“Suddenly I see” was sort of like a curse that I had learnt when I was in high school. My brain was a broken record that replayed the song, no matter how much I tried to overwrite it with Billy Joel and Eric Clapton. I’d often whistle the melody and mumble the lyrics while I waited for the coffee machine to stop, but I always ended up redoing the chorus again and again because I misremembered some of the notes. By the time I got it right, the coffee was ready. Then it was over, the song was never finished. But I still trusted its honesty, and dreamt that someday I’ll be able to finish it.
Like a hurricane, Trisha got married. She became the devoted wife of a twenty-six-year-old Japanese writer, who came in for an exchange program in 2009 and whipped out the most romantic love songs from the tip of his ink pen in every poetry class he took. Come to think of it, from the moment he read that first verse about a coffee stain on a newspaper, Trisha had slowly started rolling off the hills of our motto: never trust a man who sweet talks you. Skinny jeans changed to miniskirts, sneakers changed to high heels. She stopped wearing sports bras. She never listened to Maggie and Ellen when they tried to teach her the ‘norms of society,’ when they didn’t even know how and why those norms came to be. But all was forgiven when they danced to KT Tunstall, crying their mascara off as they pulled Trisha in a pretty white dress onto the stage. I regret wearing five inch heels that day, because I felt like I came off as a bad dancer next to a beautiful lady in a wedding dress. When we got back to our seats, I realized that the song had taken over my brain as I whistled its chorus. But it went out of tune. Ryan laughed and told me “Tunstall’s too pure for you,” like he always did, and Trisha slapped his head on her way back to her seat.
“Can you turn that thing off?” was the first thing he said when Ryan called at two in the morning on a Saturday night. I was working on my last report of the semester with background music I hadn’t given a pinch of attention to. “What did I tell you about that song,” he mumbled, “it’s not made for us.” When I told him I was working on a report, he broke into tears and told me “that’s gay,” and I wondered if that was meant to be taken as self-deprecating humor of some sort. I almost told him that the topic of my report was actually about the inappropriate labeling against sexual minorities, but I didn’t. Long story short he was having a panic attack after he broke up with his boyfriend he had dated for at least his entire life. Three years later, he began working with a student counselor to help LGBTQ youth facing depression, and I used to think Q was for queen. He stopped calling me two years ago, suddenly. I missed him for a year, and another year went by with me scrolling through his Facebook page, liking all the posts he’d made. We still text.
Alex was fat. She always wore an XXL black parka that fit her body perfectly, and had the hood pulled over her head so that her short, curly black hair would be completely hidden under it. She used to go vegan every time she gained a pound and claimed to never steal my buffalo wings, or unconsciously open Ryan’s bag of Cheetos. But it never took her more than three days to go back to the habit. She also carried around a small sketchbook in her pocket to keep track of any flash of an idea for her fashion design portfolio. People thought it weird. She was just another university student learning statistics, not design. And, as everyone scoffed, she was fat. And because she was fat she used to get stuck in the bathroom stall. Not because of how small it was, but because she wanted everything out of her. Everything that made her beautiful. I never told her that, but she didn’t need to be told because just two years ago, she designed two dresses and one suit under the supervision of her chief designer, and wore one of the dresses to Trisha’s wedding, not a pound less. We wore the rest, and we were proud. But I was also a bit jealous of Trisha, because the moment she walked into the hall, I heard Alex say “I was born to do this” and couldn’t stop blowing her nose with her handkerchief. I must have been feeling the same way as Alex, but I kept my handkerchief in my bag, neatly folded and untouched. In the middle of the wedding party, I excused myself and left for the bathroom. I stayed in the stall for at least fifteen minutes, wondering what it must’ve been like for Alex as I coursed through the text messages that I didn’t even care about. When I came back to my seat, Alex texted me “you k??” And I laughed because she was sitting right next to me, and I didn’t want her to know that I wasn’t.
All the while, Trisha was happily conflicted with her motto and her actions, all the while Ryan fought his way through the crisis of his own and the others, all the while Alex embraced the beauty of her mind and physicality, I was in the corner of a conference room, tapping furiously at my iPad and repeating the same “please take a look at graph A-Z” while my co-worker sipped café au lait from my tumbler. I threw him a glance but he just gave me a reassuring smile and a nod in return. At the age of twenty-five, I learned to care about matters that I didn’t really care about, and then make a PowerPoint presentation out of it. But I never got used to that very same co-worker coming back to my home, throwing his tie over the couch, and asking me to join him for a bottle of cheap wine. Two years had gone by since the wedding, and everything just flashed past me as I sat in front of my computer and waited for something to suddenly spark.
When he came back home that day, he threw his socks in the laundry basket at the end of the hallway, and casually sat down next to me. He chose not to sit on the matching maroon cushions he bought for the both of us, but instead pushed one of them off of the sofa as he closed his distance with me. As it hit the carpeted ground, I remembered the day he said he liked the couch in my apartment. Our one-year anniversary.
I asked him if he wanted it, because I was moving out sooner or later. He said “I don’t want it if it’s empty.” There was a silence between us while he emptied my bag of potato chips into a glass bowl. The crumbs fell onto the porcelain kitchen table. He wiped them off with his thumb and my eyes followed. For a moment I thought he was going to lick it off because that’s what I would have done. But he didn’t, and washed his hands clean with hand soap. It was only after I had sat on the couch with him that the words properly registered in my head. And I felt flattered. His words felt so powerful and almost tacky enough to permanently cover up the hollow ambiguity that had built up in the back of my heart. He moved in two days later.
Nothing had changed since he moved in. In fact, a lot stayed unchanged for the five years I had lived in the house. The only thing that changed was the color of the curtains, the roughness of the pillow, the orange light from the lamp on the bed side table, the shadow casted on the side of his face when he fell asleep next to me, and the ring he had hidden inside the back of his bookshelf. Suddenly I couldn’t remember how I was looking into his eyes the past two years, and averted mine onto the cushion that laid helplessly on the ground.
In a flash I thought about all the pictures on Facebook that I had posted, that he had posted, of all the so-called authentic Mexican restaurants we went to, of all the classic reruns of movies we saw together, of all the mindless selfies. The phone calls I could make to my mom, to my friends. He took my hands.
But in the back of my head Tunstall was singing, unable to proceed from the chorus.