Fraying in Vienna -- creative nonfiction by Chloe Szeto
As the day’s last one-way ticket train pulled in, I had no other choice but to let Her slip away from my tight embrace. Her head nestled against my upper stomach, and Her short arms clasped tightly around my waist. Reluctantly, She peeled away and looked at me doe-eyed. She pulled at the skirt of Her pastel pink dress hoping to straighten out the wrinkles. She played with the lace trimming and failed to look me in the eye. She couldn’t seem to stand still as She looked at the office workers running past the stone clock tower we stood under. My eyes shut because I couldn’t look at Her as well. She reminded me too much of myself. All the negative things about myself. How did we end up here? The clock tower’s slight whirring of the second hand and the ticking of the minute hand warned me about the plans Time had in store for me. My breath shortened and this burning sensation blossomed over my chest. A thin coat of sweat developed on my back, and if I focused hard enough, I could hear the strong and rapid thumping of my heart. With my eyes closed, my right pointer finger rubbed against the pad of my thumb, and I gently bit the inner corners of my lips. I took deep breaths to calm myself and stop the twitches caused by my anxiety, but it was no use. I had no idea how I could leave Her after all the memories and moments we had shared.
No one else, except for me, knew about the night She sat on the black tiled bathroom floor with Her heart shattered into jagged pieces. Her back was curved, and Her whole body was trembling from crying so hard. It wasn’t one of those cries where you wept a little and pretended everything was fine. It was one of those cries where you wanted to let out a guttural scream from the pain you’re feeling, but you’re forced to keep quiet for whatever reason. For Her, this kind of pain stemmed from four years of longing, daydreaming, and falling in love with Him. She memorized the contours of His face, the deep rumble of His laugh, and the rare grin He would flash every so often. She reveled in the feeling of having a crush because each time His name popped up on Her phone, She would get a rush of euphoria. Each time He did something funny in class, She smiled to Herself in delight. Each time He talked to Her, She felt like She was on a high that would never end. At night, She often thought about how His arms would cocoon Her and block out all the light. How the soft brush of His full lips and the graze of His teeth on Her mouth would intoxicate Her. How He would run His fingers over Her stretch marks and the softest areas of Her body while He told Her how beautiful She was despite all the flaws. All She wanted was a love story like Achilles and Patroclus or Han and Leia, but what She failed to understand was that love stories could end in a tragedy. Although She felt great joy when She thought about Him, She also felt smothered by His presence. She drowned in those blissful feelings because it was something She had familiarized Herself with for four years, and She felt like She couldn’t stop romanticizing Him. Marring that flawless visage She created of Him was the last thing She wanted to do. She was too young and naïve to notice She was slowly giving up pieces of Her heart to Him. When She found out Her feelings were unrequited, an anvil dropped from an open sky and crushed Her heart. Indeed, He didn’t reciprocate those feelings, but that wasn’t the true pain. All that time while She had a crush, even on the worst days, it felt like rainbows and butterflies. It was like no matter how bad things got, that feeling of attraction always lifted Her up. Without reciprocity, She had to face reality without a sugar coat, and that wasn’t something She was acclimated with. Reality sucked, and it took Time for the jagged pieces to mend and heal. Even now, deep scars still lingered below the surface whether She showed it or not. It seemed odd to me that She was still able to show those doe eyes after all this.
On Her birthday, She wore a very similar dress to the one She wore now–– of course, much smaller. Growing up She thought birthdays were a day all about Her. She would wake up to see Her parents’ wide smiles, the sun shining through a glass window, and a day without a worry. Every birthday had been like that until Her fifth birthday. All seemed well as Her friends surrounded the dinner table when the lights dimmed down. Her mom walked out of the kitchen holding Her birthday cake, and Her smile widened, making Her cheeks hurt. A Hello Kitty cake the size of Her small torso was set in front of Her. The scent of sweetness from the white and pink frosting made Her mouth water, and the way all Her friends looked at the cake in awe confirmed that this was one hell of a party. A boy She considered a friend wove through the small group of people and stood right next to Her as the candle lit. She made eye contact with him; both had manic grins on their faces. She was the center of attention when everyone sang Happy Birthday, but once the song ended, all eyes quickly shifted to the “friend” next to Her. The boy grabbed the knife used for cutting the cake and cleaved it into Hello Kitty with the same manic grin on his face. In Her family, it was tradition for the person whose birthday was being celebrated to cut the cake first, but half of Hello Kitty’s face already collapsed onto the marble tabletop in a pile of mush before She had a chance to touch the knife. Inside the thick coat of frosting was chocolate cake–– Her favorite flavor. At that moment, Her mom chastised the boy, all the kids looked at the culprit with shocked faces, and She stared at the little boy doe-eyed like how She had stared at me. Heat coursed through Her and everything went red. Without thinking, She shoved the little boy. When he hit the ground, his grin was wiped away and he wailed like a baby, but She didn’t care. Instead, She rolled Her eyes. Why would She care for a stupid boy who ruined Her birthday? Her mom pushed Her away from the boy and told Her what She did was wrong, but She kept thinking to Herself why? This was Her day, and this little punk had to ruin it. Birthdays were supposed to be bright and fun, but after She ate the birthday cake She had no hand in cutting, Her mom sent Her to Her room for the rest of the day. She never thought that what She did was wrong; She thought it was justified. The boy had stolen Her birthday.
I finally opened my eyes when I heard a random thud. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint where the noise was coming from, but when my eyes adjusted to the light, I noticed a few feet down the train platform a man drummed on plastic buckets. His straight nose, tousled brown hair, and dark green eyes looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place where I knew him from. Her left foot tapped to the rhythm and beat of the drummer like rain falling on a tin roof. As She continued to tap, She fished into the pocket of Her dress and pulled out a piece of strawberry hard candy, the kind that scratched up the roof of your mouth. She popped the candy into Her mouth in a swift motion. Her eyes drifted to the ticking clock tower, and She continued to tap Her feet impatiently. Her face still wore a docile demeanor, but it looked like a facade for what She was truly feeling. Instead of focusing on Her, I got distracted by a couple in the distance hugging and kissing each other while using tissues to clean up each other’s tear streaked faces. Anyone could see their affection for each other even though they looked like a complete mess. A weird twinge of pain sparked in my chest. I envied the couple for how easy it was for them to show their love for each other. We should be crying. We should be making bargains with Time to keep us together, but this wasn’t a fictional story, so making deals with the devil wasn’t an option. When I finally dared to meet Her eyes, they were cold. Cold in the way that made Her look unfamiliar, chilling, and distant. It looked like She had a million words She wanted to say, but She stayed silent through this muted melody we sang to each other. Her hands were clenched into a fist, and there was nothing on Her face that resembled a smile. It was unsettling to see how quickly She turned into this bitter girl.
It reminded me about the time She visited the doctor's office. The smell of the sterilized room clung to Her nose as She sprung off the patient’s bed and walked to the corner of the room after Her parents told Her She needed to get two shots. Her knees buckled, and She tucked Herself into a ball. Her breathing was rapid, and Her legs failed Her when Her parents told Her to get up. Her heart was pounding, and She was gulping for air like a fish on land. Those daunting needles terrified Her in a way that caused Her body to shut down. She stayed paralyzed in a ball on the floor of the patient’s room. When Her dad came near, She pushed him away with the palm of Her hands as She did with the boy at Her fifth birthday party. He barely moved, but he gave Her another minute to calm down. When She started crying, Her mom got down to knee level and used a gentle voice to convince Her everything would be fine, but She let out a blood curdling scream instead. Her mom jerked back like a rabid animal bit her. Tears rolled down Her face as She looked around for anywhere She could escape. There was only one way in and one way out, but a nurse in teal scrubs holding a tray of two syringes blocked the door. Her parents didn’t know what to do, because they’d never seen Her act this way, but they had enough of it. Her dad’s arm wrapped around Her like a steel band, but She knew it wasn’t steel, so She scratched his flesh and bit him. He flinched and lightly wrestled Her into a chair until three other nurses, one of them a man, showed up to the room. She turned feral and let Her scream tear through the thin walls of the doctor’s office. One nurse pinned down Her arms while another grabbed Her legs. She remembered one nurse telling Her to calm down, but She kept screaming and gasping for air even as Her mom covered Her mouth hoping it would quiet Her from everyone else in the hospital wing. She blinked away tears as the last nurse prepared Her arm for the shot. The rip of the alcohol swab caused Her to thrash out. She kicked the nurses pinning her down when the wet wipe slid across Her bare arm. The nurses constrained Her, but there was nothing else She could do. When the shot pinched Her left arm, She screamed until Her lungs were hoarse. She would raise hell on these people. After the two shots pricked Her arm, the nurses exited the room, and She was so tired from fighting, She passed out before She left the doctor’s office. Over the years, She reflected on this moment. She didn’t actually want to raise hell on anyone in the hospital, but She did learn that She would always be the only person who would fight for Herself and Her beliefs.
In a way, Her brown eyes showed that same feral look She had at the doctor’s office. It was like blue fire; it looked chilling, but it was actually scorching hot. Only weeks before we were joined at the hip barely able to separate from each other, but now, Time forced us to declare our final goodbye. I bit back tears because I didn’t want to say goodbye to this child who molded me into the person I am. I wanted to capture this moment and freeze it. I didn’t want that rift that began to form between us to fully consume me, and I certainly didn’t want Her to become a fragment of my imagination. Wasn’t that what She would become if I took the train? Wasn’t that what She already was? Was She already gone? The train station clock rang out and the sonorous bells reverberated deep into my hollow stomach. This callous girl wasn’t the way I was supposed to remember Her, but there was no other choice. The docile yet fierce looking girl in front of me was the most honest version of Herself. She had Her heart broken by Him. She became afraid of attention for many years after losing Her birthday. She had a boiling temper, but She learned to control it and put up a fight. Growing up, She did Her best to fit in with Her friends, but She never really felt like She was Herself around them. It wasn’t the right group of people She needed, but She didn’t realize that, so, at times, it was quite lonely. She felt like She was on a raft in the middle of the ocean swaying back and forth with no one in the distance to save Her. It was too late when I realized I was going to lose Her to the sea of Time. I could’ve been the one who saved Her instead of worrying about what other people would say. It’s hard to say goodbye to someone you love, but how hard was it to say goodbye to yourself? My shoulders caved in, and it felt like Time had already taken a piece of my soul. Bitter tears slipped from my eyes, and that burning sensation bloomed into a wildfire that burned me from the inside out. I couldn’t say goodbye. It was impossible to do so. If I ripped the skin off my bones, clawed at my thighs until they bled, and pinched my arms until bruises appeared perhaps I would reveal Her. Perhaps it would be enough to turn back Time. Let me stay with Her, I begged and pleaded to Time or anyone who would listen. Give Her back to me, I beseeched. I wanted to see the bruises and feel the pain because pain was the only thing that told me this wasn’t a dream. It took me so long to really love Her, and understand no matter how fucked up She was, She will always be a part of me. We were out of Time, and there was nothing we could do. That’s the thing about Time, it slips away quicker than a blink of an eye. Instead of holding onto Her, I hopped onto the train and wished Her fare thee well. As the train rode off, I turned Her into a memory.
Chloe Szeto is a rising junior born in Hong Kong and now living in a small town in
Massachusetts. When Chloe isn’t busy with school, she’s at practice for fencing, baking and reading at home, or working on ceramic pieces. Additionally, she likes to hang out with her friends and family. Hopefully whoever reads her work will connect it to themselves in some way.