To Shafie.

The last time I wrote a letter to you was the first time I ever wrote a letter. I gave it to you with shaking hands and you returned it right back to me. The second time I wrote a letter, I left it inside the cover of a book I don’t think you’ll ever completely read. One could say that for a sister who writes, and a brother who reads, we’ve done a poor job out of the letters. So to set the record straight, I’m writing my third letter to you in the hope that this one doesn’t have more flaws than it holds the content. Excuse my vocabulary and my rather immature use of language- I know you’re a perfectionist and I’m only trying.

Dear Shafie,

You wrote to me once that in a world as uncertain as ours, only one thing’s for sure and that’s to have a sister who’d be there “beyond time, beyond space and beyond distance”. At the time it was only a beautifully woven quote to me, but now as time, space and distance pulls us apart, your words mean more to me than ever before. I hold on to those words one part because I know your words were true, and one part because I tell myself over and over again that they have to be true. We used to count the months till our father would return home, now we count the months till we get to see each other again. We grew up before we realized we were growing up.

But there’s no other way I’d have chosen to grow up like. Even though you used to beat me at chess and challenge me to table tennis tournaments with you, that one time I won tap-rugger against you because you didn’t want to grab the empty water bottle that made for a rugger ball is a memory I will hold on to proudly. Growing up with you, you were always two steps ahead- but I told myself that was only because you were half a decade older than me. Now that I’m older I know for a fact that empty plastic bottle was easy to grab but when you didn’t, you allowed me to be the champion for a change. And all those karate moves you taught me weren’t a big joke for you, but instead a means for you to tell me I too could punch you in the face and say I was only following the rules.

The 2007 Guinness book of world records holds more memories than records, because of all the planning we put in to try and figure out which bookstore, which shelf, which book in particular reflected our faces clearer than the rest. The sand hills we ran on hold more laughs than all the grains of sand on the mound, the diary entries I wrote as a seven year old consist of more times I hid my journal from you than the number of crossed out words or misspelled jargon. We got on to the stage, and I watched you be the voice to all those that were never heard, be the eyes for those who couldn’t see as far.. You were always someone they dared not to approach, because they knew you were made of stronger stuff than curse words or shallow poetry.

And even though our lives were shaped by great stories, wonderful books and so much to fight over and about, we always found comfort in the space we made for each other. Like the hand down books you gave me, like the times we extended our “homework time” to make our mother’s birthday cards, like the times we stayed awake thinking of plots to the stories we were yet to write, like the pictures we took by the anchors in our lives- our parents and the big metallic ones that hold the ships in place.

You were always full of knowledge and even though it’s a little annoying that you always know so much more about the world than I do, I’ve been the most comfortable knowing I could turn to you any time to ask you about anything and you’d have an answer. And I’ve watched you win at life, just like you won all those tournaments.

You’ve taught me by letting me watch you, and it must have been hard for you to deal with all the chaos in my life, and all the pranks that I had up my sleeves, but you put it all into place in a way I never knew anyone could. Being the annoying sister I’ve always been, you still put up with all of it. You’ve never given up on me and that’s why I haven’t given up on myself either.

Thank You, I don’t know what I’d be without you for a brother.



Nine Days Old

Nine days old
Down Syndrome
Atrioventricular septal defect
Tetralogy of Fallot
Patent Ductus Arteriosus

Nine days old.
You’re supposed to sleep a lot, your mom’s supposed to be tired from the weight of your body. Your dad’s supposed to be smiling and telling all his friends that his daughters got his eyes.
Nine days old.
You cry more than you sleep. Your mom’s exhausted from the weight of the world she carries on her shoulders. Your dad’s crying on the phone pleading with the insurance company.
Nine days old, and I look at you.
Wrapped in a hospital blanket, your eyes closed. Your fists are clenched as though you’re telling us that you won’t go down without a fight. You’re wailing in sorrow, or fear.. I can’t tell which. The doctors, they run their fingers through the few strands of golden hair you’ve got on a still so soft scalp. They speak a train of words- medical jargon that you don’t understand, and I’m glad you don’t because your dad’s afraid you’d say “congenital” before you’d say “mama”.
Nine days old.
You cry until you can’t feel the pain anymore, and you drift off to sleep. When that needle sticks into your skin, you don’t even wince. You’re exhausted and they tell you how you’re going to run your family dry- of happiness, and money and everything in between.
Nine days old and you’ve already got yourself more to think of than me.
Nine days old.
Nothing’s the way it’s supposed to be. You wake up with a startle and see lab coats instead of your mother, you feel stethoscopes instead of hugs, you smell disinfectant instead of baby soap. You look around, and don’t make a sound- as though you’re telling me that you might as well get used to this.

Some of my favorite stories are Yours (even though I don’t remember most of them)

I hope the weather’s nice and you’re doing fine. I hope we meet soon.

“You won’t even remember me!” You say as if you’re proud of the distance you’ve put between us, as if there’s only so little to remember about you… as if that’s the best thing that could ever happen to us. You say that with so much pride that it makes me feel as though I’ve always been the rain cloud in your perfectly sunny day. You say that as if all the years we’ve shared can simply slip past me, because they’ve already slipped away from you. And I stare at the wall ahead of me, your laugh echoing in my ear… a smile plastered to my face I say “Yeah” as if it’s the easiest decision I’ve ever made.

The door’s closed now, and even though I still hear your favorite songs through the walls of your sister’s room it sounds nothing like the way they did when you told me the lyrics you had tattooed into your life meant nothing. The songs, the words, the poems we made a life out of- they feel nothing with you. What I’ve learnt is that closed doors don’t make it any easier to forget you. If anything, it makes it harder.

I’ve told my friends how you stared into space one day and saw a ghost, how you told me stories about the bit of your life that I wasn’t part of, about how we built fortresses together and how your stories were always the best, but I’ve never told them how when I try to think of you now, the first thing I remember is how easy it was for you to ignore my presence. When I think of you I remember how you looked at me like I was a storm that was never quite in place. How when I think of you I remember too many things too hard to forget

With my ear pressed against the phone, I listen to your words. You’ve always had your way around words but why was it that day when I was held victim, you looked at me and looked away and walked without a word, as if I wasn’t worth a single word from your exquisite vocabulary. You said you had nothing to say to me, so how come you’ve got so much to say to me today?

I say “yeah” as if I’ve been waiting all along for you to say I’d forget you, as if that’s the obvious. You say goodbye, you say you don’t know when you’ll see me again, you said it’s alright. “Okay,” I say as though it never bothered me that we are finally living our dreams but living in pain.

So I wear your pearls; the ones you said you almost fell into the water trying to get a hold on, as I listen to your voice on the phone. Somewhere far away, in a country I didn’t know before, in a city I’ve never been to, from a room that plays your favorite song you tell me you’re fine. I bring the necklace up to my teeth. The pearls are real, I can hear the song in the background. I never forgot the words, and you know you ignored me. You say I’d forget you, and I laugh. I don’t have the heart to tell you I can’t.

An Open Letter to my Psychology Teacher

Do you know the symbol of psychology?” you asked on our first class.
What I thought I was looking forward to was the definition of the subject but that wasn’t what you drew on the board. Without words, you introduced me to a symbol and a subject that would change a lot about my life. That first lesson was pretty much the rest of our two years in your class. Most of the things you taught, you taught without the need to explain it in words.
In your class, I tried to lurk between the shadows and the dark corners and you somehow knew them all and turned on the lights. You dived in with us to explore the uncharted areas of consciousness and the less spoken areas of the mind. You left no room for shadows. The light was a little blinding, for an eye that’s been in the dark for too long cannot look straight at the light, but you taught us how to get used to it.
There were only five of us but in that class we felt like we were the universe itself; important as a whole, and important as individuals. You made us believe that everything else was  just rings of ice and dust that added to the beauty of the solar system we had come to make.
So we “internalized” our identities, finally proud of who we were for we were told for almost the first time to embrace who we are, to cry if we had to, to laugh if we wanted to, to literally.. be whatever the heck we wanted to be, and still be accepted as whole as we were. The psychology class, though not defined to four walls, is a place I visit in my mind quite frequently, because it was here in that space of infinity that we put out shields to rest; a place that I can carry like a fond memory at the back of my mind miles away from where we once said it belonged.
You did not demand us to be perfect students, instead you accepted us as “perfect”  students even when it was common knowledge that if perfect were to be called Virginia M. Axline, we were no more than a few odd students who read her name on a textbook, taking no less than four years to find the book that carried her words; even when you used air quotes to tell us we were exactly that.
 Learning from you in those two years gave fond memories to cherish, and knowledge that is hard to put away. I wonder often if I would have liked the subject just as much had it not been for my teacher.. I think the simple and obvious answer is that I wouldn’t have. I believe it is because of you that I like psychology, and for that I can’t thank you enough, ma’am. Some theories, some results from certain case control studies have been filtered out of my long term memory but if someone brings up Sigmund Freud I’m the first one to turn around. And Dibs in Search of Self is a favorite book of mine.
I would not be mistaken to say that psychology changed parts of my life but I’d be mistaken if I say my psychology teacher didn’t. You’ve left a long lasting impression on me, and I think it’d take forever to erase that. In this class I learnt how to work in a group, how it feels like to stand in front of an audience (even if the audience was a maximum of five) and how to be handed over responsibilities and how to handle them. I’ve come a long way, from stuttering in class to preparing myself to let a stage hear my words. My psychology teacher said “This is your opportunity. You’ll have to speak someday“, I didn’t know that it was a first to a many presentations, a first to a series of people I’d meet, words I’d exchange, ideas I’d embrace- none of which I regret.
This class, or more rather my teacher, allowed me to be appreciated for my work instead of my silence and this is where I learnt not just human psychology, but a lot about me. This is partly why it’s almost impossible to ignore how much knowledge and experience there was to take in those seventy minute sessions each day. Somewhere in those two years, in between all your lessons and your anecdotes and your stories, I learnt about life. About a symbol that you drew on the board five years ago, bridging a connection between my world and a world that finally made sense.
Thank You, ma’am.
Happy Teachers’ Day!
 From a student who hid in the shadows and made sense of the world, now stepping into the light and accepting the world for all that it is.