Peeling an Onion
We're at the bar (as always) when I pull out my phone. The usual routine. Line followed by Messenger, followed by Instagram or Gmail. I see more of your pictures and I start to remember.
"Who is that?" one of the guys says next to me, "You know her?"
He caught me. Scrolling down through your bikini pics, thinking of who you were then, and who you are now. A smiling face at parties in other cities. Brown skin and arms wrapped around a variety of men. I'm aroused and embarrassed, nostalgic and afraid.
"Yeah, I know her," I reply. "She was one of my students, long ago."
He laughs. "Well she sure has grown up since then. You be careful who catches you studying those pictures."
I nod, and think about another you, years before. How many years before, exactly? Well, I don't exactly like to think about it. Let's just say that I was a different person then, too - and not only because of the decade or so that's passed us by.
I can still see you there, in that school office. And I can see your teacher's face, purple with rage. She was always so angry at you, and there was nothing you or anyone else could do about it. You had to stand there, impassive in your school uniform, bearing the full brunt of her fury. We all wanted to help you, of course, but there was nothing we could do, and there was no way to intervene. Thinking of this now, I can only hope that you've forgiven us.
15 minutes or so later, the storm would pass and the office would return to normal. You'd walk out of the office with that same defiance, that same untouched demeanor, and it was only when I later passed you in the hall that I'd see the tears in your eyes, and the way your hands trembled.
Three years of that for you. How many minutes of your life were spent thus, yelled at for imaginary infractions? And the truth of the matter was that you hadn't done anything at all. The truth of the matter was that your teacher didn't like your pride. She hated the fact that she couldn't break you. She hated your beauty, too. And your youth. She knew, as we knew, that you didn't really belong to that school, or to this town. She knew, as we knew, that all her angry words were wasted.
Here you are again, on my phone. Some kind of costume party in Taipei. A sea of sexy smiling women, yet somehow you outshine them all, and make them look ordinary. My God, those guys in Taipei must fall down like wounded animals before you. I can just see you walking through restaurants and cafes up there, striking them speechless with your very presence. And their girlfriends and wives - how they must hate you. Just like that teacher hated you, so many years before.
A friend jostles me, and I'm dragged from my reverie. I clumsily switch off the screen. "Hey man, what you looking at?" shouts another guy over too-loud pop music, "You need to stop staring at your phone, dude!"
Yes, I do. But I'm also thinking of a time not so long ago, when you asked to meet at a local convenience store. You tricked me that time. I thought it was going to be you and several classmates, but later, at the convenience store, it was only you sitting there before me. How had I left myself so open, I wondered? How had I become so exposed? Again my mind reeled, caught between ecstasy and fear.
We sat next to the window and talked about the school we once shared, many years previous. You said you kept in touch with some of your classmates. You said I was the only teacher you really liked. You said you were happy in Taipei - happy and very "free." And as you said this I knew that you could destroy me if you wanted to, if only I was weak enough to let you do it. My God, I thought, what had I gotten myself into?
Yet - whether fortunately or unfortunately I'm still unable to say - you left not long after. You walked out into the summer night, and at that moment I knew you hadn't pursued me as an act of kindness, as a way of thanking me for friendly words given to a very young girl.
In the bar, years later, I think of how strong you are now, and how far you've come. No teachers to yell at you now. None of them would dare. You walk the world in your own way, and I have pity for anyone foolish enough to cross you.
Some might say that the world has made you hard, but I'd say that the world has made you just hard enough. One day all of those parents and teachers will understand this too. Some of them, exercising a kind of selective amnesia, might even congratulate themselves over the person you've become.
"Damn she's fine!" says another person at the bar, a foreigner I've only just been introduced to. I look down at my phone, and stare at the screen full of pictures. "You know her?"
"Yes," I say, "But I'm not sure if she's still the person I remember." Whoever you are now, and whatever you're doing, I worry for those of us who love you.
Stuff That I Hate 我很討厭的一些東西
Taitung as a Religious Experience
Two "Funerals" 二場喪禮
P.S. - Before anyone I know reads this and starts thinking too hard, I'd like to make the following points: 1) I grabbed the pictures from Google, having entered "Taipei bar girls" (台北酒吧辣妹 and 墾丁辣妹) into the search box. 2) Any events described above happened more than 10 years ago. 3) The woman described in this story is actually a composite of two different women. 4) One of these women did a complete 180, and is now very religious. The other one? Let's just say it's easy to make her acquaintance, but it'll cost you.