I woke up at 5AM, considered blogging about something relating to that strange feeling I get when I wake up at 5AM. I sat at the edge of my bed, marveling at the fact that less than twenty-four hours before waking, I was at a club in Taiwan called- and I’m almost embarrassed to say it -Myst.
Instead, I left my computer off and stared at the maroon, hard-shelled suitcase lying open on the floor. It was filled to the brim with clothes I’d bought at the Zara on Zhong Xiao East Road and a bag of toiletries I’d never used because it was so humid in Taipei I never wanted to put anything on my face. I walked around bare-faced most days, accepting that I’d regret the damage a few years down the line.
Jetlag makes me productive during the first half of the day, when I fight it tooth and nail.
“Just get up and do something, just get up and do something,” I tell myself, “Just power through.”
But go full throttle too early and you run out of fuel too early, falling into comatose slumber around the time most people are sitting down to dinner. I’m still, after twenty-seven years, trying to figure out my body. I can’t decide how much energy to allot to which things, and by when my blood sugar will crash and the world suddenly seems like a mortal enemy I can’t be bothered to challenge.
There’s something surprisingly sad too, about coming home to an empty house. I’m lucky – my cousin picked me up, drove me to her house, where my aunt and uncle had lovingly prepared a simple but comforting meal of congee and small pickled dishes. At the meal’s end, my aunt said “leave the dishes” and said I was welcome to go over for a meal whenever my heart desired. Then my cousin drove me to our grandpa’s house where my father had left my car. When I left it, it had been the world’s filthiest Prius, in dire need of a wash and then some. But I found it parked on my grandfather’s sloped driveway, sparkling like a polished pearl. My other uncle, seeing my dirty car on his last visit to grandpa’s, had decided to wash it the morning before I arrived. I was waving my arms, asking my grandpa, “Why?! Why would uncle Jin do something like that?!” when my other aunt called. She wanted to know how my flight was, if I was tired, and if I needed anything to eat.
I’d eaten, I said, and my car was washed.
“Great,” she said, “You can come over anytime this week and next week for dinner if you want. I know just what you like.”
She does. They do, my family. But the house is empty because my parents are still in Taiwan for the next week and a half. I came home to freshly washed carpets and the odd sensation that things had shifted, literally. The nightstand had been moved, a little too far away from my bed, and the things I kept on top of it moved to my desk. Shoeboxes that had been tucked underneath my bed were now stacked upon my dresser, a small tower of footwear that I had not intended my mother to see…but oh well. I didn’t feel violated, only disoriented. Along with the items in my suitcase, there were many things to return to their places.
In the kitchen there were signs of recent life: a half-carton of milk not yet expired, three slices of ham from Costco and an avocado, which though exceedingly squashy to the touch was actually quite firm and green once sliced into. I ate it with gusto, atop tomatoes and squash from my mother’s garden. She would be happy to know this.
I thought about that film, “Empire of the Sun,” in which a young Christian Bale is separated from his parents in China during the Japanese invasion and somehow manages to find his way back to his mansion in the British Concession. The house is empty, ransacked, and the only servant left is on her way out, fed-up with the spoiled British boy she’s had to cater to for so long. He lives alone for weeks, emptying out the pantry, scraping the bottom of cans and sucking the last drops of water from the faucet. The pool dries up. At the bottom, he finds lost toys, a shoe – remnants of his old life. He doesn’t know it, but he is adapting, growing physically weaker from hunger but psychologically stronger.
In the afternoon, I swam in an effort to stay awake. I doubted I could fall asleep mid-stroke, but I remembered my father telling me when I was a child, “Never swim when you’re home alone.” I’d grown to ignore that warning, but normally, I swam alone knowing my parents would be home in a few hours. It would be days now, before they found me.
What happened instead was I stayed awake through twenty or so laps (in a relatively small pool this equals about four real, Olympic-length laps) and decided I’d had enough of cold, chlorinated water. It was time to shower. I didn’t bother patting myself dry since I was going straight to the shower, and perhaps on another day, to another person, this would have been a fatal mistake. I slipped on the tile that line our entrance hallway. I nearly slipped to my death.
That cliche of one’s life flashing before one’s eyes before death? I haven’t yet experienced it. What flashed before me was not my life but the briefest bleakest future I could imagine in the milliseconds before I cushioned my fall with my hand and legs bent at awkward angles. By a miracle I found my footing and steadied myself, feeling the startled relief that comes with realizing you just escaped a terrible accident. I couldn’t have died from such a fall, no, but something vital to my comfort and movement could have been badly sprained or fractured or pulled.
I had been very close to the hard edge of a table on top which stood a glass vase that would surely have toppled over and shattered into a million pieces, one of which could very likely have lodged into my eye, not to mention its brothers that might have pierced into my skin. I could have lay bleeding on the cold marble (or travertine, actually) until Friday afternoon, when my friends would start inquiring as to my whereabouts. We needed to hit the road to Vegas, dammit.
Instead. Instead, I made it to the shower, where I closed my eyes when I rinsed off the shampoo. If a psycho killer wearing his mother’s clothes was lurking outside, wanting to stab me to death, he didn’t come in.