Tag: books

if you think you know so well about yourself, you’re probably wrong

Life November 14, 2019

I have always been really plagued about this whole existential notion of who I am. It is probably one of the most frequently asked questions, yet somehow it seems like we can only answer partially to that. Of course, other than the most simplistic answers like your name, age, profession, or whatnot. No one knows as much uncensored particulars about me as me. But every time I am asked to describe myself, that simple ‘so who really are you’ conundrum, I always get stuck. It scares me even. As the subject of my own depiction, ironically I find it difficult to talk about myself. I end up giving extremely superficial answers, and that is because I genuinely don’t know how to answer. Or if I even deserve to.

I was reading Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart today (God bless, it’s been such a long time since I read for fun) and there was an extremely intriguing line — “But when I talk about myself, all sorts of other factors — values, standards, my own limitations as an observer — make me, the narrator, select and eliminate things about me, the naratee.” This. This sentence was so striking because it couldn’t be any more accurate than this. After all, the portraits we have of ourselves are self-constructed. We retain the purest information of ourselves and regardless of the unrestricted access of the data we always tend to filter some out to our own subjectivity. Let’s put it this way, if we are writing a story about ourselves, we have full authority to decide what kind of detail we want in the narrative. We can omit, edit, and distort. Authors are rarely reliable to the fullest. And it really is unsettling to remind myself that I will never be able to establish an objective depiction of myself. So if you really think if you know about yourself, chances are, you’re wrong.

But I do admire people who can give a clear-cut sentence description about themselves. And not just because that is something I can’t do myself. I doubt that these are invariably accurate in essence, but it means that they are striving to live by what they say about themselves. It’s like a promise to yourself that you want to fit into that certain image you’ve created for yourself. You craft that image for yourself and by saying it out loud to others you impose a non-retractable boundary to that image. Sometimes they are just self-serving justification to get what they want in advance. You know, stuff like: I can be honest in whatever situation that comes along, and frankly, I think that’s just code for — I can be really brutally blunt and my opinion could probably, most likely make you upset, but hey, I told you beforehand so you knew what you were getting into. 

Other than these self-prescribing picture of ourselves, we discover ourselves — or rather, the closest we can get to that — by interacting with others. Because we can’t live in absolute solitude for the entirety of our lives, there most definitely are attributes that you can only discover by being with someone else. Just elementary stuff like, the face you make when you get frustrated. Or something more directly related to your inner sense — how you act boldly to everyone you meet, but that’s actually a fabricated response to hide how nervous you are. It’s just something you can’t realize on your own. Our objective reality of ourselves depends on other subjectivity of ourselves, regardless of how disturbing or unsatisfactory they may be. And by coming to term with those, you create a sweet balance of things you know about yourself as a participant and how others know you as an observer. I feel like that is the closest you will ever get to fully knowing yourself, from the rock bottom.

As for me, I have never had much trouble meeting and interacting with people, but I have been commonly told one thing: that I don’t talk about myself much. I have been told this by five different people who have absolutely no similarities in their upbringings, backgrounds, our even their relationships with me, so I guess it’s a unanimous judgment of myself. I didn’t realize it myself for so long either. If I think about it, I have a set boundary for every person I meet. A safety net. A do-not-cross sign. It’s a boundary for the set amount of personal data that I can share with someone. I don’t do it consciously but it just happens. I think this applies to everyone to an extent, but I am told that I have a much higher threshold than everyone else. Sometimes that demarcation can stretch further over time and I’m able to have what I call a DMC (which stands for deep meaningful conversations), but most of the times I end up having perfunctory, shallow exchange that doesn’t involve connection on a personal level.

That’s just one of the things I’ve been told. I have also been told that I frown a lot when I write, that I am a bad liar (this I have known for a while, I just can’t improvise), and that I am pretty transparent when it comes to emotions because they all just show up on my face. I think that’s great — not that the information I have gotten about myself is pleasant in nature — but that I am getting to know more about myself through the eyes of others. Because I thought I knew myself — the quirks, memories, and preferences — but it’s hard to know who I really am with just that. It is going to take years to meet different people and find new, previously unknown details about ourselves. I don’t want to be all corny, but maybe this whole senseless, arbitrary course of life is just a stretched-out process of knowing about ourselves. Maybe we’ll only know who we truly are minutes before we die. Will we have an objective, close-to-truth answer by then? We’ll never know. 

Despite this whole train of thought, the next time someone asks me, so Sophie, who are you? I’ll probably say I don’t know.


a small difference between fiction and real-life

Life November 7, 2019

Maybe it is just me, but I feel like a novel — specifically way someone writes and phrases things reflect so much about who they are as a person. It could be the way a writer uses a particular word over and over again. Or the way that he simply limits a visual description to a sentence-long summary. A writer’s way of writing means more than just stylistic means of delivering an idea. It is a peek into his thoughts and preferences. He could insist on overusing the same word in his works because he thinks that the word carries a symbolic meaning and wants to deliver a cause. Or maybe because he just likes that word. He could also reduce his descriptions to a minimum because sometimes the lack of language forces you to imagine beyond the spectrums of the sentence. It sometimes is true, though personally I like it otherwise.

As for myself, I like crafting the protagonist’s thought process very intricately. Like stream-of-consciousness kind of intricacy. Because very often I derive my ideas from my very surroundings and develop my characters based on the details I observe around me. For example, one of the characters of my recent novel enjoys watching volleyball games. I added that detail because my dad used to be in a volleyball team. From what I’ve heard he was very, very good at it. (And it made me happy that he noticed it while reading my novel) I give my characters attributes I happen to notice from reality and sometimes what I write feels so real that it feels as if I live in it. I end up projecting myself onto the character’s self, and speaking through the narrative persona.

You could say that sometimes it is hard to keep a neutral distance from fiction and reality. Especially so if you see and feel things through the things you craft within your writing. I’ve had a very uncanny experience when I was having a meeting with my editor and a poet from the same publisher — she told me that I reminded her of one of the main characters in my novel, and the poet agreed. They said that I had similar vibes. I’ve built my narrative world so closely to my own experiences and thoughts that it turned out to be inseparable to my real self. So maybe it’s true that what you write is like a mirror that exposes who you are as a person.

The only demarcation between a fiction and reality then is just my persona that has the ability to decide which is which. I could probably frame a real anecdote into my so-called novel and call that a fiction. It could be fiction in the end — whoever reads that would think that the anecdote exists to suit the characters’ needs or to drive the narrative forward. It’s ultimately reduced to a narrative tool then. There is an element of omnipotence as a writer that you can wield any sort of information into a story. A story. A fiction. An un-reality. No matter what happens in that novel and how people read and think about it, only I’ll know that wasn’t actually just a story. It lives and breathes. But it wouldn’t matter, would it?

Because sometimes reality is just as fictional, in that it is unimaginable and unrealistic — in whatever sense that may be. Reality can be just as cruel. Even more so because in real life, unlike our novels, don’t often have very satisfactory endings. Or let alone have one to begin with. There is no rising action, conflict, resolution type of conveniency. Sometimes a story just ends there. And it is the character’s responsibility to deal with the unresolved thoughts and feelings that results from the incomplete story. There is no one at fault — the story just can’t continue. It just sucks that way. I think writing is a coping mechanism. The writer’s authority comes in favorable here. We can give unended, dead ends a nice clean closure, even that may not be absolutely true. But if everyone believes it, I guess it can come true.

Memoir for Jude

prose June 10, 2018

I have always thought that distant memories give you a more visceral, longing sentiment. Something of higher value than things that your eyes have just swept by. As your memory gets increasingly dim, the harder you try to envision the remaining traces in your head to regather the time you felt so dear about. Because time can be such a whimsical friend, you often let memories slip by you – sometimes without notice, and sometimes even when you’ve told yourself not to forget about them. The most lasting impressions can disfigure into mere trails of thoughts. Or the most insignificant ones – ones you have never thought your mind would grab hold of – would remain as your pillow-side thoughts every passing night.

I remember Jude. I suppose ‘remember’ is a strong word to use in this case, because all of him I possess this day is an imperfect vessel full of indistinct thoughts and unresolved feelings. Now it’s more of an old reflex, an instinctive response the body harbors. I have known him for at least six years – also because I cannot clearly recall how we met – I am more used to him, or rather, my impression of him sweeping by like a breeze. A vestige from long nights and days of thinking of him. It has been too long since we last spoke, so my thoughts of him are usually void of any sort of feelings. Usually, I would have a distinct opinion towards most people; as for Jude, it is as if I am a disinterested, aloof observer of something. This is also the byproduct of my years of practice of desperately attempting to forget him.

“That’s stupid,” he commented, during one of our heated discussions of whether you can forget something intentionally. I had said that if an occasion leaves you with a certain level of shock, the body would respond to it by removing the recollection from the stream of consciousness.

“You can never forget what you try to forget. The endless acts of forgetting just put emphasis on the memory itself. After all, you would have to recall what the occasion is about to forget it in the first place,” he said.

I remember attempting to argue against it, but somehow it seemed ironically true.

And when I actually had to forget him, I ended up remembering him more. Maybe I wanted to remember him subconsciously, who knows.

Nevertheless, I try to draw his face with the tip of my finger on sleepless nights. I would try to link the speckles of dust garishly floating around the lamplight. I always draw his lips first, because I have always wondered what kind of lips someone who always knew his ways around words would have. The kind of lips the sweetest good-nights came from. The kind that always called my name so endearingly that I would ask him to do so over and over again. And he would. Then I draw his nose, cheeks, and eyes along the wavering orange glow of the lamp. I have the hardest time drawing his eyes. They always gaze over something further, something so distant that I could never follow where he was actually at, or where he wanted to be.

The funny part is that I don’t exactly remember how he looked like. I have built an image of Jude around my own memories of him. The recollections I have are my rough sketches of him. Maybe he does not have a neat pair of lips that spoke with such elegance. Maybe his lips are parched and unrefined. Maybe he never had that smooth, perfect curve on his cheeks that if you run your finger along it, it goes over very smoothly. Or the eyes that had such depth. After all, imagination is stronger than indistinct past memories. The eyes and the lips are what I think he would have, just to justify the memories I have of him. I still lock my eyes into his eyes, the very pair I draw. I intently look into his eyes, not for the smallest creases or the fallen eyelash, but for my own reflection in his eyes, transparent and honest.

“I want to know what you are like,” Jude said out of the blue one day.

“I think six years is pretty much enough to get to know me,” I replied. “You know I secretly like the color orange sometimes. No one knows about that. It’s my guilty pleasure.”

“Someone who would make the effort to observe you just for a day would find that out instantly,” he said.

After a long pause, he spoke. “There are things that you discover only through real human interaction, you know. I want to know what you’re like when you get bored of me talking. Tapping your fingers? Folding the margins of the tissue? I want to know how you laugh. Not just sound-wise, but the gestures you make. I want to follow your gaze and see what kind of things you lay your eyes upon. Things like these.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of you,” I said in defense, a little taken aback by the degree of emotions his statement held. The words came out as a clumped-up choke rather than a neat enunciation.

He laughed. “I’ve been told I’m a bore.”

“But so am I,” I said.

His wish never came true. We never got to meet, and our six years of “getting to know each other” ironically, never came to a resolution. It was not just because of the fact that we are penpals living seven-hour flight distance away from each other. If I tried, I could have always flown over to see him. I would have done that. Because sometimes, even a daunting venture is worth just to see someone you love. It was partly because out of all the days we knew each other, the good days were only a very small portion of it, that it was probably better off for both of us if we did not get to meet. Our days were not always sunny, and most of the times he stayed hidden, somewhere I could not reach.

“I like talking to you. Talking to you makes me comfortable,” he said once. “Actually, it really does. Usually, when I talk to others, I have to think about things that would continue the conversation. And sometimes that’s really hard for me. I don’t have to do that for you. It just comes naturally.”

He stopped. I held my breath too. I listened to the tempos of his breath as I waited for him to resume.

“But I get so mad at you sometimes,” he said.

This time, I paused. Something sank in my heart. I was not disappointed or heartbroken. It came to me more as a confirmation of something I have assumed a long time ago. It was a sort of acknowledgment.

“It’s not your fault. Maybe it’s just me. I just, I just get so frustrated and angry,” his voice got louder. His breath got louder and more rapid momentarily. “Why couldn’t you have just left me alone?”

That was our last conversation. I have not heard back from him since then. He has always yearned to die, so maybe he has achieved his wish. Maybe he was too scared and came back in self-loathe. I can never find out now. Out of those six years, there was never a moment when he was not filled with such sorrow and solitude. There had been times where he felt more like an automaton, repeating old, recorded messages over and over again before even the tip of his lips got rusty that he could not slip out a word anymore. There had also been moments where he was a wild animal, growling at every peripheral patch of light. Other times he had locked himself up in his own bubble that floated aimlessly around the world he felt so bitter about.

Some good days he would share a conversation about his favorite restaurant in the small town he was living in. The rural stretches of asphalt that led up to the only Italian restaurant, the air filled with the smell of grass when the autumn breeze swept by, the one good carbonara he has ever tasted, and the kind owner of the restaurant who always welcomed him and listened to how his day went by. I have never had many chances to have carbonara until then, but listening to his memories of his favorite restaurant made me want to try it. The first carbonara I tasted after years and years was delicious. I always think about the dead shells of cicadas and the sound of the small gold bell that rang when he opened the door.

Other nights he would tell me sad stories about his childhood. He told me about his first and last family trip when days were still bright and he felt more certain of the world. I recall his voice so reminiscent and resigned as he recounted his trip. He remembered every detail of the trip. The sea’s call as he took each step into the shores were so soothing, he laughed under his breath. He watched the sunset spreading across the horizon, and stayed there long after the sun had gone by. After which he returned to the shabby hotel with his family. In a calm voice, Jude spoke about the corniest soap opera on the TV, or how the furniture was oddly placed throughout the room. Things like the color of the drawer. The dusty smell that stole him of his sleep and kept him awake in the night, and the way his brother tossed and turned all night. When the snow globe he bought as a souvenir cracked, he said he ran his finger over the crack repeatedly in the car ride back home, as if that would mend the fissure in the snow globe and his heart.

I thought of this – like a reflex – when I came back from my trip to London. London was one of the greatest places I have been to. Definitely most memorable. I would say I remember moments and moments of it, like the taste of the chocolate chip cookie I bought in Borough Market, or the frozen red tips of my finger as I pressed it around my favorite pen. I remember the busker’s John Denver song, and the intricate gold ring I bought in one of the old markets. I remember the boy with rose-flushed cheeks I met in the museum and the song I listened to on the long bus ride. Moments and moments of it that all came out to be a blur, so surreal that it felt like a dream after I came back. While it came out to be only a chunk of dreamy blur to me, it seemed like Jude was clutching onto the tiniest blur in his memories so desperately, so dearly. I saw him living in the happy days that were long gone by, and that made me sad.

It’s a matter of the difference in our desire to hold onto something. I was always surrounded by things. Littlest things could make me happy. The washed clean smell of morning laundry, dried up lavender bookmarks, and a good hot chocolate could keep me happy for the rest of the week. I had many things to hold, and many things I wanted to hold. So some memories didn’t hold much importance to me. I could easily let something slip through my fingers. I could just find another source of happiness very quickly. That was me. It was my way of keeping myself happy. As for Jude, he had nothing to find solace in. His crumbling surroundings were bleak and grim, such that even residing in that reality would drain him. He needed to clutch onto something brighter, something distant but lighter. He had to hold onto memories like the broken snow globe.

There is a small boundary that separates remembrance and recollection. You remember someone out of your own will. It is a voluntary action, and recollection happens because perhaps, you spot something that reminds you of someone. In contrary to what I have said previously, I remember Jude. I remember him because he is an integral part of my memories. I would gladly do so. And Jude would have recollections of me. If he sees a cup with orange polka-dots, he would recall how I secretly adored the color. Or when he listens to Glenn Miller, he would probably take a while to recall that my favorite Miller piece is Moonlight Serenade. We have always had this demarcation – the distinction between remembrance and recollection – between us. And I’ve loved him so dearly, even with this separation.

However hard I try to draw out my remaining impression of him, I always end up with another blurry picture of the past. The distance the time leaves you with only bestows sleepless nights of longing. The longingness with which you look upon your past makes you uncertain of what actually happened. And this is also my way of telling a story. Our story was composed of a more complex tangle of feelings – marked by many unspoken wishes and frequent departures. Tear-stained pillowcases and solitude – our days were not as good as I had described throughout this memoir. Even Jude himself has defined us as a “love-hate relationship.” Time has never been so generous, and I would not be lying if I said that I am glad to forget some parts of our story. I just had to forget some things about him to remember some parts.

I would be less inclined to define this as sugar-coating. If life is a book with pages full of endless chapters, omitting less favorable content would be simply another way of storytelling. I would prefer to leave our story as that. A story. A short memoir. A sweet remembrance.





Every Inch Closer to Home

prose December 1, 2016


The bus often rumbled and shook when it drove over the pebbles on the ground. Hana frequently bounced from her seat and the wind ruffled her neatly combed hair, like the willow trees that swayed whenever the breaths of the season touched their leaves. She touched the yellow window pane, and traced her way back to her hometown. Hana remembered everything: the wheat field that enclosed the town, the smell of old grass, and the occasional hot puff of wind that blew onto her face. It had already been nine years since she left her home, and she had always felt uncomfortable at the thought of home, but the previous Sunday when she spent the night indulging in cold pretzels and apple soda watching late night soap dramas, she came across a dusty box under her bed that she had not been opening since she moved into her new apartment- that was eight years ago. It just had to be that moment when her empty can rolled under her bed, and that box just had to be the first thing that her fingertips touched. The box was full of letters, letters from ten, twelve, fifteen years ago. Many, many letters with handprints, ink stains and teardrops. That particular unopened letter she slipped into her bag held such an old, compelling sentiment that she could not ignore.

Why she was returning, Hana did not know. Home now, was a nonexistent place. Even the very moment where she sat by the window and the bus started driving across the old town she doubted her decision and often questioned herself if she should alight and board the bus back to the city. She could barely forget the imprints of the memory on every footsteps made in the grounds of this town. Every inch she got closer to home, the letter in her bag felt heavier, and it made her anxious that she had to grip onto the handrails of the seat. And when the bus broke down and the driver told the passengers that they had to walk to their destinations, Hana might even have relieved a bit. It gave her more time to think- and more excuses to return to the city. It was a summer midday, and the hot air that rose from the ground made her sweat- though she wasn’t sure if those sweat was from her anxiety or simply the hotness of the weather. She hoped the latter. Hana took timid steps into the long path; the scent of the unripe wheat and grass filled her nose. At dusk the sun would melt into the wheat, with the golden light splashing onto every patch of the land. She remembered walking up the hill with Rosie, and watching the sunset every afternoon, and rolling down the hill after sharing a joke or two. Hana held her bag close to her; she felt like she could even touch the letter neatly folded between the pages of her diary. The letter that brought her home. The letter written by her sister before she died.

Frankly speaking, Hana was not aware of the presence of the letter until the very moment she spilled the box of old letters onto her floor, and only after the box was empty she found an unopened one among all the others. The words To Hana was vivid on the envelope. Below those words was another sentence; instead of the address, Rosie had written, from home, where everything is alive. Hana didn’t know what she meant, and she figured that she would never find out surrounded by murky waters of the sewer and tire-stained asphalt: so she decided to return home. Hana would see for herself, what remained alive, in the house that no one stayed. To Hana, the word home felt so distant that it felt as if her home did not exist in the first place. Home, she spoke. The word slipped from her lips into an awkward sound that dissipated into the air. Home, she repeated. The second time she could barely hear her voice. Hana stopped walking; she wondered if she should continue her journey. What was the point of returning to a place where everyone had left? Hana thought of turning around and catching a town bus back to the nearest subway station, and rewatching the fashion shows she had missed out the last night. And she thought of the letter. The unopened, unanswered letter. At least someone has to answer the letter. It was an unspoken rule within the household. All letters have to be answered. Dad first suggested it. They shared words on paper when they were either too embarrassing to be spoken aloud, or too harsh, like “your breath stinks, please brush your teeth in the morning.” It was just a game at first, but at one point, it became a ritual between the family, and they would always end off with “with all my heart”.

Hana stopped by the old road that leads to the empty grounds where the town fairs used to be held. If she walked left, she would reach the empty ground within a quick fifteen minutes. Probably ten if she quickened her pace. But Hana merely paused for a moment and stared at the grounds that appeared as a blurred smudge from a distance. There were days when the carnivals were in town, and on heart-soft whim, Dad would drive the three of them to the fair, and they would spend the sun-soaked afternoon wandering the fairgrounds- between stalls selling popcorns and hotdogs, and behind clowns that performed tricks with balloons. Hana would hold Rosie’s hand, though mostly being tugged by her to wherever her caprices guided her. Hana stood by the fences, and recalled the first time she had bought Rosie a caramel apple. She handed her little sister a candy apple with sticky brown caramel wrapped around the skin of the apple, and watched as Rosie carefully studied the apple. It’s sweet, she had suggested, and Rosie took a tentative nibble. Hana remembered laughing at the sight of Rosie’s eyes widening as she giggled with delight. They were both smiling at each other, one flushing with wild joy and one soft with many unsaid things, just close enough to infinity.  Hana wondered how they would have looked like from a distance as she continued walking toward the old home. That night Rosie had written to her that she would have brought home thousands of candy apples, and Hana wrote back she would have, too. Hana decided not to stop by,  because it would make her sad to see all the hustle silenced down to specks of dust and wasted dreams.

Hana was getting closer to her old home, and she often had to stop to reconsider her decisions. The town had begun to reveal itself to the returning dweller, and Hana was nauseous as she glimpsed at the red roof with fading colors on the highest ground of the town. The signpost read the town’s name in light paint that was barely visible with the time’s passage. Hana stood uncomfortable below the signpost. It creaked slightly when Hana leaned her arm against it. It felt like it was going to topple over in any second. It was pretty strong years ago, though. Dad had kissed them on their cheeks, at that very spot, with high hopes of finding a better opportunity in the city. He had a brand new hat and suit that matched the color of his tie. He was smartly gelled, shaved and brushed. Mom had wiped his shoes bits to bits the previous night, that it glistened under the sun as he took a step further away from the town. He said in a bright, hopeful tone that he would write them every day, and take them to the city as soon as possible. Hana was never sure when that ‘soon’ was, but she waited. Mom read his letters to them in their bed every day, and Rosie drew petunias, Mom’s lemon pound cakes and Hana’s mufflers- everything she could find. Dad said he missed home, and Rosie wanted to send him home. The letters stopped arriving; in the end, he did return, but simply as a news that travelled all the way to the small, old town.

Hana stepped into the town. The town was now a barren wasteland, with no life evident on the streets. Not even the rats that lived in the sewers peeked into the daylight. Hana disliked the silence that filled up every corner of the town. Just years ago Hana heard a cacophony of high and low-pitched voices rising from every visible parts of the streets. The silence in the town made Hana wince at the disparity it had caused. Only her footsteps echoed back to her. Only the streets and the shrubs that grew by the paths welcomed the time’s waters, and what stayed were the vestiges of unfulfilled yearnings. Hana passed by Mrs. Whittaker’s bakery, where Rosie saved her nickels in a jar to buy her favorite raspberry tarts. Hana remembered gardener Joe, whose wife Mary was a florist who lovingly handed Rosie a rose or a daisy. Rosie had taped a fallen petal onto the letter she wrote to Hana that day, and Hana was sure that letter was somewhere in the box, though the petal would have dried and withered. That day Mary had told Rosie about Provence’s lavender fields where waves of purple stretched till the horizon that even the sunlight looked purple. Rosie scribbled her letter in purple, and said she would ask Dad to take them all to see the purple sun, when he came back. Hana recalled not being able to write about the lavenders, because she knew Dad would never return, and there would be no one to take them to Provence. She only said someday they would get there. Soon, someday, one day. These words held meaningless promises of reunion that no one kept.

Hana walked past the houses that no one resided in anymore, and stood before the familiar red-roofed house with ivies invading every hole between the bricks on the wall. She hesitated for a good amount of time, nearly turning her footsteps twice. The letter in her bag held her back every time; it seemed to call her back home, a home that was no longer home. She walked, into the doorsteps that she had promised herself she would never return. She had watched the departure through the very doorstep she had just passed, and she had to frown to stop herself from crying. Hana walked through the hallways; the air reeked of old wood, and it felt stale, as if from another era. Hana imagined Rosie sitting by the fireplace, writing her letters with terrible, squiggly letters. She walked by the grandfather clock, which that stopped ticking ages ago, and climbed the spiral stairs slowly, pressing her foot onto each step she made. Somehow her heart felt fleeting and wandering- lost. She stopped before Mom’s room. Hana had expected her room to be locked, just like the day she left the house, but it was open. The doorknob felt hot in her palms. When she stepped into Mom’s room, a faint stench of alcohol brushed her nose. Alcohol bottles were strewn on the floor haphazardly. Hana took a step back and held her breath. The day Dad’s letters stopped arriving, Mom locked herself in her room, and refused to come out. She could never take it well, because she became utterly cold when Dad was mentioned, and Hana understood. It was never easy to let love hide from your sight. Hana prepared all the meals and left the trays outside her room, and only occasionally were they emptied. She slipped letters through the small space below the door, but the letters were always unanswered.

Hana sat on Mom’s bed, and dust rose into the mid air like snowflakes. Something rustled beneath her old bedsheet, and Hana uncovered some unwritten, some unfinished letters beneath it. Some simply had Dear Rosie or Dear Hana; some had two lines, and some had none. Some was just signed off, With all my heart. One, buried deep under the pillow, was dated back to days after Hana had left: it said sorry. She wondered what Mom had been thinking all those years, locking herself up in solitude, refusing to let anyone into her own space. Until the very last moments in her house, Hana didn’t get to see Mom. Did she leave the house in the end? Hana didn’t expect Mom to find her. Hana closed her eyes and took a deep breath; the faint stench of alcohol floated in the air. The day Rosie caught a bad cold, Hana had knocked onto Mom’s door, telling her that they needed to bring her to the doctor. It was the worst winter they had experienced in years, and the blizzard was devouring everything into its bleak white gulf. Hana was pretty sure Mom had heard it, because she heard rustling inside her room. Hana fed Rosie a spoonful of old cold syrup and a lemon drop, and told her bedtime stories until she fell asleep, cocooned in Hana’s embrace. In the morning Rosie’s fever worsened, and so did the blizzard. Nothing could be seen beyond the porch, and at least, Hana then thought, with Mom’s car, they could drive Rosie to Mr. Williams’s, the town doctor. The knocks turned into desperate bangs, and echoes that returned to Hana unanswered. Hana stood up and walked over to the door. She ran her fingers against the door, and imagined what Mom could have thought then, when Hana cried for help. Help, Mom, Hana whispered. Her voice escaped her throat as a thin whisper, still an unanswered echo.

Hana clutched the letters in one hand- she could only guess now what those letters meant to say, but she wished Mom had finished writing those letters and opened her door on that day, few years back. Hana held the doorknob and collapsed to the floor, just like the day she fell, on the other side of the door. She had screamed that she would wait for Mom to come out and take care of them. She cried all night that day, and she did check on Rosie once in awhile, but when she returned to Mom’s room, she fell asleep by her locked door. Hana was barely fourteen, and Mom was just very sad. That night the blizzard wrapped its hands around every household, breathing onto the roofs and engulfing all presence of warmth. And Rosie was very, very sick. Hana cried, recalling all her last moments in this lonely home. Winter put everyone into a long sleep, and it was as if Hana was the only one awake amid the cold snowstorm. As soon as the winter ended that year, Hana ran away from home, cursing that she would never return. Now she wasn’t sure if it was anyone’s fault, but even when she was away from home, she often thought of home. She thought of Dad staying home, in his humble pajamas instead of smart suit, and she thought of Mom opening her doors wide, and thought of herself and Rosie running into her embrace, with her arms enfolding around her mother’s waist. She thought of her sister running in the wheat field, her gold locks dancing in the air as the sun splashed its lights onto them. This, she thought as she held the old rusty doorknob and opened it, this is where it ends. Hana carefully unzipped her bag and opened her diary, gingerly slipping the envelope from the pages of her diary. She tore it slightly, and opened the envelope. A small, colored paper fell from the envelope.

Dorothy walked along the yellow bricks to find her home. If all the paths Hana walked were the yellow bricks, where was her home? Hana unfolded the colored paper that fell from the envelope. Inside was a drawing, carefully decorated and colored with crayons, of Mom, Dad, Rosie and Hana by their red-roofed house. They were all smiling and holding one another’s hands, looking very, very happy. On the back Rosie had written: Hana, this is a present for you! I hope everyone comes back soon and we’ll all be happy together. Home, home, where everything was alive. Hana held the drawing close to her chest. She could almost feel the slightest sentiment of warmth lingering on the paper. As Hana held the letter close to her; she tried to imagine Rosie speaking to her about their beautiful red-roofed home with Mom baking cakes and tarts every weekend and Dad reading them books. She reminisced them sitting by the fireplace with hot chocolate in their hands, speaking of all the small sparkling things that happened in their lives. She recalled all the letters they shared overnight, reading and reading them as the night deepened. All the days and nights where they spoke of hope. Hana thought about the day Dad left and when only his brand new silk hat returned, and when Mom started building her own solitary cave. Hana stood outside her door, speaking to the door that never answered back, Then she remembered the pile of letters in Mom’s room, her unwritten letters of apology. Hana could almost see the hesitant fingers hovering above the empty papers, chasing the time that had already passed by her, leaving ink blotches on the bed. The thousands of unspoken, untouched words that finally echoed back to Hana’s unanswered letters. For all these time Hana had been running away from home, chased by the ghost of the past. And when she finally turned around after years and years, the ghost was nowhere to be seen. Hana wished she had stopped halfway to turn around earlier.

Hana turned to the final station of her destination. She stood by the door that led to Rosie’s room and held her drawing close to her palms. The room smelled of old vanilla and lavender, two of Rosie’s favorites. The room was still and preserved, as if time hasn’t resided in that room since Rosie left Hana. It was exactly like the day Hana left, with Rosie’s box of crayons still by the corner of the room and her wooden horse on the other side, gently moving from side to side as wind blew. It felt as if Rosie was waiting for her the entire time, throughout the years that passed and Hana yet distant from home until the very moment Hana stepped into the doorsteps of her room. Hana stood in the middle of the room, and each step she took creaked from beneath the wooden floor. Hana took a deep breath as she held the drawing even closer to her palms. Rosie, Hana spoke. Her voice echoed in the room; a summer breeze tickled her cheeks, as if Rosie was answering to her calls. Hana closed her eyes as the breeze brushed against her eyelashes. I’ve finally come home.