Read this to me
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As I think about what I want to write to you, I find myself wondering why I’m writing this at all.
The first reason that comes to mind is for affirmation — not mine, it seems, since this could end up in a landfill in South Korea and I would be none the wiser. No, yours. So you can see the impact you’re making in people’s lives. That feels odd though, since you’re obviously already seeing the impact you have on so many millions of people. What’s one more ARMY bomb in the crowd, one more ticket sold, one more letter penned? In your own words, who am I to you? I am the words on this page and a pulsing light-stick illuminating a pale moon of a face; you are Saturn weaving your own web in the center of it all. We are necessarily opposites in our relationship, so far apart that we overlap and cross paths in all our differences. But perhaps we are the same, because at the end of the day I just want to be held and seen and maybe loved, and so do you.
So you’ve been warned.
Read ahead at your own risk.
Content warnings: desperation, crisis, fear, love. So much love.
I’ve often thought about where to start this letter. What do I mean to you; what do you mean to me? Chronologically: I stumbled across ashleygold25’s lyric video of “Awake” on YouTube by chance and sobbed my eyes out. Thank you, Seokjin, for your honesty. There is a near-decade separating us, yet I felt in some way what you were saying. Isn’t it absolutely beautiful and ridiculous that we are all so different (you will never feel exactly how I think, know what it is like to be my cultural identity, my gender identity, why I sleep curled up like I do) yet so similar (we hear the same notes of the same tunes, see the same words on the same pages of the same author’s thoughts, taste the same city air, tar-black and tire-thick). I suppose identity is as good a place as any to start. As a child, I wanted so badly to be half white, to have bright greens and blondes and blues running through my veins and my face. Part of it was the dysphoria that inevitably comes with being a person of color in this world, but a larger part of me wanted to trace the cracks I was already feeling in my bones. My marrow was Magic Tree House and Harry Potter and the English language, but my face was Journey to the West-ochre, my hair straight out of The Ring, and my nose a shiny round pearl of the Orient. I desperately wanted my outsides to match my insides so I could see and hear and love them, or even to flip my self inside-out so I could love my Chinese the way I loved my Western, as a quirk. I still speak English fluently and without a “foreign” accent, more so than my mother dialect; some twisted part of me relishes gleefully that in the English-speaking world I am seen to belong. I revel in the fact that I am able to live my life away from everything I used to hate about myself.
Belonging is an odd concept, isn’t it? To whom do I belong, or to what? And who perceives it, takes note and acts on it? It’s deceptively easy to proclaim — I belong to myself, whom I answer to: the captain of my fate and master of my soul (Henley, 2010). What does it mean to live in a world of borders that traversed to create me, but that I cannot lift to accommodate me? I’m still trying to figure out where belonging fits in this world of uncapped captains and half-masted masters.
Sometimes I wonder how I lived without your music. How did I halt the damp, paralyzing caress of those roots that wrap around me, that pin me down onto my unmade bed and drain the life out of me? Sometimes I wonder: did they come from the same part of my heart that holds you? Those tendrils of dark that perhaps entered through the fragile windows of my heart, through which your moonlight shines so bright sometimes. (Are those the same arms that hold me through the nights?) Maybe it was something I used to have, then lost, before you slotted into my life. Yet wanderers in a dark desert know when the flame of their torch has gone out; I didn’t realize mine had vanished until you were there to relight it. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying enough attention.
That is also probable. I’d seen concert videos pulsing through my timeline, heard about the mad dash for BTS, watched the Billboard Music Awards live to support “East Asian representation!” And yet each time you slipped through my fingers.
How can I trust myself to hold onto you now?”
This letter is months in the making: in that time, I have loved you more and less, come and go, as I love myself. As anyone loves — what a fickle thing, the poets declared. What a mercurial lining that holds our lives together; what a sight for sore eyes. It seems inevitable to wonder what lies on the other end of this capriciousness, whether the tesseract leads us to faith or futility. Take me home, country road.
My life and memories are split across three continents, each staking a claim to the proper noun “Home.” I’ve come to realize that home comes in parts and pieces, halves and thirds and five-fourteenths. None of them fit quite right: there’s always something missing, something about those traded-away nine-fourteenths choking the heart like bile in your throat. Home is an armpit-pinching shirt that’s grown flappy around the midriff; you’ve outgrown it and it you. But you are not my home. I’ve learnt better than to make my home within the waves of these four dimensioned walls. You are the tether that I cling onto when I forget that home ever existed, when the damp darkness kisses moldy flowers into my skin. You are the reminder that ochre and ebony are beautiful and have always been. You hold the harm and pain inside me in your carefully cupped hands and make music out of it.
In my culture, like many others, there’s a long tradition of palm reading. Decades-old creases as a physical manifestation of the future and what’s meant to be. Maybe we belong to the past after all. Or maybe we belong to the people whose hearts we cradle in our gentle, open palms, and to those who hold our hearts. It seems inevitable that the harm and pain and joy and love inside me are seeping into the folds of your skin and trickling into your timeline, just as your pain and joy and harm and love soak over me as waves on a sandy shore. I shape and belong to you in the ways that I am you; you shape and belong to me in the ways that you are me — a symbiotic rhythm, a rhizomatic synchrony, all those big words: identity, love, belonging, home.
Henley, William Ernest. (2010). Poems. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger Publishing.
Tse, F. (2020). Letter. The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , (1). https://ther3journal.com/.
Tse, Fion. “Letter.” The Rhizomatic Revolution Review , no.1, 2020. https://ther3journal.com/.
Letter by Fion Tse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Illustration credit: Zuza Resides @ResidesIn