On Loss

photography & words by sui sea

22 June 2017

I remember, about summer 2012: reading 10 years' each of two different webcomics in less than a week. feeling so anxious that going outside in Brooklyn to walk inside a grocery store a few blocks away gave me extreme, constant panic attacks. sleeping on the ugly puke-yellow-green couch. sitting on that couch for a week straight because I had too much anxiety to go outside. listening to Call Me Maybe, and all of its remixes, by Carly Rae Jepsen and daydreaming about a white male artist soulmate. having anxiety attacks sleeping on my twin air mattress that squeaked on the children's lofted bed-desk from everyone's favourite Swedish furniture store that my rich cishet European white male roommate and I found and dragged in from the street, several blocks away. every morning and night I thought the lofted bed with the squeaky air mattress on all the white sheets would collapse and kill me. I fucked F[redacted] on a mattress on the floor early that summer until I got PTSD flashbacks from my abused teenagehood. I bailed out one of my friends when she was stranded in the city with a couchsurf. my gay Asian roommate used to cry himself to sleep loudly, and I didn't know what to do because I thought he hated me. I always thought everyone hated me, if they didn't speak my love language exactly the way I needed them to.

I wrote this during the summer of sitting on the couch, too scared to go outside, having a 25/8 panic attack.

I suddenly miss that apartment now, in a weird fucking way.

/ / /

I'm not exactly the person who wrote this piece anymore, doggedly optimistic and positive, someone who used to do yoga because they thought it would "cure their depression," to the point of extreme denial about their own PTSD and traumas.

But I think this piece of my 22-year-old self is beautiful, anyway, and I rediscovered it this year, and promised myself to republish it on its fifth birthday.

5 years ago today: 22 June 2012

out of focus photograph of the East River at night from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, taken by sui sea out of focus photograph of the East River at night from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, taken by sui sea


I wrote this on the couch in the morning. Near tears.

I want to talk about loss.

I want to talk about loss and how it seeps into the marrow of your bones: how the morning or evening or afternoon after a heartbreak is just the beginning. It hurts the most in the middle and it hurts the most near the end. At first, the world relieves you of the gravitas of your most pain—it knows, slowly, by doling it out in doses, that you will not break completely underneath the sharp weights of the shattered glass in your chest if the emptiness comes slowly, sauntering in like your alcoholic spouse at five o'clock in the morning, at dawn. Gone.

I want to talk about loss and how they tell us that they can pretend to choose happiness in every moment of every day, but people die and things change and friendships end and I can't pretend anymore that these things don't hurt, that these things don't cut deep into the arteries, that these things don't happen every single damn waking second of every single damn day we're alive. No matter how strong you are, no matter how capable or amazing or resilient, no matter how powerful—maybe yesterday, you were alive and healthy and well: and maybe today, the more likely lightning strike of impermanence hits you in the shins until you keel over into the ocean.

I want to talk about loss and how it penetrates. How it transmutes the spirit and disables the soul, how it breaks open hearts and threatens to annihilate everything. How fear creeps in like a stranger on the street in broad daylight: one wrong remark, one off-color stare, one unwelcome leer too many.

I want to talk about loss and how it destroyed me. How childhood rejection and abandonment and abuse was no suitable opponent in the spiderweb chess game of the fabric stitched into my life: how even after being disappointed so many times to the point where I no longer believed in disappointment nor expectation, but chose instead to hope: how I chose to trust, and it was that fiery tragedy that burned me down, bright bird to ashes: this time, it was a love I chose, a trust I chose not bestowed by blood or God: and so, I loved.

But that's the tragic truth about when people leave: the moment they decide they're done with this and no matter how much you loved them they've decided not to love you anymore. The tragedy comes from the fact that you can end a relationship but never stop loving someone—until they give you reason otherwise to give up. The tragedy comes from the shared memories and split-seconds of glancing at each other: seeing, for that one slice of time in this entire universe, something, someone real: and then, the tragedy hits. It's tragic because we didn't choose the ones we were born with: we didn't choose our blood: so, we figure, we'll choose the ones we love more deeply: it's a deeper love because it's our choice: it's a deeper love because it wasn't a decision by God or biology. It's our choice.

Then, that's their decision, too: it's their choice to leave: and the trauma hits, slowly, like the way cars move in Southern Californian traffic: molasses and oil and all those other metaphors you can use for lack of words and lack of speed, the abundance of clichés.

And then you realize it had nothing to do with you. That nothing anyone else ever does has really to do with you: their choice to love you was not because of you: your choice to love them was not because of them. Your choice to love them was because of you. Their choice to love you was because of them. We decide on whom we need and whom we love based on ourselves: the sad thing is that maybe love never fades once it's been born into existence, the way you can never forget those who've imprinted on your skin even years later after scars fade into a vague ghost of a memory: it haunts. The cold lingers like a bad trip, dry ice steam rising from the surface of your skin. It had nothing to do with you, their leaving: maybe they left you because they loved you: maybe there really was no other choice.

And we think, we think that the past somehow trumps the present; we think that somehow those moldy memories and expired egg-carton years of when we thought we were the happiest in our lives was the only real thing we could have ever experienced. We hold on and we nostalge indulge like sad little canines who lose sight and life and love of their caretakers. We forget that it's always getting better, even if it hurts today: we forget that if we just took one more step back, we would see how the trajectory of life may be going up and down: but every time, a little less down; every time, a little more up.

We might not see it, but we're getting stronger. Even—no, especially. Especially those days we cry and can't keep it together and fall apart at the slightest drop of a flying translucent dandelion star because it reminds us of how we fall and we fell: especially the days we don't feel like getting out of bed or even turning our head or leaving our apartments to face the great wide world out there.

And one day, maybe tomorrow or today or even five years from now, we wake up. And we realize that the days do get better and that love does grow—again, and not just again but more—and that maybe memories don't die and scars don't disappear, but they fade. The ones that matter stay as a sliver just to remind us of how much better we have now, how much better we deserve, and how it is never worth any other precious anything of our lives to yearn for ghosts.

Everything changes; sturm und drang.

Some days I am lost; some days my heart is empty.

Every day my heart is broken, and every time a break, every time I unshield myself to reveal my truest strengths: the softness of my heart, the tenderness of my ocean, to allow myself to risk it all for what's worth it and for what I love and to even face the possibility, the grand scary terrifying amazing wonderful enlivening possibility, that I am alive to learn and to love and to live, that I am alive to let my heart be shattered open and open and open. The tears in my cardiac muscle are no longer scars: they're my armor. The armor of love soldiers and love warriors: the armor of chance and truth and trust.

This is what we forget: everything—even loss, especially loss—changes us for the better.


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sui sea

sui sea (they/them/theirs) is a diasporic Shanghainese activist, writer, and artist who fights for marginalised communities of colour, especially mentally ill, disabled, queer, and trans folx.

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