In This Moment, You Are Here


Summertime in Paris. My sisters and I sat outside, the moon full, lighting the patio where the tables were covered in white lace, France’s flower, the lily, in a small vase at the center of our table. They wore floral printed dresses that reached just above the knee. I had on my favorite dress, black, long, simple. Stale tobacco and sweet and musty body odor floated around in the air, making our noses crinkle up, wrinkling our foreheads. After eating four servings of bread and butter, we sipped on dry red wine. In a soft lull of conversation, a gentle moment I usually feel most contented, my sisters started asking me questions. “Who are you? What happened to you to make you this way?” This way. The way of emotional despondency. The way my jaw tightens when they talk about mom popping pills and dad’s indifference to our lives. The way of being queer. My thoughts started collecting, clustering somewhere deep in that secret place of my brain that I never visit voluntarily. With each blink of my eyes, memories jolted deeper and further in that cold box in my head. I locked it and abandoned the key.

I visit to the same coffee shop every Monday. The same woman is always working, hair pulled back into a bun, bobby pins holding down the auburn strands that naturally fall out, dressed in spring colors, usually lavender or honey yellow or the occasional emerald, with an apron tied around her waist. She makes me an iced coffee with almond milk and I am grateful for her kindness because dairy makes my stomach upset. One Monday, I arrive as usual at 12:25, on the dot. She asks if I want my drink to go. I panic and feel like I can’t breathe. I always stay to drink my coffee. Has she forgotten? In my despair, she swiftly recants saying, “Of course you want it for here! We want you to stay. We want you here.” The knot in my throat untangles and I catch my breath. I sit in the corner that has become my weekly home. A home of nurture and respect and trust. The home my sisters and mom and dad aren’t capable of providing me.

I tripped on mushrooms the month after going to Paris. Now dusk will never be the same. Air and wind and pavement and hands and girls in dresses will never be the same. The moon and I had a conversation for two hours and the secrets we shared will never be forgotten. It told me, you belong, you are here. We will be great friends for a long time. Even after my body dies and my soul moves to its next vessel. I am sure of it.

I try not to smoke cigarettes because they are bad for you — the carcinogens will kill you, people tell me. I want to care about the danger I invite into my body. I justify this juicy addiction. I can run 26.2 miles and I only buy organic produce. Purple and green kale that crunches so loud my teeth dance, strawberries so sweet I will never need cake again, and roasted walnuts that send my taste buds beyond ecstasy. But sometimes, the purity of fresh foods and endorphin highs don’t suffice my craving for the masochistic itch pulsing inside of my mouth.

After a long day fighting a wave resurfacing of memories: the feeling of intentional emptiness in my stomach, flashes of cutting my arms and watching the blood surface and liking the way the bright red color looks on my pale skin, the touch of a man’s unwanted eyes and hands on my body, feeling like my skin is trapping my soul inside a corpse that died far too early. After a long day of bullshit and pain, there is nothing like having five, maybe seven minutes to myself. To focus on nothing but the orange glow, the rush of bliss flooding my chest, smoke gathering up all the little and big anxieties from my day. With one steady breath out, everything bad is gone and all that remains is relief and freedom. For some small and glorious moment I am still. And in this quiet space I think about my sisters’ questions. “Who are you? What happened to you to make you this way?” I travel to that dingy box in the dark part of my brain and cut the lock. I find the answers. I vow not to share them with my sisters because they won’t like the truth. I think I’m okay knowing that I will share them with the moon later on tonight.

featured image – Khánh Hmoong