We didn’t know better – my parents and I. We were clueless because Chinese names are not usually gendered. We liked that it sounded clean, fresh, calming. It rolled off my tongue like spring water. “Kevin” was close enough to my Chinese name but distinct enough at the same time that it embodied the possibility of a fresh beginning.
For three days I carried around this name trying to get comfortable. By the third day the name has settled in: I felt anew. Funny how an abstract name can make a physical body feel okay.
And then I was told that I couldn’t use “Kevin” because “Kevin” is a boy name. So they suggested “Karen”. And that was that.
It took longer than three days to get used to “Karen”. I felt forced into a skin that doesn’t fit me. When I pronounce it I can tangibly feel it screech, like nails against the blackboard. More unsettling was my consciousness that the name was not my choice. To this day I have difficulty enunciating my name. It comes out distorted, somehow. My name is Karan. Kieran. Kairin. Kayrin.
Nevertheless I have to live with it. So that is how I came to have three names; one of which was my choice but didn’t really count, the other two were given to me without my consent. I was Jiawen for ten years of my life. Kevin for three days. And Karen for the rest of it. Jiawen and Karen mark two periods of my life: the before and the after; Kevin is the in-between. Jiawen was quiet, obedient, naive by nature. She was understanding, sensitive, and confident of her talent. Karen is turbulent, confused, and indecisive. The more she learns about the world and about herself, the more she realizes how small she is, how little she knows.
Though transient, I still consider Kevin part of my identity. It is one of the only memories that still remain of my assimilation into Canada. I really like the story of being erroneously named. Mostly because I don’t think of it as an error. It reminds me of the arbitrary nature of naming and identity. Ironically, “Kevin” reminds me that my name doesn’t define my identity; it is I who shape the meaning behind my name. I refuse to let “Karen” become the stereotypical boring librarian in outdated clothes. “Karen” is going to be spicy.
But I’m not just Karen. You never really let go of who you were. You kind of carry it with you as you move on. Karen embodies both Jiawen and Kevin. I am all of them.
We’ve been at this roundabout for two years now. Two years and five birthdays (yours and mine) and yet we’ve never celebrated a single one with one another. I really wish we could’ve. Not just birthdays, but I wish we had the chance to do something nice for the other person. without agenda. without expectation for reciprocation. just simple happiness.
If I were with you right now, I’d kiss your nose, slap your hand away for trying to get into mine, and just curl around you. Just at peace. wouldn’t that be nice? For your birthday, I’d bring you to a Shakespearean play, Midsummer Night’s Dream, because it is your favourite and I’ve never seen it. I’d listen to your passionate speech about it (I know you’ve been bursting with it), and I’d pretend to be interested with extra enthusiasm – just because it’s your birthday. But when my eyes glaze over, it’s because I love your rants. have I told you that?
And then I’d bring you to Snakes and Lattes. It’d be crowded with people, as normal, but I’d make sure we get a table. We’ll play that LOTR game again. I’ll lose. And then make it seem I lost it on purpose. Even though you wouldn’t believe me anyway.
I want to wish you a happy birthday but I can’t. I shouldn’t. Because it wouldn’t be nice. Sometimes being a nice person means more than just being nice. I never really understood it. Until I had to learn the hard way.
Well I am not a nice person. On holidays, new years and special occasions I want to talk to you. I want to know if you still love me even if I can’t reciprocate. That selfish part of me wants to remind you of my existence on those days, wants to say hello. But I can’t do that because I’ll have to say goodbye very soon.
Letting go – is that love? Those four letters – how are they supposed to encompass such a broad and multifaceted human emotion? Getting into yucky territories. Need to move on.
But anyway. This will be the last post I talk about you. Or to you anyway. Goodnight. and happy birthday.
And seriously. be happy.
“I love you”, he said.
With pained eyes and wistful lips the words cut daggers through my heart. It was a heartbreaking confession with a heartbreaking earnestness. It was the beginning of an end – an end that we had been headed for since the beginning: a truth that I, at that very moment, still refused to accept.
I have imagined numerous times how my first time would be – even more than losing my virginity, I was excited and impatient for my first “I love you”. I imagined life-changing, I imagine head-over-heels, but in those million and one scenarios, I never once imagined it-hurts-so-bad-I-wanna-cry. I’ve never imagined these three romantic, sweet nothings could bear thorns. When it did happen, it was worse than losing my virginity. Instead of being left, alone, cold, shivering in the bed of fornication, i was left alone, cold, shivering, burning in my own signature mix of shame, anger, frustration, and – as much as I still refuse to admit – a terrible kind of love.
And like an eager child encountering her first rose, I was stung. Bad.
I can still remember that feeling – that feeling of the earth falling away, of my body losing its senses. I felt my heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach, and too keenly aware of how I was holding my shoulders, my head, my face.
I don’t love him, I thought to myself, at least not in the way that I am supposed to.
When those three words become explicit in a relationship that was built on the implicit, there was nothing left to do except to end it.
Several times we have. We parted. Then reunited. We had taken short break. Long breaks. We had fought. Then the makeup fucking. In a whirlwind of desire and anger and mistrust was born a hideous kind of love – a hateful kind of love.
I’ve been reluctant to use these strong words. I’m not sure if our ‘relationship’ – if it was anything of the sort – warranted such labels. Whatever it was it’s strong enough to sneak up behind me unnoticed and unexpectedly grip my heart in the middle of a hot shower.
Sometimes before falling asleep, or in the middle of a shower, or a daydream, sometimes I recall those three words and the eyes he said them with just for nostalgia’s sake. Tasting their texture as I roll them over my tongue, hearing their resonance as I recalled how they sounded. It’s so easy to be taken back to that instant – the daggers are still there – in the storage of my past. I guess I never dealt with it.
I’m still not sure if it was ever about him – did I like him? – or what he signified. I guess it was probably both. I guess they are related. I knew what I didn’t like about him: his walk, his voice, his kiss, his philosophies. But more critically, I became attached to the way he called out my name, how he walked towards me, how he disagreed about Descartes. Even his kisses – I began to long for.
He is my first sober kiss, the first to call me ‘baby’, the first I’ve given a nickname, the first to hold me at night, to kiss me on the forehead. My first fuck.
The fuck that left me cold, shuddering, alone in his bed.
Perhaps that should’ve been a clue.
Perhaps it was. And all along it was me – denying it.
“I love you” too.
I often feel filled to the brims with unspoken words, waiting anxiously to leave the trachea by means of sound waves – waiting to be heard and acknowledged. But then at that critical moment I swallow the eager words back, biding my time .
The words, however, refuse to go down without a fight. They rebel against the peristalsis of my esophagus and kick and scratch against the tricky mucosal membrane of the tract. My struggle in keeping the words down manifest as a twitching eye and a bulging nerve. But ultimately I manage to successfully throw the stubborn syllables forever into the pitch-dark, clammy silence of my stomach.
But even in the acidity of my stomach, and later my intestines, the words refuse to stop making trouble. Their kicks and screams erupt as pimples on my skin. Their refusal to be digested result in constipation and nervous sweating. Worst of all, they are making me fat – the excess around each high-energy words eventually become my protruding belly, the roundness around my hips, edema on my calves, and the fat under my armpits (it would’ve been a nice punishment if they were to increase my bra size instead; but again – they refuse to cooperate even in their degradation).
And that is how I become the words that I never speak.
I want to disappear. Erase my footprints. Hide my tracks. Remove any traces of where I’ve been, what I’ve done, who I’ve been with. Delete it all so I can feel light again.
Deactivating Facebook was the first and hardest step. So many times I catch myself pressing “f” and then “enter”. The social network has become such an integrated part of me that going on it has become second nature. I should feel relief – instead I find myself feeling incomplete and disconnected. All of a sudden I lose contact with all things and people – how am I supposed to keep track of my friends’ newest flings and most recent food intakes now? Next thing I know I’m rebounding to food porn; I feel slightly better.
The second and necessary step was saying no to the ex. Ignore his pleas to see me, his love confessions, and his outcry concerning his health conditions. He tells me that he’s hurting. He tells me that he wakes up every morning wishing I was by his side. He describes how our lips lock perfectly, how our hands are the right match, and how his finger fits exactly inside my nostril (male’s fascination with holes – an inside joke that I find even less funny given the circumstances, and at which I still cannot help but smile). I can’t tell whether my dreaming of his death is a sign that he has officially become my past or a subconscious hint that I still love him. He insists it’s the latter. Either way I try not to let it bother me.
And then I find myself bent over the toilet bowl of a restaurant with a bag of ice in my face and a clad of toilet paper under my nose that has become a running faucet. Sometimes I feel like my brain is being bled out through my nose. Judging from the blood flow and the time stood over that rather clean, albeit blood-splattered, toilet, I might as well have. Perhaps that is what it takes to disappear. Maybe I’ll bleed myself out – to a point that I become transparent. Maybe it’s mind over matter: maybe the nosebleed is but one of the many insidious ways that my body has employed to erase itself.
Talk about devotion.