Love Is

I wanted to write open letters to those who have played significant parts in my life to explore how love comes and goes. This is a memoir – disguised in a hermit crab essay – of 11 years dedicated to 11 people who have shaped me into the woman I am today.

Love is

Dusty skies...

Dry monsoon:
You were a dot in the horizon. I heard you were funny and had a lot of friends.
Wet monsoon:
You were painted with loud colors. I hadn’t noticed this before, but you had a cute face, embroidered with a humor that was made up of red, blue and yellow. You were a masterpiece splashed with brilliant colors, and a presence that could shake the room if you wanted to. I was vibrant next to you.
Dry monsoon:
Your colors diluted. You were just as grey as I was, and I was alright with that. Eventually, as high school closed your curtains, your colors faded. And I returned to grey.

Sepia photographs…

Years ago:
you woke up to grass in your stocking so you
exhaled ‘santa isn’t real’ into your daughter’s
sterling spirit. you shake off the cobwebs
on the Tree and embellishes it with
medallions, ornate boxes, symbols
from your youth.
Years later:
in the winter, your step-daughter fell in love with
a man and cooking utensils. ever since, you have been
birthing mellifluous feasts on Christmas day.
in the spring, your step-daughter birthed a beautiful baby boy
with a forehead like his grandfather’s.

Angular cheekbones…

2:48 a.m.
You engulfed me in a ring of fire. At the time, our bodies were entangled in a cage: your lips cocooned mine, your leg in between my thighs. You planted kisses on the skin that blanketed the artery in my neck and pierced the flesh against my spine with your fingernails. My fingers were laced in your charcoal hair, pulling your head closer to mine.
4:01 a.m.
We had not made love. We laid quiet next to each other. I stroked your dry cheeks with my index finger, gazing quietly at your brown eyes. In my eyes the night was a light blue.

Sultry lips…

Your breath is a black wisp of condescendence; your heart, a caged cockatoo. You were a beautiful face aching for yellow stars. You say that yellow stars illuminate your beauty – your boyfriend agrees. But I don’t give you any. So you tug on the knots in your hair, tilt your head and glare at me: to you I am a discordant fallacy.

Poker chips…

You tell me to be safe so I do, but still you speak in strikethroughs. The pink of your tongue simply cannot deny that alcohol is a staple in these gatherings. You fear intoxication; instead, I was drunk on euphoria. Tonight the moon is a glimmer in the dark: she illuminates the banter and cowers at the jokes. It was 2 a.m. when she insists that I was to slumber, so I do. I do, but I do not dream.

Stinky subways…

You exhaled the cancers from your cigarette into my lungs. You smeared your dirty words onto my hair. You coiled a ring of thorns around my jaw. You licked your lips and expected me to do the same. You murdered my dreams of the city. You extolled venom into my ears. You carved grey scars into my spine. You quoted malice from villains in the movies. You cackled at my silence. You thrusted your cocaine-tinted words towards me.
Or at least, this was how it felt like.

Dangling telephones…

I waited by the phone, expecting you to ring at five o’clock as per usual. You greeted me with the words ‘do you wanna know what else people have been saying about you’. I replied ‘yes’.
At the time, I was naive enough to believe in your lies about the people in our cohort – about how their short pink tongues were as silver as you claim. When the curtain of naivety was lifted from my eyes, I chose to peek in between your thin scarlet lips and realized that it was, in fact, your tongue that was laced with silver ribbon.

Long fingers...

We were timid children hiding behind locked doors. Regret consumed us like a tsunami – slowly, and then all at once. Mom’s scarlet wrath rang through the interstices of the closet doors. I glanced at you, swallowed my pride and kicked the door open. A lie bubbled at the tip of my tongue: I was ready.

Vintage clocks...

The funeral home brimmed with tears, adversity, prayers, and existential questions. I stood over your remains, numb to the sorrow invoked by a loss. The Sun sauntered in the home through the windows and carpeted my sandals. You, once alive, dissolved into a mist four months after celebrating a hundred years of life. I learned:
1. That I don’t remember the last time I said ‘i love you’ to you
2. That longing comes with the absence of a routine
3. That beauty exists beyond the physical
4. That your life was worth more than the casket you lie in

Prolonged letters...

I remember that class: February 23. I remember intricate Chinese characters on an electronic canvas. I remember skinny fingers. I remember the cerulean cotton shirt draping over your slender frame: the lingering scent of fresh detergent. I remember leaving through the door, painting each other in dialogues. I remember camels and cats; nicknames and inside jokes. I remember cheap soju, bad ice-cream sandwiches, instant ramen noodles. I remember you cradling my dialogue like a precious child, telling me that everything was going to be okay. I remember people saying that a perfect person doesn’t exist – you were an exception.

Salmon hoodies...

My little fingers cupped my eyes, pulling its lids. Yet, it didn’t hinder the indoctrinating music – a symphony of screeching piano noises and screams – and the adrenaline – supposedly a trill – that surged through my veins like poison. I squeezed your hand, cradling your frail body, as we swerved through pillars of make-belief corpses. We dreaded the haunted house, wondering when our bewildering assumed maturity will ever do us any good.


Love arrives
exactly when love is supposed to
And love leaves
exactly when love must

– When Love Arrives by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye