Apr. 5th, 2012

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3:16 a.m., 4/5/2012
by J. Peter Siriprakorn on Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:17am ·

i close my eyes. it's the summer of 1996. i am deleriously happy. i am in love, and with a girl no less! though she is pair-bonded with my best friend, a man-child i idolized because he was everything i was not: strong, robust, athletic, stout of heart, patient, kind. a good italian american christian boy who was saving himself for his first real love in the pre-internet days when adolescents still wore chastity belts. also, i was not yet gay -- at least, not in a way i could acknowledge or make sense of. early coming-out requires a level of self-awareness that's a western luxury 1st generation asians know little of -- we mature later, if at all. authoritarian regimes will do that to you.

i had just spent two long, miserable, lonely years abroad in thailand junior and senior year of high school, and desperately needed to reconnect. i was fortunate in that respect; my old friends had come together in the intervening years, brought together by reminiscing about me (or so they said), so from the start there was some semblance of family, a sense of belonging, the gifting of a sense of absence. and tony and emily and i...the three of us grew unimaginably close during those halcyon days -- emily and i spent all our nights together, roaming empty suburban lots barefoot, traipsing through cold dew-covered grass to smoke marlboro reds stolen from her mother's purse. reading each other bad confessional poetry over candlelight. driving over to tony's house to throw rocks at his window to wake him (his parents were a bit puritanical. no girls over after dark. remember, virginia used to be a red state. bloody fucking tampons strung up like flags to remind women they have no reproductive rights.)

but god, summer at 17 in the burbs? such blissfull carefree days. lasertag arena fights that never ended, hours lost roaming the malls and the arcade and rolling down hills giggling at wolf trap farm park. tossing coins in the air while we lay with outstretched arms, fanning the center of a midnight cul de sac like harbingers of light and sound. nintendo parties at kathleen's, 8 and 16-bit ecstasy, late night scary movies, chasing emily's dog pippin through misty fields at 3 a.m. and me, seemingly always retreating to strum a lone guitar -- playing an old dinosaur jr. riff i can now barely recall -- on a hillside overlooking the woods outside tony's house. it was a summer resplendent with simple adolescent dreams. and they're dreams i miss precisely for their simplicity.

one night that august emily and tony and i found ourselves sitting outside under our favorite tree after sundown. we each held hands, having just seen a shooting star, which in our youthful fervor we took to mean that we were destined to always love one another, to be there for one another. to be a HOME for one another. i remember feeling very young and very strong, staring off into the unknown defiantly, knowing we stood poised at the cusp of our youth, but together, with bravado, with bravura, a force to be reckoned with, an army of three. i had been alone for so very long. mqybe since my mother had lost her mind.

in the days that followed, as tony packed up his bags to leave for Emory, and i packed up my bags to leave for Michigan (Emily stayed behind) we wept and wept and made promises we couldn't keep. oh, but how desperately and earnestly with thought we could cling to permanence in the face of change! when in fact the veil had already been pierced. our bags were already packed and loaded in the van. this cry is the last goodbye. tomorrow you will grow up and move on to the rest of your life. and the old adage would soon prove true: you can't go home again.

that summer gave me the happiest moments of my life. i have never really been happy since.

oh, but then college in ann arbor, where my parents had forced me to go. to study ENGINEERING. to be a proper asian. a 'school' that was sprawling, lax, utterly unstructured, uninspiring, and populated by jock imbeciles from jersey who'd laugh during poetry seminars and say "man that was way over my head!" and with college, the progressive dawn of my whiny immigrant 1st world problems. too much drinking, too many drugs, too many crazy parties, misguided attempts to fit in, too much identitarian confusion, too many efforts to find a niche. all the while facing a dawning awareness that your past was something to truly be reckoned with, and that it was troubled in a way that most others' were not. then more late adolescent drama: tony and emily breaking up, emily immediately dating tony's friend steve. existential confusion. loss of love and trust? then later, an alleged revenge rape, her suicide attempt, public denial and humiliation, confusion, betrayal. but who was i? what was i doing? did our promises mean nothing? then memories of my home life began to really surface. and you realize that not every kid was locked in closets and beaten and kept in cellars for months at a time. that there's a word for what youre mother had: postpartum psychosis. acknowledging a complex trauma is strange, like reading a familiar novel for the first time. it's all a retroprojection. meanings shift. your heart breaks all over again. realizing you were terribly abused suddenly makes home no longer home, yet neither was michigan home. it was too alien to provide a safe haven. a liminal space again, suspended between imperatives to move successfully through two (any, multiple) worlds, radiating confidence -- honor student, grade-skipper, precocious violinist, under/overachiever, budding intellectual, fledgling writer...all titles, things that didn't make me any less alone. a virtual paralysis among all the elided moments and people you could never fully be.

all this becomes too much to bear, and you were never much of a literary/analytical person anyway to ruminate and brood successfully (at least not until later when i got a decent education transferring to uchicago). plus you have your Orgo II and Biochem final, for christsakes, and Diablo just came out! so you retreat into distraction. such stages are progressive. first is distraction. then disaffection. then rage. then numbing with hard drugs. you seek out new subcultures, finding dominant culture repugnant for its populism: you discover detroit rave, punk/indie/noise rock. you buy visors with light up stars and phat pants 20 sizes too big. you buy a beat up gibson les paul custom 1997 tobacco sunburst you can't afford, but that you can let wail. you get your labret pierced the day you flippantly fail a shakespeare final. oh, a friend overdosing here and there? you hammer a stake into the ground, cut your losses, and move on. all the while your diminishing and already febrile sense of direction, or rather your inability to dream of a life truly yours warns you that each of us is standing against a rising tide, and we are slowly losing ground. you stick needles in your arm. and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

eventually this erosion not only sets the tenor of your life, it becomes it. and you learn to embrace it -- all the shores you wash up on, the amazing people you inadvertently meet, all the bridges you unwittingly burn. and now, at 33, you see in the mirror a kid once bullied for being so far ahead now fallen so far behind, you see your mother with a belt in her hand, you see the bloody jaw where your father knocked out your tooth, you see a small boy of eight superimposed over the grizzly spectral facade of a recovered meth addict turned grad school theory junkie with some measure or promise turned PhD screwup/runaway turned ____

i know sooner or later a final reckoning with my past is inevitable. it's the only way i can claim a life that is mine. wish me luck. it's been one hell of a journey.  maybe when it's all over we can have a beer and laugh at the absurdity of it all.  drinks are on me.  you in?

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