Creating Work that Hurts

It’s been more than a year since Skylar passed away. I’ve finally reached a point where I can talk about him and his influence on my life without dissolving in a puddle of tears and incoherent mumbling. I can finally refer to him as “dead” and openly speak on his death as a suicide without my heart crumbling at the thought of the pain he must have experienced in the moments leading up to his death. I’ve been able to take myself to the dark places in my head that went dark after he died and try to reconcile with the parts of me he took when he died. I’m not as angry at him for his suicide, as I am angry at the horrible circumstances that this child was born into. I can refer to him in the past tense knowing my memories of him will be with me forever. The guilt still remains, of course, but it’s no longer the guilt that keeps me in bed every morning thinking I don’t deserve a wonderful life because I know Skylar loved me and wanted me to be okay just like he is now.

I wanna say I’m past the worst part of the grief but I don’t think that’s entirely true. I don’t know but I doubt there’s ever knowing if you’re passed it. Like a flu, you suffer with it and it lingers and you eventually regain your ability to breathe through your nose again but you don’t really notice. So I think it’s too soon for me to tell. I could just be compartmentalizing my grief again as a coping mechanism. Who knows! I sure don’t.

But I’m finally writing about it, or at least allowing myself to feel the pain of his loss and letting that pain influence my art.

It helps that these past couple of months I’ve been talking about Skylar, to anyone that would listen: my new friends at college, my old friends from high school, my professors, everyone. The more people I told the more I felt I was giving life to Skylar again, like I could relive these memories I had of him and instead of be sad about them. I told stories about his vibrancy and his human-ness and his radical brilliance and his fucked up parts too. Over time I realized as I relayed each of these stories and memories we shared: Skylar shaped so much of who I am now. Even before he died, he, so often was my beacon of support that I looked to when I was confused or just needed to be validated as a fucking human being or when I felt alone in my struggle as a queer non-binary Vietnamese kid. He was always there.

And then suddenly he wasn’t.

For so long his death frustrated me, how can someone who I knew for a few months affect me this way? And even now? How can that happen? Then I take a step back and see how much I depended on him to guide me through my journey to reclaim my Vietnamese identity and culture and be proud of my brown skin and my queer body that doesn’t need to change for anyone except myself. He was such an important person in my life and I think I was to him too.

The story I’m writing honestly didn’t start as a testament or in memoriam of our bond. I simply wanted to create a story depicting elderly and healthy queer trans bodies of color striving and being happy. I guess there’s a subconscious part of me that still wants to write these darker stories of grief because my story kinda took a slight detour from the happy fluffy gay adventure I had in mind. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, objectively it’s interesting to think about how my brain is so opposed to fluffy idealized happiness, but it is hard to write these dark narratives. Since this story is such a personal experience that I’m still very close to a lot of the time writing this story requires me to delve into the darker parts of my mind, the parts so dark I’m scared to tread for fear I’ll lose my way back. That’s why I have such an affinity for this story. It’s challenging me to face a lot of my grief even though it hurts. I’m finally giving myself the space I’ve always needed to ask myself: How do you feel about this? Why do you feel like that? Are these feelings productive? How would they affect a person in the long term?
I guess it’s the kind of questions I have yet to find the answer to.

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