#1: silence

on a late june evening, the seven of us were lying on the pier with our legs dangling over the edge. i was at the end of the row, and as we giggled and squirmed i wondered if i’d fall into the lake. when i stretched them far enough my toes could skim the surface of the water. the lake mirrored the sky’s brilliant blue-gold fire, and the hills across from us were outlined in pink. for a few precious minutes silence descended upon our group. that brief moment seemed to expand to infinity; the entire universe was before us, deep and contemplative and enormous, and it gleamed with the sun’s last light.

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dream (7)

“Why are we here?” I ask.

Johanna and I sit beneath a large oak tree growing on top of a giant wooden pole. The pole, a papery white birch trunk, measures fifteen feet in diameter and rises seven miles above the ocean. From where we are the waves look grey and flat, as if we could press leaves on them.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be here? This place is awesome.”

Heavy green-gray clouds envelop us, and my stomach churns. “Everything looks wrong,” I reply. “We shouldn’t be able to see the ocean this high up.”

“That doesn’t matter. This is so much better than Oakland, anyway.”

I remember this dream. We’d lounged in the sun on the edge of the pier and watched pedestrians chat in the open-air restaurant or build sandcastles by the beach. The dream had been cheerful, warm, lovely, and sun-drenched – the complete opposite of this dreary isolation.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Oakland was beautiful.”

Johanna scoffs. “Really? I couldn’t stand the heat and the sweaty tourists. It was disgusting!”

“Better than now.” I rub my hands together and shudder. “I’m freezing.”

As we speak, the ocean seems to shimmer. One moment water surrounds us, and I’m convinced we could dip our hands into the sea just by reaching over. When I blink, however, the ocean turns into grass. Hills roll into view as raindrops fall softly from the sky.

“I recognize this feeling.”

“What?”

“My classmates and I had to drive downtown to shoot a video project once, and we filmed in front of the capital. There were tons of people so we couldn’t get as close as we wanted, but then it started to rain. We barely noticed it at first, even as the area started to clear out, and suddenly it started pouring. Just before that, the rain was like this. Gentle, almost forgiving.” I frown. “Almost like a mother singing her child to sleep.”

“Weirdo.”

“Says the girl who prefers the middle of nowhere to California.”

“Whatever. But hey, does that mean it’s going to storm soon?”

“Maybe. Nothing else here is familiar, though, not even the hills. I just find the rainfall soothing.”

“You’d think everything in your dream is just a mashup of stuff you experienced while awake.”

“I doubt it. I’ve never seen Oakland in my entire life. Also, I would never imagine talking to my sister on the top of a humongous pole in the middle of the ocean. Why are we here, of all places?”

“Well, I can only remember whatever you remember, so I don’t know why you’re asking me. Besides, it’s probably just a random setting your mind generated. It’ll be perfect if it does storm, anyway. Then the waves will be high enough for us to swim in.”

“How long do you think that’ll take?”

“Maybe a week or a few days, if we’re lucky.”

“Will we dive off together?”

“Obviously. We always do.”

Beneath us, raindrops batter the waves as the ocean starts to roar. I already feel hopeful we’ll swim in the ocean after all, just the two of us, the way we never did when Johanna was alive and I was awake.

~

pair the story with this song.

a/n: i originally wrote this two years ago, but it felt strangely fitting for how i currently feel about our future right now – lost and apprehensive, but also hopeful. remember that you are amazing, that you are loved, and that you have the ability to act and the right to be yourself. i think that, no matter what happens from now on, we will be able to power through these troubling times for the sake of human dignity.

four moments

happy new year everyone! today is CITRUSY’s fourth birthday. to celebrate, here are four moments from 2016:

  1. i’m sitting on the plane in the seat next to the window seat. we are landing in massachusetts. in the window, white doll houses neatly line the impossibly blue water. i’m one verse away from crying as i read alice oswald’s memorial. on paper, men turn into metal and fall into the sea, voices permanently swallowed by war. beside me, the woman in the window seat is reading her own book. i’ll see her again in the airport bathroom half an hour later, then no more.
  1. “it was one of those headlines that was like, ‘US to colonize mars by 2020’ or something like that,” a young man says as he walks alone, talking wirelessly to someone on the phone. it is late into the evening, nearly nine o’clock. the sky fades fast from pink and blue to dark purple, and dusk falls in a veil of darkness over the street. heat radiates gently from the pavement.
  1. down at the wharf, everything is green and blue. a couple of girls lay in the grass, sleeping, while a man with his dog jogs by the water. i’m taking a photo of boats at the dock and texting it to my father, who loves anything ocean-related but couldn’t come here with us. a boy stands a few feet away, facing my direction. he has long limbs and light hair, and his hands cradle a huge camera lens. he points and shoots. i hear the shutter click as I turn and head back to where my mother is waiting for me.
  1. he’s soft and shapely, all soft smiles and soft eyes and soft voice, as if to mask the sharp intellect hidden between his teeth and tucked somewhere in his ribs. too soft for anyone to suspect – too kind, too loveable. his lips are always slightly upturned, ready to lift into a dopey smile when he sees you. his wit: cleverly quick but never scathing. when he laughs he keeps his mouth shut and lets his breath tremble instead. he is one of the people i admire most.

joanna

You walk down a gently sloping hill towards a field. The sun turns dusty, waist-high grass into gold. Joanna’s singing is unpolished and lovely, leading you forward as if she’s taken you by the arm. Her songs are full of strings. You can’t separate harp from harpist – her voice swings and creaks, studded with notes plucked by deft fingers. Somewhere in the distance, an orchestra swells like the tide.

When you’d first heard her you were startled by how childlike Joanna had sounded, but you know better now. She may sing sweetly, and animals may populate her songs, but her voice belies her wisdom.

One moment you watch a bird fly across a breathy sky – the next, an angel flaps its wings. The universe looms, and you suddenly face the staggering weight of the stars. All the while, Joanna’s harp sings; her voice scratches out high notes.

She offers you one story, a second, a fifth. Hens and horses and lions flicker in and out, half-hidden in the grass and entranced by the light. You could never resist her poetry.

You let her lift you out of your loss and offer you hers in solidarity. Her verses struggle to contain the chaos of life and light and allusion within them, and the music expands to fill the gaping hole between your bones.

Each story bleeds into the next like water. The river she conjures runs against time’s gradient while Joanna’s voice surges and cracks with raw emotion. Ursula splashes her way into the night sky. Ocean waves yawn for a moment, and you glimpse the beautiful remains of a sunken city. You imagine sprawling buildings and solid stone ramparts, marble columns that withstood sea currents and bridges that held fast no matter how much they swung and creaked underwater.

Joanna’s music rings in your ears. It’s steeped in sunshine from above the water’s surface, but you know, deep down, that its light is meant to swallow grief.

Closing your eyes, you remember walking towards a field of dusty gold. As words fail you, a harp sings and creaks and pulls you close, wrapping you with warmth.

~
(more…)

dream (5): an unknown practice

When it begins to rain, you tell yourself, I love the rain, and I’m not going to drown. In the first dream rain pounds against the house, but nothing leaks so you say, it will be all right because I love the rain. By the second dream water seeps through the window and beneath the doors, and your living room resembles a muddy pond as rain still pours outside. Your conviction wavers ever so slightly, but you reassure yourself again: I love the rain, I love the rain, and it will be all right. Rain continues to fall. The world blurs into wavy patterns, and green melds into blue as trees bend into themselves under the weight of water. I love the rain, you repeat, but now your body’s numb, your skin’s completely soaked, and you live in a swamp of slowly decaying furniture and liquid sediment. Each morning is a gasp of air as you break the surface of the water and tell yourself, I love the rain, and my dreams aren’t real. Each morning you kick with all your strength and propel yourself upwards, relieved for a moment, alive for another day, while at night you’re gradually sinking towards the bottom. You’re up to your neck in water by your penultimate dream, but the torrents haven’t ceased. You don’t pray to the skies anymore, nor to yourself, and you just hope you’re lucky enough to survive until you wake up. You try to wade out, but you’ve forgotten how to swim. At the end you realize, as your head submerges and a liter of water fills your lungs, that infidelity was not what drowned you; you remained devoted to rain every morning, when you woke up and ran your fingers through your hair and sighed a love song to the storm clouds behind your eyes. You died because the rain loved you back. It continued to fall, without end, until you no longer pledged your adoration and began to fear it instead.

(When you wake up with your face buried in your pillow, you sit up and breathe once again.)

The Novel: a confrontation between the Writer and her Protagonist

“Please stop following me.”

She felt ashamed of the whine in her voice and the desperate tone of her words, even more so when the Protagonist cast her a look of pity.

“You were the one who dreamed of writing a Novel.” Such cold words.

“A rejected novel,” the Protagonist continued, draping herself across the empty desk, “will always be better than an unwritten one.” She reached over and seized the notebook sitting silently beside her, and casually flipped through it. “Empty pages,” she said, with a hint of contempt. “What will you do, my dear Writer? Do you even deserve your title?”

The Writer trembled, and suddenly thrust another notebook at the Protagonist. This one bore a dog-eared cover, and held pages smudged with lead. “I did write! I planned out the entire novel!” the Writer cried, blushing furiously. The Protagonist stared at her, then nodded. Quiet prevailed for the next hour, save for the rustle of paper as the Protagonist carefully turned each page, pouring over the writing as though it were Scripture. The words were hastily scrawled for most of the notebook; the Writer didn’t want to lose any ideas, since they rarely came to her.

“Lovely stuff,” the Protagonist murmured when she finally shut the notebook closed and gazed at the Writer. “A sprawling plot line, with rather vague descriptions. You cleaned it up quite nicely at the end, though. Why aren’t you writing the actual Novel now?”

The Writer bit her lip.

“I’m…” She paused. “I’m afraid. Of writing. Because I don’t think I could ever properly convey the Novel with my lackluster skills. The ideas are too grand and brilliant for me. If I were to write it, they would never reach their full potential. If only another Writer could take my place instead…” She buried her face in her hands and choked back a sob. The Protagonist regarded her silently. A shame that my Writer is such a small mouse, she thought, scrutinizing the Writer’s small, thin frame and disheveled hair. When she looked up again, tears threatened to fall from the corners of her pale eyes.

“I’m sorry that I created you, only to give up,” she whispered.

The Protagonist had had enough. She leapt from the table and slammed the notebook into the Writer’s chest, ignoring the latter’s cry of surprise and pain. “You haven’t given up at all, shameful coward!” she cried. “Just look at all the outlining you’ve done! Stop wallowing in self-pity! Get some confidence and start writing! I won’t stop following you until you’ve finished the first draft.” The Writer nodded nervously and dried her eyes. That’s right, she thought. I need to put an end to my spinelessness. “Now?” she squeaked, noticing the time on the clock, and how dark the room’d become. The Protagonist merely rolled her eyes. The Writer chided herself for putting off the daunting task yet again, sighed, and opened up the blank notebook.

And thus began the story of the Writer, the Protagonist, and the problems they faced while creating a Novel.

~

[note: nanowrimo starts next week!!]

coping mechanism

Miranda is twelve and angry with the world. So when she leans over the battered music stand and aligns her lips with Annie’s ear, she’s not sure how to continue.

“Guess what,” she breathes. She’s never done this before, and she’s afraid of sounding insincere.

“What?” Annie replies, grinning as she leans unsuspectingly towards her. (Suddenly Miranda feels dizzy and lightheaded. How does she move forward?) 

I love you. A straightforward confession, but an ambiguous one as well. The love of sisters and blood ties, the love of best friends forever, the love of strangers who seek passion and acceptance. Tie a blindfold over her eyes and have her point to one (maybe to two, maybe pick all three and more). Everything is so complicated and messy. Miranda wishes that they could all turn into flowers and photosynthesize together. Then she wouldn’t have to do this.

I might move soon. The keyword here is ‘might.’ That implies an off-chance that Miranda might not move and switch schools, that she’ll stay until the end. That provides hope, and Miranda knows that Annie would cling on to that and ignore everything else. So there’s no need to say that yet, no, not until ‘might’ solidifies into ‘will.’

But the words Grandma died last week (the very last thing she wants to say) are the ones that slip from Miranda’s mouth. It’s an ugly truth, and the effect is immediate. Annie’s eyes widen first with disbelief, then with a rotten mixture of shock and grief.

“…What?”

Miranda realizes how horrible it must sound to have a mismatched chord slammed against the keys in the middle of a nocturne. She backpedals accordingly. “April fools,” she whispers with a forced smile. Today is the first day of the month, and she doesn’t want the person she loves most to cry. There had been a funeral, but all Miranda can remember are rain (there is always rain, soft and grey and sad) and flowers, still fresh and bright yellow against the dark earth. There were no tears, and there will be no tears. Within a numb Miranda float well-hidden secrets and quiet restraint. I’m an awful friend, she thinks. How lovely it would be if everything remained static.
For her, the death of an angel is the biggest April Fools lie of all.

dream (4)

everything is slanted.

all the houses here are tall and pastel-colored, their roofs and driveways sloping down in the same direction. luckily, my house is near the top of the hill, so it’s easier for me to just start running. i begin at the edge of the sidewalk, my eyes on the downtown buildings far across the road, and then i’m off the ground. running isn’t about how quickly i can run a certain number of miles. instead, it’s about how long i can run, and how much i can cover before i stop. when is it safe to keep pushing myself? when should i stop?

today, however, is different. i reach the outskirts of downtown much quicker than usual. as i slow down to a jog, i notice an old man crouched near the gutter, pouring water into the street. when he sees me staring, he beckons me to come closer.

hello, i say, a little out of breath.

he nods and continues to pour water out of a glass pitcher.

do you know how to run, he asks. his eyes seem to glow, even in daylight. i hesitate.

i think i do, sir. i run every morning. the old man drops the pitcher. we watch as millions of tiny fragments scatter across the ground, gleaming under the sun.

no, the old man says, there’s a much better way to run. you have to jump.

jump, sir?

yes, jump. reach for the sky.

but – that isn’t running.

he nods again. that’s right. it’s better than running. jumping will let you touch the stars. try it.

when i jump for the first time, i’m not in the air for very long. the old man vigorously shakes his head.

that’s not how you do it! you’ve got to get a spring in your step.

i try again, rolling onto the balls of my feet as i push myself off the ground. this time, i fly up and reach the third-story windows of a nearby building.

how does that feel, the old man calls up to me.

i can’t answer him at first. then i find my voice.

amazing, i shout down, my response feathered by the wind. amazing!

the old man chuckles when i finally float back onto the sidewalk. do you ever want to run again, he asks, when you now know you can fly?

not at all, i answer. he grins as he pours more water from his pitcher. the glass shards in the street have disappeared.

good luck, he says.

i don’t ever go back to running. i jump instead, relishing the extended periods of time i spend in the air. jumping is addicting. i do it all the time, not just in the morning. i can fly over a flight of stairs with a single, well-planned jump. i can swim through the air, too, and do all sorts of flips and twists. but the sensation of floating in the air is even more addicting.

soon, i can’t even sit still. i’m jumping, always jumping, always looking for the highest place to reach. a few months after meeting the old man, i find myself at the edge of a seaside cliff, preparing to jump again. i can smell the salty ocean zephyrs as i propel myself into the air with ease. seagulls encircle me in awe as i fly past them. i’ve never felt so liberated, so free, in my life.

but something’s wrong.

i’m not coming down.

it’s been ten minutes already, but this jump shows no sign of ending.

i keep rocketing into the sky, reaching the clouds. i try to swim back down, panicking, but it’s useless. i fly higher and higher until i’m among the stars.

eventually, i burn just as bright.

doubted reality

No matter how quickly she paced her selves, she always lead the way, strolling beyond her speed. There really wasn’t any doubt about it. In all honesty, where did the truth go? It probably nestled itself among the soft grasses that brushed against her ankles as she wearily hiked up the mildly steep hill once again. “W-Where are we going?” she gasped, panting slightly. She grinned without slowing down. “We’re going somewhere, obviously.” She rolled her eyes, even though she knew she wasn’t watching. Sometimes her vague speech frustrated her. “Explain yourself!” she demanded. “No need to,” she whispered, before placing a finger over her lips. She hesitated, puzzled, waiting for that crucial moment to pounce. She shrugged. “Well, I doubt my reality. I will always doubt it. The World spins on its head. The Oceans are splattered by the rain of tears and rose petals that forever spill from the eyes of Cloud. My World just isn’t. Yet I doubt that as well. The narcissistic Sky weeps in sorrow for the blocked mirrors of Lake, while the Sun bleeds crimson and gold across the Horizon before Dusk arrives with its veils of Stars. My fingers are stained by the feathery wings of dying butterflies. My soul burns from the lemon juice that’s squeezed from multiple attempts at Life. Which part of myself is real? Which one is a fake? I shall never know.” She watched the Sun above her. Soon her eyes burned to crisps, yet she could still see beyond the stars and planets that revolved around the Earth.

Yes, this indeed was a doubted reality.

sometimes we think before we speak, but not often enough

Everyone is born with wings.
People usually learn how to fly by the time they’ve matured, physically and mentally. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Being able to soar through the sky, knowing where to go and how to get there, is proof of success and the happiness that follows, the ultimate goal. But for some reason, I feel like someone tore at my wings while I was still in an inchoate stage of development. I’ve toppled into the sea without any means of rescue, and I can already feel myself slowly, slowly drowning. I’m tired, sometimes sad, and always suffocating from the monotony that faces me. When did the hopelessness first worm its way into my life? When did I begin to choke on the water that endlessly swirled around me? I don’t remember, can’t remember, and sometimes, I wonder if the salt water that stings my eyes is from the ocean or from my own uncontrollable tears. And above is me is the sun, so pointlessly bright and high in the sky that it’s a miracle I haven’t yet snapped under the pressure.