“The reason I took
her and her sister back with me, was because my ex-husband was a
jerk,” Sue said at work, in her Korean-accented English, as we
circled her like the crowd in a cockfight. “He’d leave the kids
by themselves for days, and then sometimes food ran out, and the
kids would starve. I couldn’t stand it, so I got the kids back.
Their dad didn’t even care when I did it.”
“What an ass!” I said as she finished her story. People around
me mumbled agreements in Chinese and Spanish, each nodding in
turn as they agreed.
Sue’s daughter, Laura, was eighteen then, and was dragged to
work with her mom to the restaurant. She was a waitress. This
was paid at the same price as any other restaurant in town, so
she was happy. Unlike me. Or the kitchen crew.
that beer?” Was the first thing she said to me, as I wrapped and
wrapped the food that people ordered for carryouts.
looked at her, trying to suppress my surprise, as I raised my
plastic cup of beer out of her reach. “Of course not!” I tried
to force a reassuring smile on my face, even though none ever
came. “This is tea. Yellow tea.”
“Right.” She replied, nodding at me like a knowing mother who
nods at her kid, after hearing the lie that he did not steal any
cookies out of the now empty cookie jar.
* * * *
Mike and I still went out on rides during my free days, except
that now we usually had a destination to arrive to. He is four
years younger than me, even though everybody says that he looks
older than me.
hate my job, I hate my job, I hate my job…” was my chant as I
slammed my head onto the steering wheel, the car stopped by the
invisible barrier that was generated by the red traffic light.
The intersections out of the Dayton Mall were extremely boiling
throughout summer, as if it was an added torture besides the
badly timed traffic lights, or just another clever way to tempt
the visitors into going back and wasting some more of their
hard-earned money. “And dad was so happy and shit when he
promised that I’d help them out at the restaurant. ‘I already
got you a summer job,’ he says,” And I would try to mimic my dad
in a falsetto voice. “‘And I got it before you even finished the
school year’. Stupid bastard.”
“When’s school going to start?” Mike replied, looking amusingly
at my head-slamming fest. Mike was the only kid I knew who
anticipated the first day of school, only because then he would
be able to stop helping his parents at their restaurant. His dad
wouldn’t let him get a summer job, because then Mike wouldn’t
have time to help out in the restaurant.
money, mainly because he didn’t get paid for helping out his
parents, who were too cheap to hire help around the place. So
the solution that Mike’s dad came out with was for Mike to
repair the roof of their house, and for that grueling and
painful job, he would receive the money that he wanted. Mike’s
dad was just plain too busy to do it himself.
So, in other
words, the restaurant was the plague that stopped Mike’s whole
family, yet they did not want to search for a cure that could
free them from this.
* * * *
Laura told me the real reason her mom took them in, a few days
after our first encounter. We had become good friends then,
maybe because we were both teens thrown into this hell
unwillingly. “I had a nice apartment and was living well alone,”
was pretty much what she said. “I had a job and did fine without
my parents. It wasn’t until I was really into drugs that my mom
came to New York to get me and my sister. I was so wasted when
she saw me, that she couldn’t trust my dad for my care anymore.
That’s when she took us here. It’s not like our dad cared at
looked away in a reminiscent and sad kind of way. I felt sorry
for her, yet didn’t know what to say. She then turned to me with
a happy smile, and said in a cheerful voice. “So, why are you
stuck in here?”
smiled when she asked this. She was still sad, I knew this, even
though she tried to hide it with a happy smile. Her eyes cried
and went on without a tear.
* * * *
was writing love songs that whole summer, trying to write one
that fit in perfectly with the love theme of my manga (Japanese
comic). The song was supposed to be written by an old boyfriend
of the heroine (Kaori), who was about twenty years older than
her, and was supposed to be the last song he’d written, before
he committed suicide.
needed the song to be able to be sung by both guys and girls,
because this song will be sung both by the heroine and the hero.
Heroine singing it when she was lonely, remembering how much she
loved her old boyfriend. And the hero singing it at the end, the
song which leads the heroine to him.
manga artist, Chita, suggested I knew I loved you before I
met you, by Savage Garden, because it fit perfectly into the
theme of the manga. I had met Chita back in December. Or was it
January? I was then a main editor for this little site that Mike
and I had put on together, and one of the chores of the main
editor was to talk around and get to know every new member of
the growing site. Chita came out as friendly and funny in our
first talk on the net. We never lost touch after that, even
after the site crashed and was dispersed into the many dark
holes that populate the wired places of the net.
I had refused
her suggestion of using that song, because I always liked my
stories to have original songs into them, not to mention that
the Savage Garden song wasn’t exactly compatibly sang by both
guys and girls.
got this song idea after hearing the ending song of Kareshi
Kanojo no Jijyo (He said, she said), which was a
comedy-romance type of anime series. The song was sung
simultaneously by a guy and a girl, mixing together as if they
were one voice after all. And isn’t real love supposed to be
like this? When two beings are able to love each other enough to
be as one, each completing the void of the other’s heart?
What are you seeking?
Something hard to find?
Inside your book bag, inside
You looked, but couldn’t find
* * * * * *
“Ernesto is pissed at you.” Alfredo told me in his Mexican
Spanish, as we both, me slowly and him rapidly, wrapped wonton
skin and ground chicken into seaweed chicken rolls. I had landed
myself this punishment by helping a female co-worker carry ten
gallons of ice from the basement. I was punished because I was
doing something else besides my job. I was confused.
“Ernesto?” I replied, in my broken Spanish, a puzzled look on my
“You know, the guy who washes the dishes.”
“Why is he pissed at me?”
“Because he likes Laura,” Alfredo chuckled, his light-yellow
teeth visible. “And you guys are always together.”
“Uh… Isn’t that what friends are supposed to do? Get together?”
“Well, I’m just telling you. That’s all.”
looked up as I thought how ridiculous this whole jealousy thing
was. You usually don’t hate the other guy until he steals the
girl from you, then you can break your friendship and beat the
crap out of the other guy. Laura wasn’t in love with me. We were
just friends. “Do you know how old Laura is?” Alfredo asked as I
thought about my thoughts.
think seventeen, why?”
“Man, seventeen like me, man!” He replied enthusiastically,
happy as a dog in mud.
was trapped in a place plagued by Spanish flies.
* * * *
song is nothing more but a poem embracing music. It is just a
conjunction of sounds that capture your spirit and mood.
Everyone can make songs, just as everyone can write poems, each
different from the other. Some forgotten because they didn’t
capture the mood well.
was forming a new love song that day, as the boss came to where
I was to take a smoke break. I was sitting on the stairs outside
the kitchen’s backdoor. It was dirty with stuck grease and
undistinguished spots, yet it was the only place we could sit.
“Do you have a girlfriend, Tom?” he asked me, as he lit up his
Marlboro stick. His English was as broken as his junk car, which
needed monthly visits to the mechanic. That was why he always
spoke Chinese instead, as to not embarrass himself in front of
“Used to, why?”
“Oh, just wondering, you know?” He said non-chalantly, his eyes
looking away. I eyed him suspiciously. His tone was just so
fake. “You should get one, you know, specially in your age.”
“Eh, I’ll wait till I get back to Columbus.” Columbus is where
my college was situated at, which was a drive of about an hour
and a half on highway speeds.
“Why? You can just get one here. And if she loved you enough,
she would go visit you over there. No matter how far it was.”
shrugged, looking away again, trying to grab some mood and mold
it into a song.
“Eh, he’s still too young to know what real love is.” A voice
came through the backdoor, as Cindy came out into the semi-fresh
air. Cindy used to be a prostitute in Vietnam, and she tells us
this with an atmosphere of pride, back in her young and free
days. Maybe she was proud of this because this was how she was
able to get here to the land of freedom, or maybe she was proud
of that because that showed how desired she was in her youth. I
don’t really know, she never specified the source of her
She was about
sixty now, a baseball cap always glued on her head. “All women
is to him, nothing more but a game and race for sex.” she
continued as she stopped a little behind the boss.
shrugged again. She had some truth in this. As I absently
listened to the songs in my head, wishing that go-home time
would arrive soon.
Do you still intend to search?
Won’t you dance with me instead?
Inside the dream, inside the
Wouldn’t you like to go inside?
* * * * * *
I was planning to quit the job as soon as my dad’s friend
arrived back to the US, and resumed his job. I hated that
hellhole. But fate seemed to intervene, as my boss’ son was born
on July 3rd, only a few days before my quitting day. He asked me
to help out one more month, so that he could have some free time
to spend with his son and wife. Liang was a sucker for these
kinds of things. He could never say no. He never learned to say
no. I felt like I was going to cry.
Laura looked old on my first day back into torturous hell, her
usual black hair was now dulled as she tied it on the back. She
had no make-up on, because her sister Lisa, who was only two
years younger than her, borrowed it without permission on her
road trip. At least that’s what she told me. She smiled happily
as she saw me, hitting me jokingly as I settled in my usual
post. “Why are you back?” She asked, as we stood like always by
the kitchen door, the air still smelling as oily as ever.
“Because I missed you so much.” I chuckled as I said this. I
never could keep a straight face.
both laughed at the joke, her “yeah, right”s intervening in our
laughters. I think she knew too that this happiness wouldn’t
* * * * * *
I used a lot of stuff to inspire my writings, considering that a
single poem could easily be expanded into a novel, and a song
could easily be expanded into a story. I looked for love songs
that summer, to see if they could inspire anything in my search
for the perfect love theme.
search kind of stopped after a week or so, when I realized that
I couldn’t stand the whiny voices of Britney Spears and
Christina Aguilera, or the girlish cries of the Backstreet Boys
and N’Sync, or the even horribler imitations of these horrible
That was when Chita suggested J-Pop (Japanese music), something
that I was never into before. She sent me a couple of songs with
translated lyrics, and that was all I needed to end my search.
The songs floated in my head, playing sometimes without warning,
the lyrics singing their own poems in my mind. I had finally
found what I wanted. I had finally found my perfect love songs,
even though they still wouldn’t produce the songs that I
* * * * * *
We did talk one last time after Laura went away, on the
static-filled phone of the always-noisy kitchen. Rick, another
waiter from the place, had come into the kitchen and told me
that a beautiful girl had called me on the phone. I thought that
he was joking, considering that he always was, and laughed at
the joke. It wasn’t until the cashier came in a few minutes
later, that I realized that Rick was telling the truth. “I told
you so, man.” Rick smiled as he said this, in his fake Jamaican
accent. “But you just wouldn’t listen now, would you?”
“Shuddup, Rick.” I said as I went to the phone, pressing the
blinking light button on the black phone. “Yello?”
“Tom?” Laura’s voice came into the speaker, the volume
diminished by the cooking clinks and clangs of the kitchen room.
She sounded drunk, her voice unsteady. “Is that you, Tom?”
“Yeah, sorry for the wait, I thought that Rick was kidding
around again.” I said this as Rick pointed at me, and gave out a
hysterical silent laughter. I just gave him my middle finger to
signal him to stop. “So, what’s up? Why aren’t you working here
“Oh, they didn’t tell you?”
“Nah, they never care enough about me to tell me anything.”
“Well,” she paused a little before she started saying anything
else. “It’s just that I gave some money to my sister, and my mom
didn’t like it. So she made me quit my job…”
“Really?” I answered, raising an eyebrow in doubt. “That sucks.”
“Yeah…” Another pause, as some people screamed in the
background, a round of giggles following the scream. “So… When
do you get off work tonight?”
nine, as always. Why?”
“I’ll come see you then… We can go out for a drink or
“Cool. That sounds good.”
“Right, I’ll see you then.”
You’re not even permitted to
You’re kept from smiling
You crawl around, you crawl
Whatever are you looking for?
She never came.
* * * * * *
event wouldn’t happen till a week or so after today, and my
final quitting wouldn’t happen for another month or so
afterwards. Today was just a week after July 4th. Now was when
everything started to make sense.
“You see, this is how it goes,” my boss said, as he talked with
Cindy during lunch, chipping away at the soy-sauce drenched fish
with his chopsticks, as masterful of the art as the cats are
with the fish. “Lisa has a crush on Alfredo, but Alfredo loves
“How do you know this?” Cindy asked doubtfully.
“Easy, I spoke with them already.”
amazed “ooh” came from Cindy’s mouth. “So who’s Laura in love
don’t know that yet, she doesn’t tell.” The boss paused to gulp
down a cup of black tea. “But I think she’s in love with Rick…”
think I smiled then, and tried to look out through the small
kitchen door window. Rick and Laura were a perfect couple, even
I couldn’t argue that. I was just fooling myself. Why would she
be interested in me? The windows were misty and blurry with
clinged grease. I couldn’t look well out of it.
* * * * * *
“You should have seen me on Wednesday, Tom.” she told me on our
last day together, a day or so after ‘today’, as she filled the
soy sauce bottles for use.
“Why? Anything interesting?” I replied, looking curiously at
drank so much on Tuesday night, that I had come to work with a
bad hangover.” She giggled madly as she said this. “The boss
sent me back home, and he wouldn’t let me work at all that whole
“That’s the spirit!” I cried out encouragingly. “Need I say I’m
proud of you?”
fooled around a while more till the cashier came in and told
Laura to start working, that the customers had started to come
in. She laughed as she left, a playful punch on my back as she
left, as always. I felt good that day, the talk with her had
finally raised my moods out of the suicidal depression I’m
always in. This is not good news to my writings. I can never
write well when I’m not depressed.
Finding out what you seek when
you stop looking,
Happens all the time
Let’s dance inside the dream,
let’s dance inside the dream…
Wouldn’t you like to go inside?
hopping into the kitchen that night, a little dull red purse
dangling off her shoulder. She brought in dirty dishes from the
front, probably helping out her sister with her job. We started
talking as always, about a subject that I can’t remember, and
pretty much played around in the same matter as I did with
Laura. Laura came into the kitchen after a few minutes or so.
She didn’t look very happy when I turned to her. And I could see
that Lisa didn’t like that look either.
They kind of argued the rest of the night, I couldn’t hear what
they were saying. It’s not like I cared. I was about to go home.
That was all that mattered to me at that moment, although it was
still hard to fight the curiosity down.
song soared in my head when Laura came into the kitchen alone
again, her face displaying how tired she was that day. I think
the song was ‘Endless Loop’, as she poured herself a glass of
water, and came to me as she drank it slowly from the glass.
“When do you get out tonight?” She asked, as I prepared myself
about ten minutes. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, nothing, really. Just wondering, you know?”
stood there in silence as she drank, and me staring at her like
a dumb retard. I know it wasn’t polite to stare at people, yet
sometimes the body decides to break the rules, without the
permission of the mind. The song still resonated in my head,
mixing in with the voices of my own.
Why are you
I don’t know.
Why am I
I don’t know.
the endless stars of the purple sky.
“You working tomorrow?”
“Nope, my free day.” I sighed exhaustedly as I said this. “My
only free day in the whole fucking week.”
“So, I’ll see you Tuesday, right?”
“Yep, I’ll be here by then.” I said, as I started to leave. We
waved good-byes, a record of her face in my mind, as the
backdoor opened and I happily breathed in the fresh air of the
world, stretching here and there, trying to knock off some of my
stress. I wished that our ending was more dramatic or excitable.
But it wasn’t. This is how we were. And this is how we end.
think I saw my feelings once, in the ending of the anime series
Kareshi Kanojo no Jijyo. The story reflected the heart of
the writer, yet somehow it was able to touch mine.
He came to realize. He
came to realize…
It’s a simple matter… Why did
I want her to acknowledge
my existence so much?
Because I love her.
Because I love her…
And thus, his and her