The Things That Don’t Last
Hide And Seek
A hot California evening. Might have been a New Year’s family reunion. Us many little cousins played hide and seek around the grand two-story house while the adults caught up around the dining tables outside. Loud and happy laughter resounded occasionally, drowned out by children’s feet clambering up wooden staircases and giggling; and yelling. I snuck into my grandparents’ bedroom and scuffled my scrawny self beneath the bed, pressed comfortably tight against the floor and the frame. Then I waited.
And not only did I wait but I waited in a strange state of high esteem for a seven(?) year-old. For someone so small and young, I sure thought unreasonably high of myself for securing such an unpredictable, impossibly perfect hiding place. Surely, no single of the hundred little and large cousins could find me here. I would win the game.
At least this is what I told myself while I waited. When I entered, I kept the door wide open so I could tell when feet passed by and entertain myself with internal child-like chuckles. Light flickering in and out from the hallway and the quick and scattered shuffling of feet on wood and carpet were what occupied my waiting and my watching.
And as right as I was that no one would find me, a few short minutes soon became what felt like long dreadful and lonely hours under the bed. I counted the number of times someone entered the room and every time feet passed the little window between the floor and the frame of the bed. The vague sense of pride I got from being so well-hidden didn’t last the length of which I waited.
Eventually, feet stopped showing up. Laughter ceased to echo from downstairs and so did the yells and giggles and confused screams of kids. It was silence.
I wanted to know what changed. What were they doing now? Without me? Are the adults starting board games? I don’t want to miss out on board games. Are the cousins playing a different game now? Did they forget about me? How could they? There are a finite number of us. Surely someone would’ve remembered that they hadn’t found everyone yet. Maybe my brothers will tell someone that I’m missing.
And if they don’t?
Maybe they’ll find my body too late. I’m under the bed of all things after all, and I don’t know if grandparents have monsters under their beds too.
This new feeling welled up inside my chest. Pride replaced with a sense of abandonment. Being forgotten by a single person was bearable as a child. Being collectively forgotten by a large group of people? Simultaneously? Incomprehensible by my tiny brain. The adults: I was used to. But kids my age? A whole new level of desolation. Even my own kind has deserted me.
Suddenly, winning the game was no longer the singular drive for my entire life force. Because thefeeling under the bed, waiting for a momentary millennia, was one of my earliest memories of feeling truly and utterly, regrettably alone.
“Is the music loud enough?” they asked, voices muffled by the static of a speaker.
The music was in fact not loud enough.
When I was around 11 my mom brought me to so many different types of doctors, and I’m not
even going to attempt to name their official job titles at all. Most of them were eye doctors or
neuroscientists— not actually too sure because I was so young— but this day in particular was for an MRI scan. They wanted to see if anything was wrong with my brain.
And in the end, nothing was wrong.
I discovered something at the pool.
Hawaii, Ko’ Olina resort; sunset. My mother and I met with our relatives at the hotel they were staying at. They took pictures by the beach, for their anniversary, while I took my little cousin, Ollie, to the pool. She desperately wanted to go to the pool.
It wasn’t much to get hyped for. Every inch was crowded with people.
Ollie immediately jumped in. I decidedly did not and conceded to just sitting on the pretty tiled concrete by the water and some decorative rocks. I’ll just watch her while she plays around, and I’ll take in the hundred sounds of water splashing and children wailing and laughing, and people chit-chattering.
It was a little uncomfortable. I’m just sitting here. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I was in a state of overwhelming stasis. Any small movement will disrupt this endless uncomfortable thinking moment, and any movement would mean I’d have to commit. I concluded that this is a feeling that often plagued me. And I’m the only one in the sea of people here that is stuck in this social, mental stasis.
Up to this point, I wasn’t aware of it yet. It was second nature, and I could feel it, of course, but I’d learned to ignore it. Instead, what I did feel were the eyes on me.
And I want to say that “people” in general looked concerned when they passed by the pool, but I wouldn’t really know, because it took me a while before I even noticed if people were paying attention to me.
Instead, I remember letting my awkward eyes take a spin around the environment. To my right was more of the rounded and long-winding pool and people splashing water and jumping off rocks. In front of me was the same image. The ridge of the pool was adorned by native Hawaiian plants and shrubs. Palm trees stuck out occasionally across the rim. To my left was the concrete and the seating with umbrellas. It was the sidewalk, and the box where people got their towels from. All these things seemed far away to me.
Then, by some accidental slip of the sight, I watched a group of kids making their circle around the rim of the pool. Their eyes met mine, and for that instant what I observed were faces of pure concern. Or horrification. Not sure. It could also have understandably been utter disgust. They seemed confused and scared all at once.
That’s when I discovered something at the pool. I asked a question I never had wondered about before:
“What do I look like when I do this?”
After the pool we rested at our relatives’ hotel room. Ollie had fun, as she should, and I took this time to go to the bathroom. I’ll find out now.
I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my face. Then I let go.
And the second I did so many feelings came crashing down at once. I began laughing. I put a hand to my mouth. I ran my hands through my hair in attempts to feebly process. It all made sense. Why did I never think to check before? Why didn’t my mom ever tell me? Heck! Why does she still take me out in public? They looked at me and avoided me “…like I had the plague”.
It was a motor tic. It had to do with my eyes.
And in front of the mirror, I laughed and cried because for years on end I didn’t know I looked this “demented”.
A Dream About Purple Paper
Writing about myself is a lot like what it feels like to be standing in a lazy circle with people and family I’ve grown up knowing under the roof of the Dining Barn on a new, long evening. It’s arranged like a prison cafeteria, but if a prison cafeteria was abandoned and then promptly raided by a group of American party people. White and tan folding chairs pepper across the concrete floor between long Kirkland tables supporting various red cups, and the shadows of the room shift every time the ceiling fan spins. The attention of everyone is on what words follow from the two well-dressed people holding a green box, central of everyone’s placement which is a loosely scattered ring around the room. What they say next is very simple, “Write down a question you have for God, and we will answer it in the meeting.”
I decidedly stop breathing. I inhale less air and hold it for a long time before release, again and again, as the box makes its round about the room, travelling on wrangly grips and exchanging between slow fingers until everyone in the room has in their hands a small piece of paper. The tiny bouts of papers ruffling and crumpling fill the silence. Pens click and pencils scratch, and we begin writing. Some chairs skid with awkward obnoxiousness as people sit down to drown their thoughts into the paper. Such small stationary for such a heavy topic. What single question could a person ask God? What single answer could a person look for? What question would you write down on a small piece of paper? What question could you write down?
When the box reaches me, I expect something to explode, but nothing happens. It just arrives and I imitate everyone else by sticking my hand inside and pulling out a rectangular piece of paper. I observe what comes out. It’s a purple paper. It stands out against the fluttering whites.
Writing about myself is a lot like I’m there, sitting down on a folding chair, elbows on a white Kirkland table staring at this purple piece of construction paper. I’m letting my mind fall onto this table. Nothing is landing on this piece of paper. Surely, they all know. There’s no way that nobody in this room of people doesn’t notice that someone’s paper is purple. And that paper is mine.
I configure a fake scenario in my head. And that is someone gravitating towards me in a light shuffle with their paper folded in their hands and they take note of me and say with the most painful kindness “Oh! Mia, your paper is purple! Wow, you’re so special. Even though it’s anonymous we’ll know exactly in meeting who asked it!”
How terrifying. A room of a hundred people that I have known my whole life looking forward to a question I have for God. What kind of question are they expecting me to write? What question are they expecting to hear? What is everyone else writing down? What’s the general consensus looking like?
I don’t even know where to start with this piece of paper.
I spend 15 minutes in silence like this. I’ve written in pencil, barely legible enough as it is, made worse with every myriadth time I erase what I wrote. Everyone has already left the Dining Barn by now to go to the Big Barn. And by now they must be lined up and seated and waiting in silence. I’ll walk in again in embarrassment by the time I’m done, and every one of my steps will echo and everyone will know that I have entered a room of a hundred silent, waiting people. They’re waiting for me. They’re waiting for the questions. And I know some of them will be waiting for the purple question, because it’ll be the only one that isn’t anonymous. What question could Mia Twelker herself possibly have for God.
I’m crying now. The weight of time is crushing on my skull as it has been exponentially for the past 20 minutes. No one is left with me. Everyone’s already finished writing down their questions. Why did it seem so easy for them? Why do I have to be the one with the purple paper? I need a question down in 5 minutes. Because that’s when the meeting starts. The meeting of a hundred silent people. And it needs to be a good question. I don’t even know what that is.
And I’m here sobbing in the barren Dining Barn with my elbows on a Kirkland table and my hands pressed against my face, because for the last 25 minutes the only thing I’ve been able to write and erase and write and erase and write and erase over and over again is a single haunting and unexplainable question:
“Why am I empty?”
“FRIDAY, JUNE 4, 2021 (THURSDAY NIGHT): And I remember the cogs turning in my brain, thinking the question wasnt good enough or didn’t make sense, erasing it, but constantly coming back to it because it was all my mind could conjure, in addition to knowing that everyone in the next room would know that I was the one who asked it.”
On Sunday night after teardown, everyone plays dodgeball in the Big Barn. The chairs are gone, and the stage is gone, so it’s the perfect space for games.
I’m still in my long church dress with my hair in a painful bun. It pricks my skull when I turn my head and I sit in the corner of the warehouse-like room with one leg crossed over the other in lady-like fashion, and my hands are on my lap.
In front of me a scene of people I know playing Medicine Man. Everyone’s out of their church clothes. People are sweating, people are shouting game terminology or yelling names. Some people are laughing, and it’s drowned by balls bouncing against concrete brick walls and people’s bodies, and the echo of feet shuffling across the floor.
The room is split down the middle by a long blue tape. About 13 people divided onto each side.
A few “IT’S JERALD! IT’S JERALD!”s and “IT’S HERRR”s occasionally bounce off the walls too.
I’m sitting here watching this scene.
A couple of times my best friend would use the break time to see me in my corner, “Are you sure you don’t want to join?”
Every time, I smile and shake my head.
I still shake my head.
This is my social stasis. I really want to join.
I’m afraid to get up from where I’m sitting. It means I’m about to do something, or make a choice, and I don’t know what I’m about to do yet.
I feel like such an outlier.
Can I change? Can I put my hair down? Can I go put on my casual clothes and ditch the Lady-like for just a couple hours? From the very beginning I’ve been led to think that this is the only way I can present myself to these people. Years and years of various “You need to wear a dress for this occasion” or “Wouldn’t it be better if you put your hair up?” or “Sit more like a lady” or “that isn’t very lady-like”. Years of built-up words like these all collide on my mind in this one moment that I’m sitting on the sidelines in the Big Barn, waiting for something to happen.
I’m so unsure. What will my mom think? Will she okay this?
Wait. Mom’s not even here right now.
What should I do?
No. There’s definitely a better question than that.
What do I want to do?
“Uncle Kenneth told me something the other day. He said he was really impressed with you!! He told me that he came to our front door to get Zoe, and you greeted him and said that she’d had an accident in the bathroom. You handed him a plastic bag of her dirty clothes and mentioned that you let her borrow yours, and that she can keep them. I’m so proud of you. You did that all by yourself. You didn’t need me. You problem solved!”
We’re going to ignore the fact that solving this problem took about an hour for me to resolve. Most of it was me thinking of a way out of the situation. The other majority was spent at the screen door yelling my mother’s name for any form of assistance I could possibly grab a hold of.
After no one came, I took a turn back to my bathroom and grabbed the smallest spare change of clothes I could find in my dresser.
When I arrived at Tempe and spent the first night in the dorms, I, without a doubt, cried myself to sleep every night for four days.
All the reasons I pondered over for the last year disappeared, and the only thing on my mind was the knowing that everything I love is at home.
“TUESDAY, AUGUST 16, 2022: I don’t think I’m going to be okay. I’ve never been more unhappy. More incapable. More unknowing. I don’t know if I’m doing anything right. “Look at how far you’ve come and be proud” Look at how far I’ve fallen and be ashamed. Be ashamed of me, those who have ever helped me. Be ashamed that I wasted your kindness. I’ve lost touch of who I am completely.”
It became hard to grasp who I was when I was no longer surrounded by everything I loved, and I struggle the most when I lose my sense of self.
I am slowly finding new things to love. And I am occasionally loving things I loved before.
While I regret not being able to play from the beginning. The last two games of Medicine Man were indeed very fun. And they were fun every year after.
Hide And Seek (Reprised)
I shimmied my scrawny body out from under my grandparents’ bed. I flew down the wooden spiral staircase with a bright grin, because my little heart sought my people.
When I reunited with them, a shred of sadness and resentment lingered, but it was quickly forgotten as the night continued on.