last month, i moved back to new york. i signed a lease in lincoln square. i took the 1 train uptown and unpacked my life in four boxes. i built some furniture. i messed up the bed frame. i rebuilt it. i blasted “empire state of mind”. i celebrated 23. i reunited with the people i love. i held them tight. i ran into friends i hadn’t seen in 3 years. i said good to see you again. i think i meant it. i shared mango bingsu with my sister and her fiancé. i exchanged 11,000 dave & busters tickets for a giant squishmallow. i named her chungina. i told myself i was home again. in nyc, i reunited with singapore friends. i couldn’t believe we were roommates now. i thought, i am so lucky. i bought us dinner at bcd tofu house. i also reunited with a past partner. i bought us matcha lattes. he returned to me the things i had left at his place almost two years ago. i took out the ukulele and strummed a flat a string. i said thank you. i reminisced about us. i waved goodbye. the first weekend, i found myself in the basement of k-town pocha. i realized, in all my years in college, i never went to a pocha (포차) in k-town. i felt silly. i couldn’t tell if i was happy to be here for the first time or sad i hadn't been to one sooner. i couldn’t tell i was more grown up for it or the opposite. it was whatever. i was here now. i smiled. at pocha, i reunited with evan, an old camp friend from 2013. i gave him a bear hug. i introduced myself and my friends, and he introduced his. we stayed out until 2am. i joked, “we should keep this up, seeing each other only once every four years.” then i remembered taiwan, and what had happened there. i remembered the afternoon i got the e-mail, april 2nd, and how i broke down in the middle of a bus ride, shaking and crying, after reading the first line. terrible news. train crash. perished. too brief. i remembered the tense 24 hours before that message, when i was texting and calling them, asking them to let me know when they got to hualien so we could get dinner together, and the nightmarish series of events after. i remembered the empty stomachs, the vomiting, the fear of trains, the blistered eyes, the helpless anger i felt towards the strangers who didn’t know i had lost my roommate—an older sister to me—and a dear friend in the blink of an eye, and the sickening moment i collapsed on the floor in front of everyone i did know in the fulbright conference room and cried. i remembered her shoes at the door, the week off work, the calls that went to voicemail, the dried blood under my fingernails as i dug into my own skin, the police who showed up at my apartment unannounced, the impersonal government officials in their stiff suits, the two ceremonies, the ziploc bags of salvaged but destroyed personal items of theirs, the white orchids on yangminshan, the yellow butterflies, the starting and stopping of several versions of a eulogy i never wanted to write, the devastating silence in my apartment, the inability to talk, the incessant need to run my hands through her clothes and lie on her bed and whisper to her, a brief conversation with someone from america, of which the only part i really remember now is when i said "i wish it had been me instead." then i was back at pocha again. i heard uproarious laughter. I blinked. i looked at evan. he looked exactly the same as he did in 2017, the last time i saw him, also in new york city. then i looked at my lock screen. i wondered if she would have looked the same in four years, too. i wondered if i would have even been alive in four years to check. i promised myself then i would never take reunions for granted again, because who knows when the next one is the last. evan cleared his throat. “let’s not wait another four years,” he said. i nodded. i caught myself before crying. steady there. we took shots. he said, “to lifelong friendship.” gan bei. i came back to new york thinking how much i would get to do before i died. i reminded myself often that i was on my third life: while i drank lavender coffee at gregory’s. while i walked by my favorite vietnamese restaurant behind nyu, now closed. while i bought 19-cent bananas at trader joe’s. while i sat along the hudson river at night. while i ate a turkey sandwich in my room after toasting and then throwing away half the bread. while i watched the bread fall into the trash can. while i kicked myself, thinking stop it. stop it. stop it. don’t fall back in. life’s too short to let the little guy in your head win.
last week, i went back to my old job. but of course i kept my four new part-time jobs too. i knew i couldn’t keep up with all of them forever, but what if i told you i actually liked them all—coaching, publishing, writing, teaching, speaking, consulting. i told myself, there are worse problems to have in life than this. then i remembered my sister’s comment that i am the most self-destructive person she knows. i scoffed. what did she know. i had an angel on my shoulder to make sure that would never happen. i owed it to her to make sure it never happened.
this tuesday, i woke up at 7am. i turned off the alarm. i chatted with my co-workers in taiwan and asked how the new school year was. i had author coaching calls until 9am. i made some coffee. i checked in with my manager at 9:05. i read 300 pages of economic development documents from our client. i microwaved lunch. i put together some slides. i clocked out. i tutored from 6:30 to 8:30pm. i ate dinner in the background. i taught a nonfiction writing workshop until 10pm. i hung up my last publishing call at 10:30. i took a nap in kz’s room. i watched saswata play genshin. i responded to some birthday messages. i brushed my teeth. i put in my contacts. i took my lexapro. i fell asleep. i had a dream.
in this dream, i lived with two of my best friends. i liked my work. i spent time on myself. i felt comfortable with a small group of friends. i didn’t care for making new ones. i felt grounded. i was intentional. i was moving back to a place that felt like home. i was settling down, at least for the foreseeable future. finally. i woke up. i stretched my arms. i closed my eyes and inhaled 4am sweat from my blue-and-white blanket. this wasn’t a normal dream for me. those are usually filled with blood and butcher knives and psychological torture and running from machetes and rotting flesh and moaning that sounds like laughter (yes—i too often ask myself if i am okay, if I need to see someone, if this is a “problem” that my dreams are so vivid and cruel and telling of something deep in my subconscious). but no, this was a dream that actually felt like real life. which of course it was. which was unsettling in its own right because what now? what now that i have come back to “normal” life. was i actually going to settle? was i the kind of person to settle? and if so, who and what would i settle for? i asked myself these questions over a ritualistic breakfast of yogurt and fruit. then i opened my laptop and settled in to work. how lucky i was, to be able to ask all these questions of myself on an ordinary wednesday morning. on thursday, i woke up missing them again.
on friday, i woke up feeling relieved that they would always be my anchors and my angels in this third life.
today, i woke up with no thought other than that i had woken up at all.
i was intensely aware that i was alive.
and it was beautiful—to feel the soft tendrils of morning light welcome me into a new day.
and it was exciting—to know i would never really know how a day like today would end.
all i knew was that one day, days like this would be no more.
and when i thought about how everything would come to an end—must come to an end—i brushed the knots out of my hair, packed a bag, stepped outside my door and said good morning to the city and the sky.
as i took the 1 train down to meet an old friend i hadn’t seen in years, i said good morning to them, too, and hoped for more days like this.