Dear Me

Dear Me,

Please don’t forget any of this.

Home is the absence of less. Home is when the lights go down at the movies. Home is taking off your socks after a run. Home is an umbrella in a storm.

Listen. Delirium makes the world—its shapes, its smells, its feels—bend as an image in a dimpled mirror. I see, far off, a warped orange sun peeking above a horizon of silhouetted skyscrapers. I see light stenciled through holes on the awning of the family-owned donut store next to which I sleep and stare, with sunken, shadowed eyes, at other sleepers, at sleepwalkers, through the holes of my blanket. Remember this blanket? From China, stitched by your grandmother’s hands. Thick, with a removable cover you could toss in the wash. “How convenient!” you always said. It kept you cozy in Ann Arbor snowfalls. On snow-days, when you could see, through the upstairs window, a dancing flurry of white flakes piling on your neighbor’s shingled roof, you wrapped yourself in the blanket’s wingspan and pressed a finger to the icy glass, edging your face nearer and nearer, your breath frosting in clouds on the reflection of your face. At that age in middle school, when you went to class, went home, went to class, went home, over and over again, like a trill, you didn’t know you were painfully, painfully lonely. You didn’t know.

Downtown. I sniff rotting curb-side trash, nearly slip on wrappers slick with grease. I hear things—real things and things I’m sure I’m making up. The caw of a bird as it circles a sprawling tree; I used to sit at its roots and read, wasn’t that lovely—wait, that tree isn’t supposed to be here! That tree should be in Burlingame. I’m not in Burlingame, though I see the cul-de-sac of my parents’ house, its windows unlit, before my face, and I see Mills Canyon, with its woodchip path, and the branches of that sprawling tree—Pandora, we called it—dangling above my head. Though I see Burlingame when I close my eyes—it’s here, it’s here—is it real? No. Not real. Not here. And what about these dead weeds, flattened into the dirt by my feet, my bare, street-scraped feet, feet that I no longer feel, that no longer take me home? Yes. These are real. How fond I am of these weeds that scratch my toes. These unwanted, invasive shoots. But they’re here. Unplucked. No one bothers them. Let them be. Trampled. Homeless plants. Wanderers. Like me—a drifting seed. I take them in my hands, put them in my backpack—I’ll give them a home. Do you remember, when you were in kindergarten and crouched by the little pond near your apartment to feed the ducks, all the tiny dandelion seeds that drifted on the autumn wind? You’d blow them along if they floated near your face, and then you’d toss breadcrumbs where the tide swelled to kiss the grass. You’d giggle as the ducks hobbled on their webbed feet toward you, racing but not really racing because they moved so clumsily in their own bodies. Your parents watched you from afar with their hands placed behind their backs, and sometimes you’d turn your head, squint at them on the hill, put a hand across your forehead like a visor. You’d wave for them to come, but they’d just raise a hand and you could swear they were smiling, and then, shrugging, you’d turn back around. The ducks were gone. The breadcrumbs were gone. Pale sunlight scurried in hyphens on the water, and you watched them, tried to count them, but they disappeared before you could. Only the dandelion seeds kept coming, endless numbers of them riding on the gusts of wind, and you imagined ants clinging to the stems, rising to the sky as if they were in hot-air balloons. They were going anywhere, anywhere their carriers would take them. Anywhere in the world but home.

I’ve been taken to downtown Los Angeles by delirium, through the cold, through streets I’ve sauntered on in other times, in another life, a simmering life that hissed vapors of steam and frothed and scalded the touch—now it’s…what is it…it’s rain. My life no longer boils. My life, now, is cold rain, brutal, metallic-tasting, rain that makes my teeth chatter, these un-brushed teeth that ache in the back of my mouth. Rain that makes me eye the homeless man next to me and think about asking him for a hug. For body heat. And reassurance. “What you shiverin’ about!” yells the homeless man. “It’s the warmest night of the year!” I rub my hands together, against my pants, against my shirt. I pull a pair of threadbare shoes from my backpack and put my fingers inside of them, inside of these Vans that have lost their soles. Body heat. Breath. Do you remember that one summer night—warmer than the others; actually, it was the warmest of the season—when you went shopping with your friends? You’d just graduated from high school. You were working at a tea-shop near your parents’ house, and you’d just cashed your first paycheck. It was nice. You could buy something nice with part of it. The other part you’d save, for college. Your friends wanted to give you a makeover. You were ready for a change, ready to start fresh. So you and your friends blazed down El Camino in a car whose sides were vibrating with loud bass beats. You thrusted an arm out the window, feeling the coolness of a lazy breeze. “Ba-dum, ba-dum…da…da…DUM!” Shattering the sunset calm. It was your first time at H&M. You strolled slowly, curiously, through aisles of crowded racks, letting a finger trail along the sleeves of every shirt the same way you’d sometimes run through the stacks at the public library as a kid, hands outstretched on either side so that your fingers bounced along the ridges of the book-spines. You ended up in the shoes section. Shoes. You were wearing white Reeboks that were peeling at the toe-box. You had another pair, from Costco, but they were ugly, and even though you didn’t have a sense of aesthetics then, not yet, you knew ugly when you saw it. “Here,” said your friend, handing you a pair of boots. “Try these on.” You put them on and they felt cheap. “Nah,” you said, shaking your head. “I don’t think so.” So you left. You went down a floor, but there was nothing, so you went up a floor, back to where you’d begun, and up another floor, to the Vans Store. “What about these?” your friend said. You looked at them. They were normal shoes, black and chic, and fit for any occasion. “How versatile!” you said. Fifty-five bucks—not bad. You tried them on and beamed. “Yeah,” you said, growing more and more enthusiastic. “These will do.” And just like that you bought your first pair of shoes and glowed with pride. You wore them every single day for a while, and four years later, when the left sole thinned and got a hole, when the right sole gave up and made a flap, you thought about it a long while before putting them in your extra backpack, the one you kept in your closet. You couldn’t bear to throw them away. I’ll keep them just for now, you told yourself. Just for now.

“What you scrawlin’?” shouts the homeless man. I’m scribbling here, in the margin of my Bible, the leather chapped and the pages, having once been wetted, now forever deformed and fuzzy. I read what I wrote in my head. “The sky—an azure haze surrounding a blazing sphere of fire.” I look at the homeless man. “I wrote, ‘It’s a beautiful fucking day.’” He nods approvingly. “Amen to that!” he murmurs. I look at my feet, scarred after nights of trekking across freezing sidewalks, across cracks in which the shards of broken bottles cut my heels, across piss-slicked puddles on the street. I’d forgotten about my Bible before I found it in one of the pouches of my backpack, after setting up camp beneath this hole-strewn awning, beside this homeless man, this donut shop, in downtown. You were at the bookstore with your mom. “I want it,” you said, pointing at a glossy Bible. It was in a nice box; it looked expensive. You were a freshman in high school. You were a Christian convert; you genuflected every night and whispered impassioned prayers, shaping your lips to form sky-bound words, words that the God who loved you heard. You went to church. You listened to podcasts. Dear God! Dear God! Dear God! You were devout enough that the elders at church thought you had the potential to become a wondrous servant of the Lord. You were pleased, and sometimes at night, while the crickets sang outside your window, you’d stare into the moonlit dark, hear the drag of distant tires, see the spray of the sprinklers on your neighbor’s lawn, and feel God speaking to you in some elemental, transcendent way. “It’s the King James Version, which is the best,” you said to your mom in the bookstore. She peered at the sticker with the price, but sharing your love of God, she smiled, eyes twinkling, and agreed. Later, when you began to question God, began to think critically for yourself, began to philosophize, your Bible gathered dust. When you fought with your mom and there were tears and words exchanged that cut both of you like knives, you slammed the door to your room, cried, and threw your Bible to the floor. After your English professor said, “To easily succeed in the English major, all one needs is a thorough knowledge of the Bible and a dirty mind,” you went home and flipped through your Bible, lips upturned in amusement, from Genesis to Revelation, but then you closed it. It didn’t feel like it was yours. When you came out to your parents and they refused to support you, and you had to leave college, leave your roommates, leave your friends, to go hungry on your own, homeless, you didn’t just feel your Bible wasn’t yours—you knew it.

“Why you writin’ in that Bible!” asks the homeless man. He looks at me and frowns. “I don’t know,” I say. “I mean, I don’t really believe in any of this stuff anymore. So I suppose this is my way of making it mine.” Remember when you moved from New York to China? No—too young. What about China to Chicago? Still no. Chicago to San Diego? Nopity-nopity-nope. San Diego to Michigan? Vaguely. Ann Arbor, Michigan to Plymouth, Michigan? Yeah. I got to sit in the front-seat of a moving truck. Michigan back to San Diego? Yes. I got a nice tan, but only my dad and I moved to San Diego; my mom, my sister, they stayed in Michigan. I missed them terribly, even if I never expressed it, but I loved San Diego dearly, especially my friends. San Diego back to Michigan, again? Oh yes. I left all my friends. Didn’t get to say goodbye, so it sucked for a while, but I got over it; at least dad and I moved back in with mom and little Kit-Kat. Michigan to San Francisco? Definitely remember that one. We went from a two-story house to a dingy one-story thing with lots of spiders. I hated it at first, especially because I missed my best friends back in Michigan; there had been four of us, and we’d been inseparable, well, until I left, until I moved to San Francisco. San Francisco to Los Angeles? Oh yes. It was terrible for two years. I was homesick. I wanted to leave. I was lonely. And then? And then, after two years at UCLA, I loved it. I found my niches, which became my communities. I made it mine and I didn’t want to leave. Remember that feeling—of never wanting to leave? I always will. Yes. I always will.

The homeless man groans and makes a face as he crawls toward me, wincing as one palm, one knee, and then the other palm, the other knee, make contact with the ground. “Let me see,” he says, extending a hand in expectation. “Come on, boy, don’t be shy!” Reluctantly, I give it over. He thumbs through the translucent pages over which I’ve graffitied in pencil. “Home,” he reads in a corner of a page in Revelation. “Home is the absence of less. Home is when the lights go down at the movies. Home is taking off your socks after a run. Home is an umbrella on a rainy day.” He looks at me, points around him, grins. “This home to you?” he asks. I look. “It’s not mine, no, not yet,” I say. “But I’ll make it.”

Please don’t forget this.

From,

James

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