Photographs

I’ve never given much thought as to how I would spend my Christmas this year. It’s all the same anyway; a perfectly normal day, secretly wrapping of presents, a dinner out, and lounging in the living room waiting for the clock to strike 12:00.

I don’t make a big deal out of it.
But my best friend does. And he’s made the effort to come home just for the holidays.

He wraps his arms from behind me and envelopes me into a tight bear hug, lifts me feet off the ground and twirls me around. I close my eyes, dizziness coming onto me and I let out a shrill “stop it!” and he puts me down.
“I swear to God, Alex–” I start to say when he turns me around and embraces me, though this time, a little more gently.

I love hugging people who are way taller than me. It makes me feel safe and protected, like they could be this cute human shield whenever someone tries to harm me. I rest my head on Alex’s chest, just under his chin, and feel the warmth radiating from his body despite the thick jacket he has bundled himself into. I wrap my arms around his neck and ruffle his hair from behind.

I missed him so much.

The airport’s bustling with activity as flight after flight departed and arrived, bringing homesick people into the arms of their family just in time for the holidays. Wreaths hang from every post, twinkling with Christmas lights that run in an array of red, green, blue, white and yellow. Songs play in the speakers, filling the cavernous area with cheerful spirit mixed with laughter from the people and shouting from the children.
I missed him so much.

When Alex got his letter from Yale, he had jumped around the house in pure joy and grabbed his mom for an impromptu dance as a sign of celebration. Then he climbed over the coffee table and hugged me so tight, I was sure my lungs would burst. I knew how much time he sacrificed to bust his ass off just so he could get the best grades for an Ivy League. And he did it.

It’s only been 4 months since our separation but the emptiness that hung between our distance sent our emotions into ricochet as soon as we saw each other in the flesh. No amount of texting or skype-ing could have prepared us as he barreled behind me and went on with his trademark hug. People usually think of us as a couple and I don’t doubt the ones here would think any differently.

But I know what we are and what we are not.
“Jazz, oh god, I missed you so much!” Alex whispers in my ear, tightening his hug even more.

“4 months,” I reminded him. “I missed you, too.”

He lets me go and he grins at me mischievously. I could feel something was coming and before I could fend off his incoming question, it beat me to line. Spotlight’s on me.

“Where’s Connor?”

“Connor…” I trailed off. I admit, I haven’t gotten around to telling him that Connor and I were over. One month ago.

“Jazz…” He knows I’m hiding something. He knows me too much. “You’re not making eye contact. Are you keeping something from me?”

I back off a little, hand in the air like I surrender. “Well…” I gulp. “Connor and I are over.”

He crosses his arm. “I bet you’re planning to use the–” he makes air quotes, “It’s-better-to-tell-you-in-person excuse.”

I hit him in the arm, a little too hard to show him I was serious. “It is better to tell you in person!”

He just nods. “Whatever you say,”

But his voice was taunting me. And he knew I hated that.

But before I was riled up, he envelopes me into another hug and plants his forehead against mine. “Doesn’t matter. Now, it’s just the two of us again.”

Alex always says I’m the best photographer in town. Sometimes, he says it so persuasively I almost believe him. And even if I tell him I’m not, he stands firm anyway. I value memories so much that I keep them forever frozen in photographs. Polaroids and developed pictures in frames take up half of my bedroom wall back home. I even brought some to my dorm in Columbia, where my roommate enjoys looking at Alex’s pictures too much and even to the extent of fawning over our pictures together because she says we have chemistry.

“Where are we going?” I ask as he slung his arm over my shoulder and pulls me close to his side as we walk out of the airport.

“Ah,” he smells the air, “Welcome to New York.”

I look up at him. “Dude, it’s only been 4 months.”

He looks down at me, his trance broken, and waggled his eyebrows. “Which felt like 4 years.”

I stick my tongue out. “Better get used to it, then.”

He meets my gaze and we lock eyes for a moment. The sound of car horns faded away in the background as I noticed the tiny golden flecks in his green eyes. My hands wanted to get my camera so that I could capture this moment forever, the snow gently falling on top of Alex’s head and melts as quickly as it had come. Suddenly, his grin wolfish, he breaks the contact.

“Let’s get to Central Park,” he says.

Central Park looks like a winter wonderland in this time of the year. It always has been.

Memories come rushing back of a 10-year old Alex gliding across the frozen lake, ice skating shoes on and a 10-year old me, wobbly, even with both of his hands gripping my own. I was too wrapped up with the thought of humiliating myself in front of kids who were way better and experienced than me. But Alex never let go and said:
“Jazz, you’re safe. You’ll always be safe with me.” And patiently glided alongside as I struggled and fell a dozen times, laughed at the appropriate moments and cheered when I finally maintained balance.

Even Central Park in summertime held memories I’m sure I’d never forget. Only that time, I was the boss and I was teaching Alex how to ride a bike at 12 years old.

It had been hot and humid, and yet I forced him to wear his protective gear (kneecaps, elbow caps, and helmet) even though I knew he’d be bathing in sweat by the time we finished. It’s a best friend thing, you know.
“Ahhhhhh,” Alex yelled as his bike swerved a hard left and he toppled over in a heap. “Jazz!!!”
I ran over to where he was, laughing despite his furious look and offered a hand. He took it quite hardly and pulled me down in a heap beside him. We laughed some more.

Somehow, I have photographs of those moments too, though it wasn’t as accurate as what really happened.
And now, as I take a look around, with Central Park illuminated in twinkling white lights, I catch sight of Alex sitting down on a bench. He pats the space beside him, beckoning me over.

“Melancholic, don’t you think?” I say as I sat down, my hands nestled deep within my coat pockets.

“Yes, I think so too,” he answers and turns to look at me over his shoulder since his elbows were propped on his knees. “I have something to tell you.”

My heart starts to pound so fast against my rib cages. Blood floods my face and I am glad it was starting to get dark. Around us, figures grew shadows as they stand under the light and then disappear.

He continues, poker faced. “Jazz, I’ve been thinking about this since I was in Yale.” He looks down for a while. Then he locks eyes with me. “I’ve been thinking about you.

I start to open my mouth so that I could as why when he shook his head. I stop.

“Remember that time when someone gave you a bouquet of red roses during Valentine’s day, senior year? How you thought it was Connor who gave you those and when you asked him, he said yes?” He gives me a crooked smile. “He lied. I sent those.”

I falter. No wonder he seemed so bitter that day. I had to practically beg him so that we could go and watch the movie we’ve been waiting for years.

“You did?” I whisper.

He nods, fiddling with this fingers, twisting the ring on his middle finger. “Also, I didn’t really want to go to the Tinseltown Prom with Natalie. I wanted to go with you since you seemed so lonely but Natalie had expected too much and so I relented.”

One by one, his confessions hit home. And one by one, my heart started to jump in joy. Of course I liked Alex. And he liked me back.

But it was an unspoken understanding between us. And it was enough because we weren’t in a hurry.

As the snow fell from the sky, the faint voices kids signing Christmas carols filling the air between us, he suddenly zips his bag open and fumbles for his phone.

“Alex, what are you doing?” I ask.

Music comes playing and he says, “Dance with me, Jazz.”

And we smile as he wraps his hands around my waist, bringing me closer, taking my hand in mine and resting my other on his shoulder.

“I’m not too late, am I?” Alex asks, his voice barely a whisper.

“Why are you whispering?” I giggle.

“Jazz,” his voice is back to normal, “I’m not too late, am I?”

I shake my head slowly. “You’re never too late, Alex.”

He leans his head forward and we kiss, his arms going all the way around my waist and my hands gripping the nape of his neck, going all the way through his hair.

Sometimes, why settle with photographs when alive and moving memories are so much better?

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A Metaphorical Snapping

Words travel faster than understanding does
Dazed looks and unending fuss
A stream of messages strung up in the air
Over puzzled feelings and pretentious care.

I break a little everyday, pieces scattered across the floor
Echoes of falling digging into my core
And yet you’re one to step and listen to the breaking
A sensation of breathing, and yet, I’m still sinking.

You hear me, what I say passing through each ear
You listen, and it stops all my fear
A metaphorical snapping, a breaking of my heart
As fast as the target meets the dart.

I get it, I am no different from others
No reason for wasted attention like a drunkard gathers
But I hoped for a correlation between us
Because I thought I already knew what it was.

The Story Of Us

I am getting on a train and you’re out there waiting on the platform, a strap of your bag hanging from your right shoulder and another before you, headphones on and a look of excitement in your eyes. You’re cute, I give you that, with your almond-shaped eyes and marshmallow cheeks that you keep on filling with air. I sit down on the line seats that face the window where you can be clearly seen, remaining to be oblivious of the chaotic scenes unfurling behind you; someone lost their ticket, children running around, students lining up the scanner, and workers milling about, on their way home.

It’s 4:00 and I am on my way home, too. How about you? I wonder as the train starts to beep, a warning for everyone to start boarding. Someone shifts beside me and I look over to see a young girl eating a chocolate bar, her face dirty, and a toothy grin plastered on her face, with which I also return. When I look back at where you stood, you have disappeared from my line of sight and the train starts to move. I have to admit, when I was watching, you looked so wanderlust I can imagine your muscles taut from waiting for a friend who’s probably running late, eager to get on board and travel to where you want to go. But where?

This is the city composed of skyscrapers that tower all the others, cars that horn every minute to get the traffic moving, billboards looming above flyovers, and bridges connecting separated islands from the mainland. Where could you possibly want to go?

As the train slows to a stop, I look at the station sign. This is me. Standing up, I adjust my sling bag behind me and step off, the rush of air greeting me with a force that I had not anticipated and therefore blew my hair around, covering my face. The struggle is real as I clip my hair into a ponytail, and I could have left it hanging for all I care when someone bumps me from behind, throwing me off my step and I could have fallen down had it not be for the strong grip on my arm. I could have shouted, I could have cursed, but when I looked around, I saw you.

The boy from the platform. You were holding my arm.

I can faintly hear you mumbling a series of “sorry” and see the look of concern in your eyes. You help me straighten up and flashed a sheepish smile, your free hand consciously rubbing the nape of your neck. But I guess I looked too blank because you started to wave your hand in front of me, like what people do in movies when one isn’t paying close attention.

I liked the way you laughed at me when I finally snapped out of it. I wanted to get mad because there was nothing funny about being caught starstruck. But when your laugh reached my ears, it wasn’t mockery but hesitant amusement. It was clear that you didn’t want to laugh but you did anyway, and I’m fine with that.

But there is something familiar about it. Too familiar that it stirs my heart. Faintly, but it’s there.

Growing up in a world where fairy tales were the center of inspiration, romantic comedies as an uplift and sappy novels as the ultimate reading material, I wondered if the statistical probability of love at first sight is high enough to become a reason for the way some people feel. The world has always been defined by infinite numbers, twisting its way into our lives, constantly pushing us over the edge of the cliff where we teeter and worry about things that shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place.

And then I remember you.

Memories burst through the dams that have been holding it back, flowing like a body of water that has been held back long enough.

You were the boy who gave me mud pies when we were little, topping them off with fallen flowers that littered the little front yard of your house; the boy who ran across the road each day to knock on my door, only to be answered by my mom who answered your questions about where I was and if I wanted to play; the same boy who taught me how to ride a bike, who picked me up when I fell down and would disappear like the Flash to get the First Aid Kit. A few years later, we became the awkward teenagers who simply grew apart, slowly by slowly, until you didn’t walk to school with me anymore, didn’t play the board games we were used to on Friday night because you were always too busy with a new video game. You softened my heart when you asked me to eat with you one night at our favorite diner, back when we were kids, and ordered the same berry cobblers just like 10 years ago and talked until the sun started to peek over the horizon and you walked me home to a blissful Saturday morning. I thought I would never forget prom night, where you asked me to be your date at the last-minute, wearing a sheepish smile that showed your dimples.

And then you disappeared after graduation. Like a popped bubble, where it vanishes without a trace.

Now you’re back and the stir in my heart becomes a leap and I can feel my eyes brimming with tears. I involuntarily take a step forward.

You look me in the eyes with your big brown ones, and a smile begins to form. You adjust the strap of your bag awkwardly, bringing me to an 8th grade memory where you convinced me of chivalry by taking my bag and hiking it up your other shoulder.

I’ve forgotten how much I missed you.

You take a step closer, and whispered, as if reading my mind and answering it, “I missed you too.”

I Write For You

I liked him because of the way he smiled.
He smiled until his eyes looks like two hyphens. His lips revealed the braces that has been attached to his teeth for quite too long, molding the crooked ones to form a straight horizontal line. The braces are blue today, my favorite. The kind of blue that forms when the sun reflects against a tinted window as it shines onto the pavement. Whiskers show on his otherwise marshmallow cheeks, and I fawn over the adorable way his hand would automatically cover it to avoid the forthcoming teasing. The way he always smiled makes me wish those affections were for me.

But it never was.

I liked his laugh.
It was never the kind of laugh that left you wondering whether he really found the joke funny or if it was merely a show. The kind of laugh that made you join in, until you slowly realize that you weren’t only focusing on the joke, and as quick as a snap may occur, you start laughing at him because of the tears in his eyes and how he clutched his stomach in pain because it was too funny. How his shoulders shook, how his hands would awkwardly cover his mouth, and how his eyes became smaller, made you wish that you could always see him as he is at that exact moment, that everything would slow down until it all of it freezes. And every sound was like a musical note that hit the right parts.

I liked him because of the way he viewed the world.
He talked about the endless issues of the society, of how he despised the lack of action made by the government. He voiced out his opinions with fiery passion and would laugh it all off to reduce the tension in the air as the debate burrowed further into the deepest recesses of each topic. The way he spoke reached out to me as well, with points that would strike you once and send you into thinking about realizations that begin to dawn with the feeling of discovering something that has long been in front of you, but were too blind to see. Convinced as he may be with his beliefs and uptight as he may seem about what he thinks is the right choice, he listens to the others’ voices, gathering all of them into one big bubble that slowly becomes bigger, filled with thoughts that vary in categories and importance.

He was funny yet reserved. He didn’t talk to the others that much, excluding his circle of friends who became my telltale signs that he was probably following behind them. And there he would be, appearing out of nowhere. I merely watched him from afar, co-existed with him in the building as I tried to catch up with his classes that coincided with mine. Freezing whenever he was nearby, the made-up conversations dissolving in my head, a battle with myself on whether I should say hi or should I not. Being too much of a coward to open my mouth, being too conscious to walk by casually that I end up looking like a penguin lost in a tropical country, having my self-esteem drop dangerously low because I believe that I’m not enough for anyone, let alone him, continue to frustrate me with every waking hour and every ticking of the second as the day reaches its end.

I grew up playing with words. Stringing them into sentences that are metaphorically dramatic, reaching deep within my thoughts and feeling every emotions that I could draw some inspiration from, and yet there are times wherein I would come up empty-handed, that I would result to flitting from memory to memory for experiences worth writing about.

And I thought of him.

Almost everything about him.

And now, I write about him in ways only I know of because I know I can never say it aloud. That I would cower in his presence, that speech would be unavailable and it would be as if I had no tongue. For now, I write about you in here, where my heart recognizes every detail about you yet there are some that I cannot simply put into words.

I wish you would look at me.

Even for once.

Hidden Between Shadows

The silence segues to something louder, echoing across the small room. Darkness engulfs me like an envelope of suffocation and the struggle for air is as exasperating as the lack of it. A jumble of images zip by, colors clashing and static sizzling through the corners of my mind. I sniff more, the powdery substance inhaled without restriction.The sun peeks from the tiny gap between the closed curtains, a sliver of a ray, a fragile source of light in the dusky room. Figures lurk around, dancing between spaces, jumping over fallen books and bundled sheets, shadows that sweep across and seem to linger forever. Another light creeps in from under the wooden door, a delicate source too, the kind of illumination that catches my eyes. For a moment.

I sniff again, content.
I am alone. I tuck myself in the shadows, where the light is obstructed and I am safe away all by myself. I used to grasp for the gleam of hope left in the recesses of my heart. And yet, a penumbra of secrecy slumbers deep within me, slowly tarnishing my reputation. I fall a little bit into blackness. I used to think of the happiness the world could offer. Of being wanderlust and adventurous. But as bright as that may seem, there will always be the shadows that lurk in the corners, constantly creeping in and unable to be held at bay. It is as bleak as a stormy night, the moon trying to shine but the clouds as thick as rubber on soles. It can be as dreary as a dimly lit room, the light constricted, never being able to fully spread around in a spiral of incandescence.
Most of my life has been spent trailing along the wake of something greater, basking in the shade of someone smarter, prettier…better. I longed to be a part of the light, to be part of the societal group that are valued more but I was always pushed into the shadows where I am disregarded, save for my silhouette that is as vague as the people’s knowledge of me. Pushing people away has been a sanctuary of some twisted sort; away from the prying eyes of everyone and far from judgments that seem to call out from the way their eyes lingered on you for a second too long. Prying fingers clutch on too hard, the clammy grasps on your ankles travel upward, sliding along your arms until it wraps around your neck and you struggle harder. And yet as you do exactly that, the dark creeps in any way, creating the shadows that throw off the light from its path, the illumination from its purpose, the light from its source. Little rays push through, but it isn’t enough. I continue to fall.
There are times wherein I think of resurfacing, to shatter the barricade that separates the light from the dark, and continue with what I have started. But secrets hold on as I kick upward, a blanket of secrecy engulfs me from everyone again, and I stop. There is no way to find the light at the end of the tunnel when there isn’t even light in the first place. When it is just bits and pieces of shadows thrown against the walls, a false hope that someday, I would be back to where I started. Shadows are a part of us. They are the lies we keep, the secrets we hide, the negativity we feel and the helplessness we encounter. And yet shadows can be the bridge to being better, the flap that covers the pain, the door that’s waiting to be opened, and the night sky that’s waiting for another day to begin again.
I bury myself in problems I never needed. I hurl myself in experiences I have regretted. Through repetitive thinking and drowning thoughts, of being in constant battle with myself, I am ready. Ready to walk through the curtains of shadows and into the light of the day, where I will meet the sun as if it was my long-lost friend.

Not A Simple Game Of Hangman

Some of the things we usually remember isn’t always from the present. The past would always be a part of it, lurking beneath the surfaces of your mind, ready to rise up every time a trigger has been pulled. Childhood memories have always been and will always be a part of every individual. Buried deep within the recesses of our minds, it will always take up as much space as it can. The vague highlights of a 13th birthday party; the faint echoes of your adventure with friends by teetering and falling of your bikes; or the comforting pat on the knee as your mom tends to a gaping wound. As much as everyone would like a world full of happy memories, there will always be a fault in everyone’s stars.

The worst kind of pain isn’t burning your tongue with hot food, but it is the struggle to repress hurtful memories that claw and turn your heart raw as it pounds in your head with pain. May it be the churning reminiscence of a belt to the outstretched hands; a verbally abusive session with heavily drunk parents; your hair being pulled from the scalp as you kneel down on salt; or even the bitter taste of abandonment at such an early age in life. As much as we try to convince ourselves that all of it is fine, that it is such a mere stage in life where everyone must undergo, it is not enough to cover the pang of it all. “Pain demands to be felt,” as what I read from a book. And that’s the problem. Not all people can withstand that much emotion and thus results to the widespread problem of today’s generation: teen suicide. Based from a survey back in 2003, a person dies by suicide every 18 minutes with the rate of 10.4 per 100,000 for teens and young adults. And although Oregon has the suicide law, with doctors to help the mentally competent patients to take their own lives, does it give the right idea for teens to also follow this kind of behavior?

The mind of a suicidal teen is a dangerous one. Isolated, full of panic, self-loathing, and soul crushing insecurities. Factors like peers, family, studies, and relationships can have a direct effect on them. Being around the area would be like stepping into a mine filled space with bombs buried deep within. But one cannot simply tick off the factors using ten fingers because its so much bigger than that. The sheer scope of it is too much to handle, too much to study overnight, too much to even put in this here, but we all do know one thing: the present is the window to the past. Most teen victims of suicide have been shoved with too much abuse and abandonment. And with every slight pull of the trigger, the childhood memories that have greatly affected them comes rushing in, overwhelms them with too much emotion it reaches a point of puzzlement until everything just starts to slip right off the edge. Holding on to these issues would be like holding onto a glass of water for a very long time. It starts to wear you down and before you realize it, you are incapable of doing anything else.

Let go once in a while.

It’s time to open our eyes.

This isn’t Hangman where you can just simply choose to restart the game.