Of Marriageable Age: The Long, Dark Wedding Season of the Soul

Doom.

Doom.

The death certificate of my childhood arrived in a crimson red envelope.

I slipped the contents out onto my desk and unsealed them, unfolded them, unclasped them. I had never received a missive so delicate or so complex, and it took several moments for my baboon digits to free the contents to browse. What appeared from within shook my heart with horror. I trembled suddenly for reasons I could not then articulate. The sky outside seemed to darken, the clouds grew heavy with ash and smoke. Everything tasted like salt and copper and purple.

Tina is getting married in August. This was the first wedding invitation of my adult years.

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Visions of Sickness From Faraway Places

Friends, Romans, and countrymen and -women, I have fallen ill. It has been a gross several days of torturous hot-and-cold, toss-and-turn, binge-and-purge grossness, the details of which I will spare you. Well, mostly. I went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with tonsillitis. He helpfully described the pus forming on them as a “cheese.”

You will be proud of me in that I totally did not barf on his shoes at this description.

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Ayi Audition: Livecast of the “Michael’s Gross Apartment Maid Invitational”

All right, lady. Do your thing.

All right, lady. Do your thing.

At long last, I had cracked. For months, friends and acquaintances had assured me that life on the other side was something incomprehensibly better. That once you crossed the threshold, going back was no longer an option. That even glancing back at your old life would make you shudder and recoil, terrified that you ever could have lived such an unfulfilled, empty existence. I resisted, mostly out of a strange attachment to the status quo. Change is scary. Change is change.

But finally, I relented. On Sunday, I opened my door and let a pleasant middle-aged Chinese woman in to clean my house. And I don’t think I can ever go back.

12:32 I have been tidying slightly, although I know it is a ridiculous impulse. I am somewhat terrified at what this stranger will think of me, what the state of my apartment will say about my character, my personhood, my lack of culture. I imagine her peeking inside the door, cringing visibly, shaking her head and muttering in Mandarin before trudging back to the elevator in disgust.

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A Suitcase Full of Bones

Yangon Circle Line

Forever headed down new tracks.

I wonder, sometimes, what immigration officers must think of me.

As I pass through their lines, I am not always at my best. Typically dishevelled, bearded and sweaty and drooping, stinking of unbrushed teeth and unwashed armpits and as much free Heineken as the stewardesses will allow me. And then there are the times when I must be showing visible disturbance: agitation or discomfort; a sense of fear or anxiety of what lies before me; and, more than once, a stream of shaky tears forging new rivers down my trembling, tired face.

I wonder if they know what leaving looks like, if they know the smell of it, the quirk of a man’s eyebrow, the tremble on a woman’s lip. I wonder if they can differentiate the people who are off for a vacation, the sprightly and the excited, the people already pre-shellacked in sunscreen and tropical rum. I wonder if they can pick out the one-way tickets from the round-trips. I wonder if they can pick out those that are about to set off on a different journey, the kind that doesn’t always lead back home.

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Adulthood and Meatballs: My Independence Begins in an Ikea

ikeapic

Two sacks and a basket full of grown-up, please.

The delivery man squinted. If he didn’t recognize my address, he was definitely beginning to recognize my face, and this had been the third time I airlifted food into my apartment that week. My beautiful, spacious, ramshackle and unfinished apartment had no knives. It had no pots or pans, except for the single frying pan given to me by the school, which came sans handle. My apartment had no towels, other than the travel towel I had slipped in my bag for emergencies. My apartment had no mats, no coat hangers, no spices, no sheets.

Of course, confronted by this sort of situation, I usually adapt comfortably. The bachelor lifestyle suits me like a velvet glove, and I can easily subsist in an apartment with a bed, two chopsticks, and a decent internet connection. That my new home had a couch and a television and a spare bedroom and working air conditioners was already beyond my expectations, accoutrements I barely knew how to fathom, let alone care for. Give me a barren concrete block with fewer things to clean and I will live my life in perfect, monastic peace.

Of course, the state of my living space was of some concern for the people whom I worked with, and for my friends. There was the growing concern that I was not eating properly, or not eating at all. Other humans heard the stories of my deliveries and imagined me splayed out on the hard tile, scooping fistfuls of pork and rice directly into my mouth and then, with no towels or water or anything to clean myself, simply smearing the leftover sauce in my hair, which as you know is nature’s towel.

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The Maturity Boomerang: A Soft, Easy Sojourn Back to Adolescence

The Jaded Raven

The raven thinks you should probably learn to handle your crap.

At age twenty-two, I purchased some suitcases, strapped most of my belongings to my back and moved to another country. Some days I made breakfast: eggs and toast, pancakes, artless arrangements of seasonal fruits. On good weeks, I washed my clothes and hung them on a dry-rack in the centre of my apartment, a wobbly aluminum X with straining arms, and sometimes even managed to fold and shelve each item, even the socks. I combed my hair and brushed my teeth. Once or twice I shaved.

I held down a job. With two degrees under my belt I was reasonably well educated, or at least enough that another country was willing to furnish me with a plane ticket and a studio apartment. I managed my finances and made travel arrangements and trips to the doctor. I picked up prescriptions and threw birthday parties for others, and would sip hot tea in the evenings over beloved hardcover books. I had spare keys made. I filed government forms related to my foreign pension. Other people occasionally asked me for assistance with grown-up things.

To say I cherished the accoutrements of adulthood is maybe an understatement: I revelled in them. I allowed myself occasional dalliances with childish exuberance, with slivers of immaturity. Adventure Time became a significant part of my life. While managing my bank statements and taxes, I sometimes wore prescriptionless glasses, as they made me feel more bookish and capable of money-handling. Dinners, when I made them, often resembled breakfasts, which are the easiest kinds of meals to make.

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Nomad Heart

Out on the water

The hour was late, and our drinks were dwindling down to single remaining sips. Some of my friends had already gone home, each punctuating their exit with an embrace, a wish of good luck, a lingering handshake. Thanh and I stood near the piano and continued berating the pianist to play “Leaving on a Jetplane,” because that’s what we were doing the next day, and we were several beers deep, and just play the damn song.

The familiar strains eventually hit us, and my friends joined in to sing the words as they said their last goodbyes. It was dark outside, but warm and safe within, as I was surrounded by friends, by relatives, by colleagues. Each expressed their love, their concern, their hope. It seemed absurd, in that moment, that I could want to abandon that feeling. That I had already packed my bags, and was preparing to leave all of this.

All of this was the only this that I had known.

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