ECG strip (A reply)

To a person who knows exactly who I’m talking to/about.

I spent a month reading ECG strips everyday. The first one I read was one of a patient with ventricular fibrillation- he had a pacemaker implanted and a day later his ECG was as normal as every other 47 year old’s. No, I won’t forget that ECG strip. I won’t forget the way my friend and I looked at it or how at one glance we said in unison what the patient had. But we went to McDonalds that day and we laughed about our friends’ misdiagnoses, not to mention the guy who spilt hot coffee all over his pants. That day ended, and the next day we paired to look at yet another ECG strip. This way, the diagnoses got tougher and before we knew it we were already done with a week, and then another, and then yet another, until we had two days for our final exam. So I stayed up late, drained my coffee mugs, walked like a zombie during the day, poured over my books like a vampire in the night. 03:00 am, and the 04:00 am and then there was the exam. The four books I had altered between to study the ECGs, not forgetting all the ECG strips we read in class or the googled images saved in my phone’s gallery, were but the end of yet another subject. I slept through that night, complaining that I didn’t have anything to study for, because the next day was a new subject.

With all the pathological Q waves I saw, all the T inversions and ST elevations, PR prolongations, Wenckeback phenomena, diphasic and flutter waves, I knew I wouldn’t forget the signs of a myocardial infarction or an atrial flutter any time soon but I didn’t know there was a reminder of all those diseases put together in the form of two pictures- two pictures of two screenshots sent directly from somebody’s phone.

So when I received these messages I saw, to my surprise, yet another ECG strip, but this time it was different. Instead of the precordial leads were lines running into each other, rich descriptions of a person I didn’t know. Someone who read ECG strips better than I did, but captured a heart in the process too. Instead of the heart rate I could simply count the number of tears shed, and still not be able to put a number on it. Instead of a life at stake, it was love at stake. I poured over this piece of writing more than I poured over my books, as though the signs of a heart break that I could read on it could fix all the wrong answers I had marked on my paper. And for the first time, after an entire month of all the red and white paper, I held in my hands a beating heart- no murmur, no click, no pathological heart sound, and yet as broken as it could be.

An Open Letter to the Writer

I’ve read your words, over and over again until I can read the words back to you, but I could still look at it one more time and see your words from a different place. When you put your words into paper, when your fingers type out all the thoughts that rattle your mind, do you wonder whose eyes they may reach, or who on the other side of the world would write back to you?

Maybe you do, or maybe you don’t, but a day inside your mind would be the greatest adventure I could take, because the gyri and the folds of that complex but beautiful place inside your head talk about distance like it’s your favorite hiding place, love like it’s your best disguise, and they whisper words to me that blend the colours of the world together to make me feel as though I’ve touched every rainbow that ever touched the land.

Your words feel so tangible that I spend days trying to touch the words you write, as I slowly drown myself in the ocean of thoughts you’ve drowned yourself in first, and for the first time drowning feels like a place I’ve known. In this corner of the world where your words are the only home I know, I’ve made a blanket with the stories you’ve told, the haikus you’ve written and all the love you’ve spilled onto paper. And as your heart bleeds in the colours of black ink, I’ve stretched out my fingers to touch the edges of the worlds between yours and mine, and I run my fingers between the nuances that keep us so close, yet so apart. And like a bus bound in the right direction, but to the wrong destination I’ve joined you on a journey and I don’t even know when I did.

Your words reach me in the most unusual ways. Some, I find in my post box just after a walk with my dad and some on my computer screen at 03:00 am when I’m sipping my third coffee for the night, but despite what time they reach me they always seem to touch me in a way no one else has ever before. And somehow between then and now, between the reader in me and the writer in me, I’ve fallen in love with the person you’ve made yourself to be. And so I look at your words, and I stare a little longer because the furthest I’ll ever be to you is also the closest and I can’t imagine anything more intimate than how raw your words are and how your emotions are all just sprawled across the pages in the hours between dusk and dawn.

And I don’t know if my words would ever be the kind of depth that you’d take a moment to think about, but I hope they are, and I hope they reach you- because I look at your words, and I know no one’s ever seen you more. I look at the spaces between your lines and the way you dot your ‘i’s and cross your ‘t’s and I know I couldn’t ever get any closer to you than this. Out there for everyone to read, and yet your secret is so well in disguise that it makes me wonder if you fell in love with words, if you became a writer… just so that I can fall in love with you.

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When Your Father’s a Seafarer

When your father’s a seafarer you grow up listening to stories from lands so far and distant that most of the names he talks about are those you’ve never heard before. You read about flags and accents and cultures and you don’t know your geography because you can ask him and he can tell you the distance between two ports by heart. He knows all the canals ever built, visited every world wonder, tasted every flavor of coffee in the world. He can look at the night sky and read the stars like his favorite book, he can tell you what time the sun rises or the moon sets and he knows the sky and the sea, and he surprises you each time.

When your father’s a seafarer you can look at him and see in his eyes the sea, the dark and stormy nights that he slept on the floor close to the door because the TV screen might topple over and there’s only so much you can run with shattered glass on your sole. When your father’s a seafarer, photographs become your favorite way of communication. In exchange for your pictures of growing up- scribbled at the back your first word, are his pictures of orange trees and cobblestone streets, the kind of trees that don’t grow in your country.

When your father’s a seafarer, you learn to wait- because it’s only still November, and he won’t be back till March. You learn ways to busy yourself while time gallops two steps slower than it does when he’s around. When your father’s a seafarer you learn to compromise- he won’t be home for your school concert but he’ll be there whole summer long, every day and he will teach you to play table tennis.

When your father’s a seafarer, your teacher asks you to speak about your visit to the ship in front of your class, and you learn how to do it. Your friends are full of questions, and you suddenly feel like you know something in the world that the others don’t. When your father’s a seafarer, stories of ghost ships and  lonely nights are stories that keep you up through the night, not knowing if he’s awake or dealing with another unexplained blackout somewhere in the middle of an ocean. You learn to keep the scary stories to yourself while telling your friends the stories of beautiful sunsets and Christmas dinners.

When your father’s a seafarer your first hobby becomes a collection of coins from around the world that he bottled for you before you knew the meaning of “hobby”. You build ships inside bottles together, and when he’s home he lets you glue together all the pieces of his newest invention. When your father’s a seafarer you become his favorite story to speak about at the dinner table when the closest he can be to home is to draw out his memories for his crew to hear. When your father’s a seafarer, you learn to grow up fast- through the nights that you’re afraid of the pirates and through the nights that you’re reminded that there are unnamed storms yet to arrive.

When your father’s a seafarer, phone calls become lifelines. And every second past 08:15 is a tidal wave, every minute a thunderstorm and every hour a missed heartbeat.. until you can’t hear your own voice as you sit by the phone.

When your father’s a seafarer, he becomes your north star, your inspiration, your biggest fan, your hero- because you watch how he can be at two different places at the same time, and save them both!

Distance

5,842 km away from dad, 5,197 km away from mom and 10,381 km away from my brother

I looked at the horizon one day and couldn’t see for myself where the ocean ended and the sky began, as though the distance between the last drop of water in the ocean that I could see, and the first blue of the sky were just too close to say apart. I looked at my father that day, a silhouette against the setting sun, and suddenly his shadow was more beautiful to me than the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen. I drew distance on navigation maps, and home was mid-ocean, between breakfast and lunch, encrypted in morse code, enclosed as a message in a bottle addressed to someone I didn’t know who.

I walk outside and stare at a reflection of myself on a storefront, and for a moment it’s my mother and I stare long enough so that when night falls I could look for the North star that would lead me to my father who sails in an ocean that blends into the sky. And as I write, I find my brother in my words, his mind full of unfinished thoughts just like mine.

Sunsets and oceans and letters and evenings- this is how I know distance is only just an imposter.

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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.

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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.

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