brain shutdown, a normal response to trauma, according to psychology. I melted into your evergreen colored couch shocked. I wasn’t sure what you were expecting my reaction to be. In truth, that moment was the closest I have ever come to sincerely hating you.
You sat beside me hesitantly, and hugged me, desperately trying to console me and soothe my anger. I flinched at your touch, and eventually let you — I didn’t have the mental capacity to stop you.
The smell of your skin wrapped around me. Deep and musky, with an underlying waft of lavender and vanilla. I concentrated on this, let it completely blind and intoxicate me. It was all I could do to hold myself together.
My favorite picture is placed in a black frame. It’s my most prized possession, and has been everywhere with me. All the countries I’ve lived in, and all the lands I’ve travelled — this is always the one thing that comes with me.
The picture is of my mom and I. It’s one of the few pictures I have of us together — even more unusual, I’m actually smiling. Not making a dumb face or being silly, but genuinely smiling. I look happy. So does my mom.
I fear missing out on the people I love.
you are my person
i have loved you from the start
and until the end
Whiskey amber surrounds your pupils, while a light evergreen shade makes up the outer layer, infiltrating the golden color. It reminds me of Sunday mornings in the mountains, where I would look up through the ocean of trees to catch a glimpse of the sunrise, while streams of bright golden sunlight pierced through.
My love for your eyes, overpower my jealousy. Out of all of us, you alone inherited grandpa’s light colored trait.
Maybe that’s why I always felt growing up, mom loved you more.
“You have abuelo’s hands.”
I reaction essay I wrote at the beginning of my first semester for my Creative Writing class. It goes as follows:
There are seven different short exercises which will make up a collage of your life. It’s important for each exercise to write spontaneously; let the words flow out; just follow your pen; don’t censor, don’t judge. Don’t ask: did this really happen – assume that it did.
My teacher gave us 10 minutes to write for each prompt:
Describe a smell from your past.
Describe a moment everything changed.
Describe a car journey from your childhood.
Letter from a tree.
Describe your favorite photo.
Quotations from your past.
Describe a part of someone you love.
Don’t miss out on life by desensitizing yourself.
People are often scared to say too much, to feel too deeply.
Caring is not synonymous with weak.
Yes, expressing yourself will make you vulnerable, and will make your heart a target for harsh criticism. Not everyone will like your honesty. There’s no denying that.
But please remember, there’s absolutely no shame in it.
Do not let self-doubt steal your softness.
Do not let another soul take your tenderness.
There is breathtaking magic in being honest, in allowing yourself to strip down and be emotionally exposed and naked.
Express, express, express. Open yourself up, do not harden yourself to the world, and be bold in who, and how you love.
That is courage. That is love. That is life.