exi

The old man watched as the boy struggled against himself. His great challenge was not the task in front of him, these were merely obstacles in his way. He had to find a way to overcome the limitations which he had placed on himself.

The old man remembered his own struggles with fear, how it would leave him paralyzed, unable to act, and defeated. Much the like the boy in front of him, the problems that plagued him were ones he had played such a large role in creating. But what were the origins?

Was the old man solely responsible for the beliefs he had grown so faithfully to accept? Was he truly weak like he believed? Had his intelligence actually been so limited that he could not see this firsthand? Here is a question, if you’ve gone crazy, like truly lost your mind and experienced dementia, how long does it take for you to find out?

Questions were all the old man could offer, but what the boy needed was answers. He wanted to know things for certain. But is there anything that fits that expectation? Could we truly know anything for sure? We can hope to know, but not much more than that.

When the old man asked the boy, what was stopping him, the boy said it was just that he was too tired. He needed more sleep, and he wasn’t getting enough. Then the old man recommended that he go get some rest and try again the next day. 

As the next day arrived, the boy returned rested and ready to conquer his challenge. But this time, he failed too. So the old man asked him what went wrong? The boy said he didn’t eat a breakfast, and that he didn’t drink enough water. The old man sent the boy to get some food and drink, to get rest.

The next day, the boy returned with a stomach full of food and having drank the right liquids. He was rested and ready to go. He had never felt better, but again, he failed. Now the boy was confused. He couldn’t say why he was failing, and when the old man came to ask the question, he dropped his gaze and said he is not good enough. 

When the old man, who had done this over 1,000 times approached the boy, he said, well good. Now that you know you’re not good enough, take a rest. Leave the task, and never come back again. I never want to see you try, and I don’t want you to even think about coming back. 

At this, the boy cried. He went home and he had no appetite, he couldn’t sleep, and he ignored his thirst. The boy had felt so sad, because even after each failure, he loved that he got to try. Now he couldn’t even experience failure. 

The next day, he wandered about aimlessly, and this continued for several days. The boy began thinning, waning, nearly disappearing. Everytime he looked back where he would stand, tears would flow down his face. He looked at the old man, and the old man pretended that he didn’t exist. He never returned his gaze.

One day, after many such days, the boy returned to play the game. He failed again, but he still tried. The old man still didn’t mind him, but the boy thought less about that. All he wanted to do was try. 

When it came time for him to return home to sleep, he didn’t notice it. He fell asleep at the game, and he missed meals, and he forgot to drink water. He didn’t talk anymore, he just played. Try after try after try. The voice inside of him grew bored of calling him a failure, and he stopped believing he was not good enough. 

The old man had to pull the young boy away to get his attention, and when he did, he confessed that the game was meant to be hard, impossible to figure out, that nobody really had the answer. Everyone wanted to know the meaning of the game, but that no one acknowledged the game meant different things to everybody. The boy could barely keep his attention, he wanted to return to the game. So the old man said to him, Son, you’re done. You have discovered the meaning of the game. 

At this the boy paused, what he had found in the game was so much more. It was validation, a personal weapon that killed the doubt he created. He loved it so much, he tried to fill all of his days with it, and he did. 

Eventually, he grew up to become an old man too, and he understood. The point is not to succeed, it’s to do it over and over again. Day after day, because that’s all you know. 

blindness

I prefer to keep my eyes closed so that the tears would have to force their way out. I say I prefer as if I had a choice in the matter, and as if my eyes weren’t forcefully shut because I was not ready to see what I was beginning to see. 

The deterioration of the mind is sudden. By the time I am become aware of what’s happening, I am halfway gone – and without realizing it, I am lost, unfound in a haze of confusion. This is what I did not want to see, the tragic end to a life that began with boundless potential.

As a youth, I stared intently at the pieces of a chess game, pieces so controlled and with no agency. Perhaps they were made of the same stuff as we, having the poor to influence change, but unable to decide for themselves. I stopped believing in free will because I understood that we created games that mirrored life, and the games we most enjoy are the zero-sum kind. 

In these games, there exists binary relations between winners and losers. Winners excite us, inspire us – losers, there is a lesson somewhere to be learned. 

I spilled my coffee on my previously white shirt. The stain has left me sour, and I am unable to shake the feeling away. While my coworker talks to me, I start to think about the stain and whether it will be permanently there, married to my shirt, never to be separated until death or a drowning in a spinning vaccuum with a tide-pod extraction. The shirt shall be replaced now, and I am none too happy with the coffee this time either. 

I still order the oat milk latte with caramel flavoring that was her favorite drink. I don’t know why we hold on to things that people pass on to is. We accept behaviors and our entire personalities evolve. I went my whole life without knowing what I would order at a coffee shop, now I don’t think, I just say the words and the drink is prepared. But today’s coffee didn’t taste so rad, it actually made me want to attempt to slurp it all in one sip. What I actually did was toss the rest of it in a garbage can. 

She said I text like a book, and when people ask me why I don’t write, I tell them that I am a coward. Perhaps I believe this about myself, but I shouldn’t. After all, maybe I am just not ready for the writing that I am meant to write. Even as I write these long incoherent sentences. 

I disintegrate, and I cry. I am timeless at once, wandering in the past, lost – have I died yet. What if I didn’t notice when it happened and I am making my way to an Angel. 

I am missing my Guardians. My Wascar, my Ana, my Johanly, my Jeffrey, my Nelson. I am not abandoned, but I cannot find them here. I am alone, and my eyes have to remain closed. Because I am afraid again, and seeing is painful. So very painful.

i remember

Every sentence began with an I remember, connecting the past to the present by a bridge self-created. What we remember could be so different from the stories of others, yet the strength lies in their personality. Each person self-defines their personhood using fragments of memories, and there is perhaps no greater symbolic item for memory than the post-it note. That sticky, albeit easily torn sliver of paper – a fragment. 

In these fragments live empires, generations that span from the very beginning to who knows when. Because I remember the mornings when we were getting ready to go to school, and my mom would tie that last shoe so that I could walk, and she would have my books in my bag, and I would climb on her back so she could carry me to my school. I remember how I cried on my first day of school in kindergarten, and then again in first grade. Why should I be ashamed of that now? I know now things that I didn’t know then, that crying isn’t a sign of weakness – it is a sign of strong feelings, an overwhelming feeling that refuses to be contained, and demands nothing more than to express. Expressed feelings.

I remember that our teacher would have us try to write our names, and after a few weeks, there were only three or four of us who hadn’t yet learned their name. I remember that I didn’t think I was too smart, but what did smart really mean then? I had never been measured against anyone else, maybe my sister. My world was my mother, my sister, and the tv. So measurements, conceptually, were the thing that I remember first noticing. 

I probably remember walking down the hallways, where our work hung and was celebrated for our parents to see, and waiting in line for lunch. I remember pledging allegiance to the flag before I knew what that meant, but I remember not being alone – being with others who uttered the same. I remember so much of childhood, of sitting there on the corner of my bed with my neck craned up, playing video games. I remember when I’d climb up the 5 flights of stairs to see my grandma, my cousins, and my aunts and uncles. I remember, and I can’t go back too far, or see it all. The only things left are those fragments.

have i learned to suffer?

Have I learned to suffer yet? I think that I have. I have navigated rough seas in search of peace, and I have travelled distances long enough, obstacled enough, that measurement becomes difficult. In search of, peace? 

But have I learned to suffer? And what is there to gain from such an endeavor? Why would anyone want to learn to suffer? One might think that a more suffered soul is more calloused, like the palms of a weight lifter who has gripped steel on too many occassions. Or calloused like the foot of a traveller who has walked a journey too long.

So there is that benefit. But have I, myself, learned to suffer? Everyone says they know pain. Everyone’s pain is unique, so I may say that I have but I have not grieved. I have never experienced, and god forbid, a death of a loved one, or, and I never will, a miscarriage. That feeling of having the entire air sucked out of you like a fast-deflating balloon. Where the air goes, who knows, it just becomes a part of the rest. All that’s left is the flexible plastic that once floated and bounced and danced around, and if you didn’t watch it carefully would threaten to float away in search of… who knows…

But even though I haven’t felt the great loss, or the terrible panic, could I still say, with confidence, that I have learned to suffer? When sometimes I feel more that I have forgotten. I lie comfortably on my bed, in an air conditioned room, and my thoughts are peaceful. I write sonnets and sing them to myself, and I laugh at my own jokes. I forget about the world for long periods of time, the world of pain and suffering, the hunger, the problems, the massive death counts, and I live like life is truly worth living and the problems are far far away. 

With all of this ignorance, I ask myself, have I learned to suffer? Have I ever suffered? Sure, I cried in my discomforts. I grew troubled by lies and my inability to tell truth from truth, and it has never been that simple, but that’s what I hoped for. But I truly became ignorant, a resident of my own private oasis. I felt lonely too, but I had friends to call. So I have never been truly alone. And my dreams, so vivid and alive that sleep has been like a cheap vacation. I see the hours pass by, I see the time all at once. 

suffering

what is it like to suffer?

who can define it? 

i’m not sure I can tell you.

dealing with change

What do we do with the knowledge we have? 

People sitting in cars waiting for traffic lights to change from red to green. The anticipation, and sometimes frustration, grows with each passing second. Like watching sand grains squeeze through the smallest portion of a sand-timer, you can see the individual grains falling to the heap below. Time freezes, or so it seems. When the lights change to green, the people respond in the same way – flex your right foot to advance to the next juncture. Predictability appears.

Then it continues, whether at work or at home, we enter a scenario – a forced pause of the computer booting, and the username appearing with a blank password slate – that forces us to stop and make a decision. What do we do with the knowledge we have? 

We go. We enter password. We start new doc. We cook the dinner. We interpret. We talk. We judge.

Ever since the days of Ape-dom, we have done something with the knowledge we acquire. We gossip, to spread it all. Did you know Adam and Eve used to live in the garden of eden? Did you know that they were banished from there and they might never be allowed in again? 

But that’s just the way we are, and the world can be a cold place. Today, I thought about people struggling with addiction. The hardest part of addiction has to be for the people you let down. People who will do anything to see you well again, free from the chains of your toxic attachment, are having to witness your suffering. There is nothing they can do, say, anticipate to make an addict stop. Not even hitting rock bottom will sometimes help to stop?

And what happens after? Things do not go back to the way they once were. They change and now you know that this is something you have dealt with and will struggle with as part of life. You now, in proverbial terms, walk with a limp. 

I heard the phrase said, never trust a leader without a limp. The people you want leading you through shit, are the ones who have been through so much of it. 

Here’s a bonus phrase: When you’re neck deep in shit, do you duck when they start flinging baseballs at you?

The point is, once you know something, it’s on you to act and change accordingly. So, there may be time for some changes now. I’ll happly oblige.

a lonely place

I’m afraid of becoming you, Dad. It’s been so hard to express what I mean to say, but I am afraid to end up in your circumstances, away from my children, beginning a life anew away from the one I created. What did you pray to your God when you learned that you could not hold us that night? When you learned that you will miss birthdays, first everythings, graduations, how did you react? See, that’s what I am afraid of. Not that I will end up alone, perhaps stranded in a limbo of neither here nor there, but that I will end up on the outside peering in. That I may one day be standing outside of the house where Christmas is being celebrated, and my children, my person, are no longer mine – and Christmas is no longer holiday. 

See, this fear lives inside of me – as a mark of abandonment. I grew up not really loving you, and at times resenting you. You were gone. That was all that I knew. That in the mornings, when we got up to get dressed, there was hardly ever breakfast, and there was never ever you. We rushed to grab hashbrowns at McDonald’s outside of my mom’s job. She bought me the newspaper so I could play sudoku and read about the world. We slept inside of the Montero, with the leaky roof, and the poor insulation, so my sister had to blast the heat. 

I’m afraid of losing what I still don’t have. What kind of fear is this? But understanding that so much is out of our control, and that because I never saw you fight, I never learned to fight. Did you give up on my mom? When the problems came, did you not put up a fight? I have been called out already for that, that I didn’t fight. It’s hard to understand why – and yet, I see you sometimes and you look happy. That perhaps I think it was meant to happen that way, you and mom would separate. 

All I can say is that I wasn’t there for the beginning. She was 15, you were 26. There were witnesses at this wedding. A different time, a different world entirely. But then my sister came, and shortly after me, then the separation. They say you struggled to be an adult. I struggle too. I don’t always brush and floss my teeth, but I never considered it a crime. I pay my bills mostly on time, but I forget to clean the dishes. I try so hard to be perfect, so that I don’t end up like you. So that my child, that has not yet been born, does not end up like me, like my sister did. 

But is it even in my control? I mean, what more can I do? And what advice do you have? What advice could mom have? You guard me from my history like it isn’t my right to know, so that perhaps I can avoid those errors. 

What was there to learn?


Did either of you 
ever pause to reflect? 

or did you become stuck 
in the cause and effect? 

The reason was him, 
the reason was her. 

You keep on down this road, 
and the past is a blur. 

Soon, truths become lies, 
and lies become truths, 

and no one can tell 
one from the other. 

Whose story do I believe? Maybe you are both right, and likely, you were both wrong. But it was more important to be right, even when you were wrong, and even now that sounds so damn wrong. Didn’t it matter to stay together? Couldn’t you wait for her to grow? Why’d you make it so hard for her to know that you would be better? There are only so many chances even I would have given you, Dad. 

My mom wouldn’t want me to call you Dad. My mom wouldn’t want me to call you, Dad. No contact – and the friendly reminder that you didn’t raise me, that you didn’t ever buy me school supplies, or a t-shirt even. She did so much, but she ruined all hope that you would come back one day. That you would come sit with us on the couch, that you would maybe hold her hand, and that I could see what love should look like from a couch cushion away. 

Now I can only imagine, basing the love on what I’ve read. Now I hurt the woman I love, and I become a coward – afraid of the day when I give up too soon. Afraid because some days I only want to hide under my sheets, deep under these blankets, and I don’t want to face the world. No, not like this. I want to run away from my destiny. I want to hide away and retreat. And will I do this to my junior? Will I cower when she needs me most, and then say that I am going through things? Going through things? You arrogant, insolent, bastard. Everyone is going through things. To be a father, it means you have to be there. Even when it is hard to be there. 

I don’t know how to be there. I haven’t learned this yet. I wish you would have taught me. I wish I could ask you why you left, why you let it happen this way, that I could judge you for what circumstances you don’t claim. 

It’s life. The turns of life. The misguided turns and turns and turns that leave you right where you began. Alone. 

Over in a room in a house in the Bronx, I am 4, maybe 5 years old. I watch Dragonball Z and drink nesquik sweetened milk from a nursing bottle. I am freshly bathed, loved, nurtured, and laid to rest. My eyes will close, and I will dream those vivid dreams that I have always dreamt. 

In my mind, theres a world 
free from time 
free from space, 

and in that world I venture
off to the farthest place

A place far from home, 
where nothings real
and nothings fake. 

A place where I’m alone. 

A place, a lonely place. 

he is gone again

“You’re not really here, are you?” 

I keep searching for you, but I can’t find you. I opened up that door when I first passed it, and there was a wall of bricks directly behind it. The other door led to the edge of a cliff. I was afraid that the last door would open to an ocean that would flood the whole containment, so I left that door closed. It was leaking from the upper rail, and the knocks I made felt like thuds against the moisture-seeping oak. 

Where could you be hiding at this time? Why aren’t you answering me? I have the feeling that you’re listening, perhaps even observing me as I meander curiously in search of you. 

“I’m not going to hurt you. I only want to see you and talk to you.” This seems hopeless, but I continue anyway, “I want to know that you’re alive.”

Now I am beginning to feel scared. What if he is actually hurt? What if he feels trapped and scared? He’s been evasive for a while now. But how was I supposed to reach through to him? Every time I tried to talk, he’d put his head down and cry incessant tears. Tears that he’d catch to save them in jars. He labeled them with the memory of his latest regret.

The room with the jars, I remember now how scary it was. Endless rows of glass with their little aluminum caps. Their bodies labeled, “my first break-up,” “the day my father left,” “the lies my mother told.” Some were vague and buried deep underneath the rest of them. “The thing that happened when I was 7.” 

“Dad? I’m really starting to get worried about you. Could you please come out?” I called to him, feeling a bit hopeless, but knowing that this was probably just his latest episode. That’s what people called his behavior, episodes, as if his life was a tv show.

Growing up with him felt like the best at times. He was so strong, so motivated, so curious. A conversation with him could take any turn, and I loved that so much. As a kid, it was my favorite thing, that he didn’t talk like an adult to me. He talked like another child, imagining always. But there was something that still made him feel so distant, so inaccessible, that even though he said the words “I love you” and it was hard to doubt his meaning, you’d wonder exactly how he meant it. Or what it meant to him. Did he understand that love, above all other things, meant being there for those you love? That it didn’t mean the endless games of hide-and-seek which to him were more like a magician’s disappearing act. 

He could vanish in an instant. He’d go off to some other world, some other planet, and he would come back weeks later, not having aged a bit, with a bit of soil from Mars. Everyone in the neighborhood pointed this out, the Mars soil he’d found came from the side of the road by riverside drive. He’d travel everywhere on foot, but supposedly he’d known those who came from afar to pick him up. I can’t say I was used to his disappearance, but I was comfortable speaking in his language. And maybe that’s why he still talked to me after years of silence toward everyone else.

“Dad, do you know what we call a wingless lizard who lacks the gills of a hammer-headed shark?” I said the question almost to myself this time.

“A lizard.” He responded from underneath the floorboard. 

the writer who does not write

“I look up at the sky, wondering if I’ll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don’t. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn’t be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative often self-centered nature that still doubts itself–that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I’ve carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. I’m not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I’ve carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.”

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I am a writer who does not write. The empty page leaves me mesmerized with its nothingness, and I, with my paralyzed thoughts, find comfort in doubt and non-action. Because why should I write? Would you even want to read what I write? After all, I write for you, right?

But I have found peace with what I am. Sure, I am a writer who does not write, but I do other things. I start my mornings with a warm cup of tea, and I genuinely enjoy a calm run in the afternoon. I watch basketball highlights in the evenings, and then I catch up on my favorite tv shows – Rick and Morty, Better Call Saul, and Mindhunter. As you can see, I’m pretty normal. There are not many differences between you and me, and perhaps nothing makes me unique except that I am a writer who does not write.

Of course, I think about what I would want to write if I ever did write. I have ideas: identity and the philosophy of mind have always been fascinating to me. Maybe I could write a science fiction story, or perhaps just a collection of short stories. Many authors have published terrific short stories. I can think of a few: Jhumpa Lahiri, Adam Johnson, Ted Chiang, and Haruki Murakami. Murakami wrote a book that I could very well imagine myself writing if I were to write. It’s called, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It is a self-reflective novel with meditations on sport, being, and writing. I would write a book like this if I ever wrote a book, except that I am a writer who does not write. 

But what if I did write? I could slug it out and write one page per day for the next three years. That would be well over 900 pages, enough to publish a book! If I did write and writing brought me peace and confidence, I would probably have readers. The readers would expect me to write more and… um, I guess I like my life now. After all, I don’t have to write, which is ok because I don’t write. My whole life, I have been a writer who does not write, and I wouldn’t be the same if all of a sudden I started writing, would I? Could you believe it? Me? A writer who does not write?

the mirror

The hard work in life comes when you have to face the person in the mirror. You pose your questions to understand why your visions and dreams escape your reach. The hours pass you. The metamorphosis that could be is not. Instead, you have another dull, hopeless moment. Why won’t you stop running?

The soul grows weary of your dreams going ignored. Excuses run dry. There is nothing else to say, nowhere else to look. But keep your gaze focused on the person in the mirror. See that he is suffering, that he is lonely and perhaps scared of you. Because you are the one who does the damage, and you are the one who wants to see him fail. You nitpick his flaws and draw the comparisons that haunt him.

Why can’t you talk to your mother like you used to? When was the last time you confessed your fears or expressed your dreams? You are still so afraid. The traffic along the bridge is moving slow. The seed breaks its shell and feels incredible pain as it sprouts. It digs its way out through hardened soil to experience life. Everyone pays their price.