Unwarranted Pleasures

Something unusual is happening – the good kind, but also not quite.

Every grey, filthy pavement turns into crystal-clear brooks where she can spot colourful pebble-sized quartzite, granite, and marble as she plunges her feet into the frigid water and make her way downstream to go after where the stream flows. All careless and rude pedestrians are now friendly-looking tiny animals out of a children’s storybook or Disney and Pixar movies alike, exchanging conversations in languages she’s somehow familiar with. The dull, boring skyscrapers are shifted into vast blooming meadows with blossoming magnolias and dahlias and lush greeneries wherever one’s eyes gaze at.

It is quite a scenery for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Daylights are longer and day-to-day mundanity feels lighter. She even smiles a lot more often than what she generally allows her to.

But it makes her uneasy whenever she tries to figure out why.

She hates that she’s absorbed in guilt rather than contentment. She feels wrong whenever she stares at a particular something and laughs, but also weirder that she has to keep forcing herself not to put on too much of a grin. Besides, what’s with all these excessive joy and giggles anyway? I hope it’s just hormones, she wishes. But I don’t think so.

It rained quite a bit today, the kind with patchy drizzles and a hint of petrichor; and she hated what it reminded her of.

Two cities, miles apart, unbeknown to each other.

Why can’t it feel right to feel good? Why does it feel undeserving for her to be happy? Why is it not as effortless as it used to be to appreciate mutual fondness?

What are we even?

The (Not-So) Platonic Before Trilogy

Five and a half years later after that ordinary day when the 6 AM train departed from somewhere in hinterland Argentina. The one time I got to engage in what felt to be a strictly platonic scene out of a non-explicit, PG-rated, real-life version of Before Sunrise. Those six uninterrupted hours were filled with flowing conversations with someone who held a passport that looked exactly like mine. It felt like reconnecting with a good old friend, who’s got a face of a complete stranger.

How did it not? We happened to grow up in the same Javanese town, albeit nine years apart. Attended the same state school before we packed all our belongings and built our next life chapters halfway around the world all by ourselves. Boston to him is essentially Montréal to me. Then one casual day in June 2017, threw ourselves onto two separate flights to check out the Patagonian sceneries, where we happened to share two neighbouring seats on the train home.

I can’t recall any other specifics about that particular day, except that I regret not asking for a contact, and immediately forgot his name because my mind was hurried with the thought that I might miss my flight to Buenos Aires, and subsequently to Mexico City.

Besides, this man in question is probably now married with one or two kids anyway – although I still wonder about his whereabouts every once in a while, when I feel like flipping through the random pages of a photo album from that solo trip.

This morning, I was jotting down the itinerary for my next month’s travel plan to cruise off the Mediterranean charms. A rather impromptu trip, but a much-needed one after two years being confined into one’s 50 sqm studio apartment thanks to the strange years that are 2020 and 2021.

There’s an old acquaintance in Sicily I’d like to see, or shall I say, I’d like to make amends with. And despite the nerves, I’m genuinely looking forward to that meeting too. After seven years of losing track of each other’s milestones, here we are again, trying to salvage whatever might still be left from the brief, on-and-off interactions we had for a while back in 2015.

None of us knows if we are still the same persons we used to recognize in our late teens – although most probably not. But perhaps at least we’re hopefully better suited for each other now that we’ve grown into two equally awkward young adults, both trying to find closures from whatever it was that we always left undefined ages ago.

Whether or not this would be a chance to partake in a more pragmatic version of Before Sunset – I guess both of us have to collectively decide.

Tonight though, I had a fight with someone I cared about deeply. I was complaining about his lack of common sense in certain recurring problems that were never fixed for once in the four years we’d been together. And before I knew it, my brain started to feel like exploding from having to reiterate sentences I’ve mentioned, emphasized, and yelled about way too many times in the last few years.

Naturally, my worn-out defence mechanism told me to just run.

So there I was, escaping on the spur of the moment to a nearby riverside next to a public park, ignoring the fact that the watch he gave for my 25th birthday said it was already 11:23 PM – meaning it wasn’t quite the best time for a completely unarmed petite lady to cry outside and be vulnerable by herself.

Twenty minutes had perhaps gone by, by the time I was having my last few teardrops.

Then there he was, approaching me after silently watching me weep for too long from behind the trees next to this bench I was sitting on. Pretending as if he was a charming, friendly stranger from outside of the town who was trying to find an address in the middle of the night. Jeez, I thought. Now? Really?

“What’s in the address?” I asked to merely entertain, remaining uninterested in his silly, unnecessary, and seemingly childish acts.

To which he replied, “I don’t know. Maybe you can come with me so we can find out together?”

I sighed, looked him in the eye for a minute while secretly applauding his irresistible wit.

But I eventually gave in. He’s too smart for me to ignore the entire night for he would just quickly find another way to lure me.

Another night, another scene. The time in his smartphone said 11:55 PM.

And so the final not-so-platonic Before Midnight scene materialized, as I dried my dampened cheeks with his crumpled handkerchief and he offered his hand. We walked together back to the car, his tired arm around my stiff shoulder. I leaned in to show my intention to reconcile, too shy to admit through verbal words.

We drove into the midnight, him muttering sincere apologies responded by my lengthy one-sided conversation about whatnot.

We made peace, again, like we always did.

I fell asleep and only woke up when the delicate sunrise peeked through the clouds along the horizon, its rays falling onto the car’s rear. Five hours later on a Sunday morning.

I guess I’ve had my fair share of these rom-com scenes for today.

A Memento

Freezing palms, a tiny blackbird sitting on an outcrop, a literal deer in the headlights. All the cues to replay my recollections of you. Hints of cedar and patchouli when your wrist rested on my shoulder. The contrasting tones between your ash-coloured tees and ivory skin.

You were so judging, so blunt, so awfully young. All the things I should’ve never yearned for. But I dug it. Still do. Morning disputes when you misplaced my butter knife, an afternoon debate about which track was the better one in the last Beirut’s album, and a nighttime quarrel after you forgot to water my calatheas again.

We were so presumptuous about our future that we just let ourselves be, the way we wanted us to ever be. Yet now so distant, so parted, so sudden—can’t even fit the two of us in the same side of the tiny globe that you put on my office desk before you left so abruptly. I smell notes of blooming daffodils while you’re frantically trying to cross the slippery street amidst the snows. Sunrays peeking into my bedroom while you’re heating your leftover dinner. I spend my rare weekends in nearby tropical islands while you’re off climbing another peak of the Alps.

We met not long after you got your driver’s license, and all we ever wanted was to drive around that foreign, lusterless city that we barely understood, the city that we called home for a little while, before our time ceased and we had to watch each other sleep their weeping away for weeks. Two Cathay Pacifics heading to opposite routes on that night of November 9th, 2018. One bent promise that we knew was never supposed to withstand the time and distance.

I was so reckless, so mad, so saturated with the quarter-life crisis. All the hints meant to throw you off. But we were so annoyingly stubborn about: “Enjoying things while they last.” The most unwise, immensely naïve advice ever conveyed, and yet we lived by that motto for a while.

How are you now?

Sun and Moon

Two dissimilar faces, a foreign language to his daily equatorial scenes, somewhere awkward between the tip of the nighttime and the arrival of the first sunbeam, oceans away.

What do they offer each other anyway?

One offered a few jokes, courteous enough to break the ice between the two individuals who never saw each other eye-to-eye quite literally before, but intriguing enough for the other to tease back. To which she simply replied with yet another excessive politeness and the lack of expressions, albeit prompt enough to imply a mutual enthusiasm.

I was never one to really get intimate – including platonically – with someone whose entire personality is all about being extremely nice, friendly, and polite, he thought. Show me your other facades, your intricacy, your range and depth, will you?

Maybe it’s true what they said about, “You are what you eat,” he continued with his train of thoughts. ‘Cause this feels good but way too healthy for me. A little bland, although it’s exactly what I might need. Needs a hint of salt and spices, but is otherwise edible and digestible.

A little more flavour and it probably began to feel irresistible.

Meanwhile, he tastes like dried cloves. Subtly sweet, with a slight note of bitterness and astringency, topped with an intense warm fragrance that no one around can avoid. Full of personality.

What is it that they’re performing or trying to come about anyway?

Whether it’s a mere temporary and intermittent elation that offers a little splash of curiosity to two separate mundane lives, or a genuine intention to help out a new friend with his endless list of questions regarding moving overseas, or just an unanticipated expectation after discovering comfort in one another’s sentences;

there will, and can, never be more.

The clock is ticking, displaying two contrasting hours in two different rooms, signifying today’s due of their interactions. Will they try again tomorrow – possibly, but none of them ever really knows.

A Lack of Senses

You had plenty of ideas about what it’s supposed to look like, feel like, and taste like.

A tiny hint of ache, just enough to inspire you to keep vomiting words out of your fingers; smells and tastes like fresh nectar to keep the butterflies around and alive; robust enough to protect you from the occasional windstorm; and just as earthy as the pétrichor to remind you the comfort of home.

But it’s not always like that, is it?

Sometimes you’re offered too much that you no longer have an empty vessel to accept it all—and you’re tempted to blame yourself for seemingly not appreciating how much you’re given.

And your front yard garden is filled with scattered remains of rotten petals, all from the dying trees you can’t keep saving, and it’s quite a conspicuous display for every passerby to see.

Those passersby that would try to convince you that you should stop seeking. That your clock has run out, and the bed was already made. That you can’t roam outside past midnight, and your sleeping gown was not meant for strolling outdoors in the muddy grassland.

They thought your house was a glasshouse that they could peek into whenever they wanted. But it was merely a fort with perplexing facades and multifaceted entrances, and they could never interpret its quandary—because even we, cannot.

I had plenty of ideas about what it’s supposed to look like, feel like, and taste like.

And it was a compound of different faces, histories, recollection—yet never one with them all.

It’s a little sad that some are no longer, maybe for the better, but I’d be lying to say I haven’t thought about them since.

Even if it’s just a random band name nobody else recognizes in the middle of a hall, or an unlucky year of never having the perfect chance to say hello.

But my clock has run out, and the bed was already made.

So I would probably sleep inside tonight.

Midnight Mess

What a funny concept, I thought to myself. No matter how much I genuinely believe that one road leads to an objectively better destination, there would still be a haunting curiosity to look back, and see if the other road brings a more scenic route, or a generally more pleasant drive, perhaps. There may not be an exquisite turquoise lake at the end of it, nor endless white sand beaches with crystal clear inland lagoon – perhaps even just a rugged cliff with the rocky valley at the bottom of it. Leaving ones with no options but to turn back to where the roads start diverging, or jump into the cliff and end it all for good.

We’re now halfway on the first road – and it gets annoyingly bumpy now. I don’t know if shortly, we’d be in a shimmering metropolitan city with the world’s tallest skyscrapers that are featured in those box office movies, or in the middle of a lush hill with fall-coloured trees overlooking the vast ocean. I hope it’s the latter, because no matter how majestic people said the first was, I never had an appetite for a bustling city anyway. It was never for me, no matter how they’ve advertised so hard to convince me that I’ll find my true calling there.

We played songs from the radio as you drove, and I hated what they reminded me of. Although subconsciously, I actually enjoyed it. It just makes me feel guilty, because there you are, trying your best to get us to the destination you promised us, yet here I am, silently relapsing all the sequences where I used to feel thrilled, high on life, and nervously excited, while that particular song played in the background.

But you weren’t in those frames. Those memories belonged to me and anyone but you.

I have bid my final farewell to whoever involved, I really did. Out of politeness and my devotion to what the two of us have built together over time. But I could apparently still tap into those memories to playback the feelings I had – the feelings that are no longer, that are now largely absent in our atmosphere, and yet quite frankly I’ve missed so fucking much.

I felt a surge of transient joy, but now there’s even more guilt. From even daring to watch those clips back – although I had promised myself to lock those tapes up for good. And from wondering why our memories can’t produce the same pleasure – even though we did everything as we were supposed to. Correctly, carefully, and calculatedly.

Or is it because we’ve played everything safely by the rules thus far, and I was never one for a sense of security?

Or that I do still wish I had used up all my allowances to rebel out and damage that part of me in all the hopeless places when the time was still ticking, before the call arrives for us to act like two responsible adults?

A State of Paralysis

My mind had attempted to lure me into resorting towards anything that might offer me even the slightest bit of non-numbness.

But I never thought of the idea of adding others into the equation, still. Because even in that desperation, my priority was to protect you, always. Regardless of songs that came into mind, awkward memories that were only shared between two, faces that resembled my pills of ecstasy, scattered ruins of chances not taken, and all the possibilities that were ever so endless.

It embarrassed me that my journal from years ago was filled with stories of others but you. And that I, shamefully, miss them today. I’m supposed to be safely anchored to you. Even in this sea of confusion and temptation, I was supposed to praise you like I never did others. And aren’t you supposed to make me certain that our ship sails towards home? Or is it all my fault for wanting to feel happy again?

Am I just confused, temporarily, or permanently out of passion?

Why did I replay memories that are not ours? Why do I so badly want to feel something, anything? Why am I suddenly scared of heading into the eye of the storms although the sky seems perfectly clear?

A shitpost of raw and uncensored feelings:

Isn’t it such an ugly truth that two people can really love and adore each other so much, but are never meant to be able to protect nor take care of each other?

Most, though, I guess, can really love and adore each other so much despite realizing that they can never be effortlessly happy together. The extent of how much their feelings would be valid depends on, and only on, how much they’re willing to sacrifice for each other.

But I guess the most painful way to love is understanding how much you two can really love and adore each other—with all those complimenting traits, compatible principles and values, mutual interest and hatred towards all possible kinds of stuff, an agreement of how much each of you is such a million in one and one in a million of an absolutely complete package kind of soul tailored specifically by the universe for each other—but are not meant to show how much that “love” really means.

All the unabashed yet untold, undelivered love that lies behind the great tall wall that you both are trusted to not break.

Like that midnight when you were sleeping only a couple doors away after years of thousands of miles between us; yet here I am, only vomiting words of heartbreaks and affection because of the boundaries we set to stand between us.

I wish I had been able to give you a proper goodnight kiss, a warm goodnight hug, and an affectionate stare while closing your bedroom’s door; instead of a bittersweet, cold conversation in front of your bedroom’s door about how much we’ve been missing out and how far our feelings and understandings towards each other have evolved,

even after sixty-four months.

I love you as you know it, and I’ve been missing you way too badly for way too many days than I can count, and I hope that you do understand how much it would really mean for me if we could stay together for the rest of our lives—with no guilt involved.

Even though you do not seem to be the kind of guy who would be prepared to ask that one question that keeps us from being together once and for all, I still kind of hope you were, because;

my answer has always been a yes.

The Untouchable

Your twenty-sixth birthday went past, all the transient romances ceased, your adolescent lust turned into a hunger for a more timeless bond.

Never before you met a soul so impeccable; whimsical words born from their fingers, constant supplies of their contagious laughter radiated into the air, all the sincere goodness they touch the Earth with, their grace covered with elegance, all the exemplary qualities everyone wish to steal,

all sublimity you can barely touch. When boundaries are as high as discrepancy, bigger than numbers, stronger than faith,

all that is solely out of your reach. Even skins, even the tip of their fingers where affection is preserved for too long,

and a whole lot of other things you wish you could caress.

Are they worth the aching?

Premises and Prologue (part A)

One-way ticket to Boston, two heavy-hearted faces, and three words never pronounced. Four days away from a newborn chapter not yet ready to be written. Outside, the sun radiates after months of bareness and gray in the sky, but we still suffer from the inherent whiteout in each of our mind.

I grab a book of poetry, make my way to your room, twenty seconds away from my studio. You’re unwinding still on your sofa with your headphones on, mumbling tones and lyrics I’m very much familiar with. Owl-patterned sweater overwhelms your skinny posture, matching my assorted bird-patterned midi skirt. A cup of dark cocoa I could smell, fusing with a hint of lavender-vanilla scent from your air freshener in the background. I then lay my back on the cushions upon your usual crumpled bed, begin to swim in a sea of spilled ink that comprises a universe I build privately for myself.

You’re still in your own universe as well, as I watch you from afar, afloat among tunes that I very much fancy too. I’d like to sing with you just like the usual days, I really would love to, but time almost ceases—at least for us. All I could do is joining you here, saving you from the comfort of your own company, deliberately adding more burden to our shoulders as we countdown to the expiration of our period of coexisting together. Boston and Stockholm—3,741 miles of separation. Unknown time limit.

You grab your book on dystopia tangled with philosophical questions—the kind of stories I would never apprehend no matter how frantic you’ve always become every time you narrate me the whole synopsis. You lay next to me, quitting from the universe you’re in before, moving to the next stop of your galaxy. I’m still drowning in sentimental proses you barely appreciate.

And there, just like that, I burst into tears. Questions overflowing inside my brain are just too unbearably massive to withstand. You hug me carefully.

In anything but awkwardness, we survive twenty-three minutes of my weep, the only voices we could hear is my overdue grief, and your mind begins to be swollen from uneasiness. You tell me things are going to be where they deserve to be. Well, I don’t want them to. I want to make mistakes for once in my life, I want to be mistaken, I want you to be a part of the greatest mistake I could have ever done, and I want to sound cheesy and full of cliché for once in my life.

My mind is already cheating all this time. My heart has undergone even so much worse of stages. My imagination and urge altogether have gone unforgiveable. Continents away from me, a clueless soul bounded with me by pledges and vows, thinking I am doing perfectly fine and all right and trusted. I am not.

But there you are all this time; taking care of my honesty, keeping my grace together. Not even trying to persuade me to quit behaving. Leaving me physically untouched. Although you leave the other parts—heart and mind—mishandled and disarrayed.

This particular room—a witness of many beautiful individuals whom you have been inside whom for the past half year, while never will I ever become anything resembling them. Yet still, I own the very space for you to constantly come back and be home. And you always do, and my acceptance is always given at zero price.

I fall asleep counting memories instead of sheeps, the lamp is turned on still. Shelves in countless bookstores, narrow streets in unknown cities and towns, world’s most well-known lakes and mountain, obscure musicians on underground stages, homemade signature dishes of yours, cheap cutleries that we share, collection of dusty DVDs of documentary movies, and so forth. All that makes the loudest year in my constantly tranquil life. All that comes to presence because of you and your indescribable pull towards me.

00:01 AM, and another remaining day is elapsed. I am awake and staring at such perfection contained within a single individual slumbering restfully next to me, sharing a crumpled single bed once again, who doesn’t even let himself to touch me just because. With his ivory skin contrasting his ebony hair, mental fatigue disguised inside his beautiful hollow-cheeked face, and burdens of detachment placed upon his stiff shoulders. His pale-shaded lips were incapable of conveying the purest truth.

And all that he knows, all that he’s very much talented at, all kinds of traits that tease me in the first place. All that he is.

All the haunting things I cannot separate myself from.

Not in three days.