“You were best friends,” says my aunt whenever she thinks of this time. I remember 50-piece house building blocks we pushed in the basement, a transparent marble rail, then marble games on the PC. I remember drawing, writing, folding, and pass out “dummy cards,” our ironic 1st grader spin on Hallmark, flying paper airplanes at my brother and running away, sticking “Kick Me” post-its on my mom. I remember days and days on the massive multiplayer online game Maplestory, comparing strategies of upping our characters’ intelligence versus luck, specializing on the magician’s path, an idyllic nature backdrop for the most randomly expressive Korean emojis. I remember how my mom illicitly used our living room as her warehouse for her herbal company. We spun flax into gold, we made the acres of cardboard box towers our secret playroom, jumping from one box to another like monkeys, our real life 3D platformer. And then I remember one day in 3rd grade you came and said it was your last time, and neither of us knew what “last” meant and we forgot each other until we stood face to face, now adolescents, five years later when you came back to the US.
We are supposed to believe loss has meaning. We are supposed to spin grief into triumph. But I am not a kid anymore when that was second nature. I’m an adult who can’t make my own fairytale ending when the last page is torn out.
Now you’re getting your PhD but you don’t need it because your unbelievable credentials and strange underground network got you a top tier research job anyway. We talk maybe once a month but it’s never talking, it’s you seeing my messages and not replying, mostly, except when I hit on something political or on software design or your dysfunctional family, then you’ll produce an eloquent rant out of nowhere like Martin Luther’s 51 theses nailed on the church door. You don’t follow me — as you followed me when I made up games with Beanie babies, as we ran into the neighborhood with our “newspapers” in tow, in which we selected mazes like on the back of cereal boxes and copied some game reviews right off IGN’s website, and tried to sell it to unconvinced suburban moms for 2 quarters. I don’t even know if you still love me — I heard from your mom when we were little and you came when I was napping you waited 20 minutes at the foot of my bed, watching me, not wanting to wake me up, waiting, with trust and love.
The only hint you do is how you coded Maplestory again from scratch, an epic labor of love, a light that reached me like the final wavelengths of a crystal deep, deep within. Your mom says you’re happy to see me. I’d never know, otherwise.
Do you even remember me? Remember us?
Childhood cousins who go missing; this has the danger of spawning the Lolita complex, which, after many years of rumination, I think is less about pedophilia as the attraction to prepubescents and more about not being able to let go of your most important playmate, especially when accidental sexual interactions are involved as they frequently happen, without either persons’ knowledge, at that age. Somehow, we have to learn to be OK with the disappearance, or death, of our most important early bonds.
What makes being OK so difficult is that the person is still alive. In some respect, getting over my grandma is easier because she just passed. But it’s when people change, and you miss the old them, that obsessions, fixations, and inconsolable grief begin.
Yet I am convinced that you — as you were in 1st grade — are here forever. Memory — it feels to me like it’s not resin that encases you in amber, freezing you, but it grew you, a living tree. I always have your spirit with me. The perspectives I gathered, the capacity for fun, is now a part of who I am. We keep shards of people when we meet them, even as they themselves move on, we are vessels, time capsules for souls. In this temporal world the you who was my co-explorer is gone, but in the eternal world, you are as freshly present as ever. Our task, then, is to image this spiritual truth, to manifest it as an artifact as real to us, with solidity and dimension and weight like this pen, until we can move on, in the company of both our eternal memory and the temporal present, until I can walk with two of you by my side, one ethereal and one corporeal.