it's hard to know where to start talking about him.

at this point, i've spent more of my life without him than i had with him. 2008. 16 years is a long time. i've been without him for twice the amount of time that i had him.

but sometimes, on summer nights like these, feeling the holiday looming over me with nothing but the chittering of crickets to keep me company, i miss him.

it sucks feeling like the the last kid on the playground, digging pitifully in the sand, waiting for someone to arrive after everyone else has said their goodbyes. the air cools and with the heat leaving, you feel something inside you going with it until the shadows loom like monsters and streetlights feel like faraway beacons that you'll never reach.

one by one, the neighbors' lights come on, and you outside of it. you start to think maybe you've done something wrong, even though you know you have a home to go back to. your mom works late these days, and well, no one else is there to come get you.

i wonder sometimes if that's where it started. one too many days spent waiting alone in the dark and i started to think, 'maybe i'm not needed in this world.' having typed it out, it's almost trite. of course that's where it started. single mom with three kids, unruly and isolated. it makes sense to think, with one less, maybe things would be easier on her.

but this isn't about her. this is about him. my first ghost, my sticker paper with all the stickers peeled off. this great, gaping hole in the world, a presence defined by absence.

when my dad died, i had never gotten a chance to call him anything else but 啊爸. maybe 爸爸? the details are faint now. after he died, he became my father. this is one of those small ways in which we distance ourselves from the grief of death. many people lose their fathers, i decided. i would not let the world see the disgrace of being someone who missed their daddy. i was not alone in my grief, so i would not act like it. there were many others who had hurt too. carefully, tidily, i swept the shattered pieces of my life underneath the blanket statement, 'my father passed away.'

after he passed away, my mother covered the full-length mirror that stood at the end of our hallway with a giant red sheet. 'not auspicious,' i surmised, 'to let ghosts wander around where you might see them.' and at any rate, when you're young, everything is frightening with the same intensity. this feeling, we lose as adults as the world teaches us to let go of bogeymen and creeps in the night in favor of rationality and the fear of checking your bank account. but when you're young, you feel when something is amiss acutely within you. so the mirror became a thing to avoid. the hallway became a place to be feared. even looking at the red sheet frightened me.

even now, in a different time and a different home, we store our mirrors with their faces to the wall in shame, tucked behind bedroom doors. maybe now, it's more about space efficiency than it is anything else, but my mother still avoids putting up mirrors.

i wonder when i started behaving this way. throwing every possible scrap of myself into keeping someone else warm.

after my dad died, my mom told me the story of the little matchstick selling girl and it broke my heart so badly the scar still stings sometimes. and now she's another ghost that haunts me, whispering her secrets to me beyond the veil of reason.

she tells me to play her games for her, and i do. it's a little trickier than selling matches now, but she doesn't want to see me die alone in the cold, with not a single being in this world who cares. she knows we have our matches, our sparks, our heat and stupid bleeding heart for this cruel world. and when little girls grow up, they find their way through the world, however it takes. the game elaborates itself, but the rule is simple.

'i want to be loved so badly that even death cannot separate us. and i'll get this no matter what it takes. not even if it takes the last spark in my life. no one will leave me, not ever again.'

of course, i've gotten a lot better now at managing my ghosts. i go to my therapy sessions and i speak to my friends and generally, i try to lead a satisfying, if humble, life. but if you look closely, you might see that she trails after me, superimposes herself across my image. we play this game whether we like it or not, because if we don't, then someone dies.

i spend so much of my time hypervigilant of all the ways in which things can go wrong and of all the ways i failed to live up to my responsibility of loving people so badly they don't want to fuck off and die and leave me behind. i know there's only so much my frantic doting can do, but in someways i'm helpless to this girl.

there's a gun in my room now y'know? my dad's dead and there's a gun in my room and all my loved ones are stuck somewhere they are desperate to leave, but this planet's the only place i know. so i'm begging them all the time, in my own way, please don't go. there's so much you haven't seen here yet. please believe me, there's something worth staying for. please, if not me, then for the coffee you haven't tried and the cities you could drive to. all the little endless nothings could be something, if you just tried.

if you could just try. this is where it becomes bitter, where little girl becomes grown man, all imperial rage and tyrannical demands. why can't you just listen to me? why can't you just try the solution i provided? don't you care? don't you give a shit about all i've done for you, what i had to become? in the absence of your spirit, i've had to climb into the ribcage and restart the heart myself. and you don't even care about this thing that lives inside you, lives for you, becomes small so you can grow larger? i became husk so you could blossom and you don't even want it! you only want to drink and smoke and isolate and overwork yourself to death, giving up on ever experiencing joy. giving up on me ever being your joy.

so it's long walks on the beach with myself. it's late night talks about nothing with my friends. it's midday naps and being gentle to myself and if i'm smoking too much, well maybe it's my turn. this angry thing in my heart isn't right. but one day in 2008, something that could never be made right transpired and now here i am with my ghosts. we fill the room we're given with our sorrows. so all i can do is open the window and breathe, in and out.