The world was quiet.
An unnatural, eerie quiet where every footstep echoed off the empty trees, the washed-out paw prints of animals who left their burrows and did not return. I stepped through the forests, the deserts, the oceans. I walked and I watched, and all was quiet. The air was still, the sun unmoving in an eternal moment of not-quite-dusk. No crickets chirped, no squirrels chattered, there was nothing left. I was the only one, in an empty shell of a world where nothing grew, nothing healed, nothing changed.
What could I live for, when there was nothing left? No creature called out for aid, no human slashed at the beautiful foliage in their destructive development for the betterment of their own species, and none other. My legs to my chest, watching the perfectly still ocean reflect the world around it with not a ripple, contemplating.
If there was nothing left to live for, then I would live for myself. One day, things will change. One day, I will wake up, and it will be dawn. There will be a sunrise. There will be a breeze. The world cannot stay the same, motionless, empty; it cannot be this way forever. I have nothing left, but I will press on, because one day there might be something.
And that is hope enough.
Many seem to think that letting go means forgetting.
Although I said goodbye, you still exist in the crevices of my mind.
The bittersweet memories give me a taste of all I left behind.
The reel of memory that I replay over and over again keeps you here with me,
It fuels my incessant longing of the way things used to be
Back when my fear was repressed and I felt invincible, I felt happy.
The cold, cruel night took you away from me my love,
I imagine you still here with me, since reality is tough to grasp.
I need to realize that some memories belong in the past.
The whirlwind of grief still exists, chilling my bones like an eerie song.
Without you, life continues, but I cannot help but feel that a part of me is gone.
Life is one long orgasm
One stark seizing of the body
Someone shitting loudly in the next stall
Someone lying frighteningly serene in a white room
A purple vein at your mother’s temple
And each sweaty handshake you have offered in this one-room existence
That you have built like a horse collecting flies on its eyelashes
Has been regarded by the youthful portraitures on the walls.
Each decade the paintings have become more conspicuous,
Because the figures are aging backwards
Seeping from their frames into the carpet
From aspirations to infants.
Their age makes a mockery of your mortality
Of your fingernails that bend now so easily backwards
And many years later
With an old forgotten womb
In a room your children deemed acceptable
You stand quite crooked in a shadow-land
Of white eyelet and catheters
Of cotton printed nighties
And worn leather skins that smell of soft baby powder, and urine and soup du jour
Violently close to the funeral home in a strange, pale, thin dystopia
You stare almost blind from behind your cataracts into the night
At nothing in particular, small flashes of light
And for six seconds your quiet silhouette is seen by a girl on a city bus
But you are beyond understanding
You are an ice cream parlour she has never been to
You are a bad smell she’s never suffered
You are a bed she’s never slept in
You are a drool spot on someone else’s pillowcase
You are a grocery bag in the city
And the children in the frames all gather
With their many vacant eyes
To sit with you as you teach them with practiced patience how to count
With the ticking of the small metal clock
With the pulse of the LED light on the VCR
With the rolls of your stomach over your panty line
One of nine final acts your body will make of peaceful defiance
As it counts down.
I can’t remember the last time I was so desperate for home.
I miss it terribly.
I’m so tired of this place. These people exhaust me.
I feel claustrophobic here, caged even;
I can’t breathe properly; I feel like I’m being smothered.
I yearn for the place that feels like home;
A place where I can wake up early and fall asleep late,
A place where I can feel beautiful with my hair up and no make-up on,
A place where I can forget to behave and not have to worry about being scolded,
A place where I never feel judged for being a little bit crazy or for laughing too loud.
A place that doesn’t remind me of what a prison must feel like;
Not here, that’s for certain.
But this other place, it is sometimes curious.
Curious because it is so easy, too comfortable; should it be this simple?
There’s barely any mystery anymore.
I know the way the floor feels on my bare feet, each of the scratches and markings on the kitchen table.
I know the original colour of the paint behind the frames on the walls and how much brighter the rest of the room was before it faded from the sun’s rays.
I know all of the shadowed hallways and deep corners where I can hide when I need to.
I know exactly the way the light looks when it comes in through the windows.
I know the way it smells, the sounds it makes, the way it feels on my skin.
But perhaps that’s why I love it?
Because I’m afraid of change, because I like that I just know.
I’m not fond of standing waist deep in a pool of murk and confusion,
I prefer the ease and intimacy of a place that I know better than my own face in a mirror.
And so, here I am. Home.
Not a house, really, but a place that I can call home.
Right here: warm, soft, and so familiar.
This is where I belong; this is where I am supposed to be.
Being honest with myself, I know I never doubted it.
Where are we? It doesn’t even matter.
You brush a strand of hair away from my face and I know that this is the home that I love.
I’ll be your home if you’ll be mine.
I woke up in London.
I’ve got money in my pocket.
I’m still alive,
Though I’m not sure if it’s day or night.
There are flashing lights, they make me think of better times.
Lipstick stains on my cheek,
And it reminds me of you.
But you’re as cold as ice, you come as you are;
I no longer patronize.
I accept just who you are.
But now I’m confused.
Is this real life or just fantasy?
How can I decide, when you’re clouding my mind?
I used to be such a quick wit boy.
Now I’m living in a dream about you.
This time, this place;
I just came to dance; to wash away.
Forget that, I can’t stand the way you lie
We can even pretend that big girls don’t cry,
But I saw the hurt inside your eyes.
I hear the ticking of the clock,
It’s been 47 days.
And I still miss the sound of your voice.
So cheers to that, I’d drink to that!
Waste away another day, another night,
popping bottles in the ice,
Standing at the liquor store-
With whiskey coming through my pores.
Here we go again.
I’ve fell right through the cracks,
My happiness no longer lasts.
I’ve made a wrong turn once or twice.
So now memories will have to do,
To bring me back to you.
Guess it makes it easier to bear,
Rather than seeing your face somewhere.
Heather lent me a brown polyester skirt. I kept reapplying my deodorant every hour throughout the day.
When we heard tires squeal in front of our house, Heather patted my bum and told me to behave. I responded with a scowl, and made my way out to the rusty growling pick-up.
He rolled down the window as I approached. “Hey, you look nice!” he called over the rumbling engine. He reached out his hand. His fingernails were dirty. I thought of my fifth grade teacher, the one from Trinidad who would walk up and down the aisles every morning and check our fingernails to make sure they were clean. If they weren’t, he rapped them with a ruler.
I lifted my hand and he shook it hard, bumping his forearm on the bottom of the window. He winced. “Well, are we gonna have our date here on the side of the road or should we go somewhere?” he said. When I walked in front of the car, he revved the engine. I jumped a little, and my sweaty hands were shaking by the time I tried to lift the door handle.
He was laughing when I climbed in. “I’m so sorry I scared you! I was just joking around—trying to break the ice. Oh, but your face! You should have seen it.”
Dinner was at the Capitol restaurant, the only restaurant in town with a flashing neon sign. Our father told us never to visit it because the food was disgusting and the mugs were all chipped.
John told me about hay season, about castrating pigs, and about how they butchered in their shed even though they weren’t supposed to because of “all the crazy health and safety crap.” He asked me what my dad used to do when he was still alive, what my favourite class was, and did I like working in tobacco in the summers. I didn’t love it but the money was better than picking strawberries. He said, “I think I’d rather cut the balls off pigs than work with all the Mexican immigrants, but you do what you have to do.” I gave him short answers, and he seemed to appreciate that.
The food was better than I thought it would be, if you could get over the slight taste of cigarette ash. He finished his meal long before I did, and kept watching my fork move from my plate to my mouth while he talked.
He told me about their barns cats, how they loved to lick up the pigs’ blood in the shed. Sometimes Scooter and Mittens would climb up the wood siding of the house and cry at John’s window at night. He demonstrated, his hands balled into little paws hanging off the edge of the invisible windowsill between us. His little meowing kitten face had me snorting chocolate milk up my nose. He couldn’t resist the little critters, and he’d let them in his room overnight. Then he shooed them back out in the morning before his mom found out the grubby little creatures had slept all over his pillow.
After dinner, he suggested a movie. I would have said no, had it not been for the way he talked about the cats. We wouldn’t have to talk anymore in the theatre, and besides, Heather had suggested him. We drove to Stanford where the theatre played two movies. I forced a giggle here and there through the comedy to match his wet snickering. I kept my eyes pasted on the speckled screen when I saw out of my periphery his pimpled face turn to look at mine.
On the ride home, he rambled until he informed me he had to “go, if you know what I mean,” with a wink. He pulled over on the shoulder of the gravel road, slammed the door, trotted past the front of the truck, and then to my surprise, wrapped around the side of the vehicle, passing me, and stopping near the rear bumper. I whipped my head forward and glanced into the rearview mirror and caught him urinating on the back tire.
The next time he called, Heather told him I was unavailable.
Nostalgia isn’t a feeling, a marketing scheme, or a certain aesthetic style. To me, nostalgia is a lifestyle – a way of perceiving the world. For those who know me, I live in nostalgia. Many others submerge themselves in greyscale memories of the past, too. The flickering light of a film is like the first flutters of a baby in her mother’s womb. The shadows on the screen are warm, comforting, and invite my jaded heart into a better world that never existed. Sometimes the film’s message criticizes the society in which it was made in, but the filmic setting is still more preferable to the stage we are performing on. There is always a little more hope in a film, a little more love, and more dreamers in the films of the 1930s and 1940s. There is always a need for more dreamers in filmmaking, for they are the ones who remind us to “forget your troubles, c’mon, get happy!”*
Too much action stirs violence, too much drama creates melancholy, an imbalance of raunchy comedy places a lack of respect in people. Slapstick, wit, and heart are essential elements to nostalgic films. I wish contemporary films included these ingredients, but the thing with nostalgia is it can’t be reproduced. It refuses to be recreated. The emotional high experienced by nostalgia is a fleeting moment – perhaps only 90 minutes long. It will not be found, embraced, or fondled permanently. The longing for nostalgia’s caress on the soul is an everlasting game of hide-and-seek. Nostalgia is a lifestyle because you are constantly searching for its calming innocence. It is a rather cruel fate: you never feel at home in your current era because you are obsessively stalking the shadows of eras gone by.
*Judy Garland singing “Get Happy” in Summer Stock (1950)
My mother and father danced to disco and ate pancakes as they got to know each other, igniting a solid friendship that would later blossom into a forever-love. Prior to their meeting, their lives had taken very different paths. My mother had an instinctual passion for travel and tourism, and my father was a Chemistry major with a knack for numbers, metals, and experimental medleys. She started off as a customer service agent for a European airline, while his job was to physically assist in the construction of airplanes. My mother ended up leaving her job at the airport in exchange for devoted motherhood, and my father got a job at a car-manufacturing company. However, they both talk fondly of their time spent with flying machines, whether it’s about the journey and destination, or the buzzing sounds the airplane makes when it’s about to ride off into the pale blue sky. They are connected through flight.
As a girl I used to fear that buzz, trembling as the body of the aircraft violently shook to wake itself up, two celestial forms unified in motion. Overcome with anxiety, it was easy to concentrate on my accelerated heartbeat, but I was guaranteed to be challenged every time. I looked over to my father sitting next to me, as I struggled through my immobilizing dread, and witnessed his peace, ease, and delight. It felt like a sharp force interrupting my worry, my commitment to remain frightened, and in the moment that I was confronted with his excitement about our ascent I felt secure. I found safety and assurance. Watching my father eagerly look out of his plane window, absorbed by natural interest, I understood wonder.
Whenever I fly anywhere, my parents wait for my plane to embark by driving to a special location where they get front-row seats to the show, enjoying the remarkable take-off and blessing my voyage. Since my mother was actively responsible for the flight’s passengers, I like to think of her position as one defined by genuine care, and I think of my father’s as creator and puzzle piece. His fascination with airplanes makes clear to me his unchanged, child-like admiration for them, and the tender affection with which he beholds his passions. I know the light in his eyes as a boy has persisted. My mother’s relentless dedication to the care of travelers has enabled me to better value service-oriented work and the importance of being a kind resource.
It’s been 20 years since my mother has worked in the field of travel, a departure she expected to be permanent, a colorful past. She is currently in training to become a flight attendant, and she’s half-way done, and the pressure is thick, and she will succeed. My mother is a protector. My father is helping her every step of the way. Together, they are invincibly free to fly. I am proud of her experiences and the future emerging from them, and I am proud of my father for teaching me that the past moves.
I wanted to write something truly unique about what it means to feel nostalgic. I tried writing poetry, I tried listening to songs from my childhood, and I even tried to force myself to think of something special. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it will always be impossible for me to recreate the sense of magic I once knew in the past. That’s why it’s in the past; it’s meant to stay there. Nothing I say now will ever be as unique as it was back then. I just wish I could bring the magic to fruition once more.
If I could bring the magic back, maybe I wouldn’t miss that place so much. But I do. I miss the long catwalk in my old neighbourhood that weaved its way between two houses and separated them with a thick wire fence clad in bushes. The end of the catwalk always led me to a place where I could see fantastically bright sunsets. It was the place I rode to on my bike during the long and hot summers of my childhood. For some reason, I kept going back every night to watch the sunsets in that magical place. The best part was that nobody else knew how magical it really was. It was like a private spot reserved for me. For a brief moment, the world would be calm, quiet, and bright. These days, I always wonder whether it was the place that was magical or if the sunset held everything for me in its rays. Sometimes I’ll even wonder where the magic has gone.
Adulthood has a way of erasing what I used to know about the magnificent wonders of the world. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a sunset as moving as the ones I saw as a child. Life has a way of making me forget to enjoy moments like that. I tell myself I should open my heart to the future and create new memories—enjoy a sunrise over a sunset. Then I start to remember the past and appreciate how inviting it is to think of myself in a good way. Then I start to remember those songs from my childhood and those visions of a beautiful sunset that somehow mean so much to me now that they are over. If only I could feel that sense of relentless energy and appreciation for my future. If only I could pull away from the old photographs; both real and implanted in my memory.
You want to know what nostalgia is. You want to know what it means. Only you can answer that. Your memories are not my memories, and they never will be. They are your own. If they bring you sadness, happiness, or everything you can imagine in one concrete specimen, only you can know how it feels to be pulled back by the longing for home or the simple comforts of childhood. Maybe nostalgia is remembering a day you once baked brownies with your best friend who now lives far away from you. Maybe nostalgia is regretting something you did—or didn’t—say to someone when you should have, and now the opportunity will never come again. Or maybe nostalgia is wishing your father could be at your university graduation, but that could only happen if he was the loving man he once was before he abandoned you.
This should not be sad for us. Nostalgia already has a way of doing that in life. I want us all to learn to chase the sunsets so long as we don’t let them consume us. We don’t have to touch the sunsets; we just need to remember how they made us feel. Think of what was in your past, but do not torture yourself by attempting to displace the past into your present. You cannot pluck people, events, or images from your past and expect them to convert into things in your present that were never meant to be.
I know now that the magic is not lost. It is hiding somewhere else for me to find. It’s waiting at the end of a different catwalk in another country among different people and different circumstances. It probably doesn’t even exist at the end of a mere catwalk anymore. It’s in the heart of something I cannot fathom until it is brought to life.
A sunset is just an imprint of the past. A sunrise is the indication of a future worth having. Both are stories worth telling. Someday, even this story will be in the past. It already is. You can find it in the crepuscular light at the end of a lone catwalk in the late 1990s.