You were told about all of the possible side effects of the chemotherapy. You know of one of them the longest because it’s the one you’ve seen in the world during the earlier part of your life. You know you will lose your hair.
Your doctor said that it happens after the first two weeks. You know what to expect, and you get one of the nurses to chop your hair off to make it easier when the hair loss starts. The plan is to shorten it, then buzz it off once the hair loss gets too much. One of the other patients who was there before you has warned you that the hair will be everywhere.
So you wait.
Day 16 comes, and you wake up with some of your hair stuck on your pillows, and plenty all over your shirt. It’s happening.
You brush your hair to see if it will help, but you realize it will only keep getting more and more hair because they’re not sticking to your scalp anymore. You stop. You wonder how long you can keep your hair since it’s thick. Peeking in the trash, it looks like you lost a lot of hair, but the hair on your head still looks the same as yesterday.
I remember standing at the edge of that cliff with you, my fingers interlaced with yours. With the breeze blowing against us and messing up your hair, I giggled as you struggled to fix it, until you gave up. You looked at me with those eyes, blue as the clear sky above and deep as the ocean below us, smiling at me silly. You kissed my forehead, then I moved to rest my head on your chest for a moment. I could hear your heart racing as fast as mine.
‘I love you,’ you told me, and that was more than enough. As terrified we both were of heights, and as horrified we were of making the jump… it felt a lot less daunting with you by my side. We were going to jump together, at the count of three.
After the ball drops and glasses stop clinking, when the hangover fades and the wave of the new year inspires for better goals, the dread of another birthday looms over me like a dark cloud in a shape of a clock quietly ticking as it creeps closer.
“Oh my God, I’ll be 28 this year!” I texted my sister one morning in January, as if it’s news to both of us. Of course I’d be 28, that’s how math works. That’s how age works. Even Benjamin Button had to be subject to it, although his body did math backwards.
Growing up, I’ve been led to believe that 30 is (one of) the big number(s). Older women would make jokes about “not being in the calendar anymore” when they hit 32 – since a month has 31 days at the most. It’s when things start to go downhill…
Most of my friends talked about goals. I want to have this when I’m 25. Be that when I’m 27. Then finish all of these when I’m 30. Travel. Weddings. Kids. Businesses. Degrees. Licenses. The goals are different but the timeline is always the same, and most lists end at 30. Or 35 at the most.
I’m no different. I have a “travel bucket list before 30” listed above my desk. I keep a running list of “things to do before 30” in my private journal. I think of the goals I want to reach by the time I hit 30.
Some days, it feels like I’m moving forward. Most days, it is actually just me running in place, or driving around in circles. Then there are those days where I’ve gone zero-to-eighty, but I was going in the wrong direction. More often than not, I realize I’m stuck. I look around and see all the forks on the road, and I am overwhelmed by all the choices that I just want to head back.
But heading back is not always an option, so I stay still, looking ahead into the unknown while my ever-so-familiar past tries to lure me back into its comfortable arms.
On days I feel good about myself, I feel like I am walking with a spring in my step. But I bet I look more like a penguin waddling in the ice, taking the smallest of strides and hoping I don’t slip.
I have to do this. I have to do that. I have to get up. I have to go to work. I have to eat healthy. I have to work out. I have to pay my bills. So many things I have to do that I just feel like I’m doing it all mindlessly and without a purpose. I feel stuck.
A few months ago, I watched The Matrix for the first time as an adult. I knew about the films growing up, but I just didn’t think it would be interesting. But when Neo pulled out a Jean Baudrillard book from his bookshelf, the nerd in me jumped out. I had to explain its significance to my boyfriend at the time. I just had to.
But when I got to explaining the four stages of simulacra and simulation, I couldn’t give a proper example past the third stage. Since we were watching the movie, I was trying to take examples from the film itself, but as far as I could tell, the simulation of reality that the robots create are still Stage 3 (Stage 2 for the ones who take the blue pill, 3 for the ones who want to stay in the dream).
So for weeks it bothered me that I couldn’t think of a proper Stage 4 example. Until I overheard this girl on the train talk about how she got catfished over the weekend. It was as if a string of Christmas lights lit up in my dark, tired noggin, illuminating the path that I’ve gone through so many times over.
1 The first stage is the faithful image or copy of a true reality.
This is when a thing is what it says it’s supposed to be. The dress you ordered from Rosegal is an exact copy of the one you saw on the site. And now you can wear it on your date with the guy you’ve been talking to on Tinder, who is actually the same guy in the photos. No scams, no false advertising. Very simple. Everyone is happy.
It’s an uneasy feeling at the bottom of your stomach, and no pill or home remedy can cure it. It’s a sort of loneliness that you feel even if you’re in a crowd. It’s a feeling of woe even if you’re watching the funniest show. No matter where you are and whatever happens around you, you are reminded of someone who isn’t there anymore… and it’s someone you wish you could be sharing all these moments with.
It’s not really about missing a place on a map, but longing to be in the comfort of their arms. You miss them so much that you feel an ache at the pit of your heart, where you think they’ve taken a piece of you. Or is it an emptiness because that’s where they belong?
Your heart doesn’t ache because you’re not where they are, it’s because you want to be with them.
You’re homesick for a person when you long for their embrace, because their arms feel like home. You yearn for the taste of their lips and the sound of their laugh. You imagine the way their nose scrunches when they’re embarrassed by something they did. It is when you want to be with them, regardless of where it may be, because time stops in the presence of their company.
You realize that home isn’t a place, but a connection. It is more than having your fingers interlaced with each other. It is more than having their arms wrapped around you when you fall asleep. It is more than feeling their their skin against yours on a cold, hazy evening.
It is in the what you see when you look in their eyes. It is in every breath between the words you mean. It is in the silence between what you thought and what you said. They understand exactly, yet they won’t force you to say it out loud until you’re ready. Or perhaps until you’re both ready.
But the thing with feeling homesick for a person is not simply longing for their company when you’re lonely. It is realizing that you have found a home in each other – in your hearts, in your souls – and the desire to erase the distance, the space, and the time that has kept you apart. You find a way to bring yourselves together. You fight through the obstacles.
Then you fall into the arms where you belong, and even for a moment, nothing else matters.
You’re scared because he makes you feel like you’re flying and you’re terrified of heights. Your body feels so light, you think you will float too. Your head’s up in the clouds, thinking of all the beautiful possibilities, and hope lifts you higher. But in the back of your mind, you know you’ll have to get back to the ground. And darling, you’re worried because with your luck, it will be more of a sudden fall than a safe landing.
Being high up doesn’t scare you, it’s anticipating the fall. How you would fall. It’s the pain of cracking your head open on the pavement. People say that if you die from a fall, it’s sudden. It will be over before you know it. But what if you survive the fall, but you break your bones from the impact that you can’t live the same way as before? You’ve already broken something in you, and the scars on your heart remind you not to jump into anything new right away. After all, a part of you died when you broke it on your first fall.
But no matter how much you try to fight it, gravity still pulls you down. It doesn’t wait for you to be ready. It doesn’t go away when you’re scared. You didn’t mean to find someone else along this path, and now you’ve found yourself at the edge of a cliff with him. Almost ready to jump. But you don’t want to jump alone. It’s not that high up, but your knees lock as you see the waves crashing on the rocks beneath you. You experience that rush again, the high – the pleasure that comes before the pain. Or does the pleasure come with the pain? Or perhaps the pleasure masks the pain. You don’t know anymore.
The way he holds you down you sends your spirit to the skies. He’s taken you higher than you’ve been before. And then he goes away, you come down like you’re going through withdrawal. But he comes back after a while, and you get another hit. So you breathe deeper as you take him in. More of him. You don’t know when you’ll get your next fix, so you try to make this moment last. His grip makes you think he won’t let you float too far away. You’re scared he’ll let go and you’ll fall down. You’re so high that you know you will break when it’s all over, so you try to hold on until you can’t anymore.
Remember that your scars are signs of how you survived falling before. You’ve been broken, but you’re still alive. You know better, and you know yourself better. You don’t need another piece to make you whole again, you’re complete on your own. Don’t be afraid to let go. You never know, maybe this time you’ll fly.
And eventually, you’ll find another heart whose cracks fit in perfectly with yours.