by Joyce Ling
Smiles were incompatible with black, but that’s not why I never wore one. It felt too personal, too intimate to show someone all your teeth, no matter how white or stained, how neat or braced. It felt like your whole soul was on display, pure and thoughtless feeling. And it’s fucking terrifying, being vulnerable like that.
I loved black, once. If you looked in my wardrobe the whole thing would stare back at you, a dark syncytium breathing defiance. Hoodies and jeans, dresses and dress pants. My life was dominated by a single shade of washout, and I accepted it, because I was told it would pass. Just a mood swing, a phase that every teenager goes through. That made me sad, knowing how many of them were probably thinking about it too.
I dressed in the role I perceived myself to have. An intangible, uncertain thing shadowing no one in particular. I was insignificant in this big, big world, a supporting act to other people’s flourishes. Confidence was what I yearned for, and defiance was what I gave. Blatant, resentful attitude. I trampled on my doubts with crude mantras and defied rules, subtly, through thought.
Reading was a way, the way, for me to cope. A world of marvel, dashed with blood from the unvoiced. I learned to fill myself with the stories of other people, walked around in their skin until I was tired, asleep. They say you learn valuable things from reading, like empathy and perspective. That may be true, but sometimes I wish I hadn’t tried so hard to escape from myself. Because the hollow feeling wasn’t just a phase. It was there every time I resurfaced for breath.
Coming to terms with who you are is a long, hard task. No moment is defining in an ultimate way, and I’m thankful for everything, and everyone, that happens to me. Though they might not know it, every, single one of them has helped me discover who I am now. They’re the ones that make me want to resurface despite the initial pain and disappointment. Their energy is the appeal of reality.
I’m grateful that I’m here. A speck amidst a shimmering constellation, small and complete in myself. There are times when I want to go back, hide in a warm black corner and enjoy its comforts. But often now, I find myself beyond that. Walking beside the people I’ve grown close to in light and shade.
I couldn’t replenish the emptiness with lives that weren’t mine, because that space was meant for someone else. Not for any expectation or impression of me, but for the person I am in each, given moment. Expanding with every breath into a new and familiar self.