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A Quaternary of Gender

tuesday, this

        i was joking with my friends about the concept of tad, as in “let’s move a tad quicker” or “she’s a tad too hot for you.” if we take tad to stand for a tad(pole), then super tad is a froglet, super a froglet is a frog. above that, maybe a toad?

        so i was thinking about degrees, and then i was thinking about binaries. anyway, i had an idea, and i want you to listen.

         i’m proposing a revolutionary theory of gender: the quaternary.

         there is man. super of man is woman.

        super of woman is, let’s say, the clit.

        you might ask, if sub clit is woman, and sub woman is man, then what is sub man? to that i say: it is the literal, unmetaphorical, graphically shit piece of subhuman shit who did not have your permission, your blessing, your frog-level yes.

friday, last

        i marched with my classmates to raise awareness for gender-based violence. if you had been there, you probably would have thought we looked a tad silly—the crowd had been considerably thinned out by other friday night activities. but you know, i saw a cute boy there i did not expect to see (more later- call me) and i thought that even if our numbers were not great, we were fucking cool.

         later, during the poetry and dance and moment of silence i thought about you. when they fucked my rights, i wasn’t thinking of me. because i haven’t had to think about it before, at least not like you have. instead, i thought about all of the shits who have come into your life before.

         later, during the poetry and dance and moment of silence i thought about you. when they fucked my rights, i wasn’t thinking of me. because i haven’t had to think about it before, at least not like you have. instead, i thought about all of the shits who have come into your life before.

        when the march ended, i saw everyone crying, and i just know that if you had been there, you’d be crying, too. i would hug you. my body would expand until i could shield you from every attack, attacker, and injury.

        i know it wouldn’t be enough, because nothing can ever be enough. but believe me, i would stay there hugging you close so long as you wanted a warm, friendly body.

for months, now

        i’ve been searching for the right words. i’m sorry, i can’t find them.

just now

        apparently the word tad used to mean little boy, and that’s how it became an expression. i don’t like that as much as tadpole, and you and i are supermen, and you decide when and if and how to tell the others about your world, your words, these frogs, okay?


        i love you an invasive infestation of frogs.

The Earth as Clay

Her lungs are mine. Aching. We

breathe in. Out. The same air. Speak

with one mouth, lips parted, touch.

Look upon my Creation. Silkworms nesting

in the mulberry leaves. The murmur and

rustle of her hand across the treetops. Dew,

coalescing like jewelry onto her fingertips.

But then they grew bored of it.

Made pyres from her bark and

took turns throwing each other in.

The Trojans, disguised with her cloak.

Crusaders slaughtering under my name.

Didn’t think the smoke would hang so

thickly in the air, for so long.

We hold our breath.

So maybe we’ll remake it, reshape

the mountains like soft clay, unfurl

the hunchback willows into something

beautiful again, run our fingers through

the gnarled roots, cover over all the

blisters and scars. And maybe we’ll wait

nine months and rebirth them too.


in flushing there is the old bakery / that steams with yeasty exhaust / each morning / in flushing there is the baker / each morning / who kneads cold butter into raisin-speckled dough / who fills gaps in his pastries / with almond cream / and rings up two pork floss bao daily for / the blond jogger / the blond jogger / who hunkers between and around / catcallers and pigeonwatchers on thirty-first avenue / on the way to physical therapy / whose ebony locks are hued / flaxen by the hairdresser / who sears hair with a chipped flat iron / who mutters in rapid cantonese / about her  / dead boyfriend / the boyfriend who died in a / cycling accident four months / prior, skull concussed / immediately upon impact / drunken sedan nosed into Flushing Creek / passenger in the shotgun seat a Jewish-born / Buddhist / who the next day revoked his / faith on the mahogany veranda / of the han ma temple, agarwood / incense rising heavenward /maybe to see if there’s really / anything up there / in the high places / and below under the / smoke-kissed steps of the basilica / there sits a homeless man shrouded / in the fumes of a smoldering cigar / there adjacent the shade of a / fig tree he watches the not-monk / there he lies huffing and puffing / on that roll of chinese tobacco he / swiped from the smoke shop / four blocks east / whose steel window grates do not / shut properly at night / whose owner drinks away the / rift / he’s gouged between / himself and his daughter with sickly sweet / sherry and / sherry, his daughter, who fills her / cramped flat with the saccharine of / the butterfly lover’s concerto despite / calloused fingertips, knotty, gory, with / a neighbor who occasionally accompanies / her lover-to-lover on a plastic keyboard / a neighbor who moved in / four months ago after / his loft burned down / his loft, which faded from off-white to black / to nothing because of a fallen feng shui / candle, one fallen

candle, which / wasn’t even his, which / appeared in his mailbox / by way of an unqualified delivery driver / who found his truck in complete / gridlock along flushing creek / after dropping off the candle / who found himself floating away / who found himself in a deep trance / staring at the pindrop / red and mercury haze / of the reflected water / watching / ripples causing ripples causing ripples / dimpled in blinking skyline / one thing to the next / all / part of a great / big something or the other / fingers clasped / within / fingers / clasped––

and the sunken car rises from the gaping / abyss / of the river / and the road begins to move again / and life begins to churn again / and the driver navigates to the old bakery / where he makes one final delivery / and he purchases a pork floss bao for the trip home / and the baker nods ceremoniously at the / four dollar tip he leaves / and the baker takes off his gloves / and the baker doesn’t realize how many


separate him from / everybody else and / everybody from / everybody else, but / it’s okay, because they’re all / together, close together, and / it’s miraculous that people can pass each other on / gum-smeared sidewalks and / meet face-to-face in this empty, disquieting / cosmos / atoms clustered together in strange ways / walking and talking as if / human, almost human.

Things we find in the nail salon

For me, childhood summers have always smelled like acetone. Like toluene and formaldehyde and the slew of other unpronounceable things that permeated the air in the nail salon where my mom worked. Together in the salon for hours at a time, the two of us steeped in the concoction of chemicals that floated around us like dumplings in a steamer. Back then, I never knew that what I was breathing was toxic. I just knew that by tagging along with my mother to the salon, I became accustomed to smells that were sharp, that felt acidic and slightly noxious as they found their way to my nose.

Summers in particular were slow, as if in the humidity time could only trudge forward with heavy feet. And from June to August, I was a fixture in the salon, always curled up in the corner with a book. I didn’t mind it much, though. The nail techs all knew me, and I liked how close they were in the salon. Most of them were mothers. All of them were women with calloused hands and stunted English tongues, clinging to a shared rope of Vietnamese like together they could climb back to the vision of home they kept in their heads.

I’d always felt comfortable in the salon. Customers might not have noticed, but for me and the workers who frequented it, the peeling plaster walls constructed something of a home. To us, the nail salon was a community center, a space where gossip unspooled in native tongue and home-cooked meals were bartered in backrooms. The women took from it what they could, and, by proxy, I did the same.


Maybe the best thing I ever got from the nail salon was Mai. Mai, who moved to our town in the fifth grade with her mom after her parents split. Mai, who seemed so unburdened by the pre-adolescent awkwardness that had plagued me with acne and dwindling self-esteem. Mai, whose mom brought a fake Louis Vuitton handbag full of dried shrimp to work her first week.

Mai and I became friends in the way that only kids can--quickly, naturally, without even meaning for it to happen. Our friendship felt even more miraculous because it grew where no one had expected it to, sprouting from the crevices of the nail salon, in the back rooms and the corners and behind the desks where we would help sweep up. On top of that, we were complete opposites, which my mom said was because I was born in the year of the Dog and Mai was born in the year of the Dragon. Where I was predictable and consistent, Mai was constantly rushing and shifting and restless. Where I was a twig-like tangle of gangly limbs, Mai’s height had already begun to fill itself with blossoming curves.

Despite our differences, for three summers in middle school, we were almost inseparable. We could lounge around the salon together for days, me with my books and Mai with rumpled stacks of fashion magazines. When our moms got tired of our idleness, they gave us jobs—floor-sweeping, inventory-sorting, and occasional foot-massaging. The work wasn’t fun, and no matter what I did I ended up with an ache in my back. But we got to keep our tips, valuable pocket change with which we would buy cherry slushies from 7-Eleven and Cheetos in family-sized packs.


The summer before high school, I decided that Mai was invincible. We were in the salon together, as always, when a woman started to berate our mothers. Unhappy, entitled customers were common at the salon, but this particular woman was louder than each and every one. This woman spit insults from between her white, knife-like teeth as if they were a currency that could make her richer.

In response, Mai asked me to help her sweep the floor, collecting the nail clippings we swept up in a plastic cup. At first, I thought that the screaming lady made her nervous, that she didn’t want to give her another reason to be agitated. I should have known Mai wasn’t that type of person, though. By the time the irate woman left the salon, the nail clippings had found their way into her purple Prada bag.

The only thing Mai said to me after was, “If that lady thinks we’re all her servants, she’s just bullshitting herself.”

I admired Mai a lot for that, the way I admired her for a lot of things. She always seemed more courageous than I was, unafraid to make use of her feelings rather than swallowing them all up. Whereas I could blend in with the blandness of our surroundings, Mai was vibrant enough to stand out.


One weekend in July, Mai and I took my mom’s car and drove out into one of the grass fields that swathed the outskirts of our tiny town. It was late evening, during that time a little past sunset when the air cools down but the stars haven’t quite come out. We were parked on somebody’s farm, sitting in the open trunk of my mom’s Toyota. Mai smoked a mango-flavored vape as we stared into nothingness and talked about things that felt just as inconsequentially big as the open plain in front of us.

“Hey, so I’ve been meaning to tell you, I don’t think we’ll really see each other much after this summer.” Mai stared straight ahead, but the fingers that had been drumming her vape against her bottom lip stilled.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m moving away. Just me, though. I haven’t told my mom anything yet, so it’ll just be me.”

She went on to explain--how she wanted to be an artist, but not the kind that painted pictures or made sculptures. No, she wanted to be an actress, she wanted to make art of herself, she wanted her face on a big screen where everyone could see.

“But what about your mom? And school? You haven’t even graduated yet.”

What about me I wanted to ask. Does this have anything to do with the bruise on your face I wanted to ask. Mai had met me that day with a bruise sprawled across the side of her face, a messy greenish-purple watercolor that spilled down to the underbelly of her chin. It terrified me, not just because the bruise was nasty even in the fading light, but because when I ran the list of possible perpetrators in my head it was far too long and ambiguous. Her mom, an ex, one of the

people at school that had it out for her, the guy at the corner store who she used to steal cigarettes from. Mai ignored me when I asked, brushing aside all my questions until we wordlessly agreed to ignore the tension the same way we ignored the smell of chemicals in the salon.

I should have known that once Mai made decisions, she always stuck with them.

“Remember what I told you that day in the salon? I’m not a fucking servant, and I know if I stayed here I’d just end up becoming one.” Mai’s jaw was set, her expression unwavering when she finally met my gaze. And just like that, I knew she had made her choice.

The next day, when I went to see her off at the bus station, I was the only one there. I cried, and she didn’t. And then she was gone.


I wouldn’t see Mai until four summers later, when I was entering my senior year of college at a liberal arts school in Seattle. By then, I felt like my life had been taken and polished over, which was to say I felt like everything was shinier than it had been before. In Seattle, I was living in a big city, I was writing for a literary magazine, I was throwing myself into debt over an English degree and I didn’t care because I loved what I did.

The one thing I did carry with myself into my college years was my time in the nail salon. Despite scholarships and loans, I still needed money to pay for school, and I did so doing the thing I best knew how.

I met Mai by chance one day after a shift at the salon, at a bagel place with broken air-conditioning and silvery metal chairs. We both glanced at each other once, then did a double-take at the same time. We sat together, and by the time I finished my cinnamon-raisin bagel, I finally knew where Mai had been the past few years.

She had first gone to New York City, but there she felt that job competition was too steep and even the rats were always hungry. After bouncing around to three other cities and landing two gigs in small commercials, she ended up in Seattle. In Seattle, she moved from acting to singing, busking on corners near Pike Place. She told me she could see her career moving up, that she had started booking jobs at tiny venues and cafes. And to support herself until she landed that coveted record deal, she worked at a nail salon.

When I told her that I worked at one too, there was a beat of silence. We both took long glances at each other and then one of us reached out to take the others’ hand.

We weren’t sad, really. I could feel the promise of the future hanging in the air, heavy with the August humidity. We were making something of ourselves, doing things we were passionate about. But still, something felt off.

We had shed the town that we lived in, the mud-slicked one that we were meant to slip and stay stuck in. We had shed the expectations that were constricted against us. We had created new ideas of who we wanted to be. Temporarily, we had shed the things that bound us to each other as we worked for what we wanted.

But still, despite all of it, our hands were as calloused as our mothers’. Our yellow skin was by then cracked in most crevices, our lungs heavy with decades of chemical-infused nail salon air. We had the same kind of skin our mothers wore, the only differentiation being that theirs wrinkled and sagged like the pages of a long-abandoned book. I wondered if it was some prophecy for us and the people we might possibly be destined to be.

We thought that we had escaped our town and all of the things that made it feel small. But still, sitting there with our calloused fingers, we couldn’t shake the feeling that the only thing we had ever been trying to escape was ourselves.

Death's Bride

I first kissed Death on a water slide. My sister

met him when she was a heartbeat,

shadowy shape in our memories where a child

might have grown. His specter

hangs over dinner tables set by ghosts, hands ruffling

sheets of hospital beds and plucking souls

like popcorn from scenes awash with red.

I was never afraid of him though,

not when I was young.

I stood outside in pouring rain

with skies flashing white and beasts rumbling

in the clouds, jumped from the tallest trees

to land flat on my back in the wood chips, dodged cars

in neighborhood streets, close

enough to scratch the metal fenders

as the wheels screeched by. I was most alive

when I walked by his side.

He is the only one who will never

leave me, a life-long flirtation,

my final husband: this bane of kings,

the last refuge of scoundrels.

I will meet him when I am tired and worn.

Let him come to me in a star-studded palanquin

and close my eyes to the velvet night.

Brain Mothers

Dura mater, the durable mother,

dusky yellow tough as bone,

a layer that resists the scalpel’s slice

and encases delicate soul inside.

It’s a mother’s arms that guard and hold

against winds battering her cracked stone keep,

with ivy torn by forces that stun

and would reduce us to dust scattering

whisper-gold in the setting sun.

She is my fiercest protector, my port in the storm,

a reed that will snap before she bends

if it means I will grow in her stead.

I know she will shelter me

as long as she is able to.

Arachnoid mater, the spider mother,

cobwebbed maroon crossing transparent film,

draining fluid that cushions but in excess might drown

me in the weight of dreams that shine too bold.

It’s a mother that tempers our wildest natures,

placid as a mirror lake, with willow trees

swaying in the gentle breeze.

Dawn dances on her waters,

iridescent drops adorning gilded lotus

nestled amidst the lily pads.

Once, I couldn’t wait to spill past her banks

and carve my own path through the rough-hewn rock.

But as I rush forth, she’s splitting streams,

linking tributaries that flow to me,

so if I falter I can return along brooks

and gullies she’s carved through stone.

Like spider threads converging,

all her rivers lead to home.

Pia mater, the tender mother,

thinner than paper, awash with blood

vessels carrying life to mind.

It’s a mother’s heart that nurtures and shapes,

pressing stars to strength,

moonlight to memories within my marrow,

building me with tales of the night’s silver gleam

on lands and people I have never seen.

And when I shatter, she’s there to pick up the pieces,

hands them back to me

so I can put myself together

the way she once forged

with a love so fierce it burned fire to bone.

She holds me closer than membrane to gyri,

in warmth as eternal as the endless mind.


Needle pricks—

dives through snowy fabric,

pulls thread that snares and tangles.

Red against white:

berries in frost on the Lunar New Year.

Firecrackers pop and lanterns hang

like ruby moons. Smoky trails whisper

around the iron-wrought gates, sparklers painting

dragon sigils against the night.

A jade necklace pulses against my chest

like a second heartbeat.

Needle pricks—

this time my hand slips.

The tip breaks skin,

blood dripping to stain the fabric.

Red against white:

cheeks flushed from cold,

frostbite nipping at toes under threadbare blankets.

Scarlet ink on test papers,

nails pierce skin as textbooks swim before hazy eyes

in a nation that begs sacrifice of a childhood to escape.

Crimson passports on freezing marble of immigration desks,

hearts alight with hope that warms us through frigid days

as we chase a promise lost in this new land.

Needle pricks—

drags thread along a tapestry

started long before I was born.

Red against white:

for holly at Christmas,

and summers spitting stars like cherry pits.

I lay string along chalk marks on the fabric

that mark how much farther I have to go.

To build the dream my parents could not,

prick by prick.

Stitch by stitch.

The Train

They get on the train every day, every hour, every minute and every second. Every day, I watch from here, my little spot, children, adults, and old people climbing onto the train to reach their destination.

The hum of the gaslight jerks me awake-it is the only sound I’ve ever known for a long time, and it is little sounds that elude your peace, your thoughts. I whistle for a bit, echoing its hum which sounds resonating and dense. It is how I exist.

The train chugs by at a time I cannot name, but I’m sure I know. The choo, choo echoing the silence, save the hum of the gaslight and my pity whistle, is a musical epiphany and soothing. The rail wheels, a bright shade of sorrow, trundle along, slow yet accelerated. The old-fashioned steam engine shoots out visible puffs of scarlet smoke, descending into the emptiness of the cold air. It is now empty, and my vision shifts to the platform; the platform at the solitary station I know and watch.

A sea of people stand. Churned expressions and tainted imaginations. Where are they going? They know, and I know, and it is certain that all know. A child, doubtless less than seven, cries and tugs at a khaki pant, torn in some places, as good as new in most.

“Where are we?” The question is a demand, yet a child’s innocent demeanor. His eyes grow wide, his beautiful blue eyes, and the old man wearing the child’s play toy turns around.

“We’re leaving, child.”

“Where? We were at my birthday party minutes ago. I saw a flash and heard screaming, what was that about, Grandpa?”

The wisps of white hair on the man’s head stand up, calmly. “We’re going to have a better party. You just wait and see.”

And they get onto the train. With innumerable of those who want to find their path, they’ll find it now.

I smile. Like I do every second, every second the train comes in chugging, every second countless beings get on it, every second it chugs past, just past the purple shrub behind cold, dense mist.

I open my eyes and I turn around. It has trundled past. The gaslight hums goodbye and I whistle farewell, and I watch, given a waiting list the size of a full stop, the train rolling by again to take in yet another child, his grandfather, and several others.

Today I see something different.

She’s standing on the platform. Sixty-eight rounds and she hasn’t climbed on. She watches, just like me, the gaslight humming and the choo choo of the majestic, beautiful coach.

Her eyes are a brilliant shade of unique purple. Her fair, radiant skin reflects the solo gaslight’s contribution, and as she raises her palm to her alluring face to wipe off glistening sweat, her sundress floats and she walks about continuously, her delightful heels trundle, a sample of the chug. She watches, in quiet silence, save for the hum of the gaslight and the rumble of the passing train.

She notices me, my humble spot, my dense cover. She walks up, in no time. I have no time to run, no time to hide. I have no interest in doing so. I watch her majestic, artistic fingers, looking down at the feet of a dancer, and her white dress floating in response to the drifting cool air.

We lock eyes for eighteen trains. Her purple eyes meet mine, and stay there, hers bright and curious, mine calm and answering. And hers mirror mine, in a quick instant.

She speaks, almost suddenly.

“I know.”

Her voice is so, so soft. Admiring her curls at the temples and her serene, questioning face, I take in a human voice, that of velvet, after I don’t know how long.

I take more trains to answer her than I would like.

“You died.”

Her fingers twitch in response. Her feet shuffle about for a bit before repeating, “I know.”

She answers my question. “Flood.”

“Why are you here?” She asks after a while. “Haven’t you got on?”

At her inquiry, I look down after a long time at the hands I’ve known I’ve had, but somehow forgotten, and remember my path. Years and years ago. Him. The gas. Bubble. And then poof.

I twitch too. I can’t bear to remember, yet that is all that I do. The gaslight mocks in a loud, mangled hummmmm. Then I speak. I speak.

“I can’t. I like to stay here. I like to watch it rumble past, and go. I don’t want to go with it. I’d rather stay here and watch it go.”

“I need you to come with me.”

“It is time I left. But then I won’t know.”

“You don’t need to.”

She smiles, a wide and beautiful smile. Her words bounce off her tongue, very carefully, and quickly. “I’d like to stay, too. But everyone’s going, and everyone has to go. There is no wait. You cannot delay yourself waiting in a line no one else is waiting in.”

“I can’t.”

“You shall.”

I know verities. I know this is one of them. I believe her, and I smile, too. Precariously.

“Let’s go.”

I look behind, and I look forward. I look to the left, the right, above and below. I see nothing. I only hear. The train is coming. I can only dream.

She holds my hand, and we both smile, and I feel nothing but calm and unquestioning.

We walk past the gaslight, silent this time, and get on.

“But where do you think we’re going?” she asks, uncertainty throbbing, as the train begins to trundle, the familiar choo choo washing over me.

I squeeze her hand, and I think I’m smiling.

“Just out there,” I say. “Past the mist and the gaslight.”

drowned to life

september night, hours frozen i

drown my reflection in a lake

without rippling the black surface

for i have run out of escapes.

my reflection floats into a curse with

no human heart weighing it down. the

face of a mannequin

disappears as soon as i blink.

my skin peels off in liquid dreams.

step into the void, and i knew i had

drowned the wrong reflection but i

have run out of escapees.

i fold into the lake, the underside

of my conscience is scraped.

shredded lungs, spilling cold ink

but i am breathing for the first


the waters were knocked-over pallets

stolen paints from northern skies.

open my throat, dishevel in silence i

run out of escapes and into life.

my body casts no shadow in the water

for the lake held hostage, tightly the

color of your colorless eyes and i am

drowning without metaphor.

dreams unconsciousness

i peeled off my skin

dipped them in the river

that had the color

of your name

unraveled my bones

and carved the ridges

of your face

into the bony white

it started from hollowness

where my heart should’ve been

four summers ago you

shattered what was left of me

taken aback by your eyes

black glass, the color of

forgotten cities an hour

before apocalyptic dawn

and vinyls that played out hymns

crept into my veins, bloomed

sugar-coated whispers

like the guitar you’d strung

against my waist, so deep

your nails painted scars on me

so soft, music almost sings of

the name carved into my cheek

that burns in cold air, engraving

patterns of your lips into midnights

i hid from, writing about galaxies

in your eyes, yet i’ve never seen

moonlight through a window pane

afraid that its beauty would suffocate

and it'd feel just like you.

one of these nights, city dreams

a misty hilltop with roses and

violets flying in the wind. i am


a ragged blanket, back of

dusty wooden shelves. some nights

there is a way to live again

without ripping at the seams but

living on spilling blood and

strumming all these broken strings

a sunset of colorless dreams

constellations and paper planes

you intoxicated me without

even touching my wounds.

i’ll bury the version of me

that only existed for you

i’ll bury me in a field of flower

 so i could forever live in the


of the perfume on your neck

and when everything is done

i’ll fall asleep without crying

and i’ll be able to see you sober

the highest life, ended in

nightmares and crushed glass

i think you understand now

why i had to leave.

The Next April

My eyes can take in everything

but they cannot hold tears.


Lazy midday sun,

a sweet touch.

Now —


An unfamiliar voice.

There are more dishes on the dining table

Too much salt.

One less chair occupied

One more joss paper to burn

next April.

A daughter watches her mother holding on

To her mother’s calloused hands.

Too sudden.

The unsaid and unacknowledged,

Too late.

My eyes cannot hold tears

But they can take in everything.

The Brown Parcel Box


Particles tend to bond with other particles, but when they’re separated by any natural or manual process, they tend to stay that way. You would think a log disappears into ashes when it’s burned, but science says matter is indestructible, even if it’s invisible. Because no matter what physical and chemical changes they undergo, none is created nor destroyed through the process. Everything is matter. You and I are matter.

Part I: The Cube

All sides of a cube have equal dimensions and parallel opposite edges. The sides are flat and smooth with nothing bulging out or caving in. Within the cube, the volume is definite with no empty space.

To commemorate our time together before your upcoming college decisions, you and I transformed a 12x12x12 parcel box into a mailbox, which we kept under our bed and used to exchange bags of chips, apology notes on gum wrappers, unflattering candid polaroids, and codenames in Mei-Po (our made-up language).

                   Eileen: Welcome! Saturday 5th 6:00 pm November

Today marks our first day of the Mailbox. Please read the following for instructions.


1. Eileen is always right no matter what.

2. If Eileen does something wrong, remember rule 1.

3. Always seal your envelopes.

4. Keep box out of sight.

These are all the rules that you must abide by. If you have any questions, please write to me. You will find some envelopes, cards, and ziplock bags for future use. Please sign below to confirm your commitment to the Mailbox and mail it back.

Party 1: Eileen Zhang

Party 2: ___________

P.S. For your first gift, here are some grape flavored hichews.

                   Elena: Hi! Saturday 5th 6:02 pm November

The hichews are delicious but I don’t agree with rule 1 and 2.

Party 1: Eileen Zhang

Party 2: Elena Zhang

                    Eileen: Sunday 6th 10:00 am November

Rules will not be reconsidered.

We sat on the floor among pieces of cut cardboard and proudly marked the beginning of our mailbox. In the next two months, our envelopes, candies, and birthday cards piled to the top of the box and filled in all the crevices. The once-rigid box began to swell at the sides, bursting with all our offerings.

Part II: Entropy

                    Elena: Apology Letter Friday 20th 11:48 pm January

I’m sorry about what I said last night. I want you to know that everything was out of anger in the moment and I never want you to feel that way again. I hope we can fix everything before you leave.

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy, or disorder, always increases with time. Nature favors increasing the entropy in a system —- an ice cube at room temperature will melt, corn kernels over a gas flame will pop, a minor skirmish between two people will escalate into a full-blown cold war.

Once New Year’s passed, the mailbox was used less and less. When you told me to move to mom’s room because I was too loud, I snapped: “I wish you don’t get into any college.”

You didn’t say anything that night, but I could feel something rupture. I was disappointed to find nothing when I habitually checked my mailbox everyday. Even when we reconciled from the cold war in our day-to-day life, my life still felt disrupted without a reply in the mailbox. Although you acted as if nothing had happened, I felt as if the mailbox had already vanished from your world.

After I left you the apology note, I waited for you to acknowledge the letter: I averted eye contact, waiting for your confrontation. But my hopes diminished as the days passed and no replies came. Even though you didn’t say anything about the letter, after a week or so, you did start speaking to me again. As things returned to equilibrium on the surface, I found it harder to address this growing yet unspoken distance between us and the mailbox that used to bridge our lives.

As each day was crossed off the calendar before summer break, the mailbox became less real. When you left that summer, I moved the mailbox to the garage so that I wouldn’t have to be reminded on a daily basis of this split that we never sealed.

After you left, mom announced a cleanout.

“You, pile her clothes and books into boxes.” Mom assigned me the hard work. “You can keep things, but the rest is going to storage.” With the pain from the mailbox still fresh in mind, I sat back on cleaning your things.

“I’m not obliged to clean up after her!” My words came out more enraged than I intended and I could feel mom’s look without actually looking at her.

“God, save the temper for someone else,” Mom snapped. “Is this such a big deal?” she turned away.

Now that I think of it, maybe what I did was more out of avoidance than grudge. I’m scared of the subtlety that objects carry, and how often your markers, clothes, and comics remind of you who’s worlds away from me. The house was reassembled after two whole days of cleaning, and I must say the room looks twice the size without your belongings scattered on the floor.

Even though I’d studiously avoided the packing process, I still decided to scan over your things knowing that it’s my last chance to grab something. Your things were separated into two piles: one for storage, the other for recycling. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for you), all the things that I would possibly want to take were packed tightly in the boxes. Even more unfortunately for me, however, I saw a pile of cardboard in the recycling pile. Not just any cardboard. I pulled them out and confirmed that it was our cardboard, our mailbox, broken down into unequal square-like pieces with traces of our craft still visible. I dug through the trash bag looking for the letters like a hungry stray cat looking for food, but there was no trace so I assumed the recyclers must have taken them already. I hold my tears in harder than I hold the torn cardboard, the last remains of our mailbox, and head back indoors.

My mom approached me as I came inside. “What are you doing with that?” she said. “It’s going to trash.”

Trash. I paused to think of what to say, but I knew that my tears would’ve burst out at any moment if I let myself explain. So instead, I used anger as my shield again.

“Yeah you’re right,” I said trembling, “it’s just trash, maybe we should tear it down even more, shred it into pieces, and burn it before we dump the ash.” I dropped the pieces on the floor and ran away from my mom to save the tears for myself.

I envisioned where the mailbox would end up. Whether compacted, burned, or renewed into new products, I envisioned it coming back to me in another way.

Part III: Conservation of matter

I really thought our lives had separated into two tracks after you went to college, only getting farther and farther apart with time. Out of everything, however,  who would’ve thought that a global pandemic was something that transformed the time I had thought we had lost for good into a reconnection.

In our endless days sharing a room again, we spent all our time sitting on your bed, updating each other on the times that we’ve lost together. We devised a plan to sneak pizza in the house during midnight without mom hearing. We witnessed the sun set and rise in one long conversation through the night. I felt as if we were kids again––taller, older, but still the same us. Something about our bond made me realize that we didn’t need to stay together or do the same things to be connected. That original box is somewhere else now - holding a kid’s new sneakers, or a birthday present. I couldn’t tell you where or how –– I don’t know what shape it is or if it has a 12x12x12 definite volume –  but I knew the mailbox had returned to us.

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