Saturday, December 15, 2007

"The Evergreen, Everlasting Christmas"

It's 1997.
A wreath of Christmas lights encircles your dorm room ceiling yearlong
I'm lying on my back on your twin bed,
studying you at your desk typing at the computer
Blasting down unknown players lurking in shadows
in a multi-player video game "Doom" between your problem sets,
Your copper hair glistens like a gleaming ornament amidst the lights
Outside, the December white winter snow descends upon the Charles
The whirl of cars sliding sluggishly through
the slushy Storrow Drive punctuate the hours
A chill fringes the windows, I look out at the barren branches and
the white walls of the MIT President's grand home
A festival of psychedelic spring flowers in fluorescent greens and fuschia cheerily adorns the wall before me—
A framed 1980s poster print of a painting you borrowed
The sweet scent of herbal weeds mingles in with
your last Stouffers tv dinner of mac and cheese
Empty plates of crumbs piles nearby the bed
A black-framed Ando Hiroshige's c.1855 woodblock print of
"Navaro Rapids" rests on your pale wooden bureau
A flat box lying on your clothes mountains features
a festive looking house illustration filled with windows of chocolate —
Windows framed by crinkled aluminum foil curtains opened reveal
daily event Cadbury milk chocolates partially eaten
Your mum in UK has mailed me one this year as well,
our first Christmas together.
I faithfully observe the rules, eating only one per day, delighted
You, who have been receiving chocolates for years,
carelessly breaks the rules and take two today.
Every chocolate representing the march of days
looking forward to Christmas.
The room is dim, I stare at the ragged nondescript,
mousey, brown-grey carpet beholding
another green-wired string of Christmas lights flickering,
you far away beyond arm's reach.
This moment feels familiar.

It's 2005.
Exhausted at 3:30 am from another Christmas night
working at the restaurant, my holiday family duties.
The faint scent of oil-drenched fried chicken wings and
chicken fingers lingers on my sweater,
I plop down by the computer in my brother's room,
deciding last minute to check my emails
Expecting a deluge of holiday greetings from well-wishers —
A headline catches my eye, "A sad new about Ben Walter."
I open all the other emails first, my heart sinking.
I note the "s" missing from the word news.
I stare at the period at the end of that email subject header.
Seems so final.
I click. A rapid of words flood fast...
"Died suddenly. Body found. Ben Walter. Shanghai. December 21.
Our good friend. Gone."
I scream. My brother doesn't understand, asks me to lower my voice. He's embarrassed.
I think of the last three emails he wrote on his last couple days to which
he thought I didn't respond. I replied too late. Two days too late.
I think of the last AIM message — the one I paused as I decided whether I should save that message.
I closed the window reluctantly, thinking there would be others.
I ponder what I was doing that day earlier in the week.
December 21. Freelance web design. A day just like most.
It's been 5 years since I've last seen you.
I was in Shanghai in the spring for a day earlier this year —
You were too ill to meet up, you wrote.
You have another college friend in town staying with you.
You have a venture capital meeting in the morning.
The taxi ride is too far away.
Over an hour, you protested. Too expensive.
Rivers apart, I'm by the Pudong, and you at the Puxi.
This moment feels familiar.

It's 2007.
I'm looking out the window on my right, it's a blur of white through my red and transparent swirled curtains.
Snow has melted into a soggy slush.
I suddenly remember I saved that Cadbury chocolate event calendar box somewhere in my closet,
A tribute to a Christmas I once looked forward to carelessly.
Wreaths of Christmas lights now encircle my common rooms downstairs year-round
Christmas lights crown every apartment since yours
Your Ando Hiroshige's woodblock print now rests
on my light wood bureau.
Your b-day card depicting a chubby coppery orange striped cat arms outstretched and wearing a British patrol hat leans up against this print. Card reads, "Happy Birthday! Or as they say in England...
Happy Birthday. We speak the same language."
A b-day card. A valentine's day card. A Xmas card.
Old cards to mark the new chapters of my life line my room.
Only you're not here to say it.
This moment feels familiar.

Janet Si-Ming Lee
Principal Designer, Siming Cybercreative
December 15, 2007

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