Trigger Warning(s): Sensitive content related to disordered eating, suicide
I was told to make a list of statements once; a compilation of assurances as to who I am and what I was that were to ground me when the panic threatened to set me adrift.
1. My name is Hana Meihan Davis.
2. I am eighteen years old.
3. I am from Hong Kong.
4. I write when I am sad.
5. I make maps in my head by walking everywhere and memorising everything.
6. I like making blanket forts. I like to hide in them.
7. Dimsum is my favourite meal.
That’s where I put my pencil down. That’s where I tore the page out and crumpled it up and threw it away and picked it up and flattened it out and shoved it back into my notebook. Except, I really didn’t need to salvage it. I’ve never forgotten the words I scribbled onto those pale blue lines.
Maybe that’s your first peek into what’s going on in my head; maybe it’s mine.
I was doing okay for a bit there. It felt like I was more than okay, actually — I was focusing on me for the first time in a long while and I was honestly exceeding expectations.
And then, I don’t know. I stopped paying attention and I found myself bruised. Maybe I tripped or knocked into something and that jarred whatever was sleepless inside. I can’t remember, but I guess that’s how it works. These days, I’m not so sure how I am and it’s kind of confusing and more than kind of scary and I’m beginning to doubt if I can be anyone besides who I am already. But I am trying.
That’s what matters, right?
The books on my shelf are arranged by colour. I never leave pens uncapped. My lists are as many as they are meticulous. My chopsticks, between bites, are always perfectly aligned. My fingernails are always cut short. If I’m running late and I can’t make my bed, I’ll come back just to tidy my duvet. I’m never actually accidentally late though. If minutes tick by and I still haven’t arrived, there’s probably a reason.
Actually, I bite them. That’s why they’re short.
My favourite thing about summer is lying under the sun. It’s like lying in my bed, except the sky is my blanket and the ground is my pillow. Small, unimportant, inconsequential little me, cocooned by the elements. Warm. Safe. Content.
My skin browns. That’s something I love as well. It takes on an ochre golden, richer in strength than my usual shakey paleness. But afternoons spent eyes closed and worry-free also darken the history crosshatched into my arms, the constellations I’ve traced. They’re the past brought into the present; a narrative I cannot shake.
They’re too telling. I avoid their gaze.
To “eat bitterness” is what it means to suffer in Chinese.
I was fifteen. I was staring at the whirlpool of blue-tinged water.
It swirled. It flushed away.
For years, I skipped lunch. Breakfast too, sometimes, though that wasn’t often allowed in my house. I’m not hungry. I ate with someone else. I have a tummy ache. I’ll take it to go.
And, with a wince of guilt, I’d throw it out.
Initially, the hunger motivated me. Then, I think, I wasn’t hungry anymore. At least I told myself I wasn’t. You eat like a bird. You’re never hungry. I wish I liked salads as much as you.
Inwardly, I beamed. I’m doing good. Outwardly, I chuckled. Nah, I eat so much! I didn’t know I was lying.
Really, I was starving. But bigger than my hunger was my need to blend in; to blur the line between what was me and what wasn’t. Maybe that’s where it began. Damn you fifteen-year-old-me. How dare you.
Curry rice, seasonal vegetables and two iced cold milk teas. You picked from my plate; I picked from yours.
I’m leaving in two weeks, you told me over happy hour cocktails. As always, mine was better than yours. Or maybe, we were still trying to bridge that gap. Best friends, but not quite, labels cast aside. You were my you.
The flickering glow of lights across the harbour backdropped your silhouette. They made me think of the future. Two beers in hand, elbows resting on the handrail, left knee bent. I leaned, my head knowing exactly its place in the curve of your shoulder.
You came to visit. The leaves outside were all shades of red. It had been nearly a year since I saw you last. My tears balanced on the sleeves of your sweater; we were both dreaming of Asia. I missed you then, I miss you still, that way you have known me since before we knew what it meant to be broken. In your unfaltering gaze I’ve always been transparent.
We lay on the hammock, legs intertwined, lights flickering as the alcohol swam into our vision. My head remembered how it fit into the blades of your shoulder. It did not need reminding.
I really did love you, you whispered to the dark. I still do.
White flower oil. That’s what arguments smell like.
The eucalyptus stings my eyes as my mother’s voice hardens. She knows just where to cut. She knows just which words will annoy, and which will slice into me like the blades of a freshly sharpened knife — tearing through any walls I try to build.
My life has been molded by my mother’s insecurities, by the fears she doesn’t voice, the thoughts she finds hard to digest. I struggle to shrug off the cloak that envelops her, the one that envelops me.
She knows that this is, indeed, a powerful weapon. She uses it anyway.
Early morning winter, 1998. I enter the world kicking and screaming and 36 hours late.
She had come on time. She had come quietly. She, the yin to my yang, the rainbow to my monochrome, the sweetness to my sarcasm. Always, we were compared. How could we not when the pitch of our voices echo each other and the sound of our laughter indistinguishable. Always, we were on display. The smart, capable children of smart, capable parents. Failure was a language we were never taught to speak. You can do this meant you will do this.
You will be perfect. You must.
Things I’m good at: ghosting people, wearing thin the patience they have for my untimely responses, shutting down my attractions, shying away from commitment.
Things I’m bad at: small talk, boundaries, admitting I’m broken. How can I? I’m not supposed to be.
Growing up taught me to not share how I feel, to not trust when people say I’m here for you regardless. Friendly but aloof. That’s the way to do it.
It means I don’t have to be scared of what someone will think when they see passed me; it means I never have to reveal the terrifyingly unfiltered version of me.
It was summer. Lights were warm, the days were long. The humidity was sticky and sweet, like the condensed milk we pour into our tea. You walked me home, words overflowing. You listened. I didn’t really know what to make of it, but you made me laugh. I knew that.
And only too late did I realise what that comfort meant.
Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless an unbalanced force acts on it.
This law of inertia dictated my movements. I made my way through the world, three-tenths careless and seven-tenths numb not because I wanted to, but because I had to, because it was all I knew. No forces came to break my precarious equilibrium and so on I went. Breathing but barely, burdened by the weight of my own existence.
You punched the wall behind my head.
Not me though. This time your swing missed me.
5.47am. The telling white letters on the screen seared into my memory. This was worse than when I pulled you back from the edge. At least then, I knew where you were. At least then, I could wrap my arms around you and beg you to look at me and make you promise me nothing would happen. Not tonight. Not on my watch. At least then, I could make you believe even a little bit that more than anything, I loved you, that we had a whole bucket list to conquer and I had never failed before and I wasn’t about to start.
I’m sorry, you mumbled before you cut the phone.
We searched your room. Perfectly folded, we found them: For Ma. For Pa. For Hana.
I love you.
Don’t leave me.
By Hana Davis.