by Thao Pham
It was another late night. The glare of the streetlights spilled from the edges of my blinds and, just outside, a cricket chirped away. The most unsettling part of all this was the absence of joyful music, roars of celebration, and Vietnamese karaoke – but at least it showed that the community was following health orders.
Netflix was a poor distraction form the summer of sweat and social distancing; the faces of mask-less actors on-screen continuing their daily seemed ignorant to the status of the world around me. And Spotify only sought to sink me deeper into an upsetting lyrical world, as I felt inclined to select Escapism or Nobody.
That year I never remembered when one night ended and another one began, but I knew it was the beginning of a new year – no one could have missed the fireworks.
I heard soft movements in the other room followed by the whispers of my parents, perhaps awakened by the fireworks. Under the bed lay Rosie, the poor girl was startled by the noise. Her paws nudged her blanket before curling back comfortably to rest.
It didn’t take long for everyone in the house to fall back into slumber.
But even though I was surrounded by loved ones, I felt so lonely.
I thought about all the people I could contact – my friends. They were the pillars in my mind palace that supported a structure soon to collapse. My platonic soulmate, the other side to my coin; an old childhood acquaintance, who I reunited with at uni; and my soft-hearted, friend I wished was my big sister.
Then, there was a sudden flash.
A bright light illuminated the bedroom ceiling and a high-pitched ding followed. I reached for my phone and glanced at the message.
“Happy new year I hope youre well and 2021 is an amazing one for you :))”
A sudden burst of joy lit up my entire body. A friend! But it was quickly overshadowed by unbearable shame, as I thought about how I’d unfairly ghosted everyone close to me. It had been months and months and months. I wanted to see them, to speak to them and bask in the endless warmth of their friendship. But I was reluctant to reach out. I longed for any connection back into the familiar, into a world before… but I couldn’t. My absence was a cowardly act on my part to avoid confronting feelings I could not then decipher.
My eyes left the phone, the bright light replaced the dark of my room. My sweaty hands squeezed my thighs in an attempt to distract my thoughts.
As I brought my thumbs to the keyboard, I hesitated, then pushed out of sight.
I surrendered to my thoughts, giving way to the anxiety and self-doubt that had manifested into a rotting meal within my mind. It was a banquet fit for a neurotic queen.
Yet there in front of me was a lifeline. A message to encourage conversation – a connection.
It was just one lone of text amongst the many before it;
“hope your christmas was good and youre holding up okay!”
“hope youre okay all the best for exams, the term is almost over”
“I miss you lots, I hope you’re okay”
Hazy memories bought to surface feelings of peace and happiness. Thoughts of a soft-smile overflowing with an untouchable kindness gave me comfort. Her eyes always gleamed with a compassion that came from a place of deep understanding. It wasn’t long ago that we had conversations about anything and everything. Conversations where our voices would get louder and louder, gestures bigger and bigger.
But the doubt remained ever present. I was convinced that the friendships I valued so dearly were built on lies and pity. There was no room for doubt in spaces where true friendship existed – at least that was what neurotypical culture said. I was still gripped by an intense desire to delete the whole conversation and let everyone forget.
They must hate me. How awful must I be ignoring everyone for months? What kind of friend does that? How can I claim to be their friend? Awful! I am just awful. They are better off without me, of course they are better off.
But I didn’t want that! I don’t want that!
An anguishing mental battle commenced. A battle between a relentless toxic persona convinced it was only trying to protect me, and a lonely voice seeking comfort.
I knew that If they would have me, if they would be willing to meet me where I am, if they would simply come see me, I would be the luckiest girl in the world.
What is but one text? What is but one message of a clear and honest love?
With shaky fingers and a drumming heart, I sent a reply before immediately slamming the phone back on the bed, faced downwards in a foolish effort to comfort myself. Words of unconfident reassurance echoed.
It’s ok, you’re ok, it’ll be fine
I mean, I’m not really okay, but that’s ok.
A light escaped from the bed’s surface. I scrambled for the phone.
“Love you heaps Thao”
Love you too.