caged birds don’t sing

I wanted to submit this somewhere, a magazine, a writing competition, anything at all, for, I don’t know, maybe just the heck of it. But caged birds don’t sing exceeds the word limit for all of the writing contests I bookmarked, so I gave up and decided to publish it anyway. This is, as my lovely martini has articulated with much more eloquence than I could, “an experimental, poetic statement about identity and relationships,” and I hope whoever happens to stumble across this enjoys it. It is indeed wildly experimental, but I’m very proud of it. (also please excuse if there’s any formatting error/words that should be italicized/bolded/etc. sometimes WordPress messes that up!)

Again, thank you BTS for being such a spectacular source of inspiration, and martini for believing in me, and in this piece. Without you, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Summary: Mars looks up to her brother, Vivi, admires his composure, wants to spread her wings just like him and live. Vivi looks after his sister, Mars, adores her softness, wants to spread his wings around her and protect. They love each other to the point of struggling to love themselves.


futile

Mars drags herself to the end of the dark hall, disoriented, wobbling. The suitcase comes to a pristine, noiseless halt as her breath blends in the silence. It’s four in the morning and the entire dorm is asleep; except room 309. A vague outline of a familiar melody slides through the crack between the door and the carpeted floor to her ears. She waits for the crescendoing notes to finish their course before knocking one, two, three times. A muffled “come in” follows and she turns the knob with one hand, the other pulling the suitcase in.

The weak light caresses her chiseled face while darkness engulfs the leanness of her lower body like a strange love triangle. The blind has been pulled down all the way over the window that takes up almost the entire wall. Above hangs a string of red paper lanterns that never illuminates.

You’re supposed to put lights in there so that when you plug in they look like actual lanterns, Mars once told Vivi. It’s just for aesthetics, he’d answered, and Mars felt like she might understand what he meant. Or she might not. It’s okay. Vivi always knows what he wants. Vivi always knows.

So Mars strolls in and takes her boots off, disappointed yet unsurprised that Vivi seems to have known about her random visit beforehand. He doesn’t squeal at her presence, doesn’t jump at her, doesn’t give her a tight hug. Instead, Vivi only sits at his desk in front of the window with his entire body on the chair, knees gathered up to his heart and fingers tapping on his feet to the beat of the song. A black, palm-sized speaker rolls out some drums as the candle next to it cheerfully dances to the music.

You could’ve called me. I would’ve picked you up. Vivi turns to watch drops of water from his sister’s yellow raincoat fall on the mattress where she has hung it, thinks it doesn’t matter that he just washed it a few hours ago, listens to the more cheery guitar that’s tapping at his brain to keep him awake.

Well, you probably had a lot of work to do, with all your double majoring and stuff. Mars focuses on unzipping her suitcase and picking out some comfortable clothes. But since you’re listening to Chaney in the middle of the night again, I guess I was wrong.

You know the only people I’ll make time for are you and Chaney.

New album? Mars holds out a cow onesie.

Yeah, Panopticon. And no, it might be minus hell out there but I have a monster for a heater. You’ll sweat to death.

Mars pouts and digs up a more breathable pair of pajamas. Is it good?

Superb. Better than my dissertation-worthy essay on the sociopolitical implications of the achievements of the LGBTQ+ movement in Vietnam last fall. The way Vivi’s pitch raises is almost unnoticeable, before it falls back to the usual wavelength. Too bad I’m only a sophomore.

Mars has read it, didn’t entirely understand it, but was impressed by it anyway. One thing she’s sure of is that it’s brought Vivi a couple of prizes in the Gender Studies department and constant urging from his advisor from the Political Science department definitely to apply for grad school in this field (stress on “definitely”). Vivi will automatically glow at any brief mention of the essay like a lamp. His legacy, he’ll call it.

So even though Mars doesn’t get what the legal acknowledgement of transgender people in Vietnam fully entails, or why Vivi finds music with no vocal so fascinating, she finds contentment in enjoying what Vivi enjoys.

And when Vivi asks if she wants him to change the playlist to a genre that she likes, she will tell Vivi to keep Chaney on, dry her hair, and toss herself on Vivi’s bed that smells like cheap detergent and the rotted steps of their patio in Florida. Next to her, Vivi will remain curled up in his chair, bop his head to each chord – because it won’t be a Chaney song without a piano involved, and look at nowhere in particular. They will stay that way until the sun rises, and Mars will drift off, and Vivi will turn off the computer and tiptoe to the spare mattress on the other side of the room.

*

The smell of slightly burned omelettes wakes Mars up. It’s somewhat suffocating in a good, sobering way. Vivi sets the plates on the desk with a gentle clank. The thick porcelain dishes appear light as a feather in Vivi’s veiny, muscular hands. Afraid that he might’ve disturbed her sleep, Vivi steals a glance at Mars, who answers that it’s fine, and slips off the bed to go brush her teeth. When she stands up straight her upper body feels like a foreign weight crushing on the balls of her feet. Probably an aftereffect of last night’s flight with its stone hard bread, clumsy taking off, anxiety-inducing landing, and nonexisting legroom.

Mars stumbles to the bathroom for a while then marches back, her cedar hair tied up in a loose, messy bun, swinging side to side with her every step. As she opens the door the sight of Vivi at his desk overwhelms her with déjà-vu, a throwback to last night. He’s now by the side farther away from the bed, though. Without turning back to face her he gestures to her brunch on the other side of the desk. She nods and munches on a plain bagel while scrolling through some social media site on her phone. Next to her, Vivi’s typing away on the keyboard with rough irregularity like a bad rendition of Chopin’s “Wrong Note.”

Eventually Mars gets bored and pulls out her laptop to do work as well. To be fair, she doesn’t have that much; it’s past midterms period, so everything’s quite dull. There’s only the online vocabulary quiz for French, and it’s easy enough for her to finish in no time. She watches several lookbook videos on YouTube and notes down some ideas for new outfits she want to make. Maybe she’ll design one for Vivi’s birthday. A lot of his clothes are handmade by her, and she plans to keep it that way for as long as she can.

Time flies from one to six in the evening, Vivi is still writing his essay whilst cursing under his breath every two minutes, and Mars has run out of things to do. She decides to clean her email inbox. The amount of promotional mails before her very eyes is appalling. Apparently she’s subscribed to a gazillion of fashion stores, so she has to unsubscribe to all of them in addition to deleting their emails.

Among these annoying advertisements with subject lines written in all caps lock Mars notices names of various colleges and universities. They’re mostly what most students would consider safe choices, so Mars figures she’ll encounter them again in the near future as she enters her senior year in high school.

She looks at Vivi, who’s biting his lips and rummaging through his notes, and back at her laptop. She wishes she can attend Commea like Vivi, too. Vivi complains to her all the time that ranking doesn’t define the quality of the school. Still, it’d be a shame if Vivi got in a prestigious college and his little sister didn’t. She sighs.

What’s wrong? When Vivi stops typing his voice comes out too loud in a space inundated with silence.

Random colleges are sending me emails again, she says. I want to go here, though.

Vivi leans back on the chair and runs his fingers through his dark curls. Under the dying sunlight his high cheekbones seem to have acquired a soul of their own, radiant in a way that’s full of life. He stares at the ceiling, at Mars, at her avoiding eyes.

Don’t be ridiculous, Mars. This is not the place for you.

He whispers, but Mars thinks waves of thunder are trying to penetrate her eardrums.

Vivi always knows what she wants. Vivi always knows.

chase

VIVI is working in a private collaborative room tucked in a corner of the library. KELLY walks in with a lunch bag and sits down next to VIVI.

KELLY. How’s my boy doing?

VIVI removes his headphones, from which one of Chaney’s songs can be heard.

VIVI. I’m doing just fine, except for the fact that finals got full control of my ass.

KELLY. Well, ain’t that surprising. Any exams? Or just papers?

VIVI. Papers. At my second to last one and going strong. [reaches for his coffee but it’s empty]

KELLY. Here. [hands him a bottle] Iced coffee. I got a coupon for any caffeinated drink at Ari’s Coffee. Not a fan of that stuff, but figured you might want one.

VIVI. Ah. Not my usual type of brewing, but it isn’t too bad. Thanks a bunch, my sweet, sweet Kelly. You saved my life. I love you so much.

KELLY. Ha ha, gosh, Vivi, you’re a terrible person.

VIVI. Well, ain’t that surprising. Anyway, don’t you have finals as well? I thought films majors still have to do essays and stuff?

KELLY. Let me live, Vivi. I’ve been watching the same three films over and over again for the past week. I need a break.

VIVI. But I don’t, so have your break by yourself.

KELLY. Come on, if you keep staying at one spot while shoving all that caffeine down your throat, all your precious muscles are gonna vanish before exam period ends.

VIVI. [ignores KELLY]

KELLY. Here. I got two quesadillas. Want one?

VIVI. No thanks, I’d rather lose my muscles to caffeine than cheese.

KELLY. But you need to eat something, Vivi. Do you want me to nag? Want me to call you 오빠?

VIVI. First of all, no, we’re the same age, that’s just weird. Second of all, I’m Vietnamese, not Korean. Third of all, I might be studying Korean, but that doesn’t mean its social nuances are going to have the same effect on me.

KELLY. Aw, no need to be shy. I know you like people to think you’re superior to them, my little Vivi.

VIVI. Kelly, if you’re here to pick a fight, rest assured that I’m one hundred percent not up for it.

KELLY. Okay, okay. How’s your Korean, though? Can you talk to me in Korean now?

VIVI. I can, to a decent extent, but my mind’s a bit occupied with analyzing the relationship between the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement right now, so you’ll have to settle with good old 안녕.

KELLY. Fair enough. 안녕, 친구. I hope you can meet Chaney some day and actually use your Korean.

VIVI. Man, that guy doesn’t even do interviews. All he does is produce these beautiful songs that rip my heart apart like gun machines. I doubt I’ll ever be able to meet him.

KELLY. Hey, that’s the most compliments I’ve ever heard coming out of your mouth. Maybe with the exception of Foucault.

VIVI. Chaney saved my life, ok? And Foucault changed my life. They’re my boys.

KELLY. What about Marcus?

VIVI. Who?

KELLY. Your brother?

VIVI. Oh, you guys haven’t met again since our first-year orientation, right? She’s Mars now. Mars is my girl all right.

KELLY. Oh. That’s a nice name.

VIVI. Yeah. I thought it sounded a bit too violent for a marshmallow like her, but yeah. It’s pretty.

KELLY. So she’s fully out? How did people take it?

VIVI. Her classmates seem cool with it, except for this Ryan boy. But she told me he’s always been mean to people, so I guess it’s not a big deal.

KELLY. And I guess your parents are fine, too? I mean, you told me they didn’t even bat an eye when you came out as trans to them.

VIVI. Nah. It’s pretty tense at home. That’s why I didn’t go back to Orlando last summer.

KELLY. Wait, if they have a problem with it, then why take it out now, and just on Mars?

VIVI. Because they don’t care about me or whatever “pervert” I turn out to be. Mars is different. Mars is wanted.

blurry

The seven-hour flight wasn’t enough for Vivi to settle his nerves about coming back home and facing his family after almost two years. Yet as soon as he told Mars he’d dropped off all his papers and was done with the semester, she immediately texted him and begged him to go home. Attempts to get her to tell him exactly what happened were fruitless. It was one vague “it’s so bad,” to another stressful “Ningzi has gone back to China” and an agonizing mantra of “please.”

Vivi was torn between Mars and the internship at a firm in New York that specializes in handling local civil lawsuits by members of the LBGTQ+ community. He ran to the Political Science building to see his advisor, the guilt weighing down like rocks on his feet. Fumiko had personally introduced him to that opportunity and walked him through everything; in a way he felt he’d betrayed her. But she was gracious about it, and told him she could negotiate with his employers if he could arrange to be in New York by the end of May.

“Just a reminder,” she added as a flustered Vivi made his way to the door after ten thousand “I’m sorry”s. “If you plan to be a lawyer, this is the family – work balance of which you have to keep watch. Oppression doesn’t wait for justice to catch up with it. It won’t let you apologize for being late to the game. By then, the game’s already over.”

Over like his relationship with his parents. With the cold shoulder his parents greet him when they notice him dragging his suitcase in the house. Vivi bows to them, which they don’t acknowledge, while Mars hurries him across the living room to the stairs. Along the way their eyes are on him like a hawk’s, waiting for any gesture from him, offensive or not, anything at all, to wage war right then and there. The TV is blasting commercial music but no sound can be heard. So without letting out too noticeable a breath Vivi lifts the luggage up and climbs upstairs.

As a habit he makes a left, only to be met with an empty room that he now has trouble identifying as his. Mars pries open his grip on the suitcase and guides it in the other direction.

“They didn’t expect you to come back at all.”

Vivi can’t think of a better response than silence. The wheels rumble on the rugged floor into a wide open room. In a brief second Vivi almost doesn’t recognize it.

The neutral white walls have been painted pastel pink, animal stickers scattered like colorful stars amidst a cotton candy sky. Light strings hang off the bed, the curtains, the bookshelf, the wardrobe, yet altogether not blinding but instead cozy and homely and safe. A couple of tiny cacti in teal pots proudly guard each side of the study desk, in the middle of which stands a low, glass vase of blue roses. A lamp hovers above it as if wanting just to admire the flowers all day long when it gets a break from illuminating books and papers.

A mint bedside table is situated neatly between the bed and the desk, decorated with a spider plant and a framed picture of Mars and Vivi, taken on his second day of orientation week at Commea when they were still giddy from the hype of college. Vivi had chopped off some significant length of his fuzzy hair, his angular face tilted up to breathe in the sweet air that shone on his honey skin. He was wearing a tank top and shorts, showing off his biceps and thighs because he’d been working out for some months, even though they’re nothing compared to the thickness of his current physique. Hand in hand with him was a beaming Mars, who turned her face away from the camera a bit to show off the piercing Vivi had done for her the night before. The metallic rose bloomed on her ear, twinkling like the toothy smile that wouldn’t leave her face. In a holographic rain jacket and silver platforms that reflected light like a disco ball, Mars literally shone.

“I’m surprised they didn’t say anything about this.” Vivi looks at it fondly, his thumb ghosting over the laminated photo.

Mars throws her head back in laughter. “They’re too freaked out by my decor to even glance at what’s in here.” Vivi doesn’t see what’s so funny.

At a corner of the room the working station catches his eyes. Several black and gray pieces of fabric lie on the craft table, mixed with plastic buttons and sketches of male clothing. Amidst it all is a seemingly-familiar portable sewing machine, but he doesn’t think it’s the same one Mars used before he went to college. Mars follows his gaze and answers the unvoiced question.

“It’s still the same one that you gave me. I just painted it teal. The black didn’t fit with the overall aesthetics. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. It looks newer this way. Still working ok?”

“Better and fiercer than any tailor’s.” Mars grins, and claps her hands as she remembers an almost forgotten task. “Right, are you tired? Do you want to go to Little Vietnam with me? I ran out of chalk, and I’m also craving some bubble tea right now.”

Vivi instantly stands up straight and readjusts his baseball cap. “Anything for you, Mars. Think they’ll let me use the car?”

“I don’t think so. But we can use the bus. I got the change.”

“Sure. I’ll treat you to dinner?”

“Are you sure? We can cook.”

Vivi throws his head back in laughter. “You think they’ll let me sit with them? I don’t think so.” Mars doesn’t see what’s so funny. But Vivi wraps an arm around her shoulders and drags her to the stairs. “Let’s go, lil’ Mars.”

They stumble downstairs with little giggles, hands on each other’s waist, until their mother looks up at them from the sofa. Her grey hair is tied up into an impeccable, tight bun. There’s not a single strand of stray hair. Her stern expression hardens and her wrinkles stop pushing against each other with each blink of an eye but instead become fixed, carved on the tightness of her skin. She stills in her seat like a statue.

Mars gives Vivi’s hip a soft squeeze before she takes the lead, trying to hide Vivi from sight with her enviable height, to make up for being the more slender in build. Eye contact is avoided at all cost as they shuffle to the entrance. When Mars reaches for the doorknob their mother finally speaks, her tongue thick with an accent that both she and her husband still struggle to get rid of after thirty years.

“Where you going?”

“Vivi will buy me dinner, mom, so you and dad can eat without me.”

“I prefer you eat at home.”

“My brother just came back from college after two years. Let us at least eat out, mom.”

“Food made at home is enough.”

“Then do you want us to go grocery shopping, then? There’s not enough food.”

“I won’t cook for her.”

“It’s not ‘her,’ it’s ‘him.’ What do you want, then?”

“Her out of here. And you stop being with her. She bad influence.”

Anger swells in her throat and Mars has to swallow a couple of times so as not to choke. Vivi’s grip on her hip has moved to her elbow – tight, sweaty, desperate, and he pulls her out of the house. Mars whips her head back and shouts.

“Not as bad as parents who won’t accept their children.”

The door slams shut before their mother’s “she no child of mine” can reach them. On the streets, pedestrians rush back and forth, ongoing conversations bounce back and forth, cars honk back and forth. Wind blows, squirrels rustle, cicadas scream. The toy shop next door plays cheerful tunes from Barbie movies, the street lights ding incessantly as the walk signal comes on, the sewer under their feet emits creepy, gurgling sounds alongside the polluted smoke. At top speed an airplane vrooms above, providing subtle background music for Mars and her exasperated grumbles.

Vivi scrambles to search for his own voice amidst this cacophony, but to no avail. The fear is big, too big; and he feels small, too small.

glances

At four p.m. the playground at the corner of their street is filled with children’s crunchy laughter, drowning out the irritating heat of Orlando. Brown-skinned sisters with their bright, smiley eyes watch their brothers shout in excitement as they push the swings higher, higher, higher, the screaming growing louder, sharper, hoarser. Mothers resting just a couple of feet away yell at them about being careful not to overdo the pushing, but the kids care not about order; their one and only priority in life is to have fun.

Close by, a group of teenagers gathers on the public basketball court, tiny tornadoes of dust twirling up after each charged step. Their voices rise above the children’s cheering as if to assert dominance. Despite being across the street, the moms have had enough with the obnoxious hollering and endless profanity so noisy that even their children can’t compete with. They coo everyone to the farther side of the playground as their disapproving glance goes unnoticed by the basketball boys.

Mars and Vivi, on their way back from the grocery store (because thank god their parents had to visit an ill relative and Mars still has school), find the scene rather distasteful. Mars sighs to the beat of Vivi’s audible tongue-clicking and eye-rolling. They choose to ignore some faces they think they recognize, nudging each other to the sidewalk with popsicles halfway in their mouths, preparing to cross, when a gravelly voice calls out.

Gawd, well ain’t that Marcus.

Upon hearing the name Vivi jerks his head around so fast the popsicle almost falls out of his mouth. On his right, Mars remains calm and takes the popsicle out.

I think you misremember my name. She politely says. It’s Mars. But hi, Ryan.

Ryan jumps out of the fenced field and approaches them with a dirty smirk. He stands a head above Mars and two above Vivi, sporadic scars on his cheeks and arms. Blond mohawk, spiky wristbands, beige cargo shorts that reveal half of his butt, and Vivi doesn’t want to be judgmental but never in his life has he seen a more repulsive fashion taste.

Mars has been talking about Ryan. Heat haze is distorting everything he sees, the popsicle is dehydrating him instead of vice versa, facing him is the brat who refuses to address Mars the way she likes to; in short, Vivi is currently feeling like a boiling rice cooker whose steam vent has been blocked which leaves it a few seconds away from explosion.

Ryan’s voice rises up and down in the shape of a snake and Vivi swears the brat’s also wiggling his head forward like one, too.

And who d’we have here? Your boyfriend?

This is my brother, Vivi.

Brother? Vivi? Ya kiddin’ me? What kinda girly ass name is that? Ryan makes a scandalized face that pokes straight at Vivi’s nerves.

Watch your mouth, kid. Vivi glares, cracking his knuckles.

Chill out, lil’ Vivi. It suits a midget like ya, I hafta admit.

You piece of sh—

Ryan’s group of friends cut Vivi short, howling for him to hurry up and get back to the game. When Ryan doesn’t reply, doesn’t even flinch at all the cussing, one of them hurls the ball at him to get his attention. It misses, and almost hits Mars if Vivi doesn’t catch it in time. Vivi grits his teeth and gives the grocery bag to Mars, who grows apprehensive at the sight of green veins popping on both Vivi’s temples.

Ryan points his thumb to the basketball court, his face tipped upward and drowsy eyes staring down in amused arrogance. If Mars whispers something about don’t do it, then Vivi doesn’t hear it, because the next thing he knows, he’s already in the court, surrounded by six other white teenagers with shadows longer than his. One of them frowns at how unfair the situation is, but Ryan brushes him off. He volunteers to die, Ryan says with a snicker and the rest laughs.

Vivi plunges straight to the hoop and goes for a slam dunk. When he lands the rim lies sealed in his grip. The match is over before Ryan and the boys can finish their giggles.

Be careful of the midget. Vivi declares, and Ryan loses it.

He bolts to Vivi, tight fist ready for a punch. The boys shriek at Ryan to stop, you gonna kill him. Diving to the side, Vivi grabs Ryan’s incoming wrist, twisting the entire arm around. Ryan attempts to throw another punch with his other free fist, just to have the wrist locked in Vivi’s grasp again. No matter how much he tries to wiggle he can’t escape, as if his wrists have been welded to Vivi’s hands.

Son of a bitch!

See, it isn’t so hard to address someone’s gender correctly, is it?

Y’all fuckin’ crazy.

Don’t let that mouth run wild, boy. I warn you.

Fuckin’ faggots.

In one sweeping movement Vivi yanks Ryan’s wrists and slams him down. The sharp collision with the ground leaves Ryan’s right shoulder throbbing in searing episodes. Dirt gets in his mouth and nostrils, the stupefied dizziness pounding in his brain multiplying as each second ticks by. He coughs and writhes and chokes on his own spit until some consciousness returns to him, but the sight of Vivi’s foot hovering above his groin wipes off every bit of composure he has left.

He yells at the boys to help him, but no one dares breathe. Vivi lowers his leg, the sole of his shoe brushing against Ryan’s crotch and Ryan’s blood quivers in horror at the friction. Still Ryan puts up a tough front and stares at Vivi as if challenging him to do it. It takes some solid minutes of panicked nagging and ceaseless tugging from Mars for Vivi to move away from Ryan and follow her home.

Ryan’s friends awkwardly pick up the ball and mumble about having to take care of some errands as well, and run off. On the scorching ground he lies wheezing, spit and snot and tears mixed in erratic heaving. The scars on his body ache, a physical reminder of how powerless he is.

And Ryan hates this. He hates being weak.

restless

[08/17 – 23:13:06]

You have one new voicemail.

Hey Vivi. Um, how are you doing? Your internship’s still good? Still saving the world case by case? You must be really busy. Your Instagram’s been dead for two months. I miss you, too. We barely text these days. I wish summer had a rewind button. And I wish mom and dad weren’t such assholes about everything when you were here. But having you here helped a lot, you know. Dad went on endless business trips and mom was so mad she only talked to me weeks after you’d left. Truly days of blessing. (laughs) It’s hard to love them sometimes. Sometimes you just need a break, yeah?

Um, but anywho, so, you know, I’ve been thinking (coughs), maybe it’s too early to be thinking about this, but I’ve been thinking. So I have to show up at school a couple of weeks before classes start, student org stuff and all that, and I met my English teacher the other day. Did you have Ms. Phan when you were here? Lanky, big lips, round-rimmed glasses, eyeliner on point all day everyday, sassy as hell? That Ms. phan?

Anywho, so, I met her, and she started talking about college and all that. She was like, you’re a wonderful student, you should start thinking about making a list of schools now, your personal statement is important too, what kind of story do you want to tell, all that stuff. And it got me thinking, you know, what kind of story do I want to tell? I’ve been thinking about it, and…

(swallows)

My mind keeps going back to this identity I have. And how it helps me realize what I want to do in life. But I don’t want to get too political and like, aggressive, because I know I will be. You know how it’s been for us in this house. It’s hard not to be defensive. But I think I shouldn’t be like that with a personal statement? They say it’s personal but we shouldn’t be too personal or it’ll be off-putting. But this is, like, the most important thing for me.

(silence)

I don’t know. I feel like you can give me some advice on this. And maybe, like, share your personal statement with me, if you’re comfy with that?

Anywho, get back to me when you can, yeah? Do your best at work!

I miss and love you a lot.

[08/20 – 03:30:12]

From: eevie ❤

hey mars!

sorry for taking so long to reply. i hope you don’t mind this humongous wall of text being the first thing you have to read in the morning. and also i’ve been running on 4 hours of sleep everyday for the past week so i apologize in advance for any incoherence. i literally just got back from the office because we’ve had this crazy huge-scale case going on, but i digress.

i’m glad you found my presence stress-relieving. i honestly thought i’d only make things worse since they hate me so much already, but it’s reassuring to know that my being there helped. let me know if they start to go overboard again with the obsessive micromanaging, alright? i’ll fly back to you in a heartbeat before i let you shed a single tear.

and the personal statement thing— i’m not actually too familiar with this, but i’ve heard a lot of people say that as long as you make it heart-wrenchingly depressing, you’ll be fine. colleges tend to like stories like that, for some sadistic reason. not to mention, the LGBTQ+ movement is a pretty major issue right now, so if you choose to talk about your identity, i believe it’ll get people’s attention.

in short (don’t take my words on this though), make it as sappy as you can. when i was writing mine, i literally listened to chaney’s saddest songs and bullshitted everything. look where i end up now. (not saying that you have to go to commea, because that’s not what you want, is it?)

sorry if this hasn’t been very helpful. if you’re still concerned i’ll ask some of my friends who work at the admission office if they have any valuable advice for you.

my eyes are failing me so i’m heading to bed now, but eat veggies, drink lots of water, and stay healthy, alright?

i got you.

[08/20 – 10:12:04]

From: mars

???? thanks for the thoughtful message, but did you just tell me to glorify everything i’ve been through? we’ve been through? to appeal to some strangers, for god’s sake? please tell me that’s not what you meant and you were just sleepy. i’m slightly disappointed, and that’s an understatement.

[08/20 – 13:09:12]

From: mars

i don’t want to be angry at you, but how could you tell me to do that? my depression, my stress, my body image issues aren’t marketing tools.

[08/21 – 13:01:09]

From: eevie ❤

hey, sorry, i didn’t mean that. i was deliriously sleepy so i wasn’t thinking straight. of course i’m not telling you to glorify everything. i guess what i want to say is just be honest and show that you’re really passionate about fashion and creating fashion. like your identity is important, but don’t reduce yourself to just one of your many identities. let your dream speak for you

[08/21 – 18:10:21]

From: mars

ok, that’s good. you made me so worried for the last couple of days, you know

[08/21 – 18:12:23]

From: eevie ❤

sorry, i should’ve texted you when i was more sober

[08/21 – 18:13:06]

From: mars

it’s fine. i’m glad we got that out of the way and brought back the sweet and caring vivi i know and love! oh right, i think you forgot, but i asked if i could read your personal statement? can i?

hearts

VIVI arrives at U-shaped dormitory with two large suitcases. On the right wing, screams could be heard from the second floor.

Agile ANYA, Motionless MIKOTO, Strong Woman SAUMYA, KELLY, all together. Vivi!

VIVI. [rolls eyes and ignores]

ANYA, MIKOTO, SAUMYA, and KELLY harmonize badly. Join No Filter Theatre for an endless supply of pure, unadulterated love and support!

VIVI. Classes don’t start until next week. Isn’t it too soon to be recruiting?

SAUMYA. We’re recruiting the best first, duh!

VIVI shakes his head and shuffles to the elevator. At the second floor, KELLY and others await him.

KELLY. My favorite boy, Vivi. Welcome back.

ANYA. You need help with the suitcases?

VIVI. No thanks, they aren’t too bad.

SAUMYA. What about unpacking?

VIVI. Nah, it’s good. I’ll just wheel everything in my room and deal with it later. Catch you guys downstairs for lunch?

MIKOTO. Sounds good to me.

ANYA. Mikoto, you lazy bum. You coming with us, Kelly? Or you’ll stay with Vivi?

KELLY. Of course I’ll stay with Vivi. Can you believe he’s seen me for three minutes already and hasn’t made a single comment on this fabulous blonde ombre? I’ll need to reteach him some manners.

MIKOTO. Cool. We’re leaving, then. I’m craving some sushi right now.

Everyone exits, KELLY and VIVI remain. They head to VIVI’s room in silence.

KELLY. You alright there, buddy?

VIVI. Hm? Why wouldn’t I be?

KELLY. I dunno. I mean, for the last two years we’ve been unpacking with you and making fun of those hipster clothes you never wear. It’s like a ritual for us.

VIVI. Oh. I threw them away since I never wear them anyway, so I end up with significantly less stuff, so I don’t think it’s necessary to get the four horsemen.

KELLY. Mm. You went back home back in May, right?

VIVI. Yeah.

KELLY. Your parents still as nasty?

VIVI. I’m surprised they let me stay for some whole weeks.

KELLY. Must be tough. Mars called you back, right? How’s she?

VIVI. Better, or at least I hope so. It’s been strained ever since she came out. They still argue all the time, but at least my being there made her feel like there’s someone who understands, even though both my parents think it’s my fault she’s the way she is.

KELLY. Gosh, I’m so sorry that your parents are like this to both of you.

VIVI. Oh, don’t feel sorry for me. I’m the lucky one who got a huge grant and could actually work my way through college. At least I don’t have to depend on them anymore. Mars… is quite a different case.

KELLY. But still. That’s no way to treat your own children, though.

VIVI. [aside] Singular would be more correct. [to KELLY] Yeah, you know how it is. Has always been. Anyway, do you know anyone who works at the admission office?

KELLY. Dunno, probably dated some of them.

VIVI. You’ve dated the entire school, so your point is?

KELLY. I do not! Have you hung out with white people? Some of them are just downright gross.

VIVI. Sure, sure, so back to my question?

KELLY. Yes, I probably know someone from the admission office. Got a favor to ask?

VIVI. You know me so well.

KELLY. And I lament that every day. Wassup?

VIVI. Mars has been kind of stressing out about writing her personal statement, so I’m wondering if you can get some good tips from your friends at the admission office? Like those insider, obscure tips that aren’t three seconds of typing plus two clicks on Google?

KELLY. Mm. Dunno if that’s how it works, but I’ll try?

VIVI. It’s fine. Thanks.

KELLY. Didn’t know you’d be one to suck at personal statements, though.

VIVI. Kelly, just because I look like I have my shit together doesn’t mean I actually have my shit together.

KELLY. You did get into Commea with like, the biggest financial aid package ever, right? So there must be something in your personal statement that managed to squeeze the money out of their stingy capitalist wallet. I think Mars could use that as a reference.

VIVI. I kind of… lost it. Like, cleaned up my computer the other day and wiped out all my files. I don’t even remember what I wrote, to be honest.

KELLY. Aw, what a shame. I bet it was a really good essay.

VIVI. Nah, I still think it was my grades that got me in here.

KELLY. True. I bet you had a Harvard-worthy resume. [KELLY’s phone vibrates] Oh, everyone is waiting for us. Vivi, let’s go.

VIVI. Actually, I have no idea where my student ID went, so you go first. It should be around here somewhere. I’ll be down in a second.

KELLY. Alright, I’ll let them know you’re coming. By the way, we’re seeing a movie this afternoon. You interested?

VIVI. Thanks, but I’ll pass.

KELLY. Unpacking?

VIVI. Gym. I’ve been slacking off lately. My abs are melting.

KELLY. Gosh, you just got back here, you gym rat.

VIVI. No, but listen, my muscles have softened.

KELLY. You do know nobody cares if you look like a wrestler or slender man, right?

VIVI. Well, I care.

KELLY. Alright, you do you. See you in a minute?

VIVI. Sure.

KELLY exits.

VIVI. [quietly] It just makes my life a little bit easier, Kelly.

hidden

Even though Mr. Hilton has explained to them the procedure a week ago, the entire classroom still groans when he orders them to get into pairs. He observes fondly, ushering them to find their partners, elevating his voice somewhat so that it comes across the screeching and clattering of desks.

Her first draft in hand, Mars treads lightly to Ryan, who’s pulled his snapback down to cover his eyes, arms crossed in front of his chest, eyes shut tight. She pulls in a desk close by, sits down, and pokes at Ryan, finger shaking and palm sweating at the contact. Ryan begins to snore, and Mars is drenched in anxiety. But Mr. Hilton notices and strolls over to get them going.

When asked about his personal statement, Ryan shrugs and says he forgot it at home with a prolonged yawn. Mr. Hilton tells Mars to give her draft to Ryan so that he can comment on it, and when he’s done, he can try to brainstorm ideas with Mars. Before the class dives into the peer review session, Mr. Hilton reminds them to be respectful and take advantage of the time he’s giving them. Mars has a feeling she won’t get that with Ryan. Still she hopes something has changed as she slides her paper in front of Ryan with caution.

Ryan doesn’t touch but looks at it with his half-open, sleep-soaked eyes. The cuts on his cheekbones deepen under the harsh light, bruises spilling from under the sleeves of the school’s polo. Mars wonders if they’re because of Vivi, or from another fight. She wonders if she should apologize for Vivi’s unexpected burst of violence. She also wonders if she’s staring at Ryan too much when he glares at her and she finds herself shrinking in the seat.

“I can’t do this.” Ryan moves to snug his hands in his pants pockets. “This the worst thing I ever read.”

“Um,” Mars stammers. “Can you, like, tell me why it’s bad?”

“You wanna be a fashion designer? Because it’s fun? Making clothes for your crazy brother? So fucking childish.”

“Well, if you read the rest—”

“Listen, you fag.” Some of the nearby pairs stop discussing when they catch the word. “If I can’t crawl through yar horrendous beginning, what make ya think I’d finish the entire thing?”

Mars tries to swallow when her throat starts to swell up, telling herself to keep it together. She’d rather walk through hell than cry in front of someone like Ryan. He takes her silence as a sign of submission.

“Fashion designer? Seriously? Fuck, this is why y’all ching chongs piss me off so much. When y’all got everythin’ y’all start dreaming ‘bout being useless shit like this.”

Mars snatches back her personal statement, crushing it. The words turn blurry and damp as she buries her face into the paper, holding her breath, scrambling to control her tears, to repress her sobs. Behind them Ningzi clicks her tongue and kicks Ryan’s leg as a warning. Ryan’s about to fight back when in his peripheral vision he spots someone going up to Mr. Hilton, who immediately rushes to them, his already thin lips pursed to the point of nonexistence.

“Ryan, I hope you know that our school neither allows nor tolerates prejudice and discrimination under any circumstances.”

“What?” Ryan snaps. “I’m just sayin’ the truth. Those Asians came here, got so filthy rich, and now they wanna be stupid fashion designers.”

“Shut your gross racist mouth.” Ningzi growls.

“Y’all gonna gang up against me now, eh?” Ryan gets up. “Whatever. I’m leavin’. This is bullshit.”

“You’re not leaving. You’re apologizing to Mars and meeting me after class.” Mr. Hilton holds up his arm to stop Ryan, only to have it swatted aside as Ryan storms out the door. The class watches, confused and tense before the hushed whispers of consolation from Ningzi pull everyone’s attention to Mars. Mr. Hilton finds no better way to deal with this than to send them to the nurse, making a mental note to talk to the principal as soon as possible.

Ningzi coaxes Mars out of her seat and they stumble down the hallway. Mars remains determined not to let Ryan get to her too much. She locks in all whimper, all sniffle, despite the pain, the ache, the itch to cry rushing back and forth her entire body. Beside her Ningzi is ranting about Ryan, spitting one string of curses after another and gesturing wildly as if her language isn’t vivid enough.

The nurse gives them the furthest bed in the infirmary after Ningzi explains vaguely to her that Mars is experiencing some emotional distraught and prefers to be somewhere private. Ningzi pours Mars some water, which Mars takes shyly with both hands. She empties several cups of water as Ningzi waits for her to calm down.

In the quietest voice Mars asks.

“Ningzi, do you think what I want to do is immature?”

“Of course not!” Ningzi exclaims.

“But Ryan kind of has a point. Who even wants to be a fashion designer?”

“Who cares about that jerk? Doing fashion is meaningful to you, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“And why is that?”

“I mean, I’ve only started making clothes a couple of years ago because Vivi can’t afford them, but…” Mars sniffs, but her shoulders have loosened up. Ningzi is still rubbing circles on her back, urging her to keep going. “If I hadn’t done that, I would’ve never discovered how much fashion can do.”

“Yeah?”

“Like, it’s super gendered, but I think it can be used to, like, transcend gender as well, if that’s the word. So that we don’t have to be bothered with dressing up the way they expect a gender to dress up, you know?”

“Yes, definitely. Wow, that’s really interesting.”

“You think so? It’s not stupid?”

“Why on earth is it stupid?”

Ningzi pats Mars on the head and holds out her personal statement. With bloodshot eyes Mars smiles back and squeezes Ningzi’s hand, along with the crumpled piece of paper.

cracks

Karen doesn’t question beyond “where are you going” and Vivi doesn’t have to reply beyond “I’m going home for the break.” She doesn’t question why he didn’t ask Kelly to drop him off and he doesn’t want to explain. Throughout the half hour ride to the airport, Karen rambles on and on about Halloween and Christmas while Vivi slumps into his seat and chews noiselessly on his gum, listening to catchy songs on the radio that he won’t remember, thinking “nice.” This is nice. Karen is nice. Karen is like Kelly, the way they both talk too much about nothing and share too much about everything, only that Kelly’s eyes aren’t sky blue, her skin not pale and freckled, her hair not curly and gleamingly golden, herself not impenetrable and thoroughly alien. Karen is just Karen who sits next to him in Econ class, not Kelly who can reside in his skin and find more comfort there than he can. Vivi nods to the beat of a generic pop song even though he’s not really feeling it, because that’s exactly why this is nice.

He doesn’t tell Mars he’s home and spends the night at probably one of the worst AirBnb listings in the area, but it’s cheap, so he doesn’t complain. Early Saturday morning he wakes up, occupies a street-view seat at a café near the playground. By one in the afternoon his drink of water and extra extra ice has completely cooled down and one of the baristas starts giving him weird stares. At three p.m. sharp Ryan and his friends show up. Vivi waits for another two hours before retreating from the shop as the boys finish their game and head home.

It’s a couple of weeks into October now, but the sun is still adamant about hanging out in the sky for as long as it can. Under his flannel Vivi sweats profusely, the thick dust-proof face mask and soccer socks not helping at all. Headphones on and eyes to the ground, he blends in with fellow pedestrians, hurried and indifferent. After a few turns on the main street Ryan enters a more isolated area and climbs up a run-down apartment that was probably built in the 1930s. The brick walls wear a slimy, dark green moss overall. The rusty balcony frames are on the verge of falling down any given second like carelessly worn jewelry, some decorated with small pots of dead plants.

Just as Ryan’s about to open the door Vivi roars his name. Whirling around, he instinctively cowers for a brief second before he realizes who it is. Vivi orders him to get downstairs, index finger forming an upward hook, and Ryan finds himself rushing downstairs like a dog. As soon as he reaches the last step Vivi grabs at his tank top and again he feels numbingly powerless in front of such a man of small stature.

Vivi yells something about Mars, about the personal statement, about Ryan’s being a complete asshole. Ryan doesn’t face Vivi, only taking in charged words thrown at him with clenched fists and gritted teeth. Some neighbors peek at the two of them out of curiosity just to shrug and carry on with their usual business again.

Vivi doesn’t stop hurling insults at Ryan for another ten minutes, but upon realizing that he won’t get a response out of Ryan, he releases him.

Listen here. Vivi grabs a handful of Ryan’s groin. Don’t think you’re tough shit just because you’re bigger. This is just a warning. Watch your mouth, or I’ll crush these filthy balls of yours.

Waterfalls of perspiration still pour down Ryan’s temples long after Vivi has left. The concrete ground absorbs then re-emits heat that sends Ryan’s stomach tumbling and nauseous. He dashes to the dumpster behind the complex and vomits. His own wrenching gagging sounds fill the vacant apartment complex yet Vivi’s shouting continues to drum on his brain and in the middle of emptying his guts he’s irritatingly aware of how pathetic he is.

Ryan, darling? Who was it? From the half-broken window on the fifth floor, his mom whispers to him.

Jus some random guy. No need to worry, ma. He wipes his mouth with his top and runs upstairs. His mother opens the door for him as she lets out an inaudible laugh, scratching lightly at the fresh cuts on her arms. Her eyes have long lost her spark, now dense orbs of staurolite, opaque and soulless, and Ryan can’t help but notice the wrinkles forming in abundance on her once bouncy, lively, olive skin.

Ah, good, good. I thought it was your father.

He usually not home this early. Go inside, ma.

Ryan settles his mother on the couch and turns on the TV, skimming through the channels and stopping at Master Chef although neither he nor she cooks, and she stays in her seat anyway. He goes straight to his room, the disgusting sourness sharp at the tip of his tongue. Closing the door behind him, Ryan plunges face first into the bed with a loud groan. At the yellowed blanket that smells like it was from the bottom of an untouched, century-old wardrobe, at the fist-sized cracks at all corners on the ceiling, at the dull pencils and worn out notebooks and crushed pieces of paper littered everywhere, he stares, the ridge of his nose wet for reasons unknown to him. He falls asleep with dry tears on his glabella, the corners of his eyes, the crispiness of cheap linens.

How much time has passed he doesn’t know, but when his mother comes in to get him it’s already dark enough for her to turn the lights on against his will. The cracked light bulb flickers a couple of times before finally working, emitting a stingy amount of illumination. Ryan mumbles something intelligible and nods at his mom’s call for dinner and for him to clean his room as she disappears behind the door. Groggily he bends down to pick up the trash on the floor – pairs of mismatched socks with gaping holes and threads sticking out, pinky-length pencils whose points have long broken, miscellaneous unidentified plastic parts that he’s not sure how they even end up here. In the trash everything goes, and he only stops occasionally to make sure the pieces of paper aren’t homework he’s supposed to turn in. They consist mostly of doodles that he occupies himself with drawing in class, unfinished math homework in which he managed at least to copy the first question down, and some illegal note-passing discussions on Mr. Hilton’s obvious crush on Ms. Phan. Ryan finds himself breathing out a laugh at some of the disdainful remarks.

Ryan also finds himself cutting short his muffled laugh when he unfolds the piece of paper on his so-called study desk, an old dining table his mother probably asked for at one of her previous jobs as a waitress. Small tears spread in a random pattern on the paper because of excessive abuse by the eraser. The handwriting is almost illegible, crisscrossing and tangled and completely off the blue lines; if it would’ve been impossible to decipher if it weren’t his own mess.

ryan parks

mr hilton

personal shitment

my name is ryan & they say im a problem child

gues i do got problems, huh

i dont realy have any story to tell

i dont realy want to be anything in life

mayb smarter, stronger, reliabler for ma

mas been doin all the work n pa come home w alcohol drippin from his breath n start beatin up erthing

even ma

but when i told her to quit him she say she aint got documents, she need pa cuz shes illegal

or bullshit like that

i just want to be stronger

can someone tell me how

soundless

The night before their winter vacation Mars and a couple of her close classmates decide to give themselves a treat and gather in front of a Chinese restaurant, salivating at the tantalizing image of roasted ducks coated in unknown spices, shiny oil, and a crispy layer of well-cooked, chestnut skin. Tables and chairs are arranged close to each other, making navigating the place somewhat tedious, but four p.m. isn’t exactly a typical time to have white rice served with an entire medium-rare duck breast chopped into neat, knuckle-sized pieces, so Mars and her friends settle with ease at a table by the glass window, enjoying the temporary emptiness. The palm-sized speakers hung high on the ceiling plays a familiar piano tune that Mars can’t remember off the top of her head. One of the waiters beams a hello in Chinese at Mars, followed by a string of sounds foreign to her ears. When Mars waves her hands and clarifies that she isn’t Chinese, he apologizes in accented English, rolling the r’s a little too enthusiastically and bowing his head a little too persistently.

Ningzi and Nathan take their time musing over the menu, while Mars can recite the ingredients of each dish on the spot from the long hours of looking through every name, calculating how to get the most while paying the least. She even went so far as to call Vivi a few days ago to get help with ordering food at a restaurant because this is her first time going out without him. Vivi had laughed so hard before explaining everything and sending her a WikiHow article, “How to Order Food,” just in case, along with one final piece of advice, “just tell your friends what you’re gonna have and they should take the cue and order for you.” When Mars sighed a relieved “thank you” and “goodbye,” Vivi returned with a “by the way, congrats on your acceptance,” and they each smiled against the phone as the line went off. On her desk, the colorful envelope lies neatly next to the framed photo of Mars and Vivi at Commea.

Despite the generally uneventful weather of Orlando, last Monday afternoon the school polo was damp, fixed against her neck, her armpits, her back in uncomfortable cold sweat. The rusty mailbox attached to the front door by loosely hammered nails pressed warmly against her fingertips as she dug inside and gathered a plethora of envelopes in various sizes and decorations. She flipped through each while entering the kitchen, throwing away advertisement letters, sorting out the rest according to the designated receiver, that is, mostly, her parents. Some of them were bills, some from the bank, some colorful postcards from relatives who marveled at the biting winds of Hanoi. Mars filtered and filtered and filtered through the week-old pile of mail and stopped midway when she saw one addressed to her. “Heizias School of Fashion” was crisply printed in bold on the cover against watercolor splashes of just primary colors but looking like a rainbow kaleidoscope. The packet felt heavy on her hand, thick and promising, and Mars began to weep.

“So, roast duck with rice for you? You sure you want just that?” Nathan double checks as he raises a hand for the waiter, leaning against the window, his broad shoulders blocking out any light the sun has to offer before it officially sets. “It’s our celebration dinner, after all. Go wild.”

“Yeah. Rice can fill you up quick, you know.” Mars answers, mindlessly fumbling with the only twenty-dollar bill she has in her coat pocket. Nathan shoots her an unreadable glance as if he isn’t sure how to react – rice is rarely a part of his Western diet, anyway, so he smiles back at Mars just as the waiter arrives at their table. Nathan gives their order while Ningzi takes a sip of water and turns to Mars, forcefully patting her back with a loving whack.

“Congrats on HSF, my girl. I knew you could do it!”

“Thanks,” Mars shyly replies. “And congrats on Northcrest, you two. Now you don’t have to worry about doing this long-distance. I’m glad.”

Ningzi winks at Nathan, who’s covering a part of his blushing face and fake-coughing in weak fits. “Yeah, thank God it’s over now. Can you imagine how many times I had to rewrite my personal statement? The cursed thing!”

“Same,” Nathan replies, “I think it took me like fifty-seven drafts or something. When I submitted it, it was like the essay wasn’t mine or something.”

“I know right? I’m so numb I don’t feel anything when I reread it now.”

“And yours is like a really sad story, right? I remember crying when I first read it.”

“Oh?” Curious and realizing that she was too stressed out over her own personal statement to mind anyone else’s, Mars chimes in. “What did you write about?”

“Um.” Ningzi sips on her water for what seems like a decade, letting her gaze wander to the ceiling, the bamboo curtains, the chopsticks looming over the bottle of soy sauce next to her elbow. Finally she puts down the glass that doesn’t seem any emptier. She runs a hand through the silk of her jet-black hair. “You know how I’m also adopted like Nathan? Yeah, colleges love stories about that, cheesy ones about racial identity dysphoria and such, so that’s what I did.”

Nathan nods, and somehow Mars figures it means that’s also what he did. What Mars doesn’t anticipate but should have anticipated is Nathan’s turning to her with the same question. “What did you write about, Mars?”

The waiter returns with their order, the brittle smell of roasted ducks permeating through the air. As Mars reaches out to pass the food to her friends she wishes the waiter isn’t so good at his job, isn’t carrying multiple bowls with the diameter of a bucket, isn’t balancing two giant plates of meat and four smaller plates of side dishes on his arms; she mumbles one “thank you” after another while racking her brain to come up with an answer that she isn’t sure why she wants to hide from her friends. Perhaps it’s the way they’ve become numb. Perhaps it’s the way Vivi’s become numb. Perhaps it’s the way she’s yet to become numb.

Mars picks up and swallows a piece of duck. The fat melts at the tip of her tongue and completely ruins whatever savory taste the lean has to offer. Ningzi and Nathan watch on, not letting the question go, awaiting a response. Mars shrugs, her words greasy and slippery.

“Nothing much. Just another sob story.”

She finally remembers what song the piano tune is from.

Kim Chaney’s Panopticon, “Save the Children.”

voice

That’s something you don’t have, do you, poor little thing; at least not an honest one, anyway, for a lying little bastard like you, you who can gesture at a feeling but never put it into words, you who spread strength with just your breath but never know where it comes from, you who is in pain but never able to reach the home of your illness; and you start to wonder, do you even know the home of your own self, poor little thing, always ready to combust, but they keep telling you to keep it down, keep it low, wait for a while, things will get better, so you wait, wait, wait, for them to accept you, for your chance to break from the cocoon socially imposed upon you and eventually fly, for a tomorrow of unadulterated, uncensored, unapologetic contentment with your whole self and your whole language because can you imagine being so finally, blissfully happy; you’ve been waiting for this ever since the day when you realized that mass-produced cookie cutter didn’t work for you, didn’t give you the kind of cookie you wanted, but when you bent it to fit your liking your mom started yelling at you, stuff like what are you doing, you ungrateful child, there are cookie cutters for a reason, now your cookies won’t look perfect, you’re wasting everything, and you said sorry, sorry, sorry, but what you really wanted to say was it’s the same dough, why does the shape matter, it’s the same dough, and you, you’ve never been the same after that, because you’re now cursed with the understanding that you’re a subject and so for an emancipation you’ve been longing; you dream of it every night, smiling in your sleep if there’s a happy ending, waking up crying if there’s your corpse, strewn over other dead bodies, cold and even more rigid than the marble floor of this bar that has become a cemetery, bundles of bullets everywhere like monotonous funeral bouquets, except there’s no sympathy here, no sympathy anywhere; ah-ah, don’t turn away now, you’ve been looking for it – that liberation – in your favorite politicians to your politically aware celebrity crushes to your own little attempts at grassroots activism until you see that other kids your age have changed the world while you’re still struggling just to survive so what’s the point; and you give up and hope to inspire someone with your vague, supposedly meaningful words that are no less cookie cutters than those that pissed you off when you were ten, because you poor little thing, you think someone out there is listening to you, translating you, receiving from you the motivation to do things that you cannot do, namely, getting to know you, mapping out your stream of consciousness, pinpointing the location of your heart, your love, your dreams, your…

And you still feel like they’re not getting it. And you still insist on silence. And you still wonder why you’re so miserable.

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