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I remember the sun was starting to paint the sky a deep purple and the sweltering air prickled at my skin. Always, after the rainy season—the heat settled in waves, like it was radiating from the asphalt beneath us.
Her lips were moving, her profile in the dying light, fingers sweeping her long, dark hair behind a small white ear.
“You know, everything is meaningless.”
We were walking. Sweaty palms, fingers interlocked, light breeze blowing through our hair. It was only us on the road back to campus, old dormitories on our left, the full expanse of a glowing lake to our right.
Her voice carried over the hum of traffic. Thinking back now, her expression was mellow. She was walking without her usual sharp footsteps, something weighing her down. But I hadn’t thought much of it then.
“What do you mean?” I said.
She didn’t say anything for a while. We walked as the shadows overtook light. The streetlamps flickered awake like the first fireflies of summer.
“I just wanted to hear how it sounds,” she said. “Just once. Hear it from my own mouth. Say it and it becomes reality—keep it in your head and it’s only an idea floating in the vacuum of your own conscious.”
“Quit trying to sound so deep,” I said.
“Humor me? Just once?”
“I always do.”
She turned and threw a small punch at my arm. I caught it easily and pulled her close, kissing her on the forehead. We smiled playfully at each other. She turned around again.
By then, she was walking ahead of me.
Coffee mugs clink in the background.
She still isn’t talking.
Anyone else might think we were a bored couple on a date. She sips her drink, toys with her cake, wipes the corner of her lightly colored lips with a napkin in a practiced movement, still not talking, still waiting, hoping, maybe.
“So,” I say. My voice breaks the mingling of soft voices drifting around us. “You’re going.”
It burns my tongue. The coffee. “It’s far. Different. You think you’d like it there?”
“Always wanted to live somewhere busy. Where I can’t hear a million cicadas at night.”
“You’ll hear traffic. Might even be worse.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
She nibbles on a bit of her cake. I feel her gaze falling over me. I can’t meet it.
Whenever I look into her eyes, I am afraid. She sees me. Smiles at me, lips moving in slow motion, bangs slowly falling over an eye. But maybe she isn’t seeing me. Not anymore.
I first met her at a bar near campus. My roommate told me that some of his friends were planning on drinking together and told me I should tag along with him if I wanted to meet some cute girls. Introverted as I was, I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea. He dragged me along anyway.
I ended up sitting next to her, at the end of the table, listening to the conversations floating around us. She seemed disinterested in meaningless small talk while I was too nervous to join in. She rested her chin on her right palm, elbows propped on the table, her other hand holding her phone, tapping away with her thumb. She had blonde streaks running through her hair, fake eyelashes, light pink lipstick, dark eyeliner. A pleasant heart shaped face, a thin smile, and eyes like dark stones shimmering underneath a sunlit pond. They drew me in, reflecting light like something from a different world. I must have stared at her a little too much because at one point she mumbled something like, “Aren’t you gonna talk to me, for Christ’s sake,” and I almost spilled my drink while sputtering a hello. Later, I said goodbye to her and made a huge deal of getting her phone number only to find out that we had the same ride back to our rooms. My face burned red but she had laughed and laughed and told me I was cute.
I noticed her everywhere afterwards. She walked by me in the hallways on the way to classes. She sat across from me in the library, twirling her pencil, tapping the eraser on her lips. She was in the school garden, lying in the flower petals. Staring at me with those unfathomable eyes.
I knew it wasn’t really her. But her existence remained, painted like a daydream in my head.
I asked her on a date, a coffee shop just down the street from campus, and we talked until the sunset burned the sky. Then she was gone.
Sitting there holding a cup of cold coffee, I realized it.
Told myself, don’t think, don’t fall. But I did. And it grew and expanded, this state of being I’d never felt so intensely before, this emotion. Maybe not love just yet, perhaps just an unqualified attraction. Still. It was warm. Thick. Like the heavy air just after rain.
Whenever we visited the city, we walked across the bridge together, hand in hand. She always hummed as we walked, a pop song I knew but could never remember. The city at night was beautiful. Gasoline fumes, the sound of human voices overlapping one another like waves, honking, sirens, footsteps, street food, bright neon signs, litter strewn over the street, all coalescing into a vivid, breathing metropolis. Sometimes we stood, overlooking this whirlwind of energy. Breathless. How could so many people squeeze into such a tight space?
We always found an excuse to walk the bridge at night, just to relive that spectacle. The warm breeze from the river below tickled our faces and we breathed in the city’s air.
“Hey, did you know?” she said, tugging at my arm. “We’re walking on the Bridge of Life.” She pulled me over to the side of the bridge.
“Sounds a whole lot better than whatever it used to be called,” I said as we stood in front of the railing. I rested my hands on the smooth metal, cool even during summer.
A dark smirk tugged at her lips. “Catchy name, isn’t it? Some insurance company invested in this, you know. Building heartwarming statues on the walkway, adding sensors to light up positive messages when people pass by. Wouldn’t want their potential clients to die now, do they?”
“Maybe they needed some healthy PR,” I chuckled.
But she wasn’t laughing. She leaned against my shoulder as we looked out onto the dark, rippling water beneath us, reflecting the city’s lights, like distant stars.
“This is wrong. So, so very wrong, in every sense. It’s like telling people. Please kill yourself here to make a statement. Giving a meaningless death meaning.”
I had never seen her so emotional. She always had some cold, calculated aura enveloping her, careful not to reveal too much. But here, she turned, her face hidden by her hair, and wrapped her arms around me tightly. I couldn’t help wonder which was her true self.
“And the messages on the railing. Tomorrow’s sun will rise? Of course it will! Who would care about some selfish bastard killing themselves?” Her body became rigid in my arms, her voice trembling. “Tell me I’m right! You really believe anyone would think twice while reading this s***?”
I said nothing.
Her sharp breaths slowed after a while. We stood, locked in an embrace. Eventually her trembling stopped.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I shouldn’t have let myself say those things.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for,” I said. “I’m here for you. To talk to you and understand you better than anyone else. How else can we do that but by letting out our feelings?”
She looked up at me with a small smile. “Thank you,” she said. “But please, can you forget this happened? I’m not like this, you know that. Today was just…”
“If that’s what you want,” I said. “But I don’t mind it, really. It’s natural.”
“I believe you. It’s just me. I’ve always been conscious of how others perceive me.” She pulled away from the embrace, fixing her blouse collar. She looked away, as if avoiding eye contact.
“You don’t ever have to worry about what I think of you. You know I love you,” I said.
She said nothing and continued to look over the railing and at the river disappearing along with the city into the horizon.
It hurt that she didn’t answer. But I knew she had her own circumstances and thought to myself I should be thankful she stood next to me in that moment, and not by anyone else. So I withheld my own feelings.
“Well, aside from when you had that perm,” I said. “Who wouldn’t have judged you?”
She started to laugh, her slim frame shaking, as if releasing the tension built up in her body. She finally turned and looked at me with those beautiful eyes. Her smile was genuine.
She slipped her warm hand in mine and our fingers interlocked in the summer night. As we walked past the glowing messages floating in the darkness, her grip tightened. Like she was reaffirming my existence. But I only realized this later.
The café always smells of coffee beans and cinnamon and butter. This had become our scene, the setting I would remember from all the others in the future, when time has ceased to exist. She probably feels the same way. It was here where everything had started.
“This is what keeps me coming back,” she says, smiling and leaning back, breathing in the air.
“Not the coffee?”
“It’s okay. But isn’t it just the same as anywhere else?”
“You didn’t know, huh? They use a special Colombian French roast here, shipped straight from Hawaii.”
“It all tastes the same to me.”
“Should’ve guessed. You just dump sugar in it.”
“Right. And you’re so mature since you drink yours black.” She laughs, her small nose crinkling, crumbs still on her lips.
We are the same as always. Even now, we laugh and tease each other, we sit in a pensive silence, we banter again, changing frequencies like the tide.
That night on the Bridge, I’d seen a fragment of her genuine self. Until then, she had been an enigma, a part of her being which had first attracted me. We never delved into one another’s lives, instead, our conversations spanned within the boundaries of the present. The longer we spent time with each other, though, cracks began to show through that perfect persona of hers. She became real, herself, vibrant, unpredictable. This was the effect of sharing memories together with someone.
I had never particularly wanted to understand others, only wanting to be understood. But she had sparked a desire within me to realize what drove her to exist. Every action she took seemed to be a beautiful yet fruitless effort to breathe her soul into an ephemeral world. I felt my connection to her becoming stronger than ever. But now, here we were. We sip our drinks as if nothing is wrong, as the afternoon sun shines through the tall, curtained windows and reflects off our cups.
“I really am glad I met you,” she says, crossing her legs. “At the bar. You know that right? I thought it was going to be another boring mixer, then you came along. You made me laugh until I cried.”
“Let’s forget that night ever happened, how about it?”
“It was fun. It really was.”
“Do you have to go?”
She plays with her hair, twirling, uncurling. Like a cat, playing with a ball of yarn.
“Do you remember? How I said everything was meaningless once,” she says quietly.
I stare into my cup. Black liquid. Bubbles clinging to the rounded sides like reefs in the ocean. Vapor wisps trail slowly up to the ceiling, shimmering in the light.
“Lately, I think I’ve started to really understand what I meant that day,” she says. “Sorry, I know I must have worried you, blurting something like that all of a sudden.”
I smile and reach across the table, resting her hand on top of mine. “Like I said before. Everyone has those urges. It’s only natural to say how you feel.”
She takes a long sip from her mug, like she’s hiding behind it.
“You’re right,” she finally says. “But for some reason it’s difficult. I’m afraid. If I let everything out, maybe, I’ll lose myself. It won’t only be how I feel—you know how selfish I am.
“You are. But so is everyone.”
“You’re completely wasted on me. Don’t you think so?”
“I’ve never thought that. Not once.”
She smiles faintly. “Thank you.”
We sit in momentary silence, like a fragment of paused time. I feel her smooth palm weighing on my hand, fingers locked together. I meet her eyes peering deep into my own.
We let the stillness drag like a paintbrush. There are so many things I want to tell her. But I can’t think of the right words.
“Hey, I’ve got to get going now.” Her chair slides back as she stands.
“Yeah, of course.” I stand up with her.
“I’ll call you, okay?”
She leaves. Briskly, her heels tap-tapping at the floor. The door opens and closes, the chimes sing in the breeze.
I fall back to my seat.
An hour later, I am still there. Sipping my cup of cold coffee, the bitter aftertaste lingering in my mouth. Like the realization of something that can’t be forgotten.
I found a pair of her socks in my drawer.
“Hey, you might want these,” I say into my phone.
“What is it?”
“The fluffy bunny ones. Didn’t know you were into these.”
She groans. “They’re real comfy, okay? Don’t judge me.”
I can’t hold my laughter. “You play it cool all the time, but even you are interested in cute things, huh?”
“Shut it. I’ll pick them up on the way back from work tomorrow.”
“That I’m actually leaving.”
“Don’t be having second thoughts now.”
“You sound so bitter.”
“Well, neither am I. Just thought I’d be here longer.”
It is early spring and there are wisps of the clouds in the sky. Like streaks of white paint. A tepid breeze blows at us as we walk through the parking deck. She has on a light blue cardigan with a short, black skirt, heeled boots, and fashionable sunglasses. Her long, highlighted hair flows behind her.
“You look like one of those celebrities. Is airport fashion really a thing?” I say.
“This is typical, isn’t it? I mean—at least for normal people.” She glances at me with contempt. “You know, you really need to update your wardrobe.”
I feign shock. “I put so much effort into this outfit, aren’t you being too cruel?”
She grunts. “You’re hopeless. Know that?”
“Hopeless for you.”
“Stop it! You’re never cheesy.”
I take her hand, pulling her close. “Let me be. Just for today, how about it?”
She doesn’t say anything. She hides her expression behind those dark frames. But she doesn’t let go.
“Hey,” she says when we walk closer to the airport entrance, the smell of jet fuel and cigarettes heavy in the air.
“Do you ever, you know, wonder what’ll happen years from now?” she says, fiddling with her sunglasses. “And I don’t mean only for us. I mean everything. The universe, the stars, everyone.”
“I prefer not to contemplate on existential crises in my spare time.”
“I’m being serious!” she says. “Isn’t it scary? We end up becoming particles of space debris, floating in a vacuum forever, until we get sucked into a black hole. How does that make you feel?”
I look at her, giving her a small grin. “You think too much.”
We walk past the automatic doors, feel the stale air condition blowing into our faces. The airport is crowded with spring travelers. We find her terminal and sit down, waiting for the line to thin out.
“Sorry, but I think of it all the time. I can’t not think of it, like getting some stupid song stuck in your head. You’re the only one I can talk to about these things.”
“I get it. But isn’t it ridiculous to think that far ahead? We just have to do the best we can in this moment. We don’t know what will happen in the future anyways.”
“I do,” she says. “I know. Something might change once or twice, but everything converges into predictability—every day—over and over and over.”
“It isn’t so bad, is it?”
She looks up at the flight schedule screens. “I guess so. What else can we do but keep repeating ourselves. It’s the only thing we know... But that’s why—”
She clamps her mouth shut, thinking. Her sunglasses are perched on top of her head now, her legs crossed. Letters and numbers reflect off her eyes.
I lean in and steal a quick kiss. “Like I said, you think too much.”
“Do you hate that side of me?”
“I love it.”
“You think it’s hot?”
“I think you’re hot.”
“Aren’t you a smooth talker,” she says, giving me a small smile.
This time, she leans in to wrap her arms around me, softness emanating against my chest. She leans her head on my shoulder, breathing deeply and closing her eyes. Her smooth hair falls over my arms.
"I better get in line," she murmurs.
"Yeah, you should."
We fall out of embrace.
"Hmm." She examines her small wristwatch. “Do you mind ordering me a coffee? I would get it myself, but I’m running a bit late... Preferably hazelnut roast.” A playful wink.
"I thought the flavor didn't matter to you,” I say, scoffing.
She pouts at me, curling her lips into a small frown. "Hey, I really did try tasting the differences between coffee beans, you know? I went and bought seven different flavors and tried all of them. Hazelnut roast tasted the best. Sweet and creamy."
"You do realize, hazelnut isn't a coffee bean, right?"
Her face burns red. "Shut it! Are you getting me coffee or not?"
I can't help but laugh. "Alright, alright."
Her eyes catch mine. Her expression is bright but there's a subdued sadness, lingering like the mist in early morning.
I walk and walk, passing families and flight attendants and janitors and porters, and until I reach the coffee shop, I don’t look back.
The barista asks me, what would I like to order today? I tell her I would like a medium hazelnut roast coffee. She tells me they are out of hazelnuts. I tell her, it’s fine, just make it a mocha. Iced. She says, of course, that it’ll be ready in just a minute.
By the time I am back at the terminal, I don’t see her anywhere. Maybe she is already waiting for me by the escalators. I look for her blonde streaks, her flashy clothes, her sunglasses. But I can't find her. Her flight, what was the number? I can't remember. It's like she’s disappeared from existence.
She should be in the line. She should be waiting for me.
She would yell at me for getting her a mocha and drink it anyways.
She would ignore me until we reached the security lines, pretending to be angry.
She would hug me, kiss me, and I would run my fingers through her hair. Tell her I’d miss her.
I would watch as she walked through the metal detectors and pick up her suitcases on the other side.
She would put her boots back on, turn around and smile, waving one last time. Waggling her fingertips, the way she always did.
But she is already gone.
I found the letter in my back pocket, a small stack of neatly folded paper. I was drinking her iced mocha, sitting at a table in the food court. I recognized her small, messy handwriting immediately.
So she hadn’t ceased to exist. She must have been on the plane, already plugged in her earbuds, looking out the small window at the runway. I took a sip of the sweet watery coffee.
I am sorry for disappearing on you. It feels strange writing about something I will do in the future—who knows if things will go as planned—but I can imagine your worried expression. I really am sorry. Not just for this. For everything, too.
Time flies by so quickly. I first realized it that one night we crossed the Bridge of Life. Cars passed by, warm wind melted into our faces, and you were holding my hand as we walked underneath a starlit night sky. That was the first time I ever wanted a moment to last forever. Do you still remember that night? I know I asked you to forget it, but I promised myself I’d keep what you said in my heart, tightly wound like a rope, never to let go. But already, some things are fading. Some things are imaginary. What if the sky was covered by clouds? What if there was no breeze? Sometimes, I see the Bridge, but it is empty.
I’ve always felt that everything was meaningless. And it wasn’t self-pity or anything of the sort. Just a pervasive loneliness. Something heavy, covering me like my clothes and skin, forcing itself into existence by feeding off my being. No matter what I tried, I could never escape it. So everything was meaningless.
I tried to kill myself once. This was before I met you at the bar. I stood on a chair at my parents’ place, a rope tied to a ceiling groove. I let go.
It’s embarrassing now, but the rope snapped and I was left with a sore throat for the rest of the week.
I know this isn’t something you should ever deserve hearing, but I felt meaningless.
Then, I met you. And I tried to find meaning in the meaningless. You taught me that there are things to love about myself. Even as you struggled with your own problems, you carried my share without ever losing patience in my selfishness. I can’t thank you enough for that. You saved me, continue to save me.
Did you know? The universe is expanding constantly—at the speed of light. As infinite as it seems, there’s a point where space and time repeats itself, because there are only so many ways a finite number of particles can be rearranged within a finite world. That means there could be another universe at our fingertips, overlapping our own. Maybe we are together there, maybe we could stay together forever, maybe in that universe I don’t think these things, I don’t feel this way. We live happily ever after.
For some reason, this idea calms me. Somewhere, someplace, we are walking the Bridge together again.
Have I ever mentioned running away? Moving from time to time—you know I enjoy travelling. I know this is absurd, as you know many of my ideas are. There has always been this urge deep within me to leave everything and run somewhere else. I can’t help it. It never mattered before, but now it does, and that’s why I am here, writing, spilling my existence onto these pieces of paper, like transcribing my soul. But even as I say this, I’ve still decided to leave you. And it has nothing to do with you, or anything you did. This is just the best option for the both of us. I don’t mean to sound like I’m doing this only for you, because I’m not. It’s just a selfish desire as you well know.
It isn’t like we can’t contact each other. I have your phone number saved. Mine won’t change. We can video chat. I could fly back on breaks. I imagine we would meet up in the café again, like we always do. You order an Americano, I order a slice of pie and a small hazelnut roast. You ask how I’ve been and I answer and you hold my hand and we kiss and… We could have a long distance relationship. But I know things won’t be so simple; nothing ever is. We will change. We will meet new people, new lovers. We’d be preoccupied with reality. A letter around the world used to take years back then. Now it takes a few seconds. Yet I know the chat exchanges will crawl to a stop. It won’t be your fault or mine. Physical distance has always evoked barriers, even with technology. We’ll drift from each other the way clouds fall apart. I’ll become meaningless again.
My decision might be wrong. I may break down one night and call you and cry and ask you to help me. Because it has always been about me, and I know it has. So let it be about me just one last time.
I can never express how wonderful it was to be with you—it really was. Just don’t be afraid like me, not anymore, not about everything at least. Not everyone will leave you the way I did. Someone is bound to stay—most will. I am just sorry I couldn’t.
I hope you can find a way to forgive me one day.
I actually bought two pairs of those bunny socks. For the both of us. Check your drawer when you get home, if you're not too busy. They're super comfortable and I really hope you like them.