It Isn’t A Game Anymore

As I was being lifted up from the table to be shipped into the massive tunnel with a General Electric logo on the top, I had to suppress a giggle fit. The jerking and the noises the table made were weird and perhaps the oddity was only amplified by the technician adjusting me into an awkward position so my elbow could be imaged. And then the ear plugs. And that awkward gown with three holes, all of them for your arms (I had to ask how to put it on after I spent a few minutes trying to figure out if the third hole was for putting my head through or not). Those were funny too. My torso was in a fetal position while my legs were facing straight ahead with the knees bent. I glided into the cramped tube, wondering how anybody with greater girth could ever go in there. I was in.

The technician talked to me through the intercom and the imaging began. I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie. The noises that the entire contraption made were unlike anything I’ve heard before. I was still suppressing giggles for the first five minutes. Then my body realized how unnatural it was to be stuffed into a giant machine in a half-fetal position with deafening noises of ungodly frequencies flying about and I felt fear for a minute. It was easy to calm down… I just trusted the process. I made a game of treating all of the different frequencies, treating them like a music track, finding the different layers. I focused on the layers that I liked the best and yes, oddly enough, there were frequencies in the MRI that I actually liked listening to.

I started to fall asleep and occasionally when the technician asked how I was doing through the intercom, I replied that I was fine. I started twitching as I tried to keep my body in a restful state without falling completely asleep. Eventually, it was done and I undressed and bounced out, eagerly awaiting the results.

When they came, it wasn’t a game any more. This all happened yesterday.

The collateral ligament in my elbow is torn by about fifteen percent… not the worst, but the injury won’t recover by before the end of the season. And it’s the kind of injury that if I try to push, it will have future consequences. Just so you know what the collateral ligament does, think of your knees for a second. Now think of your knees being knock-kneed. There are ligaments in your elbow that support the joint that prevent “knock-elbows,” like how there are ligaments in your knees that prevent knock-knees. If I tear this ligament further, it will mean less support for my elbow and a harder future as an old person (my orthopedist, bless his heart, said something among the lines of, “It won’t be your friend anymore”).

This, however, is my last wrestling season. Senior year. This is it. This injury, as serious as it is… well… I never believed in an injured vessel keeping a willful soul down. This isn’t a game to me. It never was, but it definitely isn’t now. I have three weeks, and throughout these weeks, the main question will be: what is the price that I’m going to pay? Ever since sixth grade, I’ve always looked up to the walls of our mat room that have our past league champs, to be inspired by the legacy that our team has forged. I wanted to be a part of that. But I was barred away.

Freshman year, I was beaten for the varsity spot for a senior who once abandoned the team during a meet (he was never punished for such treason; the head coach at the time let him walk on the mat like nothing happened afterwards). Sophomore year, I had achilles tendinitis and was beaten by a freshman and once again beaten by a wrestler who didn’t work as hard as I did after I stepped onto the mat, rusty from having to work around my injury for a large portion of the season. I still remember that I could barely walk after the day I wrestled two challenge matches in a row to try and crack the line-up and my achilles tendinitis was aggravated even more. During a big tournament that same year, I unknowingly broke my left middle finger, and it later got infected the same morning that I was supposed to be with the team for NCS duals. I missed our historic win that day. Junior year, a rash of infections affected me and a handful of other wrestlers. After a month of staying off the mat, my first tournament was the league championships. I took third, after my humiliating defeat in my first match… I was out of shape and my potential couldn’t be realized at that time.

And senior year. Here it is. I still remember the one article that was written by the high school newspaper. I remember how the names of “key wrestlers” included mine. And I remember how I didn’t turn out to be so “key” after all. Of all the humiliations I’ve gone through, that one is the worst one to me. The fury that I get from thinking about that article is why I’m still here. It’s part of the reason that I have the will that I have right now. It is why this is not a game anymore.

Rant to a Friend

I have waited too long for this.

And maybe there were times when I was too scared.

No. I have been scared for the whole time. In many things that I’ve wanted to do.

I never felt the fear because I’d always cover it up with some excuse that made a lot of sense.

But it makes no sense to have lived in fear like this.

My fate is finally in my hands.

If I should fail in my goals again, I will fail without fear.

That’s what I felt junior year then, that edge, that feeling that I never felt before.

There were matches when I was in that zone of fearlessness. I was consumed with that desire to beat my opponent.

I wish to taste that again.

Even as I fatigue from restless sleep.

Even as some friends come and go.

I want that power again.

I’m still scared. But I fear the fate of my friend more than the fate of myself.

When I have that power in my hands once again, I can hold my fate.

And be able to confront such suffering in this world.

Want to know how my dad became friends with Sallie?

Her late husband liked my dad’s music a lot.

My dad played his music for her husband while he was on his deathbed.

To use something of yours that you’re passionate about to relieve the suffering of others; I’d like to find that.

I tried doing that once fairly recently, writing a letter to a suicidal mother. I didn’t expect to save her, but I hoped to relieve her a bit.

No such relief came.

I can see my friend’s hurt in her face nowadays.

She once told me, “You’re such a happy spirit. I wish I could be more like you.”

But I can’t be happy as one of my closest friends is like this.

However, I can find this power again.

And perhaps when I finally drive my fate, I’ll finally be able to help her.

And kinda be like my dad someday.

Few people get to see what I really feel.

Sometimes I wonder if I just have some kind of odd charade going on all the time during school.

But I guess everybody plays that little game all the time too.

For a Friend

There was a time when you told me that all that you’ve ever wanted was to mean something to someone. At this point, I suppose that you know that you mean something to me. But what do you really know? Last Easter Sunday, I fell to a really low point. After my dad’s announcement of his second divorce on Easter Friday, things kind’ve floated around for a bit and then bam! everything caved in on Sunday. I felt like breaking. I didn’t feel like fighting. I could hardly believe what was happening. As I was doing homework that day, I felt myself sinking into a downward spiral, thinking more and more about my pain and the heaviness in my chest.

Until of course, I thought about you. I have always drawn upon you for strength, but this time was different. Succeeding my lowest experience in several years, I rebounded. I was so pumped. I remembered that I was friends with the girl who made the most of her second chance every day— you. Do you know what that means? It means that the sheer pride that I can take in being able to call myself your friend was enough for me to recover from a hard fall. It was more than enough; I was never so determined about doing the things I love most.

Others might consider you to be a pretty face with a diverse skill set. To me, you are much more than that. You are my best friend, a person that I aspire to be like. To me, a best friend is a person who can bring the best out of me. I have never before admired someone so much for their fortitude, sensitivity, intelligence, and beauty. Every day, I try to imitate this in order to improve myself. I guess you can imagine how happy it makes me when you come up to me, to at least see how I’m doing.

Remember that time when we rode back from St. Patrick’s on the bus? I had the luck of being able to sit next to you and it meant so much. Amongst the chaos of a ton of teenagers chatting all at the same time in a large vehicle, I said little to you. I wasn’t certain if I should say something. I just knew that I enjoyed the fact that I was able to at least be at your side, even if it meant being non-conversational. We were both listening to our iPods, and with your fatigue from all of your hard work, you settled your head onto my shoulder. I was so happy, but when I put on your cover of “Sunday Morning,” the feeling was indescribable. I never felt so close to someone. It didn’t feel like real life, it didn’t feel like it was me who was experiencing it.

I guess the whole point of me writing this is for me to really know how I feel. These kinds of thoughts bounce around in my head for a while before finally coming out, so getting them out feels nice too. I think you observed correctly in that I have been coming out of my shell more this year.

Well, I do know that if I’m able to tell you all of these things, then you’ll make the most out of them too. With all of your abilities and knowledge, it’ll be exciting to see what kind of woman you’ll grow into. Just know that whatever path you decide to take, I’ll always love you.

Reflections Conclusion

Lauren, a.k.a Bestie, is still my heroine throughout my daily life. I also still do well to remember the lessons that I learned from the other girls. Bestie however, comes out as the brightest. Love really does tie a lot of things together and I learned that as along as I love what I do, I can go through life’s hardships fairly easily. With Bestie, I closed the void that filled my heart before.

Even when the going gets tough, hope will exist. All it takes to heal and persevere is a little guidance. You have to heal self-hatred yourself. You have to experience the wounds’ closing yourself. But as for helping hands, there’s always someone. You might have to look closely, you might have to look far off, you might have to look somewhere new. But they’re there. All you have to do is look. They might even be there and want to help, but they’re afraid of letting you down. You just have to dive in though. Seize that moment for yourself, only for yourself. Chelsey taught me that. Maybe someone else can teach it to you too.

 

Reflections Part 7: Love Arc

 Michelle and I drifted onto our own paths from that point on during that summer. On my own accord, I made a new friend though. This one became real special to me. Our first encounter was when my sophomore year was still in swing. I had some spare time after school, so I waited in my workout clothes, studying my AP Biology book before wrestling practice started. This girl walked by and then sat next to me. I was surprised, as this was a total rarity.

Besides, what could’ve compelled her to do this? Fate’s kindness perhaps, if there was such a thing. Eying her Pre-Calc Honors book and her looks, I thought, much to my amusement later on, “This chick’s hot.” My sapiosexuality was further enhanced after I saw the difficulty of her math problems along with another bro, Pauly. This girl was Lauren.

Later in the year, Paul was my partner for a Spanish project. We had to record a movie presentation of us doing a mock job interview in Spanish. Paul enlisted the help of one gal, but she was nowhere to be found. So then Lauren took up the job. It was only then that I saw her strength. She just let so much through. It was refreshing. It was then that we became friends. We hung out once over the same summer as the Daisy-shaming.

We were at Rubio’s, with the scents of Mexican cuisine permeating the air, and I just finished eating. We were wondering what we should do next. Suddenly, we noticed that a couple other friends came in too, Brandon and Ken. We tagged along with them. Lauren’s adventurous side came through. She wanted to go to Codornices park up in Berkeley. All of us were unsure and indecisive, being male adolescents, but Lauren’s energy (and maybe that beauty too, males are always more submissive to it) convinced us to go try it out.

We got to hang onto our receding childhoods by going down a cement slide on a piece of cardboard at a fairly quick speed (it’s a wonder that there have been no lawsuits or big safety schtick from this attraction) and afterwards we walked into the hills to look at some natural beauty. Seeing the water snake through the ground and the trees populating are, I realized that I didn’t venture out a lot in my life. “Maybe I could definitely live a little more,” I thought to myself.

So what was Lauren’s uncommon strength? Well, one night I was trying to relax in my room while my dad and step mom were arguing. I was looking on Facebook like any teenager in the digital age and saw a picture of Lauren with her adopted dad. I then realized something. It was the power of love. I then got up into my bed and cried a little while.

See, Lauren was one of those girls who were most likely affected by the population policies of China (it’s unfair to say so for sure, as I was not there and she was too young to remember anything, but it’s most likely so), where the One-Child Policy is in effect. She was abandoned in front of a bakery, presumably because her biological parents were going to be affected negatively by this policy. Lauren was an adopted girl who had a lot of enthusiasm and a real taste for life. I saw a great deal of strength coming from her value of the relationships she had with other people. Not only that, but she was able to thrive on the love of those who didn’t have any blood ties with her.

I found that particularly beautiful. She didn’t allow the fact that she was abandoned in front of a bakery to drag her down in her endeavors. One time we she told me herself that she was an optimistic person who liked to assume that people will always choose the responsible choice. I found this truly ironic: if people always made responsible choices, we wouldn’t even have met. She would either still be in China or she would never have been born. And I wouldn’t be here reflecting about this.

If she was taken out of the equation, my life would already be significantly different. I wouldn’t have learned of her strength and ability to love the things that she does. I could say though, that if I were her, I probably would have been embittered from being abandoned and would never have had faith in humanity in the first place. Because of this fact, along with other qualities, I came to admire her deeply and to this day, I consider her to be my best friend.

Reflections Part 6: Strength Arc

My embarrassment of Daisy made it so that we were awkward with each other for a long time and she withdrew herself in my presence. I thought of her as no less and I appropriately decided to give some needed space. It was at this point during the summer, that I realized that I would become a dramatically different person once the summer was finished. Maybe not as a person that people see on the outside, but as an individual who views himself in a certain light. That light was about to change. A process was occurring where the filtered shroud of self-hatred would finally give away to the pure light of self-love and true acceptance.

Daisy’s shaming lead me to become angry with myself, however. While I was learning to forgive myself, I was ashamed. I perceived it as my first real failure in a friendship. Still angry with this problem, I came to realize that there were other people who had it worse than I. I would realize this after getting to know Michelle a little better.

Michelle’s Korean heritage was obvious sometimes, when she might allow her personality to come through in emotional bursts that people could see as plain crazy. I understood that that’s just who she was. There were other less obvious aspects of her Korean heritage though, which I was able to find out about through unexpected means.

It eluded me that Michelle would reveal to me aspects of her life that seemed like things she would only tell a close friend. It was while I was helping her with an English Honors prerequisite paper that we had to complete during the summer in order to get into the class. It was through this paper that she revealed more of herself to me.

Her loosely organized stream of consciousness was an infant struggling to find its existence, passion trying to become palpable. It had quite a few stumbles, her passion. She had asked me to guide it, to strengthen the shaky foundations of her idea for her paper. “I don’t know what to write,” she told me. She was worried. Absolutely must, must get an A in this class.

“But you have so much to write about,” I insisted.  Having talked with her before that, I simply did not understand how she could experience so much and not know what she could write about. It didn’t make sense, but later on I realized that her light was enveloped in darkness. She had a strong light. It acts like a dying candle though; flickering in, out, in, out. Then whoosh, a slightly stronger wind might come in, carrying the flame out of existence.

I worried for her, as I stayed up late at night with my laptop’s screen illuminating my face as I looked at her Google doc. I worried about her light, about her passion that derived from her pain. I admit, when she wrote of her mother, I winced and held back tears. She said she didn’t like to write about her personal life. I only strongly suggested it because I felt that her life provided a lot of material, a lot of passion, to work from. We didn’t have a huge time frame mind you; we just needed to tame the beast as fast as possible.

Still, this last minute piece of work was beautiful in its own right. The struggle of this summer paper was something to be marveled at. It struggled to find its own form, to find its proper expression. It gave me a reason to worry. I worried, that like the candle’s flame, her passion could be extinguished. Even with all the winds she had encountered and all the flickering that had happened already, all that it would take would be a slightly stronger wind. Whoosh. Gone. All that energy just carried off into a different place.

Though, in a way, her energy already was at a different place: Los Angeles. “Home,” she called it. While I’ll never truly understand why, she belonged there. It was where her heart was. That sense of belonging, the need to belong to something or somewhere though, I could understand. It was all part of her passionate struggle. As I read her essay more, I was surprised at how much light she allowed through.

Her light, I realized later, was covered by a veil. A veil of darkness, supposedly protecting that little flame from flickering. A veil created by her own flesh and blood, her own mother. But the most disturbing part was that she allowed it to be draped over her flame without her knowing. It took me a long time to realize I had done the same thing as well to myself.

A veil like this one is thick. Small flickers of light run through some weaknesses in the embroidery, but besides that, the light isn’t allowed to be seen. I believe that there are people who can lift up this veil. I call them friends. I wonder now, if that’s what I did. If I helped her lift it up, even if it’s just for an essay. One time, we talked on the phone and we were talking about Martin Luther King Jr., or at least if the Civil Rights Movement never happened.

“We probably wouldn’t even be friends,” she said. It seemed so casual and normal to mention that probability, but I was surprised. I thought about it for a second. There was a small warmth in my heart. A flame. Even if it was just for a second, to have my veil lifted, suddenly, surprisingly. Its unexpected arrival… I welcomed it. The conversation flowed from there and the veil covered me once again, but I wasn’t fooled. I knew that flame was there.

As I finished editing her paper, I felt satisfaction from getting it done. It took me a good few hours, time mostly spent to try to understand her struggle so I could make the proper corrections. Her paper wasn’t structured well enough to grant her an A, but I hoped she’d get something decent for it (when I found out she got a B+, you have no idea how relieved I was).

I thought back to when she described her mom crying. Crying for her daughter. I felt pain for her mom. I felt pain for her. But I was glad that she allowed me to see her light, even if it was just for her grade. I didn’t realize it then, but Michelle’s struggle taught me how to stoke my own little flame. When I got it to burn bright, it was nothing like I’ve ever felt before in my entire life. It burned bright and engulfed my body. The veil was fully lifted. Whoosh. I believe that by learning of this girl’s perseverance, I inherited her own might to maintain everything that I’ve learned so far.

Reflections Part 5: Serenity Arc

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From the second girl, I learned serenity and self-acceptance. For several years, I was like any other human being, especially one of adolescent age: I was torn apart by self-hatred, seeking acceptance from my friends and any other people I thought of as important for giving myself a sense of self-worth. The self-hatred was something that I still did not understand at the time. Why did I feel so worthless? Why did it even begin? My heart was sick and it had a void in it. I wanted to fill it in, but didn’t know where to start. That was before I met Daisy. This girl was nothing short of fascinating.

Dipesh, a friend, was talking too much as always. I do not recall in what context he was saying this or why he would even say it in a classroom, but he remarked upon Daisy’s sadness. I looked over at this girl, and it was as if I did feel sadness from her. A hope was born: maybe she could understand my own sadness. After school ended, I befriended this girl and talked with her on Facebook (surprise, surprise) over the same summer that I thanked Chelsey.

When I talked with her, I felt secure, safe. Her quirkiness gave her a freedom over many girls at our school, who suppress their natures in order to come off as more ideal. Her nature was even more unsuppressed in person, as her body seemed to be animated by an uncontainable energy. The safety that I felt as well as the combo of the sensation that I was able to see a genuine side to her the whole time lead me to develop affections for her.

Affections aside, there was something that particularly impressed me though. She had this one picture on Facebook with her smiling and holding up a “V for victory” sign with her hands. In the description of her picture, she thanked her friends for helping her through her rough year. It read:

I have to say… even though life has been a little too crazy, but my love for choir has never diminished. I will never forget all the good and bad memories I had with this group. 2011-2012 AHS Choir Ensemble, the Variety Show is our last performance together. Thank you all for such an amazing year; thanks for being there for me. For those few special ones, thank you for your support at all times, and help me grow stronger as a person. I will not forget the lessons that I’ve learned these past few months and I’ll try my best to always keep that smile on my face.

Lastly, Patricia. Thank you for harmonizing and practicing Keep Holding On with me over and over. We’ve made it! The message from the song is for you and the other friends who are still here to cheer me up on a bad day and laugh with me on a good day.

05/24/12 has become one of the most important dates in my life that I’ll never forget. Thank you all for being part of it. ♥ 

I realized I had come across something huge. The smile in the picture and her value of her friends were both things I would do well to remember.

One day, I admitted my feelings because she asked me. I guess I was being too much of a pest. I couldn’t really contain myself, but it happened. Afterwards, I went to bed and cried. But these weren’t tears of pain, no. There was no pain, even though I embarrassed her so. Instead, my tears formed a gateway to a place within my heart where love and peace dwell.

It was a real warm place, this expansive meadow where gentle slopes filled the background. At the epicenter, there was a flower: a daisy. Naturally, it was the kind of flower I could think of. I admired daisies for their simplicity, and this one matched well with this environment, where the grass was of a bright monochrome of green and the hills sloped gently, caressed by an easy breeze. It was in this place that I started to remember Chelsey’s embrace. It was in this place that I started to forgive myself and accept myself for who I was.