I try and tell myself,
“You’re not alone.”
Yet when I lay in bed at night,
My sadness envelops me
Instead of my blanket;
And by the weight in my chest,
It feels as if the mattress is upon me,
Rather than on its latter.
And all I know through this confusion
Is that when I sit up and take a look around,
The only person I see there is me,
The only person who cares is me,
Am I alone.
The Friend You Disown
It’s hard for me to understand
Why I continue to force my hand,
Because it’s clear from the start
That my place in your heart
Is a drop in a barren wasteland.
I just don’t get why I’m not enough,
I guess I just don’t have the right stuff.
Maybe I just care too much
About your emotional well-being and such,
But I guess I’ll just keep calling your bluff.
Friendship is hard for me to obtain,
Because few that I try with seek mutual gain.
I’m simply used as a crutch,
A safety net you can clutch,
Then you recover and never see me again.
So do me a favor and make intentions known,
That way I can help you reap what you’ve sewn.
And at the cost of my soul,
You’ll finally hit your goal,
And I’ll stay being the friend you disown.
The Sky of Freedom
I am in a cage.
I don’t know how long I have been in it-- maybe from my birth? I have been thinking about who I am and where I am from, but I have no idea. But… at least I am still conscious, and I can think for myself. I don’t know why I have this ability. The question that I want to figure out most is where I am going. I can’t move here. My body is so restricted in this small cage, and it’s even difficult for me to turn around. Day by day I wake and get some food and water from the keeper-- definitely not tasty at all.
There are other cages in the room, hanging up on ropes beneath the ceiling. I am the only conscious one inside a cage; all of the others are either asleep or passed out. If one dies, the keeper will remove the body. I don’t know what happens next. It’s difficult for me to see other cages-- there are just so many. But I do see what’s outside. There’s a small window on the wall of this big room, and through the window I see a lawn and the blue sky. Sometimes there are kids playing on the lawn.
Once in a while, several people will come in and have coffee with each other underneath the cages that imprison us. Usually I can’t hear what they say-- even if I can, they are just fragments of sentences. But today, three men come in and start to chat with each other very loudly.
“Ahh, people are graded from the time they are born. This principle will never change. It’s so stupid that the inferior are fighting for their so-called ‘equality!’ Things are decided at the beginning, and all the efforts are useless.”
“Yeah, yeah. Their slogan is always ‘diversity,’ ‘freedom of speech’ and the like. You name it. Diversity and freedom of speech will disrupt our society! This poses a huge threat to the established order. The order of our society is the treasure of our ancestors. These troublemakers are always breaking the rules and creating chaos! How foolish!”
I pressed my fingernail into my palm. It’s not as absolute as what they say. I haven’t dared to talk to people outside my cage, but today I can’t hold it in.
“Gentlemen,” I say, seeing them looking up at me, their eyes wide open with great surprise. “How can people be happy when they can’t think freely? How can human civilization thrive without diversity and creativity?”
Those men freeze for a second, and then laugh. After laughing they suddenly turn mad, and their laughter turns to shouts: “You are WRONG! Stop doubting and questioning like that. You are just naive, without even a little knowledge. You do not have the right to talk to us.
One man is so triggered that he stands up, walks to my cage, and shakes it intensely. I lose my balance and my knee hits the sharp iron bar at the edge of the cage. It cute the skin, and blood flows from the wound to the cage floor. I refrain from expressing my pain. “Stop talking to us like that, you stupid thing!” He kicks the cage with all his might. My head and hands hit against another iron bar of the cage violently. Then the men go away, talking and sneering with disdain.
My hands are already full of blood, and I can feel the pain pounding in my head. I remain silent, for I don’t want to die. Dying means surrendering to the ‘powerful.’ Despite this, my heart is not silent.
“Hey, what is ‘RIGHT,’ though? The rules that fit your standard of life? What about my idea of life?”
The men who were in the room seemed to be more experienced than I was, but with such so-called ‘experience’ they refuse different opinions so easily. What a kind of self-importance! My life here can’t even be called a life-- is this the reason why my opinion was rejected unconditionally! It’s so ironic. I see a small group of people defining everything.
Suddenly the door opens, and the keeper comes in. He comes in… with a whip. He turns to me and raises the whip. His eyes are full of anger. The keeper flogs me with the whip, and my wounds-- which have just ceased bleeding-- begin to bleed profusely again.
“You can never do it. You will never be equal to those respectable people. You will never escape to the outside world and talk equally with them. You are stupid, without any experience or knowledge. You know, I have seen so many like you. They never would succeed” The whip is hitting me so strongly that I want to protest. But I can’t even stand up straight, much less move. “See, you don’t have any potential. I am experienced, and I can see it. You will live in this cage until death. You will never be what you want. Stop trying, you will fail. But you can dream about it, fool!”
The final hit is over, leaving my body steadily bleeding. I stare at the back of the keeper’s head with utmost hatred. I have been locked in here since I was conscious. I haven’t had the chance to go outside past the window, to learn, or to experience. And you assume that I don’t have any potential to grow and should continue to stay here and be useless until death. How ridiculous!
“I hate you!” I shout to him.
“Wow. So brave. I give you food and water everyday. You don’t thank me, yet you hate me?” The anger in his eyes is rekindled.
He throws my cage onto the ground and the deafening sound echoes in the room. I can’t even feel the pain now-- I can’t even see things clearly, as the drop made me dizzy. The keeper picks up a hammer and throws it on me, nearly breaking my back. He swears and goes out, slamming the door.
I lie on the ground for a long time, enduring the unbearable pain and waiting for it to end. “I shall never surrender!” I talk to myself determinedly. “The cage prevents me from chasing what I want to be and going to where I want to go. It deprives me of the right to speak up and to better reflect. It is obstructing me. I must break it!”
But how can I? The iron bars of the cage are extremely hard. I have tried to hit the bars before, but all I got were hurt fists. I desperately sit down, and something on the ground catches my attention. The hammer! The keeper forgot to take it away!
It is late morning, and the keeper won’t come back until midnight. I know whatever I do during this period of time he won’t be aware of. I stretch my arm out to reach the hammer and pull it to me. I pick it up and strike the iron bar with all my strength. With each strike, I reflect.
“My creativity is squandered by this cage. I don’t want to be controlled! I want to be on the green lawn, or somewhere farther away.”
“The conversation of the three men was just like the iron bars of this cage. I was oppressed by such thoughts, but inside of my heart I knew that these thoughts were just preoccupation. If you don’t allow people-- the people whom you deem ‘inferior’ and ‘less experienced’-- to speak up, you will always live in your own world, and that is very dangerous. Without different opinions, without diversity, society can never improve.”
“Why worship what others worship? Why shy away from protesting? Why can’t I give my own opinions? Why should I stop doubting and questioning when I have well-contemplated ideas developed by my own reflection? Why believed the so-called experienced people and authority? Why can’t I choose what I want to believe? There’s no limit in thoughts, and there’s no rule for thinking! My soul is free, and I can think what I want. You can physically cage me, but you can never mentally enslave me!”
The hammer seems to be working. The shape of the iron bars are starting to be changed. My hand starts to bleed again, but I do not cease striking the iron bars. Strangely, I don’t feel tired at all, I feel stronger, and my mind gets clearer.
“I want freedom!”
The sun is starting to go down. Two of the iron bars are broken, and I am working on the third. I’m almost done. I can finally get out of this horrible cage. Just two more hits of the hammer should do it.
I hear hurried footsteps. “Who’s that?” Someone says.
Oh no. It’s the keeper. He is running toward the room. Why did he come back so early today? He is approaching. My heart is beating fast. How can I get out of the room? There’s only one door! I don’t have time to think. I raise the hammer.
One last time.
He comes in, and at the same time I quickly extricate myself through the bars of the cage. I used too much strength and the broken iron bars scratched my…
I find that I have wings on my back. For my entire life I wasn’t able to know I had wings on my back. The small cage restricted how much I can move, what I can see and even my understanding of myself. Some feathers are ripped off, but I can still feel the strength of my large wings.
“Don’t you dare!” The keeper gets flustered and exasperated, and runs to the shelf to grab his gun.
There’s no time for me, I must risk it! I flap my wings, anxiously looking around. If I run through the door, I will be caught. The window! The window is open.
Fly to the window!
Flap. Flap. Flap.
He is grabbing his gun.
Fly. You can fly. Fly out of it!
I finally fly to the height of the window, quickly push myself through it, and am out of the room. I am so exhausted, but I must fly as far away as I can. I fly higher and higher. The refreshing air fills my nose, and I know I am finally out of the cage. I’m never going back.
I see the beautiful sunset, coloring the sky yellow and orange. Ah! The sky of freedom, of infinity, is where I truly belong. Now, I am embracing what I have been yearning for.
I see the last rays of the sun from afar, glowing on the horizon. I know that as I fly, the stars will be glittering in the night sky, and tomorrow the sun will be shining even brighter.
So trivial is our life compared to the vastness of the sky. Why be defined by others? Why live others’ lives, why chase others’ goals? I shall live for pure happiness, not for others’ expectations; I shall chase freedom, and not blindly obey the rules; I shall refuse to be a coward shivering in front of the so-called powerful, for I am the only master of myself-- my flesh, my heart, and my soul.
Did you know, every time you hint at coming to see me, or suggest we should run away into the woods, I pack a bag, just in case?
Even for the impossible scenarios, the days I know I can’t meet you halfway, or don’t have the mental energy to get myself to that tiny mountain town where pieces of my heart still lay scattered across the sidewalks, I pack a bag.
It’s always the same things; a long sleeve shirt, leggings, a deck of cards, a chess board, a journal, a Polaroid camera and instant coffee. I’ve survived on far less, and most people would call me underprepared, but I could pen an entire novel about your smile when you see me for the first time. I would be able to recall, with impeccable detail, every moment we spend together, for the rest of my days. Every song you hum would find its way into my fingertips tapping away the stress of my work days.
Even though I know for a fact you’re not here, I turn every corner with hope, hoping maybe today’s the day I see you standing at my front door, fumbling with a lighter, the wind making you curse the prairie winters, just waiting, for me. You’re hours away, and have never said you’d be here, but still I hold my breath for a split second, every now and then.
I guess I’m just always ready for you. Always hoping it won’t be another long month without you. Ironically, I never feel ready. I’ve changed. My body has changed. It scares me to think that you might not like me, if you meet me again. What if I’m too argumentative, too sensitive, gained too much weight or am entirely too needy, still? What if I’m too much? What, after all this time, we fuck this up? What if I’ve pushed too far and we can’t go back?
I am terrified.
But I have a bag packed anyway.
Sometimes I sit and think about all the time I have spent hating myself. Using up all my energy to go over every flaw that I have and think of all the ways I could rid of them. Using up all my energy to think of all the ways I would be loved if I was a better and more beautiful person. Using up all of my energy to think of all the ways I wanted to erase myself.
When I sit eyes closed with my inner self and ask her about my life, she always laughs and lets me know that the prettier version of me is not the happiest version of me, that I have a whole life waiting for me; hearts that will open, mountains that will move, all because I chose to LIVE, not choosing to stay and wonder if my reflection is acceptable.
Some of us will not truly live till we old. We never truly know how much time we have left. Looking back, I wish I loved more. I wish I stared at the stars more and told people I cared. I wish I was more open and honest. I wish I hadn’t hurt myself because I didn’t see the reflection I wanted to see.
Live boldly and free today. Your life is happening, regardless of the face you see staring back at you in the mirror.
A Conversation With my Therapist
"Why isn't it okay to be lonely? she asked me.
"Well it is, I just don't like the feeling very much."
"Why isn't it okay to be lonely, Chloe?" she asks again. And it really feels like my brain doesn't know. It's just a feeling after all. How come this is so hard?
"I don't know. When I sit there I just think of all the people that are thriving right now while this is is so hard for me, and I wonder why I'm so broken. It feels compulsive, like I can't sit with it." The words kind of flow out of my mouth. I haven't really throught this far into this feeling before.
"Thriving? You think people are thriving right now? she asks in disbelief.
"Yeah, they're doing all these things, working from home, spending every day at home with the person they love, doing everything together. Stuff like that."
"Chloe, that doesn't sound like thriving to me. That sounds like desparation, surviving. Cramming as much in as you can in order not to feel. Would people be working from home if it wasn't a pandemic? People are scrambling right now, desparate to cling onto any sense of control that they can. Why won't you let yourself be lonely?"
If you're lonely too, don't worry. Being lonely doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Inner Wise Old Woman
Sometimes instead of getting in touch with my inner child I speak with my inner wise old woman.
I imagine myself draped in skin and wrinkles.
Laugh lines as deep as canyons.
And I ask her “Is this okay? Am I going to be okay?”
And she always smiles at me. She closes her eyes and rubs her hands over her papery arms. I wonder what stories she has, what journeys I have yet to start, what people I have yet to meet, the secrets she keeps.
“You know, it happens so fast. Life. In the moment it feels so long. We feel so bad for eating a whole bag of chips, for sleeping with the wrong person, for saying no when you wanted to say yes, for holding onto grudges that don’t serve us and let us fully be ourselves. You have so much more. Oh, the stories you’ll make in life have nothing to do with what you’re currently sad about. There is so much more to living and there’s not enough time to do it all. Can you feel this? How short life is?”
I usually cry. My wise inner old woman always helps me feel freer and take in the bigger picture.
At some point if we’re lucky, we’re all going to old and we’re all going to realize how finite this is and how sooner we wish we could have lived in our bodies and let go of the shame, the blame, the guilt, the brokenness, the hurt.
I try to keep this perspective. Of course it slips through my fingers often and I’m right back to “Should I do this? Is this okay?” But she’s always there if I quiet down enough, whispering “It’s okay, you’re always good, you’re always loved. There’s so much more than this moment.”
I trust her. I love her. I try to surrender.
I never check the clock when I talk to you.
You make time vanish and it scares me
how you make my body feel injected with serotonin
because there’s always a crash,
and God you’re going to make me crash.
Tonight I realized that
You weren’t the one who
Or destroyed me.
It was me.
Because only I have the power to do that to myself.
I destroyed myself
By loving you.
Shattered, But Not Broken
My friends and I live on a supermarket shelf, inside jare, tins, and boxes, our labels announcing we are 50% depressed, 30% suicidal and 20% psychotic; 100% mentally ill, check the lid for the “best before” date. And although we live under lock and key, my friends and I are the bravest people you’ll ever meet. We may be shattered, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still gleam in the sunlight; tarnished silver still shines in the right light, and so do we. The pain may be constant, but we are not always screaming, crying, pulling, hitting, throwing, scratching, scarring, or bleeding. We are not wrong because we “malfunction,” or because we missed the right junction. In our lives, why should we be cast aside for the mess in our minds that could be tidied up with the sweep of a brush, or failing that, some strong soap and elbow grease?
My friends and I, we may be partners in illness, but we are also partners in crime; we laugh and we dance and it’s about damn time we were recognized as people, not just as symptoms or fears, but as kids who lost a couple years to illness and hurt.