Joey Chin

For the Love of Loss (and Vice Versa)


Many months after my ex-boyfriend died, I dream of him. “Are you still making music?” I ask.


Not possible I know, self-conscious even while think-dreaming, but it is a question I have returned to for years and years after we separated. How else could I have asked if not awake when dreaming? We did not speak when he was alive and it was impossible now.


Our conversation drifts like a lone leaf in wind. Easy and fleeting like the time when things were good, because there is nothing he says that I remember. How do you grasp ghost words in a dream’s presence?


Yet I am delighted to recognize the prominent specks in his pronunciation, his voiced –s, -es, -ed, also his familiar horsey laughter, every neigh a generous heart. The sigh of each breath drawn from a cigarette.
But you are— I stop myself from saying, sayang, you are dead.



You are dead, I tell myself, or the man you love already is.
First, it was the casual pint then an extra for the road. I forgot when it upgraded to an entire bottle, two or three, before one day, it became Where the hell had you been, Why did you not pick up your bloody phone?


I used to think reassurance meant being able recognize love even in the face of a man whose face you no longer recognize.
“Oh, sayang,” I was still calling out for him in the most comforting magic word for love that would wish away his mania, when his fingers closed around my neck like I was an erring, floating leaf whose stem he was determined to catch and break.



There were moments I forgave the anger, forgot about the unspeakable mourning for his dissipating mental state. There would be always so many such moments I remember, so I could forgive. His thoughtful analysis after a midnight movie together in the blue cold, the smell of his late morning coffee drifting into sunlight quartered from the window, the music from his guitar: each twang a wisp of dolor and determination to keep living.





i.           when love was beautiful, you accept the regret and the waste it becomes without protest.



The times I observed him in his sleep were moments I want to remember him by. In soundless sleeping distance, he remained who he was when we met years ago that vivacious April. There was nothing that could take us away from the landscape of music and whipped sunlight, gaiety and endless lyrics. Once, in intuitive realization, he told me “You just know when it’s morning.”


I return to look at his easy sleeping façade and recall he had fallen asleep drunk.





i.           What a shame. What a waste.



A friend says he is ill, but it is his wife who tells me months later over a text message that he is dying.
Just what is the alcohol quota one must exceed before one gets a brain tumor? I think.


I meet her for the first time in the hospital. She is a waif, wide-eyed, breaking.


As I say my last goodbye, I cannot be sure how much of him is here, how much he has already floated through the backdoor of morphine, unable to find his way back in that mist. Still the signatures heaving on his cardiogram comfort me. He is gone, just not completely.


I cry like his widow while his new wife looks on, open, gracious like a field molded to hold the shape of skies about to cave in, but also cautious and tight, wondering which secrets only death can reveal.
His mother assures me all I say will be understood, so it is not only him who can leave in peace instead of pieces broken so many times, our edges unable to recognize each other again even if we once fit.
As I ready to leave, the peaks on his cardiogram fall, like he has finally replied and signed me too, forgiveness and goodbye.





i.           “But,” my mother tells me, “don’t you know, when we love someone, they are always too young to go. It’s always sayang they died.”



In the dream, he sits in front of me, next to the window where the sun fills the room with so much white that it no longer looks like a room, its ceiling disappearing in the waters of light.


His face is as clear as what is beyond the window, the clarity of a garden, in the pink and green of spring.


Then something outside moves, sundials a silver of shadow across his open, lucent face.


I wake, and he dies again.



So sayang, sayang: for the love of loss, and vice versa.


Joey Chin (1986) is a writer and artist whose mixed-language works have been featured in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Drunken Boat, Anthropology and Humanism, and The Transnational among others. She is interested in exophonic writings and her poems have won the second prize in the 2015 Ethnographic Poetry Prize awarded by the American Anthropological Association. Her MFA in Poetry is from the City University of Hong Kong.

 … return to Issue 9.3 Table of Contents.