Trigger warning: Talk of self-harm and suicide
Have you ever had this feeling? Like you’re a helium balloon with your string cut. A rotting piece of wood adrift in the vast ocean.
Does saying it like that make me sound too pretentious? Thinking I’m some kind of literary youth. Of course I’m not. I’m just sad. Sad people tend to be under the impression that they’ve been possessed by Li Bai and suddenly know the gruesome secrets of the universe through a few lines of poetry.
Second year of university; my life is great. All the sad things from the past can be thrown to the back of the mind.
So, my life isn’t sad.
I’m sitting in the library after hours because it’s raining outside and the librarian feels sorry for me.
Lin Yu. My name.
In Chinese, it’s written like 林雨. The first character is my surname – it means woods. The second character means rain. Don’t know whether my parents did this intentionally, but if you add three dots to the first character, make it 淋雨, and it means getting rained on.
The pronunciation is the same.
My brother’s name is Lin Qiu, written like 林秋 – the second character means autumn. Our names put together are autumn rain. Quite poetic, isn’t it? But it still makes me wonder why my parents couldn’t have just had one son named Lin Qiu Yu, rather than fracturing the name over two children.
Because what happens when one is left without the other?
Autumn rain paints an image of people walking with colourful umbrellas across a scenery of red, orange and yellow leaves.
Rain on its own is only grey.
The library was my brother’s favourite place. The librarian also let him stay after hours. It was because she liked him in the way of a favoured son. Not because she pitied him. Well, maybe she did when she learned that he had to give up dancing to take care of our mum.
Stage three ovarian cancer.
Why didn’t our dad take care of her? Why didn’t I?
Dad didn’t think that work was more important than mum – he wasn’t that kind of person. It was just that someone needed to be working for the money.
I didn’t think that ballet was more important than mum – I’m not that kind of person. It was just that someone needed to be worthy of dreaming.
My brother – Ge’ge as I called him, had gripped me by the shoulders in the hallway of the hospital.
“Never give up on dancing, xiao’yu,” – it was a nickname; it meant little rain. “Please.”
“You’ll start dancing again when Ma’ma gets better, won’t you?” I said.
His face darkened, then he held my hand. “Come, it’s time to go home.”
I understand now that he didn’t think mum was going to get better. That he could have started dancing again. That there were more roads to dancing than professional.
But I pushed for that dream, our dream, until I lay each night with an aching body, but still dragged myself out of bed at four in the morning. Until the studio’s practice room became my almost-home, and the smell of sweat and huffs of exertion were perfume to my skin and music to my ears.
The rain beats louder on the glass. I look up at the highest shelf. I used to be able to put my leg up there. Bend my limbs in ways that would make you think they were made of rubber. Do you even have bones? People liked to ask me.
If I do that now I might pull a muscle and not be able to walk for a week.
My ballet teacher used to say: You don’t practise for a day and your body can feel it. You don’t practise for two days and you can feel it. You don’t practise for three days and everyone else can feel it.
My three days have piled into months by now.
My brother was always gentle. I was always getting hurt.
“It’s all right, just squeeze my hand. It’ll be over in a few seconds.”
My eyes were already blurry with tears and my throat raw with swallowed screams. I could bear injuries. One time, I danced an entire concert with a fractured ankle. But for some reason, the moment my brother appeared before me, my cheeks gave way to rivers.
The doctor snapped my knee back into place and I cried into my brother’s chest for fifteen minutes.
“好了好了哭出来就好，回家哥哥给你做好吃的。” It’s okay, it’s good to cry it out, when we go home, Ge’ge will make you something delicious.
I miss the sweet and sour ribs that Ge’ge made.
I find that I’ve been thinking in Chinese more and more nowadays. Probably because I miss him. Miss how him and mum used to yammer at each other in Shanghainese. He spoke to me in Shanghainese on occasions.
I understand it, but I never learned how to speak it.
That’s not what I’m sad about.
I pick up a book and try to read, but the lighting is too dim, and the words are just a blur of black.
“Yu,” the librarian says. “The rain has stopped.”
“Thanks,” I say, picking up my bag.
Maybe she sees some tears in my eyes, or maybe I just look sad. “Are you okay?” she asks.
I smile. “I’m good,” I reply. “Thanks for asking.”
The pavement has been washed clean. Are you okay? Can that question really change things? Is saving a life truly one question away?
If so, I should have asked. Should not have assumed that my brother would be fine after mum was cancer-free. That under his long sleeves in summer there was smooth skin. That in his heart, there wasn’t an invisible darkness.
Perhaps his name even foretold it. Add a heart, 心, xin, under the character for autumn, 秋, qiu, and it becomes 愁, chou – to worry. When worry builds up, the weight is crushing. Even when that worry isn’t needed anymore.
All Ge’ge had done was worry. Worry about mum and her possible relapse. Worry about dad and the stress of his work. Worry about me.
Ge’ge was the one who cared for me the most.
疼, teng, on its own means hurt, pain, but you add 我, wo – me, and it becomes to be looked after, cared for.
心疼, xin’teng. The first character is heart. The second character is hurt. It means to care about a person, feel that twinge in the heart when they are in pain.
I care so much that my heart hurts for you.
My heart hurts for him now, but he’s gone.
I stopped dancing because the dream had shattered. It can’t be our dream anymore. Because he’s gone.
Left the world, not with the comfort of being held, but with his final breath entrusted in a blade about to cause the most irreversible of damages. A cut can heal. A deeper cut can scar. But there is a point where deep becomes too deep.
No amount of stitches and bandages can piece it back together. No amount of ‘are you okays’ and ‘I love yous’ can fix anything now. You are not alone. I am here for you. You are loved. More than you will ever know.
Ge’ge, just let me care for you.
It starts raining again, and I stand there. Being rained on.
I close my eyes and listen to it. I think of autumn with its red, orange and yellow. My body moves with the rain as my music. My muscles are stiff, but my limbs remember the thirteen years of aches and sweat masked to move in a way that makes my body into art.
My heart hurts. Because I hurt. And I dance. Because I love.
Arms batting the rain. Reaching out for an umbrella, a warm body, someone to hold me in the rain.
You say you are the older brother and I am the younger brother, so you will block me from the wind, and shield me from the rain.
You say you are the older brother and I am the younger brother, so I too will block you from the wind, and shield you from the rain.
Because when I dance, I don’t dance about autumn, I don’t dance about the rain.
I dance about autumn rain.