Hello everyone, here’s the full Love & Loss piece. It’s pretty nuts, and still not perfect, but it’s been driving me insane writing about going insane haha. I hope you enjoy it. It’s definitely the most personal piece I’ve ever written.
And I should mention that though it’s all true, I blended stories from my past and present. There are pieces taken from all of the important women in my life.
Thank you Wilder Fleming for helping me edit.
Before her, I had no idea what it was that I wanted. Secretly worried about the approval of those around me, I chased the girls who everyone else followed. Never knowing why I walked toward a dead end that didn’t interest me, I remained blind to all else around me.
Suddenly it was as if a light had been turned on.
I began to notice a pretty girl at school who seemed to be wearing different hair and clothes every time I saw her, sometimes only hours apart. I asked my friends if they knew anything about her and found out that it wasn’t just one girl, but two identical twin sisters.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me there were twins at our school?”
I was intrigued. It was something new; something I had never seen before in our boring town. (I was used to everyone looking the same… but by choice, not by birth.) My friend Tucker had gone to junior high with them, so I asked him to introduce us.
The first I met was Allie, an earthy band geek with long, straight hair. Tucker brought me over to her. I awkwardly said “Hello,” followed by a quick “nice to meet you,” as I rushed away with Tucker, who had just then remembered to mention that she already had a serious boyfriend.
Next I met Lin, and after having already met Allie, I had a back-story and was able to approach her on my own. She was the shorter-haired of the two. I found out she had a class on the third floor and that’s where I found her.
“Hey… you have a twin, right?
“We just met the other day… I wanted to see if you two really were identical.”
“Yep. We are…”
I asked her about the book she was reading and if she liked it. It was a textbook; she looked confused… I pretended it was a joke. I’ve never known how to start a conversation, but I’ve always been good at saving myself from an awkward one.
I walked with her to class after that, pretending we shared the same route. Always late for class myself, I walked that same route with her every day, just to be beside her.
She was cute: shy, nervous, awkward, dorky. She had reddish-brown hair, which fell just below her shoulders, and puffy, tired eyes. Her nose was long, slim, lacking a dip, and held most of her freckles (it was probably what gave her her funny, stuffy laugh). She smelled like ginger and seemed to have a glow.
She always seemed to be a little sad too, which I think is what really drew me to her.
I’d look for her outside during lunch or after school to show her music that I thought she’d enjoy: The Unicorns, Modest Mouse, The Moldy Peaches… and she actually liked it, a dream come true. Finally someone who shared my taste, someone who didn’t look at me strange when I spoke… someone who wouldn’t tell me that my music was too depressing after I played “Creep” by Radiohead for them, with eyes pleading that they too feel the chills running down my spine.
She eventually found out I had no class on the third floor, but by then we had already become friends. I just blushed, acting embarrassed at my exposure.
We began to hang out more often. I had immediately fallen in love with her and I’m pretty sure she knew. I’d joke around, hinting that I had feelings for her, but she’d always brush it off. “I wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship…” And not wanting to scare her away, I’d hide my feelings… though I never could for long.
After two months I began to make stronger advances; I asked her why she wouldn’t date me.
She said I just “wasn’t the boyfriend type.” She had heard about me fooling around with different girls and didn’t want to become just another one of them.
I was shocked. I hadn’t actually been with many girls… at least not successfully. I tried to tell her that she had it all wrong, but she knew about one of my few sexual experiences; it had happened with a friend of hers.
I’d been meeting with one of her friends to talk about my frustration over Lin, and the friend eventually took a liking to me herself. She knew I didn’t have any feelings for her, but she didn’t mind. She was eager and I was horny, she was rich and I was hungry. She’d feed me sandwiches and sometimes flash me her breasts… I took what I could get.
She blew me once in her family’s snack closet but I never came. That was pretty much the extent of my sexual experience.
As time went on I craved Lin more and more. She had gotten used to the benefits of having a boyfriend without actually having one, but for me, friendship wasn’t enough. I started to play games with her emotions to move things along.
I’d spend all my time with her, give her everything, then refuse to see her. I’d tell her that I couldn’t do it any more; tell her that it was too hard for me to just be friends. By then I was the only person she hung out with. I knew she’d miss me as she spent her time alone.
We went on like this for a while; interest then disinterest. She’d miss what she’d lost then wonder what was wrong with her that had made it go away.
I’m not sure how much of this was done consciously on my part. Maybe I only realized what I was doing as I was doing it. All I knew was that I needed her… and my subconscious must have done the rest.
Finally I gave her an ultimatum. I really was fed up by then; I wasn’t just playing games. I was so in love with her that it drove me crazy not to have her. I told her that I couldn’t see her any more and I meant it.
She left my house crying and walked toward the main road. I followed close behind her.
At the end of the road she stopped; she realized she had nowhere to go. I asked her to follow me to the cemetery across the street. She was calmer now but kept the tears in her eyes and her red cheeks were still swollen. We lay in the dew-covered grass and looked up at the stars.
I tried to explain how hard it was for me to be so close to her without being able to have her. She told me she understood, but said was dealing with problems of her own and didn’t know what to feel. She didn’t want to lose me though, and I didn’t want to lose her, so we decided to stay “just friends” for the time being.
As we walked away, I looked back at the imprint our two bodies had left so close together in the wet grass.
Soon after, we went to the beach together. We skipped on rocks to stay out of the water. I found one next to hers buried deeper in the sand and stood on it, bringing us eye to eye. The rocks were close and we were close; our eyes locked and my breathing stopped. I felt her lips press against mine.
Confused and shocked, I fell off the rock. I was unable to think and unable to talk. I looked at her to ask if what I’d felt was real. She smiled and nodded to assure me.
We went back to my car to listen to music, reclining our seats flat. Lying on our sides, we looked into each other’s eyes. I leaned in and kissed her on the forehead, then again just next to where I had before. She was smiling, not stopping me. I told her I’d kiss her entire face.
Continuing from her forehead and working my way down, I hesitated near her lips. I still didn’t dare to kiss her there. As I leaned in to kiss her cheek once more, she moved to catch my lips with her own. I was struck dumb all over again… but unable to resist, I leaned in once more.
Finally she was beginning to love me as I loved her. I never could have imagined how frightening that would be.
I had finally gotten what I wanted, but having Lin was almost harder than wanting her. Right away my emotions shut down; my instincts told me to run away. I completely lost feeling for her and couldn’t figure out why.
I had to tell myself, “Dylan, you’ve loved this girl for months… and now that you finally have her, you’ve turned off. It must be temporary, stay on.”
And after a while my feelings did come back, I had only been scared.
But that was just the beginning.
When we were together I was perfect: I was present. I had no doubt within me and nothing on my mind other than her, her stare, and her warm body pressed against mine.
Without her though, I was something else entirely. I’d had insomnia and anxiety for years, and now spent my restless nights consumed with Lin. What if she stopped caring for me? I couldn’t bear to lose her now that I finally had her; finally felt love. Every second away from her was a second I’d been forgotten, a second alone.
It was the first time I’d allowed myself to open up to anyone since the death of my father. I’d spent ten years holed up in my basement bedroom, learning about pain and loss while forgetting love and life… learning that nothing can be relied on… and learning to turn off. I had lowered my shield and any blow dealt could send me back into the dark, unable to trust anyone again.
If I didn’t hear from her for a day I’d assume she’d lost interest in me. I was always just paranoid, over-thinking everything, but the worry made me sick to my stomach.
Once, while on my way to the auto body shop where I worked, I was overcome with such an overwhelming, tight and twisting anxious pain in my stomach that I decided to never go in again. I didn’t even call to tell them I was quitting; I just disappeared. I wanted to spend all my time with Lin anyway.
But my family was poor… and now I was broke too. How was I supposed to pay for gas for the ride to see her? Or do anything with her at all?
…Things always seem to come to me in a pinch.
My therapists had been pushing different drugs on me for years. One of them was Adderall. I’d previously refused to take it, but once I found out it was speed and that kids would pay for it, I decided to give it a “try.” I had found my new source of income.
Now that I didn’t have to work, I spent every second outside of class with Lin. I never saw my friends; I was obsessed.
One day, I asked her to help me find my father’s grave. It was something I’d feared for so long. Bringing my dad up around my mom still upset her, even ten years after his death.
It’s strange how we did somehow find it. An odd-shaped tree triggered a vague memory, leading me in a sort of trance down a narrow dirt path beside it. Reluctantly hopeful, yet already accepting defeat, I prepared to brush it off. I never expected to find it anyway…
Lin held my hand quietly while I scanned through the engraved names to my right, searching for my own. There it was. Forsberg. The grave was cleaner than I’d expected… and lacked some desired effect. It didn’t feel sad, only empty. And there were no flowers.
I looked from the grave to Lin, as if to ask what I should do. She stayed silent.
As I reached out to touch it, one of the few memories I had of him came to me. He and my mom used to write on my back with a finger each night before I went to sleep, so I decided to do the same on his grave.
“X marks the spot with a circle and a dot… dash, dash, question mark. Upsies, downsies, all-aroundsies and a… pinch.”
I felt silly as I did it… and to this day I still don’t know what it meant.
I whispered a prayer out of habit and we got up to leave.
After sharing so much with Lin, I wanted her to do the same. But it was harder for her to open up. All that I learned about her I learned slowly over time.
She had grown up wealthy in New York City, but when the Twin Towers fell, her family lost most of their invested money. To maintain their lifestyle, and to get out of the city, they moved to a small town close to mine, along the tiny coast of New Hampshire. She’d lost her friends in the move, her parents fought more now, and she and her twin sister were beginning to drift apart.
She was very insecure and had just always been depressed. She hated her beautiful body and felt awkward around other girls. She cut herself, too. Her wrists were covered with scars that I hoped to erase.
I always used to downplay everyone else’s depression because their reasons for it didn’t seem to meet mine. “What excuse do you have for being upset? My father died when I was six; I’ve had my ass kicked for most of my life. I’m poor. I’m hungry… I this, I that… at least you have food in your fridge.”
I felt my depression was stronger than everyone else’s, so I suffered alone. It made my pain feel more authentic because I was the sole bearer of it. Realizing that I wasn’t special would weaken my suffering. It would comfort me and I couldn’t have that. I wanted to feel something that the others couldn’t; something my own.
Lin was the first to show me that sadness can’t be weighed in tragedy or eased by wealth. It’s silent, pure; it’s in your core. Maybe it started from a heartbroken look your mother gave you when you were still young… or maybe it was the inability to express yourself around other kids, making you introverted; feeling rejected.
The rejection made you angry… and the inability to express your anger frustrated you, making you feel helpless. Helplessness made you weak, depressed. And once you found an emotion that you were able to express, once you found sadness and self-pity, you held onto it.
Like a strong laugh shared with a friend that you wish would continue, you bring up the same joke to prolong the feeling. Once you’ve reached that point: that warmth; that expression, that connection… you feel cold as it leaves you. It’s the same with sadness. Being in one state or the other, I’m fine. It’s leaving where I am that frightens me.
We gravitate toward what we’re used to; we gravitate toward comfort, stability. Loneliness is the only true fear and through that we fear change. Transition. Going into the black of the unknown. Going somewhere we might not understand or be understood; somewhere alone.
I can’t say why Lin was depressed. She just was.
I was texting with her one night when she was especially down. Then she stopped responding. I called and called to no response. Worried that she might have finally tried to kill herself, I got into my car and sped to her house, chain-smoking clove cigarettes.
It was midnight, but when I pulled into her driveway I saw that her bathroom light was on. She must have gone in there to do it… My heart sank.
I ran up the back stairs and through a spare bedroom.
“What are you doing here so late?” a cracked voice called out.
It was Lin’s father, sleeping alone.
“Just checking on Lin, sorry. I’ll be gone in a minute.”
I kept on to the bathroom. She wasn’t there.
I found her sleeping in her bed. She woke as I came close.
“You smell like cigarettes…”
“I’m sorry, I smoked on my way here… I was worried about you. I came to make sure you’re all right.”
“I’m fine… just tired.”
“OK, I’ll leave you then… I’m glad you’re all right.”
I leaned down to kiss her, left the room and closed the door behind me. I walked back past her dad to let him know I was leaving.
“Sorry for waking you up…”
While on my way to Lin, I’d thought back to a story my mom once told me about her destructive relationship with my father. I always imagined it as the epitome of romance.
Supposedly, my father used to disappear for days at a time, until finally, someone would call my mom to tell her where she might find him.
I envisioned it so beautifully: him lying in a ditch somewhere, weak, fucked up and alone; my mom frantically searching for him in tears. Until the final moment when she found him, embraced him, and nursed him back to health.
That was true love, I thought. Someone who loves you so much that they’re always there to save you, no matter how bad you get.
So many times before, I’d imagined myself as lying in a dark ditch, wishing for a glowing hand to reach down and save me. I wanted to be that hand… as much as I wanted that hand to be there for me.
Because Lin was my first, she became something of an experiment. I had never before felt these emotions, and as with everything else in my life, I had to push them to their limits. I had to feel purely and deeply, experience great happiness and sadness… and I had to know that she could too; I had to know that she really loved me.
To force her to prove herself to me, I’d start a fight over something trivial: some way she acted, something she forgot to say. I’d pick and prod, looking for a weak spot until finally she’d fight back, which would only frustrate me further. And so I’d push harder.
I’d choose my words cleverly to trip her up or ask questions that couldn’t be answered, until finally, she’d cry. Only then would I “forgive” her. Only then would I know she loved me. Seeing her tears, I’d feel better. Not because she was sad, but because she was able to be sad for me.
And at that, I’d apologize. I’d wipe away her tears and kiss her salty lips. She loved me, and now I knew… for now.
But nothing is ever enough for me… and my depression would always regain control.
On the nights I didn’t see Lin, I’d line up a row of sleeping pills the size of triple-stacked quarters on my computer desk. I’d take one every hour to see how close I could get to death before falling asleep. I went up an extra pill every few nights until I was swallowing five or six before passing out. I was constantly in a daze, acting without thought.
One snowy night when I was driving Lin back to my house, I decided to have some fun on her long, ice-covered driveway. I spun the wheel to make the car lose traction, whipping us out of control. But I didn’t see her black basketball hoop. We smashed into it, snapping the metal pole in half and impaling the car.
It was the third car I’d wrecked in a year and it had only been in my possession for a few weeks. It’d been given to me as an early eighteenth birthday present, and I knew my mother must have opened a new credit card just to afford it. I was crushed.
My mom came to pick us up and drive us back home. I sat quietly in the back seat. When we arrived, I asked to be left alone in bed. Lin went to hang out with my sister upstairs.
My depression plummeted to a level I had never before felt. I was disappointed in myself for being so irresponsible and now had no way to get to Lin. I imagined I’d hardly ever see her again… something I couldn’t bear.
My body was drained and my chest felt shallow. My thoughts were stale and slow. I stared vacantly at that cold, sad feeling without putting it into words. It paralyzed me, hypnotized me; I feared it would consume me eternally. I was nothing, weak; I couldn’t speak. I could hardly breathe.
I tried to tell myself that the feeling would soon pass, but the thought of it ever returning frightened me still. I couldn’t do it anymore; I couldn’t be me anymore. I just wanted it to end.
I had planned to die by eighteen for as long as I could remember. The thought comforted me in a way; it gave me a plan. Without it, the future frightened me; I saw nowhere to go. It gave me an excuse for not paying attention in school; it helped me to turn off and ignore. Now I would finally go through with it.
I gathered all the miscellaneous sleeping pills I’d been given and swallowed them all. I counted between eighteen and twenty-four in total: three or four different types.
And I went to sleep. Forever, I thought… though for some reason I didn’t care. I wasn’t being dramatic as I had been before. I wasn’t crying… I really wasn’t thinking at all. I had just turned off.
Maybe a few hours later, I awoke with a severe pain in my stomach. I thought this was supposed to be painless… But the pain didn’t last. I soon passed out again.
The rest I remember in flashes. I guess either some part of me decided not to die and went for help, or I really had to piss and used the rest of my strength to get to the bathroom upstairs before collapsing.
I awoke on the bathroom floor to my mom calling from the kitchen, “Honey, are you ok? What’s wrong?” She thought she’d heard the door slam, but what she really heard was my head smashing into the toilet as I collapsed.
I pulled myself up and tried to form words, but my mouth was too sedated; I slurred like a heavy drunk. Leaving the bathroom, I headed for the door to the stairs.
The next thing I knew, I was on the floor of the hallway looking up at my sister, Lin, and my mom holding my empty prescription bottles in her hand.
My mom tried to help me up but I wouldn’t let her. I’d only allow Lin to touch me. She brought me to a chair.
Through my slur I was able to convince my mom that I was fine, but my sister was crying and agreed with Lin that I should be brought to the emergency room.
… So I was brought to the emergency room.
Hashim on a suspension bridge near his village, Imphal East, Manipur, India.
I’ve been documenting the process of harvesting rice in Imphal, Manipur one of the ‘Seven Sister’ states of the North East states of India, as part of my developing body of work on food security. Manipur until recently had always boasted a surplus of food making it a desired land for conquest throughout history, from Burmese kings to the over stretched and beleaguered Japanese army during WWII, where they ultimately were driven back, unable to resupply their overextended forces. Manipur is also home to one of the earliest and smallest civilizations, with a written script, their own numerological, mathematic and astrological systems as early as 33 B.C. when much of the world was still passing down oral histories. It’s rugged terrain along with its abundance of food are often credited for the development of such an advanced society.