The Necklace

 Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

“I can’t breathe. I’m probably going to die,” was Kate’s first thought as she entered her apartment. 

Stop panicking. Look under the sofa cushion. Behind the ref. Inside the ref. It might have fallen under the bed. Look. Look. Look.

As she turned her whole unit upside down, she felt that numbing feeling crawl up her throat, threatening to choke the life out of her. Look in the shower area. Inside your underwear drawer. In your messy study table. It must be there. It has to be there. It can’t not be there. But as she sat in the midst of her overturned room, it’s slowly dawning on her that it’s not there. The tears started falling freely. The sobs started to become louder until she was practically wailing. 

"I’ve lost it. I’ve lost her. Now she’s truly gone forever. I can’t breathe. I’m probably going to die,” she screamed in between sobs and shaky breaths. 

***

He can’t forget her desperate face. He’s gotten used to riding the elevator with her almost every day. And almost every day she had this melancholic look on her face as she clutched her necklace. 24…23….22….he tried not to stare at her too much because she might think he’s a creep or something….21….20…19…18...every day he tried to get the courage to say hi or good morning…17…16…15…but her sad face told him she didn’t want to talk to anyone…14…13…12…maybe one day when she’ll smile first then he’d say a simple hi…11…10…9…she seems like such an interesting person…8…7…6…okay, I also think she’s devastatingly beautiful…5…4…3…2…1. And so it goes almost every day during those precious seconds when they share an elevator ride.

But today was one of the rare days when they were about to share a ride up to their 25th floor rather than down. She turned to look at him, about to smile (or is that just wishful thinking) when her hand moved up to clutch her necklace and clutched…nothing. Panic started to cloud her eyes as she looked down to make sure the necklace wasn’t there. And then in a split second that panic became desperation. As the elevator doors opened to their floor she rushed out as if the devil was chasing her and entered her unit. Unit 2506. It’s not like he was stalking her. After all, he was Unit 2508. As he sat in front of his TV playing whatever random game he opened on his Playstation, he couldn’t get her face out of his head. Well, every once in a while he thought about her ever since he admitted he has a crush on her. But tonight, all he could see was how desperate she was when she realized she wasn’t wearing her necklace. I wonder what’s the story there? And then suddenly he heard a keening that went straight to his heart.

***

Kate felt as if her heart was breaking all over again. That necklace was her last link to her and now that she’s sure she has lost it, it feels like her world was once again falling apart. It’s been a year since she lost her and the pain all came rushing back like that giant wave that wiped her out the first time she tried surfing. She was there, laughing at her as she scrambled back onto her board and headed for the shore . She was crying from laughing, but at the same time she was saying, “Come on, get back out there and catch a wave. Or whatever the term is. You’re brave and fearless, go do it.” It would have been touching except for the fact that she was laughing her eyes out. “That hurt,” Kate told her. 

But this pain she’s feeling right now is magnified a thousand times. She clutched her neck, trying to wish the necklace back, but all she clutched was air and the phantom feeling of that cold, gold chain she has been wearing for a year. All she wanted to do now is to crawl into her Mom’s arms and cry her eyes out. But she’s been gone for a year. A year of constant pain and loss. A year of fury at whatever god or fate that took her away from me. A year of loneliness knowing that she was finally all alone in this world. A year where the only comfort to her was that necklace she wore around her neck, the last gift from her mom before she passed away.

And now, even that is gone, probably forever. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!,” was all she could wail. 

***

He couldn’t get that sound out of his head. At first he panicked, thinking something horrible may be happening to her. But when the wail turned into sobbing, he was sort of reassured that she was just crying, although that crying was still distressing. Did her boyfriend break up with her? Did she have a huge fight with a friend? Did she receive bad news, like someone close to her just died? And then he remembers her panic when she realized she wasn’t wearing her necklace. Could that be the reason why she was crying like her heart was literally breaking? Should I knock on her door and check if she’s okay. But she doesn’t exactly know him and even though he was just across the hall from her. She might find it creepy that he can hear her and she might think he was listening at her door or something. “The walls are super thin and you were crying loudly,” isn’t something he could actually tell her, even though it was the truth.

The crying finally stops, thank God. He still felt the urge to knock on her door just to check up on her. She’ll probably reluctantly answer the door, eyes red from weeping, runny nose and all (he’ll probably still find her cute), wondering who is this stranger that is randomly introducing himself to her after she has undergone what is probably a really horrible experience. Creepy. Okay, now is probably not the best time to talk to her for the first time. So he just says a quick prayer for her, hoping she’s okay.

He goes to sleep but he keeps dreaming of floating necklaces, weeping beautiful women, and an older woman whispering to him, “Go.” And he wakes up with an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. 

***

She knows she should get up from where she’s lying prostrate on the floor. Her tears have dried and may have even stained the rug she’s lying on. But even though she has stopped weeping, she feels numb and at the same time so emotional. She remembers the feeling of looking helplessly at her mom as she lay dying in the hospital. All she could do was hold her hand, and tell her, “It’s okay, Mom. I’ll be okay. You can leave. I will survive. I will not be alone.” Those are probably some of the biggest lies she has ever said out loud. 

"No, it’s not okay that you’re leaving this earth so young.”

 "No, I will not be okay, not for a very long time.” 

"No, you can’t leave me, I won’t let you.”

“No, I probably won’t survive this and I’ll be an emotional vegetable for the rest of my life.” 

“Yes, I will probably be alone for the rest of my life because you are the only one that I really have in this world.”

These were the things she really wanted to say but of course she couldn’t say them, not when she wanted her mom’s suffering to finally end even though her heart has been breaking the past months. As much as she wanted the two of them to go on living forever, she also wanted the ravaged lines on her mom’s face to finally go away and for her to have the peace that can only come from death. Even though Kate felt like dying herself, she had to let her go and say all those lies so she can go in peace. 

The only comfort she got in the days after her death is the fact that she had this necklace to literally hold on to. Yes, there were well-meaning relatives and friends who tried to sympathize and empathize but she somehow locked her heart away in those final moments and all she could think  was, “You guys know nothing. This pain is mine alone. I am finally all alone.”

And now that the necklace is gone, she can’t bring herself to move or feel anything. And yet she felt everything. “Maybe I’ll eventually just die here on this floor, alone. Well, at least I can finally see Mama.” And so she did not get up from the floor. 

***

Three days. He’s been counting the days since he last saw her. And now it’s been three freaking days. Did she go out of town suddenly? Has she been staying over with a friend? Or a boyfriend? “Stop it Raphael. Stop acting like a stalker or something,” he had to tell himself out loud. And yet, he couldn’t stop that feeling that something was really wrong. He saw letters and notices piling up on her door. But somehow, he knew she was still there. Should he knock and ask if she’s okay? Bu then again, they’ve never exchanged more than a few Hi’s and smiles, so he really can’t do that right? He hasn’t seen any food delivery guys on their floor so he’s worried she hasn’t been eating. Or maybe she’s a gourmet cook and has her kitchen stocked with ingredients to last her a month. 

He wasn’t used to this, this worrying about other people. Or actually, worrying about someone who’s practically a stranger. He’s used to having self-sufficient people around him all the time. He has a lot of good friends, but they rarely see each other because of all their busy schedules, but he never worried about any of them. And if one did ask for help, he would not drop everything and rush to his or her aid, but he would help if he didn’t need to go out of his way. And yet here he was, constantly thinking about the girl across the hall, wondering what made her cry her eyes out, and why she hasn’t gone out of her unit for the past three days. Okay, yes, he has a weird crush on her, but that’s not the only reason. He really is worried about her as a person, as a neighbor. Wow, this concern for a stranger thing really is weird. 

He’ll give her one more day. And if he still sees no sign of life at her door yet, he’ll give it a shot. 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Renoir and heartbreak over coffee

There he was, excitedly waiting for the arrival of the nicest, sweetest, funniest, smartest girl he’d ever met. God, when did he turn into such a mushy cliché? He wasn’t sure if this was actually the L word, but it’s probably the closest he’d ever been to that letter. He has never even been in the vicinity of L, just somewhere in the back row with letters C and maybe I. Never L. 

 

But if love was constantly thinking of her even as they continued to chat into the wee hours of the morning, if love was staring into space and daydreaming during meetings when you’re not supposed to think of girls, if love was already planning the trips you want to take her on because she’s never been outside of the country, if love was this inexplicable burst of affection when you remember how she made a fool of herself the first time that you met (but you thought it was actually adorable how she tripped thrice, once into your arms and spilled wine on her blouse and how she kept babbling on and on), if love was not minding the mind-numbing traffic you have to go through every time you would pick her up from work, if love was willing to have coffee with her scary dad when you’ve never met any of the parents of your past girlfriends, if love was willing to watch basketball with her and watch her go crazy cheering for her team even though you actually don’t understand or appreciate the sport, if love was this nervous, palm-sweaty feeling that you get at the thought of her walking through the door of the coffee shop, then yes, maybe this was actually love. 

 

And then there she is finally walking towards him, and you know that phrase “his eyes light up upon seeing her?” He used to laugh at that and imagined cartoon characters with eyes bulging and with light bulbs lighting up. Guess who’s the silly cartoon now? She shyly walks up to him, awkwardly buzzes him on the cheek, hesitates at first and then she goes in for a hug. Of course he had to smell her hair, right?

 

“Hey.” 

 

“Hey yourself,” (and he immediately thinks what a stupid first sentence to tell her after all the build up in his head)

 

She tucks her hair behind her ear, a sure sign she’s nervous but also something that he finds so endearing. He fights the urge to muss up her hair so he can have the privilege of tucking those silky strands behind her ear again. 

 

“You look very pretty today. If I’m not mistaken, you wore that skirt on our first date, right?” 

 

She giggles, “Wow, should I be worried that you actually remember what girls wear on dates?”

 

He hears a quiet snort somewhere in the vicinity. He glances to the side and sees a girl typing away on her laptop with a smirk on her face. “Is she actually eavesdropping?” he muses. But then he forgets about the possibly nosy girl in the other table as Katie begins to talk. She was a bit shy and reserved when he first met her, but he noticed that as she becomes more comfortable with you, she is actually very chatty and can sometimes even be a bit too loud. Which he still found cute. At times. This particular day, for some reason, he wanted to tell her, “not so loud coz the girl beside us might be listening.” 

 

She looks at him weirdly after a time, realizing she’s been the one doing most of the talking.

 

“Is there something wrong, Jake?”

 

“Nah, I just like listening to you talk.” 

 

“Are you saying I talk too much?” 

 

“No, no, no. I just enjoy your stories. I like hearing your voice.”

 

She suddenly grows quiet and serious.

 

“Katie, it’s okay. Nothing’s wrong.”

 

“Actually, there is something wrong.”

 

She takes a deep breath and her eyes fill with tears.

 

“I really didn’t want to tell you this over Viber or even over the phone and I know you should hear it in person. I actually don’t know how to say it.”

 

My palms started to sweat, but this time, not in a good way. I think I’ve heard this speech before. I may have given this speech to several girls before. No. No. No, this can’t be happening. 

 

But it did happen. A few minutes later, he’s sitting alone, shell-shocked but with his heart beating a mile a minute. Did she really just dump me in a crowded coffee shop??? He kept hearing her words in a loop in his head.

 

“I really had a great time getting to know you these past few months.”

 

“You’ve helped me get out of my shell.”

 

“We’ve made good memories which I will forever treasure.”

 

“It’s not going to work.”

 

“I don’t see this going anywhere.” 

 

“Different paths….no spark….want something else….end while it’s not too deep.”

 

The entire time he feels like he was having an out-of-body experience. He was looking down at this schmuck who was staring at this beautiful girl while she was slowly but surely tearing his heart into pieces. “Dude, that’s going to hurt like heck. Run away now!” he felt like shouting at himself. But now, here he was sitting in his chair, a cup of now cold coffee seemingly mocking him, his heart constricting, his temple throbbing, trying hard to act like it was nothing when his insides were disintegrating. 

 

He glances at the girl at the table beside him. She has stopped furiously typing on her laptop and is staring into space. Did she actually hear what happened to him? Oh god. He looks around at the other tables near him and he notices sidelong, pitying glances. Great. They all heard him getting dumped by what he thought was the love of his life. 

 

He looks at the possibly eavesdropping girl again and she’s now furiously scribbling into a piece of paper. She glances up at him and smiles at him sadly. He looks away quickly but strangely enough, when her smile should have felt like sandpaper rubbingover this gaping wound of his heart, it actually felt like someone put soothing balm on it. 

 

But still, it was there, that ticking, annoying, rhythmically beating pain in his heart, whispering regrets, shattered almost plans, could-have-beens,  you-should-have-done-thises, you-might-have-said-thises, dreams that were just beginning, all echoing in his head.

 

A shadow falls across him. It’s the girl from the next table. She’s just about to leave the coffee shop. She hands him a piece of paper, tucks her hair behind her ear, then walks away.

 

Did she just leave me her number??? After seeing him get dumped literally a few minutes ago, is she actually hitting on him??? The idea should have been annoying or even slightygross, but he was actually pretty nervous and excited and nauseous all at the same time. Combined with the pain and embarrassment, it was a heady combination that was confusing and pleasant and different.

 

He opens the paper, and there was a sketch of him, staring into space. It wasn’t an amazing piece of art but somehow the way she drew his eyes was eerily accurate. Sadness and pain and confusion. And if you looked really closely, there was also a slight glimmer of something he couldn’t name or dared not name. Hope. Wow, all this from a sketch? 

 

And then he saw a note underneath.

 

“The pain passes but the beauty remains.” Auguste Renoir

 

Mica's Midnight Best Friend

Mica doesn’t need to open her eyes to know that it’s midnight. For the most part of her 17 years, 11 months, and 29 days on this earth, she has always known that it was 12 midnight. Every single night. It’s not that she has an internal body clock that is pretty much accurate. It’s not that she counts the hours or minutes from the minute she closes her eyes. It’s because of him. Or her. Or it. She may be sure about the time, but she has no idea what he/she/it is. Only that ever since she was born, it has always been there, right outside whatever window it is that is nearest her. And only every 12 midnight. Every single night. She doesn’t know how long it stays because as much as she would try to stay awake, she would eventually fall asleep and when she wakes up, he/she/it isn’t there. But every single night, he/she/it would be there, just standing by the window, like a statue. Except that it was alive and breathing, but not moving.


She was probably around 3 years old when she first became aware that there was a weird, dark figure outside her window every midnight. Somehow, she knew that even before she became aware of its presence, that it has always been there. But like most 3 year olds, she was more curious than scared. She clearly remembers fearlessly going to the window and whispering “Hello? I’m Mica. What’s your name?” When she didn’t get a response, like most 3 year old little girls, she persisted and asked the question every night. "Who are you? What ya doing? Do you have a mommy and daddy? Would you like to play with my dollies? Do you have a booboo? I have a steposcowp, I can listen to your heart!” Eventually, when she got no response, she got bored and stopped asking and just had a staring contest with the figure. Except she couldn’t really see any sort of form to its face, so she didn’t know if he/she/it was staring back at her.


By the time she was six and she was slowly learning that there were scary ghosts and evil creatures lurking under the bed, she started to dread the approach of 12AM. She started hiding under her sheets, praying that whatever that thing is, it would just stay where he/she/it is. She started imagining her window opening, long tentacles slowly slipping into her room until she felt its cold tentacles wrapping around her feet and dragging her from her bed. She kept expecting a silhouette to suddenly appear near her bed and a big scaly hand slowly touching her skin until she became a scaly, swamp creature herself. She  started worrying that the creature outside the window had a friend under her bed, just waiting to pounce on her when she least expected it. She kept listening for shuffling footsteps or chains or ghostly moans because she didn’t dare open her eyes every midnight. But none of those things ever happened. And still he/she/it was there. Every single night.


By the time she was 11, she outgrew those fears and was back to being curious about her 12 midnight visitor again. And by this time, she was also starting to figure out that there was no one in school or her neighborhood that understood her interests and feelings and thoughts and they all made her feel weird. No one understood why she didn’t like talking about boys (they were still gross and not at all “hot” as the other girls constantly said) and why she would rather bury herself in a book than go window shopping (too many people in the malls!) and why she liked making up stories in her head rather than talking about who wore the ugliest clothes during last week’s wash day (who cares?). But what Mica suddenly discovered is that she could talk to him/her/it all she wanted and he/she/it wouldn’t complain that she talked too much or that she was too unusual. And so she looked forward to 12MN when she could finally let out all her crazy. She created a nook near her window with her favorite bean bag, a blanket and her favorite stuffed toy  and as soon as the creature appeared, she would talk non-stop until she fell asleep from talking too much. And no one knew that her best friend in the whole wide world may be a ghost or a vampire or a figment of her imagination. And she didn’t feel the need to actually have a friend in school anymore, especially if they would make fun of her for knowing how to speak Elvish or that she could recite all of the Sherlock Holmes novels or that she thought Paul was the cutest boy in school even if he wore bottle cap glasses and their classmates found him weird too.


By the time she was 14, she suddenly felt like the world was slowly going crazy and maybe she was going crazy and so she started becoming angry every time 12MN approached. She would turn up the volume of whatever music she was into, and just scream and rant and sometimes even punch the wall near the window. “Why won’t you talk to me??? Am I such a loser that even someone or something like you would not want to get to know me??? Why won’t leave me alone??? What do you want from me???” There are nights when she was angry at the creature itself. But there were also nights when she was angry with Katie who was going out with suddenly-hot-after-vacation Paul (I liked you when you were weird and now that you’re all hunky you like her who made fun of you all the time??? What is it about me that you find so unlovable??? I’m great, why can’t you see it??? I’m so ugly, I want to die!!!”) . Or furious at her parents for being so perfect and yet so cold and why won’t they just leave each other or have an affair or something, anything other than this constant passive-aggressive-lets-pretend-that-we-are-okay-but-we-really-are-not crap that they’ve been pulling off for the past few years. Or she really, really hates her teachers and school in general because she’s not good at math and science and so they make her feel like the stupidest person in school even when she knows she’s still kind of smart but that she just hates math and science. So much anger and bitterness and sometimes rage courses through her body almost every day and the only way she knows to let it out is by verbally abusing that creature outside her window. And still he/she/it does not speak or even move. 


By the time she turned 17, there was less anger (although some traces are still there), more emotional stability, but still a certain kind of sadness, especially every time the clock strikes midnight (well, her cellphone turns to 12AM, since she didn’t really have an actual clock). She keeps wondering why she won’t tell anyone about her 17-year visitor, not even her parents who she’s now closer with (but who are divorced now by the way, but that’s a whole other story that she told the creature when she was 16), not even the small group of friends that she eventually made (turns out, there were other weirdos in school, who knew?), not even Paul (who eventually matured enough to realize that Mica was so much more his type than Katie, even though he’s even hotter now with the return of his bottle cap glasses), and especially not her therapist (who is partially responsible for the aforementioned emotional stability) who would probably tell her parents to start medicating her or let her stay in a mental ward for a few months until she starts realizing there is no creature outside her window. So yeah, she has managed to survive 17 years of midnight visitations without anyone knowing about it. 


Now that she’s almost 18, she feels even more restless and antsy and well, even a little bit excited. There’s a certain tingling in her blood (wait, blood can tingle right? That’s what you get for not paying attention in science class, Mica) and a certain electricity around her that makes her feel like something momentous is about to happen. Well, she is graduating from high school (barely at that, because, see math and science comment) and she is planning to go backpacking to Europe (such a first world rite of passage but still so excited) and she thinks Paul is finally proposing that they be officially boyfriend/girlfriend (what took you so long, dummy), but it isn’t any of that. She just feels like something major is about to happen and that her midnight visitor may have something to do with that. 


So at 11:50 PM on May 7, she sets up her special nook near the window, and she brought a small cake with a single candle. Her parents and friends wanted to throw her a midnight birthday bash because you don’t turn 18 every day, but she gave a feeble excuse and said she’d just party with them tomorrow and she had something important to do. So now here she was, stupidly waiting for 12AM and her constant companion for the past 18 years of her life. 


11:55...“So will you finally say hello to me?"

11:56...“I really was a talkative girl back when I was younger, yes?"

11:57...“So about all the things I angrily told you when I was a dumb adolescent, sorry about that."

11:58...“Please don’t tell my therapist I talked about her to you!"

11:59… “Seriously, Mica, are you expecting that it will suddenly talk to you?”

12:00..."Hooray. Happy 18th birthday to me!”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Only For A Moment

“I’m so tired I can eat a horse.” 

That’s how muddled my brain was, mixing metaphors and all as I wait for my Grab to finally drop me off. Traffic was bad (when was it not?) and I really needed to pee badly, eat ten pieces of chicken nuggets, and finally get that much-needed sleep, in that order. My body is so tired and ready for bed but I know that an early bedtime may very well be impossible tonight. 

I open the door, take a deep breath, readying myself for the chaos that will greet me. I was met with silence.

I see him sitting in his favorite chair, reading a book as always. I actually can’t remember the last time I got home and saw him without a book. But I don’t mind of course. He looks up from whatever new mystery has gripped him, smiles distractedly (but adorably, if I say so myself), then goes back to his book while asking me the usual “how was your day, love?” question. While still reading. He can multi-task like that. I am not offended, coz that’s how he has always been and maybe that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him, come to think of it.

I sit beside him, give him a quick kiss, put my feet on his lap and he absent-mindedly starts rubbing them, knowing how I need it every day. It’s one of the things that I look forward to the most when I get home.

I remind him that I have to sleep early and wake up at  2AM because my Barcelona (that’s a football team in case you didn’t know) has a game. “Again? Giving up sleep for football? You’re such a geek!”. (This coming from the man who has read Lord of the Rings a hundred times.) “You know how I love my football,” I protest. “You mean the abs?” he smirks. Well, that too of course. He knows me too well.

Then I hear the sound of small feet on the stairs and I brace myself for a noisy hug attack.

“Maaaaaammmeeeee!!!”

A 4 year old bundle of joy rushes into my arms and peppers me with her never-ending questions, never waiting for answers, just needing to get the words out of her preternaturally curious head. Yes, we’re apparently at the stage of the whys and the why nots and it’s both cute and terrifying. 

“’Do we really have to take a nap in the afternoon to grow taller? Didn’t you take naps when you were a kid coz you’re still short now? Why do I have to wait til I’m 6 to go to a real school? If we don’t believe in Santa Claus but others kid believe in him, will he become real someday? Why does my playmate not have a TV in his house? How will he know what will happen to PJ Masks  next? How come all kids have to eat their veggies but you don’t eat some of yours?”

I inhale her lemongrass scent and try to make sense of her questions and I try to answer them when she allows me to butt in. But I know I never will be able to answer them all to her satisfaction. And so I just breathe her in.

He reminds me that maybe it’s time to eat already and it’s getting late and well, he was really hungry. “Then why don’t you cook dinner yourself” is my initial thought and then I have to remind myself that I cook better than him anyway and that this is part of what I signed up for.  And so I figure out the quickest one I can make for my cute-but-grumpy-when-im-hungry husband and my lovely-but-rambunctious-due-to-chocolates-she-consumed daughter.

He reluctantly tosses his book aside and drags the little girl away from me to play with her while I cook, and reminding me he promises to do the dishes after because he knows I have to sleep early for abs (and apparently he likes doing my most hated chore anyway). My heart swells because I prayed for someone who totally gets me. He does totally get me. Most of the time at least.

As I prepare the pasta and chicken nuggets, I also wonder how I got to this point when just a few years ago I accepted that having a family was not for me. And yet here I am, four years later, cooking dinner and getting ready to sit down to a such a cliche picture of a small family dinner.

As we sit down the table, I smell the coffee brewing in the background and I listen to her incessant chatter and watch him lovingly look at her and then at me. And I take a deep breath and I say to myself, “This is the life."

My fork falls to the floor and I bend to pick it up. When I get up, I realize that the table is empty. The room is filled with me, my coffee, my thoughts. No one else. 

And my heart breaks just a little for myself and the “family" that lived in my head for those few minutes. There was a twinge that lasted a few minutes. A tear or two fell. And then I take a deep breath and whisper a prayer and think about what I have now. 

And I look forward to the next time they might appear again. Or maybe it’s a glimpse of the future. Or maybe in an alternate universe they do exist. 

But until then (if there will ever be a then), I eat my chicken nuggets and live.