Swallow Your Grief!

Orange cones and harsh ROAD CLOSED signs interrupt my bike ride home. Heavy on the breaks, I split off from the cars in exchange for the sidewalk, following behind pedestrians. Murmurs of conversation, hands tucked in rainjackets, polite apologies to pave space for the cyclist. My bike exhaled, slowing down once I saw the tragedy myself.

I heard about it earlier—that a home had slipped down from the heavy rain. The house had windows with palms open and a door left open, its tongue peeking out. I mutter my sympathies to the people around me. Voyeurs from Remuera Road, Victoria Avenue, Ōrākei and Portland Road gathered at Shore Road Park. We’ve replaced the Turkish vendor and the strawberries at the back of his van with our bodies, breathing heavily at the first tragedy from the Auckland floods.  

Once I reached home, our flat received an onpour of support through texts, and we had to respond gently, saying that our old house was on top of a hill. The dampness of shame stuck to our yellow walls. We would talk peripherally about the home that had sunk, and the way it dragged its feet across the mud. Discomfort forced us to migrate to the laundry room, where something smelled horrible. We stood before the fridge, theorising if something died inside or under it. Nausea stuck to my bones, in the elbows I lean against my knees when I piss and stare at our graveyard of a fridge. 

A few months before the flush of water, we kept our cat in a cake-shaped box in the freezer, tucked under frozen peas and pastes. None of us wanted to open the package we received from the vet. I couldn’t stop dreaming of Julian and his soft velvet skin, his green eyes and sharp mouth. Eventually, Luca admitted he opened the box and that Julian looked like he was asleep. In the week that we kept Julian in the freezer, I would roll out his box and give his soft, frozen cheek a stroke before washing my hands clean of grief. I promised to plant flowers over his grave, but it has been a year without flowers. The grief no longer stares at me from the freezer, nor does it sneak up, interwoven in my dreams. 

I was born new again, with more love than sorrow.

In Auckland City Hospital’s family room, there is a picture of a pōhutukawa tree and the boatsheds near Mission Bay—ironic for a winter’s visit to the ER. To anchor me back into my body, I kept the heels of my feet resting on the chair legs. It wasn’t until we saw him that we were able to say it out loud—that the nurse had said he was very sick, words that placed a fist in my throat. “What the fuck,” he laughed, very much alive. Grief relieved its foot from my chest. The warmth of holding my best friend’s hand, from spinning around to show the round red marks from the acupuncture bruises, is enough to cure me. The sounds of Duolingo and an old man coughing provided our sentimental backdrop. 

I feel victorious every time I bike past pōhutukawa trees and boatsheds. I won at the expense of a body frozen to a plastic hospital chair. 

October is a memorial site, and her birthday reminds me of a funeral: candlelit, yellow sickly white joy on an Instagram story. She’ll never know that when we were thirteen, I wanted to kiss her before the years paved a line of quiet friendship. On my way home, I tried to avoid biking over spilled bird guts, but it was between my alive body hitting the metal of a car or crushing the intestines of a dead love. My grandmother once told me about the bird that had stopped visiting her home once rats had eaten her eggs. Thieves of joy, I said, and my grandmother told me that was just how things are. Last summer, Julian held a rat in his mouth; his hope, his love, spat out on a Persian rug and received with a scream. Julian is dead, and she is no longer my friend. I’m afraid of seeing her again, down at a dimly lit concert where I’ll confess that I still dream of her before I say something mundane, like how the weather is dry and barren—what a strange contrast to the damp, humid summer where you were my friend and a house’s lungs were spilt onto my road. 

Summer is inching up again, rolling up the corners of my shorts. When I bike home, there is a dip between two hills, where a mouth waits to swallow me and my bike whole. At the flat tongue of the mouth, a home’s grave has turned green. Next to the grave are living, breathing homes with bright white lights and BMWs that roll out and join my bike and me. The fright of a metal machine next to me reminds me that I am alive. 

I grip my handlebars too tightly—I want to live so badly that it hurts my shoulders at night. I am not sure how deeply I believe in God, but I have to—or else, how will I be safe? As a child, I would imagine a forcefield of love spreading over Tāmaki Makaurau—at twenty, the forcefield keeps my cat curled up in my chest and my mother’s chai recipe in a silver pot for my loved ones, its aroma sinking into the hardwood floor next to the bora. I am not a good devotee; I still feel starved for more (for all the strangers down the road and halfway across the world to be safe). The inside of my mouth is swollen from loving. If a car hits me like how it killed poor Julian, it’ll be a tragedy that floats away, swallowed by empty promises and billboard signs. I still hope to be born again, in another life with enough love to create sorrow. I hope it is worth it, to feel so much love with so little control in my hands.

Featured photo courtesy of author.


In a dream, you saw a way to survive, and you were filled with joy.


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