Time is an illusion imposed by the single-minded husk, beyond which you are everyone and everything and everywhere, all at once.
You are a Marxist roaming a continent, a rebel breaking out of an island, and a Loyalist trapped on a tiny little rock, iridescent, a pearl’s semblance. Though impoverished as children denied by the institution, you strove and rose and now feel invincible. But, still hindered in the tunnel vision of flesh, you cannot possibly see that the great wave you have been riding will simply not rise again. What you do see are the illusory and mighty and seemingly ceaseless breakers lapping your national borders. A firm believer in the motto that each generation must surpass the last, you decide that I must leap out of our homey little well at last. A merchant, a celebrity, a magistrate, vowing publicly to stick it out to the end with this dying planet, you then turn around and shove me into the last rocket. And I love you, not for your confidence in my prudence, but for all the sacrifices you have made, and the moniker, little scholar, you have coined for children like me wandering alone in space.
You are Vancouver. You are Los Angeles. You have never seen the real Earth. Because you can take for granted your unirradiated air, we have come to be with you. At first, we try to be you, for our difference seems but a mere seam, nothing that can’t be caulked with a gravity adjustment suit, an additional language, and a few new hobbies. As we have sworn to our parents, I swear now to you, honest to yours and my gods, we all keep on trying and trying very hard, working on our English every day, crashing into house parties whenever we can. Even though, somehow, the gap seems to grow ever larger the harder we try, we dare not relent until the moment we finally, and inevitably, discover that island. Which is not a real island, but an abstract aggregate of tangible sounds, tastes, and percepts, all so warm and nostalgic. Especially on the cold weekends in the dormitory, in the musty rooms down in the basement of homestays, who would not have called themselves so had they truly felt like homes.
For a brief time, the island disappears, washed over by a phenomenal tide of DJs, hydrogenous attire, and ideological principles in motion. But as with all beautiful things in life, the short shelf life of PLUR lapses too quickly as we all come down for good. Bestraddled again on the fence surrounding my island, watching you soberly at a distance, though still trying to come to terms with your man-bun while you grapple with my man-bangs with your sidelong glances. I do still admire you. I will never forget your dazzling swagger, the way you roll up in that beat-up clunker you had to flip burgers for, and the way you move in the rave gear you sewed up yourself.
You looked like me, and you didn’t. You spoke my tongue, and you didn’t. Because you were born here and spoke their language just as well, we had thought you were as much them as you legally were until we discovered that you, too, had your island, part of which intersects with ours. And I thank you, on behalf of those of us who’d try to copy you to get their ways whenever they’re back home. And I admire you, too, for your too-silent struggle to become our children’s role models.
In the eyes of a free soul, life manifests its true form, a billion moments like a deck of a life’s scattered slides, examinable simultaneously only by one’s higher self. Waiting is irrelevant, and the clock becomes redundant. But for you, and just for you, my love, my best friend, my only unrelated family, I never minded the waiting while being held in a body. In fact, I wished for the sentence of eternal life so that I would never have to indulge all that we’ve had in an instant and instead, to savor you, forever and ever, a little bit at a time.
Ever since we started living together when we were both fifteen, never once have you judged me for driving up the housing price, nor have you ever accused me of failing the entire family. Because you are just like me, too young to have an anchored heart, thrown into a welter of foreignness while ashore they glare at us, in their factories and their churches, with the families and the mistresses. As we drift about and flounder on and off our island, all they see are our unnatural blonde hair and the luxuries we wear with names abbreviated in two or three letters. Whose logos, though they never bothered to see, are also inside of us. Inscribed by superstars and indoctrinated by even superior marketers, on the fluttering pennant atop the tallest turret of that shaky little mind fortress, the singular source of our bravery, the armory we had to build hastily with nothing but our parents’ money.
We K-Pop in our chic rental apartment, karaoke all over Yonge and Finch with an unsaid mutual understanding that one day we’ll have to part. For that no-frill, caring girl, of whom I’d forget to mention, the only child of that hidden tycoon with a bowl cut back home. Or the farm boy from Kentucky, his other identity you’d neglect to disclose, a prime tech lawyer in the Silicon Valley. So long as you do not leave for another me, it would not be cruel, for like the good little scholars we are, one way or the other, we all must ascend eventually.
And I hope you would forgive me, as no one saw the plague coming. It closed my father’s factory, and your parents flew you home in a hurry. I insisted on waiting it out abroad, for my mother had believed that I had completed high school and readied a college for me back in the uninspiring little well. Then summer finally came. Instead of killing the virus, the heat aggravated a big Zoom fight between us while the Uber money, earned with the Rover bought with my grade twelve tuition money, no longer covered groceries. As I freed myself through the breach of my crumbled battlement over the parapet of our balcony on my way to omniscience, the sun glinted gently off my blue-gray hair. Oh, I glowed so, so naturally, like that life-restoring comet tracing the scarlet sky of Venus.
Love you always.
With stories accepted by Douban Read, Tales to Terrify, and Queen’s Quarterly, Howard is a housefather in Toronto cared for by an entrepreneur wife and a teenage son. He enjoys short jogs, long walks, and vain attempts at domesticating Sebastian, the distinguished shiny squirrel who frequents his balcony.