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Drying Off

June 6th, 2024

There’s this funny-looking hot pink BIC lighter that I bought last January.  I remember the scene -- I was at a level of crazy that I nowadays muse as a winter-bound pattern, but at the time blamed exclusively on dramatized heartbreak and feelings of abandonment.  I mean, I was homeless because my would-be roommate backed out while I was at the airport.  I don’t really remember the intricacies of my emotions at the time, but I know I wasn’t mad or anything.  I do remember, and can certainly infer once I forget, that I was in serious need of a cigarette.  

I had managed to acquire a small stash of nice cigarettes that I had meant to save for later, but they had to do.  Still, any lighters I had were hidden in shoes I didn’t have access to.  I stopped by a Duane Reed and picked it up that lighter.  The wind was pounding, so I had to hide behind a building in order to effectively light the tobacco.  After a few puffs, I explained the situation to Matt on the phone -- on top of everything, my then-romantic affair had traded me in for a (less attractive) magician while I was away (magician is pushing it; he did card tricks).  Matt laughed and told me, “You always get fucked over in the funniest ways possible.” 

I laughed because he was right.  And situations of the like that I’ve described to new friends have been met with “oh my Gods” in such a tone that I feel like they think I’m trauma-dumping.  I know that’s only natural and it’s actually really kind, but it feels incorrect.  It’s not trauma to me, really.  Or it doesn’t feel like it.  More like Charlie-Brown-football-esque “fucking figures” moments.  Not that it makes me angry -- an eye roll and a chuckle usually do the trick.  

Still, it affected me -- just not in a way that made me cry.  It was in a way that slowly seeped into my reasoning and judgment.  There were many outside reasons why I lost a majority of my friends from then (namely that they just weren’t very good friends), but I can’t help but feel I could’ve been better.  Then again, I was getting back into some really nasty forms of inebriation.  Maybe if I had just been stronger.

I carried that funny-looking hot pink BIC lighter with me just about everywhere -- a way of carrying the weight of the hardship without thinking about it too deeply or too directly.  I was smoking like a chimney, sleeping in libraries -- just a whole wreck.  It was just a shitty year.  It sounds a bit silly, but having such a stupid lighter helped me laugh it off a bit.  

But the summer months came around and I got that sweet, sweet vitamin D to calm me down.  I visited my parents in Hong Kong and went out with old high school friends, got plenty hammered, and realized that I accidentally brought that funny-looking hot pink BIC lighter in my checked bag.  

Now, I don’t necessarily believe in God, but I do have a light faith in some sort of cosmic humor going around.  Matt was right, I’ve never been fucked over in a way I couldn’t laugh at.  “Find the funny” as Mom always says.  This stupid pink lighter that I’d found myself attached to as I repeatedly (comedically) serenaded my tale of homeless woe to whoever would sleep with me suddenly felt like a danger to bring home (I don’t know how TSA works…).  I took it as a sign to let go.  Left it there.

I did let go.  Viewed NYU as a way to start fresh one more time.  And the funny thing about my starting fresh is that I always underestimate how difficult it is.  Without fail, I manage to end up thinking that I’m this mature cohesive adult who, with the power of my mother’s advice, can never make a bad decision.  That I can always be tactful enough to never be in the wrong.  Which, if we’re still putting faith into the cosmic humor of the universe, is a really great set-up to the inevitable punchline.

I did get better, cooler lighters (a zippo!  It has a fish on it, it’s really cool).  Actually made friends despite how harshly I judged just about everyone in my school (fueled by what I can only assume was some sort of post-traumatic theater-kid prejudice).  And began going with that philosophy of letting my body take the lead.  To a fault, I think.

I ended up joining a frat which I really don’t think was a wise decision.  First of all, I don’t think I fit or will ever fit the bill for a classic Greek cultist.  Second, I was a twenty-year-old pledge.  Also, I’m a writer… in a business frat.  Very stupid.  Very, very stupid.  On paper, at least.

It’s weird how I can only speculate about why I made the decision -- I can barely remember making it in the first place.  I didn’t really think it through.  Haven’t really thought in a while.  Ben was joining it and just kind of followed along.  I think it was just so I wouldn’t lose any more friends.  That, when a difficult cosmic punchline hit me once again, I’d be assured people to laugh it off with.  Was it worth it?  I don’t know if I can say definitively.  I don’t see why it can’t be.

Pledging itself was stupid, but it was kind of bonding.  It was weird.  Only really mentioned the homeless crackhead stuff to build up some sort of cool, entertaining character in my frat.  Yeah, that’s childish, but it kind of worked.  But these guys weren’t idiots -- saw through my nonchalance.  I remember the night I crossed, one of the brothers came up to me and gave me a big hug, “Will, we know you’ve been through it.  We’re proud of you.  You belong here.”  That was really nice.  Even though there’s no direct utility in having connections like these, I don’t think I’m gonna forget that.

But I think I already had what I was looking for to an extent -- friends and support. And, ironically enough, ended up losing some of them through my dedication to pledging. My exhaustion, my craziness. I got meaner, less considerate. This winter-bound pattern continued even when I had everything I really wanted. Which probably means I was wrong about the things I used to blame it on. It wasn’t necessarily the teenage heartbreak, the shitty friends that I got so dramatic about (although they may have amplified it). It was mostly just me. Which, yeah, is pretty funny when you think about it.

It’s been a long time since I felt like myself -- to the point where, when I think about my past, it feels more like a sort of lyrical memory as opposed to Kundera’s poetic.  Just facts that I know about myself that I don’t really feel anything toward.  It feels like I’m playing a caricature of myself.  I see it in my recent writing -- complaining about things that don’t bother me.  Achieving a brand of narcissism that even I have trouble reconciling with.  Clinging on to things I don’t care about.  Making literary references just for the sake of sounding smart.  That’s not me and I know it.

Maybe I’m just so used to being affected by things outside of my control that, now that I’m not, I’m feeling less like myself.  So now I’m self-sabotaging and charging at windmills for the sake of feeling like some sort of victim -- for consistency’s sake.  And that's not a good enough excuse. But it is funny.

I only came to this realization a few weeks ago, when my delusion was at its peak.  After a few truly deserved berations kept me in check, felt like I got pulled out of water.  And it’s nice to breathe again, but now the clothes I’ve been wearing all this time are heavy and disgusting and uncomfortable.  I feel guilty about not just how I’ve treated others, but how I’ve been wasting myself.  Sick of it.

Really, I’m just a bad person -- or at least I have been.  And I don’t know if I can change that.  But I know I’m going to try.  To try to be patient; open and willing to understand that everybody has their own strengths and values that I don’t have to align with.  Try to be present; live moment to moment without depressing myself with past actions that I know I wouldn’t repeat.  To be kind -- which is an effort that I too often lose the energy for.  Because I think this action of forgiving myself has slowly become excusing myself.  I think I’m done with that sort of thing.  

But it’s a balance -- trying to be self-loving and forgiving without giving into self-delusion.  Maintaining the whole self-care thing while still being generous and supportive.  Certainly a lot easier said than done -- especially for one trained to let everything go quickly.  But I think I’m old enough to start getting a grip on that.  Stable enough, at least, to help people laugh through the heavier stuff.  To try.

I arrived back in Hong Kong a few days ago.  My parents are moving soon, so the government’s not gonna pay for my ticket here ever again.  This is my last time here for a good while.  This is my last time in my last childhood home.  Ever.

Even then, it’s not the childhood home I lived in.  We moved floors due to construction and my parents ended up swapping my sister’s and my rooms (because of course they did).  My old room ended up being additionally converted into a mini workout studio for Dad.  It’s not my room, really.  My stuff isn’t there.  

But that funny-looking hot pink BIC lighter still is.  Right where I left it.  Holding it, I felt something.  Remembered it all -- not just the lyrics but the poetry of it.  How it used to make me laugh.  It’s on its last leg, barely keeps itself aflame.  It’s warming me up a bit, drying me off.  Reminding me of not just what I left behind, but the future I was hoping for.  Hope like I’d never had before.  The future I didn’t necessarily get.  This year wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t everything I wished it to be.  But it was good.  It really was good.  And that’s a lot.

I know that lighter’s gonna die soon.  I’m gonna go back to New York and forget once again what this feels like.  The Hong Kong wind isn’t cold and howling as it was in New York that night, but the weather isn’t exactly great.  It was cloudy and raining even a week before I got here, and that ugliness is gonna continue for the next few weeks -- maybe for my whole visit.  For my last trip, that’s pretty funny.  

But the wind; feels more like a warm breeze now.  It’s nice and thick and peaceful -- a bit better than a cigarette.  The problem is that it’s also quite damp.  If I sit with it for long enough my clothes start to get all wet (which is especially damaging considering my recent religious dedication toward corduroy).  But it’s not too bad.  I can still breathe alright.  Enough to laugh it off, at least.

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