Sandie Cheng | Postcards from Grief

An addiction can’t be helped. The euphoric rush coursing through makes the chase all the worthwhile. I feel it most in airports—the in-between of here and there, the nowhere, the oblivion. I could listen to airplane engines for hours if it meant dulling the static noises. If it meant I could keep running. If it meant I could stay. If it meant time could stand still, could rewind to when you were still here.

***

It started raining in Lucerne, Switzerland, a day after you died in Queens, New York. In muted heartbreak, I paced through the Rosengart Collection and went through the lives of Picasso, Klee, Matisse, et al. At the gift shop, I settled on the postcard I would have sent you: a print of Dancer II by Joan Miro. On the back I write, “We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through or feel we’ve had enough time.”*

I keep the postcard with me, and I let my grief travel.

***

Alan Watts becomes my main source of comfort because he intellectualizes my grief. In other words, he helps me maintain myself in polite Western society. Well, death is just nothingness, so what is there to fear? It’s like going to sleep and slipping into eternal peace. It’s a way to make room for more life. No one is meant to live forever.

Silly me,
………………………thinking you should have survived,
………………………thinking you could have survived,
………………………thinking it was too soon.

All my friends start saying the same things: They open and close their mouths like greeting cards with used sympathies.

First,
they ask me if we were close.
………….If so,
………………………how close?

You were not family
………….(you were not a lover).

They tell me that you’re in a better place now.

They give me those sad smiles, where only certain facial muscles move to muster a fraction of empathy.

I want to scream.
………….Instead
………….I smile
………….and say, “Thank you. You’re right.”

I begin hating all of my friends.

***

We’re in Cozumel, Mexico, and we’re in bed. We watch Bright Lights—the documentary about Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds. They died a day apart from each other. Carrie went and Debbie followed in heartbreak.

“I went too fast, I was too much, and I was embarrassed of it,” Carrie Fisher says.

We finish the documentary, and I pull the sheets over my head and weep because someone finally put words into what I’ve felt for a lifetime.

“We can’t go on if you’re like this,” he says. “It’s too much.”

I think about how you would have never said something like that to me.  You would have listened.

***

The cars on the Grand Central Parkway sound like crashing waves. Two boxes ship to your house from school, and I bring a suitcase of clothes from California. I bring my entire life, or what’s left of it, to New York City for an unpaid internship at a tech startup. To be fair, they are giving me a lunch stipend and swipes for the MTA. I am lucky, considering my fellow graduates do not get jobs right away, or they delay it with graduate school. I am also lucky because I am living (in your family’s house in Queens) rent-free. I sleep on the couch in the sun room, I share the bathroom with the rest of the family. My commute is only (!) an hour and a half to the co-working space in Greenpoint, shared with other startups, including, at its infancy, Uber.

It’s late, almost midnight. You sit on the foot of my makeshift bed in the sun room, beaming from ear to ear.

San-dee-licious! Your sun-kissed California skin and that cookie-crumb smile are so dee-licious!

You tell me that you hate New York. You are so tired. You work all the time. But you smile and nod, and I tell you that you remind me of an anime character: ready to burst with joy.

“Then what do you want to do?” I ask.

I have to work to take care of the family.

“But what about you?” I press on. “What about your dreams? You only have one life.”

I say this as your sisters, your mother, and your father sleep soundly upstairs. The car lights scatter through the blinds; the highway continues to flow like waves. We listen and wait for the crash.

***

*Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

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Sandie Cheng is an AAPI writer and actor from Riverside, California. She studied psychology and human rights at Cornell University. She is currently in her final year training at the Maggie Flanigan Studio in the Meisner technique. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her partner.

2018-01-22T12:10:47+00:00 January 17th, 2018|