Updated: Dec 31, 2020
one - introductions
If I remember correctly, our first formal introduction was when I was five, and you were a small hump in Mama’s belly. You were my best friend, still unborn, and for ten minutes I listened and tried to find the faint beating of your heart past the walls that kept us apart. I gave my pinky-promise that I would be your protector and guardian angel and go to the ends of the earth to ensure your happiness. I was yet to learn that promises are fragile things—like Mama’s favorite porcelain plate, the one that tumbled off its shelf—but still that is no excuse for breaking mine.
two - daffodils
On your sixth birthday, you came into the living room all giddy and dressed up in yellow, bearing some resemblance to the freshly bloomed daffodils in our backyard garden. Maybe I should have told you that, or any other nice sentiment, but I made you cry instead. Sometimes when people are unhappy, I explained, they say mean things. Those daffodils aren’t there anymore, and yellow is not as beautiful a color as it used to be.
three - older
When you were big, almost too big to sit on my lap, you asked what it meant to be older. I told you in simple terms that older was kind of like a balloon going up, up, up, until it could go up no longer and fell back down to earth. You hugged me with arms too tiny to reach all the way around and told me you wanted to be just like me when you grew up. I savored the taste of your wide-eyed innocence, too sticky and sweet on my parched tongue, and wondered if you had enough left to spare—and enough to compensate for what I had lost.
four - dumpling
On New Year’s Eve, I sat an hour feeling quite wholly out of place at the lavishly set dinner table. When I retreated to the bathroom afterwards, you followed. When I discovered you, I mistook your curiosity for judgement and buried my own shame under a barrage of words like missiles, faulting you for my mistakes. Yet this was simply another mystery of the universe you did not understand—like what are fractions, and why don’t the stars align, except this time it was why did I fight you for the last jiao zi (dumpling) if its final destination had been the rusted toilet basin all along.
five - lonely
Some days I didn’t see you at all. You spent three consecutive nights knocking at my door, even when Mama said to leave me alone because teenagers were hard to understand sometimes. I screamed at her through the paper-thin walls with a voice that was not my own, thinking of how Icarus flew too close to the sun yet died by the hands of the sea; and what would it feel like to fly, to drown, to die? And even the sound of your knocking bore a kind of simple naivety—if you hadn’t come so close to the sun, I would have opened the door for you.
six - lucky
You did not understand why I called you lucky. I pressed the tips of your fluorescent coloring markers into stained wood and detailed all the injustices that existed outside your fragile bubble of youth. I whispered words you were lucky not to know, words like pain and hell and regret, words that went dripdripdrip like venom or ink across the blank canvas that was your mind. I didn’t realize the crescendo in my voice until there was a great big hole between us and you could no longer conceal the hurt in your eyes. You’re lucky, I said, and you no longer asked why.
seven - tapestry
There came a point when you stopped trying to put together the pieces of a broken tapestry. You rolled it up around a bouquet of sun-beaten daffodils, brushed away the lint, and tucked it safely away on our cupboard shelf for safekeeping. You searched throughout the years for a silver needle and thread to one day stitch it back together again.