We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals
Their family reunion is abruptly set into motion by Ba’s death.
The last one was for a wedding—Shi Jinghui’s, actually—which ended sourly in divorce, so their track record for good moods and family bonding is clearly superb.
Shi Jinghui scrunches his nose in mild disgust as a film of dust implodes into the air of his father’s office. He waves his hand quietly in front of his face to avoid the debris.
They probably weren’t poisonous spores. Probably. Considering his father, it was a very real possibility.
/He always did say we’d be dead if we stepped in here alone/, Shi Jinghui thinks sardonically to himself. He sighs, tucking his face further into his cardigan. /Maybe some things never change./
“Old man really must have kicked the bucket if you’re in here,” a unsubtly delighted voice says from behind him. Shi Jinghui doesn’t have to turn to see the newcomer, closing his eyes instead and letting out a quiet huff of amusement.
Zhang Yuting lounges into the room, barely sidestepping a precious artifact from Egypt that had been so carefully maintained on their father’s private bookshelf. Shi Jinghui watches him silently from his perch on the desk as his adoptive brother languidly tosses various items onto the teakwood floor in a silent inspection.
“I reassure you, he’s rolling over in his grave,” Shi Jinghui answers. “If that’s your intention.”
“He’s too busy playing poker with Stalin to care,” Zhang Yuting says. He pauses, then fully turns to Shi Jinghui with an eyebrow raised. “Was the mothering personality triggered by coming back here, or are you still like this all the time?”
“Ha-ha.” Shi Jinghui deadpans. He opens his arms to the other man, who lets out an amused breath and obliges to step in and receive a brief hug. “Still blunt and charming as ever, aren’t you.”
“Things from the Academy hardly change,” Zhang Yuting says, stepping back to lean against the windowsill. He lets out a deep sigh, scanning the room with narrowed eyes. Shi Jinghui recognizes the bitter nostalgia in his gaze—the resigned disdain, the numb disbelief. He wonders if the others will think to head to the same forbidden room.
Or if they’ll even decide to come at all.
After several moment of heavy silence, deafening with the buzz of both of their minds flitting through memories a decade ago, a creak sounds from the doorway. Shi Jinghui turns to look back—then jolts to himself at the sight of the figure standing with his hands in his pockets.
“Room for another in this party?” Cheng Bowen drawls icily. Shi Jinghui watches as Zhang Yuting instantly tenses from his spot, his posture tightening from his loose draping over the windowsill into something more reminiscent of a fighter preparing for a next round.
He can’t say he blames him.
When neither of them answer, their brother raises an eyebrow.
“No,” Zhang Yuting says at the same time Shi Jinghui answers, “Three isn’t too much of a crowd, is it?”
Cheng Bowen’s eyes gleam in thinly veiled amusement at this as Zhang Yuting turns to Shi Jinghui with a displeased glare. Shi Jinghui elects to ignore him, instead turning away to pick at his nails in forced nonchalance.
Zhang Yuting lets out a resigned breath, then turns back with a steely look to Cheng Bowen, who tilts his head.
“Then I’ll just let you two … catch up,” he says tightly, rising from his spot. He gently touches a hand to Shi Jinghui’s side in parting before he levels Cheng Bowen with another irritated glance, taking his leave and leaving behind an awkward air.
Shi Jinghui doesn’t know if he imagines the softening in Cheng Bowen’s expression. If it’s just selective perception. After all these years—he’d like to think—well. Nobody in their family’s ever been good at reading each other. Much less Cheng Bowen.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” Shi Jinghui offers into the silence.
“Neither did I,” the other man answers. No elaboration.
Shi Jinghui hums at that. He doesn’t know what else to say, despite the incredulity of the occasion—always the mediator, and never his own voice when it came to his family. Even though his siblings would disapprove of this conversation itself.
“Where’s Xixi and Gu Kang?” Cheng Bowen asks. His face, his tone—reveal nothing about his feelings on the topic, even as Shi Jinghui’s hands ball into fists on the desk.
“ … Gu Kang,” Shi Jinghui answers, letting out a weary breath as he crosses his arms, “filed for divorce eight months ago. And Xixi, I—he got custody. So.”
Cheng Bowen mouth curves downwards at this.
“But anyways,” Shi Jinghui says stiffly, hopping gently off the edge of the desk. “That’s neither here nor there. I hope you’ve been—well. With your … job. I suppose.”
In another room, the family’s mansion’s housekeeper—their android of many years—dusts the wall next to a dimly lit oil painting in the likeness of a young girl poised on a velvet chair, the right side of her mouth quirked upwards.
The girl in the painting above the fireplace, with a shock of bone-white hair against a sanguine background, does not answer to Yan Siyuan’s hums as she dusts.
the sound of your voice crawls against my throat [it's a tickle, a mockery, a mimic i cannot make / i crave, i'm addicted to the words that tumble from your mouth / i rather hear you again every day than feel the brush of your lips.] from the taste of my fantasies, my tongue has shriveled from the melancholy it leaves behind [i recommend to those who have never felt so unclose, don't recall the good times, since it reminds you that you can't go back to the past.] my soul associates, people with poetics: i remember people as lines, i press the seams of melodies so to see the shapes of their bodies [and that pitch she sings, the chorus of her tragedy / it's the chord i know your name by, it's a tune that i ache to share with you.] soon they whisper to me, though their comments slip past me entirely, the idealism of moving on [fictional concept if you ask me, there's always one song you hear once a decade yet still quote the entire thing effortlessly; you're that song to me]. my only wonders lay, in the safety you've become to me [does leaning far too much make you imagery or hate me?]
be my fable—my moonrise tea,
be my shot of stability.
hold my heart and hand & kiss my curves softly.
but more than anything, tell me your thoughts (please):
sculpt your mind with unfiltered phrases of raw words,
fresh cut slabs of verity.
because my soul craves organized chaos,
collateral spontaneity, it tastes like warm honey
gold tongues of destiny.
rewriting the same poetries, reiterating the same concepts; formed cliches. i am not a humble man, but i plagiarize my own growing up story.
fear crawls against the skin; there's fiction, then there's my mortal skin. draw the line, tell me, is it okay to cry again?
maya’s gone off to wisconsin
i ask maya if she has to leave and she says that i should know by now: no matter where she goes she’ll be gone
and the whole thing flings me like a car careening off the key bridge.
today i miss her different than when she’s gone-home in ohio, i miss her more because of all the extra hours.
i calculated from my house to wisconsin and it’s a whole new distance than before.
i ask maya what does it feel like to miss me and she says that missing isn’t a feeling she can explain. i ask maya if maybe it just feels like lost but i don’t think she gets what i’m trying to say.
maya’s much smarter than i am though so i guess i should trust her, plus
i think i’m becoming a burden so if nothing i’m shushed now,
and i’m scared that my best friend’s sitting in wisconsin but i’m home thinking there might be something wrong in me
but i’ll never admit that because it might make her feel like leaving. i think more than anything
i want maya to see the world.
if it makes any difference, rather, i think i am getting sadder because i haven’t really left bed since that virgin margarita
and on the car ride home i told blake that was the first time i’d eaten all day and i asked if she’d sing at my burial.
she said if the need’s there she’ll try and show but singing at a birthday seems far more preferable.
blake has a beautiful singing voice, i think i’d love to hear it.
i’m holding out for that.
i ask maya when she’s getting back to ohio not that it matters but i happen to know that
her blue room makes me feel good because it’s lighter than mine and
i remember when i met her i googled everything about her because she was my first friend i’d ever made
from a different state and something about that made me feel scared that there is this great beyond,
that everything’s so so much bigger than my one tiny county. to ohio i look like a drop of water in the ocean off the key bridge.
to her family i am just one of her camp friends.
to her classmates back home, i do not exist. sometimes i wish i did, but right now it’s comforting to know that no matter what happens
there’s a group in ohio who simply won’t see everything i get wrong.
i ask maya when’s she’s getting back. i want to come see her. i want to take an amtrak and go far away from my home.
she sends me pictures of wisconsin so i think it might be a long time from now.
i ask maya what it feels like to be invisible and she says i’d probably know better than she would but
if she ever finds out she’ll be sure to clue me in.
i think that maya is not the type of girl to be invisible like i am.
and you can’t tell me i’m not because the car horns don’t count and the beach men don’t count
when they yell about my body and even that is an intense thing about me,
how my shape is, it rolls up and down like a seawave in a sandstorm,
like i’m enveloping a car that careened off the key bridge. (there’s someone screaming inside it if you care to hear them)
i am so loud that it makes it hard to look at but maya is the type of girl that is nice and calm and easy to notice.
maya is going to change the world and i can’t wait to see it.
my best friend is going to do so much and that is something i’m holding out to see, if only to prove for a moment i knew her.
i ask maya if she’s still awake in wisconsin and don’t get anything back.
now comes the quiet.
when your best friend goes to bed it feels like the world’s stopped just for you.
maya is the type of girl who goes to bed real early and then she wakes up real early
so she can wake up her friends who are sad.
maya sets alarms and i think about that a lot, how she’s got enough motivation for both of us.
i think about what her alarms might sound like, if they’re nice ones or if they’re that awful blaring iphone default.
i am trying to go to bed, i am trying, but i feel so bad that i might just wait until morning. in this moment
i can’t think of any one person who would be proud of that.
maya’s gone off to wisconsin and suddenly i feel a little like i’m trying to stay afloat after dropping from the key bridge.
but if i hold out till morning maybe i’ll get to see the sun before anyone in ohio or wisconsin,
maybe if i hold out i’ll hear the bells on the key bridge miles and miles from here.
maybe if i hold out just a little longer i can be the one to wake up maya. i wonder if that’d make her smile.
i wonder if she wouldn’t be worried because i’m so good at hiding.
i wonder if it’d help her see that the world is so big but there’s always me and ohio.
and when maya gets back i think i’ll try and drive out to see her,
i think it’s time i see the world too.
i think i’ll go through the night and make it by the time she’d wake me.
in ages when she gets back (cause maya’s gone to wisconsin),
that’s what i’m holding out for.
i’m holding out for that.
We Are All Collages.
I carry a little piece of my people in everything I do.
My baba always calls me “the sweetest and cutest pie,” presumably to single me out as the superlative among the many other sweetie pies and cutie pies. It’s my favorite compliment and I use it on just about everybody.
My mom takes pictures of every meal we’ve ever eaten and every place we’ve ever visited, because “if no one sees the picture, it never happened.” Because of her, I take a picture whenever I feel happy or surprised or elated or serene. When I scroll through my camera roll and see all of my favorite memories staring back at me, I’m glad she taught me well.
My younger brother pushes his chair back and forth at the dinner table. My best friends call me “baefy” (a mix of “bae” and “wifey,” I think?). My cello teacher plucks across all of her strings before she starts playing. My track teammates always slap their legs right before the gun goes off. I’ve absorbed these mannerisms and probably passed them onto others.
When I hear certain songs, they take me back to special times, singing in the passenger seat of someone’s car, everyday stresses momentarily forgotten. Specific smells, sounds, words, and places mean more to me. They add color to my life, not because of what they are physically, but because of who they’re attached to.
I hope you become one of my people, and that I become one of yours.
About My Name
My name, Erin Ye, was one of the many things that grew on me with time. Like brussel sprouts, folk music, and lecture-style classes, a younger version of me found my name wholly unenjoyable and boring to a fault. I longed for one of the pretty names, something that floated across the tongue, ending with an A or a Y rather than abruptly with an N. I hated how short my last name was, how people pronounced it either Yay or Yee. My mom would insist that a name like Erin Lynn Ye was fit for a movie star, but then again, my mom also thought my bob with bangs was the pinnacle of fashion, so her platitudes did little to mollify my angst.
I’m not six anymore, and I would like to think I’m more cultured now. There are a lot of reasons to love my name - I think its strength is in its humble construction. For those who get to know me better, its beauty lies in its elegant complexity.
The name Erin has two possible etymological origins. The Irish derivative roughly translates to West and is often used in reference to the nation of Ireland herself. The Greek name means peace.
My parents are Chinese immigrants, and definitely not the type to google name meanings when deciding what to call their firstborn child. In fact, they chose Erin Lynn Ye because it sounded like the Chinese name they gave me first - Ye An Ling. I was actually almost named Anne, and I think as a kid I would have wanted that name over my own, but my mom chose Erin because she thought Anne was too boring. It ended up being the right choice, because the an (安) in my Chinese name means peace. So, I guess in a roundabout sort of way, my parents chose my name for its Greek meaning.
Funnily enough, delving into Greek mythology and exploring classical languages is what really sold me on my own name. If you search “Erin Ye,” you’ll find a few of my pictures and those of other girls who share my name, but you’ll also find tons and tons of pictures of video game characters. They’re based on the erinyes from the Odyssey, the goddesses of vengeance who bring houses to ruin and terrorize the hero Odysseus on his perilous journey back home.
As previously mentioned, English is my parents’ second language, they’re both mathematicians, and neither of them have ever read a page of the Odyssey. So it’s just a tiny, miraculous coincidence that they named me after some of the oldest villains of the Western world. I am both peace and rage, tranquility and the creatures known to destroy it. And I love that.
melon melts on my lips,
previous courage dying as
juice dries on shaking hands.
how do i feel about you?
the same way i feel about waterfalls,
sensory overload that drowns out my thoughts,
an open dispensary of feelings
that flow and mist
a pillar of grace.
the way i feel about you is the summer sky,
deep oranges and blues paint highs and lows that
cut deep into me, run through my veins and flood
my system. your persistence nearly pummels my sense,
your beauty almost undoes me.
the way i am is fluttery dust,
flickers of gold in watery eyes,
glimpses of good behind grey.
the way i am is fickle and far-gone,
and i think i am best when i fly.
soften your gaze, the angles aren’t your heart / put the razor away, wipe off the years you aged last month.
muffled voices tell a sharp story
a heavy burden, honey in your hair
you try to cleanse yourself, shake off the stifle
you find it gets worse the higher you climb.
brown eyes so near to black / your smile swirls them grey;
in less than 30 days you’ve traveled miles closer
to where you want to be
away from muffled voices, loaded sighs
from anxious rustling and friends who take pleasure in telling lies.
it’s refreshing to be alone
in clean cotton silence / in smooth, rounded peace.