My Korean mother told me that whistling alone at night attracts malevolent spirits and chopsticks plucked into full rice bowls represent incense sticks at a funeral.
Don’t whistle after sunset.
Don’t stick chopsticks into rice.
I prefer humming, and when I need to dismiss myself from the table temporarily, I lean my chopsticks against the edge of the cool porcelain bowl.
When I was a girl, I created a circle around my bed with the protection of my stuffed animals. They stood posed—staring into the blackness of my dark purple bedroom ready to engage in fierce combat with any dark entity that attempted to ensnare the silky fabric of childhood fantasies. The nightmares were so terrible, I’d sleep at the foot of my parent’s bed like a burdensome dog. I always feared my father, but I felt safe in his presence at the same time. I was only his to hit—nobody else could hurt me but him, and when you’re a child battling with the evils of the unknown, that’s good enough.
But I’m twenty-one! And I’m crying as I write this because it’s almost 3am and I have class tomorrow. I can’t keep dealing with this—sleeping isn’t the problem! What happens to my thoughts when I’m already asleep is. Did you know that sometimes I like going home with strangers, not because I want a good fuck (or even a fuck at that) but because even the presence of a strange person’s breath on the back of my neck is enough for peace? And of course I don’t tell anybody that. Will you sleep next to me and help me fight off my reoccurring nightmares? Please? I’ll suck your dick, or I’ll lick at the insides of your thighs until you push your hips towards the ceiling.
When I nap during the day, the nightmares continue to hit me—wave after fucking wave. Soon, there won’t be a beach left for this tide to erode away. Each grain of sand that washes into the sea is a piece of me.
I could pound my chest like an enraged gorilla in a National Geographic episode and lead the charge into battle. I was afraid of my dad, but I always fought back. I spat blood in his face once, and I laughed so hard in my room afterwards, I had to drown out the happiness in my beanbag so he wouldn’t hear me and come back for a second round. I’m always the first to act. When my best friend’s ex boyfriend pushed him against the drywall and held a lit cigarette to his neck, everyone else stood in silence as I slammed my wine glass against the table and pulled him out of the apartment. People will always forget situations and details and stories and they will forget the lines in your face when you inhaled your first breath after locking lips—but they will never forget how you made them feel. That’s the essence of the Maya Angelou quote—and I have spent so much of my fucking life in fear, that I grew up wanting to be Fear’s worst enemy.
I had to be brave because bravery was the only option and my body is not a canvas to be painted with broken blood vessels.
I see these horrific things in my sleep. I’m always told that my writing so visceral. Dreams are cliche. I wish I could tell the dream-maker that dream allegories were overdone since the dawn of Chaucer. Even Langland knew how to use the dream allegory. I know, I know. I soothe myself like a wailing baby in the night. This could be worse. These are only dreams. The only consequence will be eyelids sculpted out of lead in the dawn. I’ll eat a banana, try to forget the dream in the shower, dress myself, fight the urge to text that girl who wants nothing to do with my existence anymore, and maybe go for a run outside of it’s a tolerable temperature. I’ll study in the library for a bit, cook dinner at home, watch porn, and fit into the stencil of what a twenty-something college girl is supposed to be.
I’m supposed to be Fear’s worst enemy—but I am so scared. I’m scared to end this essay because it means I’ll put my heavy head against my pillow. Hopefully this time I see something else other than the charred bodies of my loved ones—peeling through their blackened flesh with my bare fingertips attempting to identify each body by the melted strips of fabric that glued itself to the crusted skin. The tongues are always so pink and the teeth are always a beaming pure white—if I’m thrown back into the scene, I’ll try to figure out why.