THE FISH TANK


“Hurry up, dinner is ready.”

“Wait. I’m looking at the fish tank.” I rolled my eyes, of course you were. I’ve been in this scene many times before, waiting for you as you decide to give undivided attention to the fish tank.

You annoyed me in these moments, I don’t have patience for you sometimes.

“I did such a good job on the tank.” You smiled. It’s full and wide as if you’re encompassing the sensation of contentment on the curve of your lips. You’re so happy but I’m not, I wanted to eat… and yet. I sigh, my temper forgives and forgets. I can’t resist a smile on you because you’re the love of my life.


*


Most people that visit and take a look at my room make a pleasantly surprised comment on the fish tank. It's striking as it is unusual for a small tank to look so carefully picturesque.

This five gallon fish tank is the only thing you wanted in my room.

You wrapped the roots of the plants around the base and tucked them into the plastic castle with slow precision. I could tell you were holding your breath in, you’re so cute. You dropped the moss balls at a deliberate snail's pace, delicately pruning the plants. I waited hours for you to set up the tank, waiting to bask in your attention again, huffing with a frustrated longing for your glance. Your eyes never wavered from the tank, I didn’t think to consider that you were making this out of love.

At first, I wasn’t impressed. Turns out there was a distinction between exotic saltwater and freshwater fish and I didn’t know fish bigger than a few inches wouldn’t survive in a five gallon tank. The fantastical dream of a tank filled with large exotic colourful fish that would swim and blend together into a swirling mix of colour pastels was diminished. I was left with inch long fish in mostly dull, muted colours. I waited so long and we paid so much money for this, I felt discontented.


*


I’ve taken this fish tank for granted. I feed them everyday, turn the tank light on and fill the tank back up in water, an unconscious habit. But I’m not really looking at the tank.

In rare instances, as if I’ve forgotten I have a fish tank, I stop as it takes me in rapt attention. Leaves of the water plants shake with the current of the filter, shades of green and light alternate with the shape of each plant frozen in space, still in curated underwater refrain. Fixed with dumb awe, I probably look like a child, or like one of my roommate’s cats when you entice them by lifting them up to watch the fish, their wide curious eyes dart around the flickering floating fish.

There’s a feeling of slight joy when I peer into the tank, it feels like an affirmation of your deep love.

When I feed the fish, the food falls pretty like confetti. Fish flakes dance like thin paper in the wind, curling and swaying, wading through the water. The fish glide up towards the tank light, as if they’re ascending to the gleaming, rippling reflections of light on the surface. Their scales are iridescent and fins like wings make them look like glistening sea angels.

Life is so gentle in this fish tank. I think you imbued your gentleness into the water or something.

My dad told me that when I was a baby, we had a twenty-five gallon fish tank. One time, when I was under a spell of unreasonable crying, they held me next to the fish tank. Like the cats, I was a dumbfounded baby, the curse lifted as I was distracted in the simpleness of a fish’s fickle swim. I wasn’t cognizant of it as an infant but now I understand its meditative properties rooted in the assurance of watching this indifference to life.

I’m so caught up in my own life. At sudden changes in pace I cannot organise myself enough time to think, to process. I find myself overwhelmed very easily.

“Why are you so mean to me?” Sometimes, when I get so caught up, I take it out on you because I take you for granted. “What did I do?” Nothing. I’m just selfish, angry on my own terms. Recently, we’ve been falling into a bad trend where you’re still good to me but I'm unhappy, thus, I mistreat you.

It's funny, like the fish tank, the certain ways you move and look at me catch me off guard. A moment like when your laugh rings clear in the air.

I’m breathless.

I suddenly hear music far away as I look at you, the air stills. Your beauty, like the tank, stops me, making space for me to ponder. I am hyper aware that I am so in love with you. So I ought to be better for you.

Like a bad lover it's as if I'm noticing you for the first time in a while.

In these instances I am keenly aware of the way you love me unconditionally and at times I don’t, that I want you on my own agenda. It is the unrealised shallow desires I expect from you that trump my ability to take time to appreciate the good thing you, we, are.

When I think about you and I, the tank appears as a testament to our loyalty. In maintaining this tank, an ecosystem of water, greenery, play, and life, it is a metaphor for the collective care of this body of living water as tending to our living, fluid love.

It is a forever process, sustaining life (sustaining love).

You’re still teaching me how to hold you. We’re giving each other the tools to be the best we can be for each other.

“I promise I'll do better.” Is all I can say and do. I hope that is enough for you.




LATE MARCH AND EARLY APRIL, TWENTY TWENTY


The air smelled thick with wild sweetener, a mixture of jasmine, greenery post-rain, honey, and brine. The instant I smelled it I understood that it is with the warm, wet humidity that it perfumed such a scent.

The scene was set, a natural lush forest, frogs, crickets, cicadas, and birds all incessantly sang. Time moves differently with this tune cutting the dense humid atmosphere. I thought to myself, passionately, I love it here, where reality is skewed back to this summer vacation Hong Kong subtropic world.

The pressure in the air was heavy with sentiments of dampness. My feet slapped onto my stone floor; , there was a slight slickness as my foot raised again. I thought I could live here forever, I thought. Forever in limbo with immense greenery, swampland, the South China sea, mystical (almost) mythical islands. I could eternally be submerged with and under voluminous clouds, with the loving moon and spectacular sun. I love you.

It was then that I understood what it meant that time was in constant flux.

It was these moments that I vividly experienced how time moves differently in nature. I realised this in the passing beats of time where I laid on my bed, jilted, clenching my chest, bracing at every new second at the feeling of imminence (that I am of the immediate now), of nothingness and the fluidity of time. My sheets soaked in my humid atmosphere as I stared at my ceiling. I was distinctly aware that time was culminating yet bursting at my every breath and I had no idea what to do with that information other than to hyperfixate on it.

While carrying this awareness of time in my chest, I had the highest privilege of looking out of my beautiful floor to ceiling windowscape to birds singing, cows lazily grazing for hours and hours and hours and hours. My friend thought every time she saw my videos that they were fake ambient bird chirps, but no. This was real (too real). I had seen sunsets that gripped my heart into caving in, to love each shade and texture as I understood its vivacity as ephemeral. It was real because at every sunrise and sunset I ever experienced in Lantau, I felt what it was like to love, to be loved and to lose all at the same time. I was driven into a stunning kind of peace which drove me to immense sublime highs and simultaneously, deep lows. I felt the compression of longing, a lust for warm, hot sunset pink because I was keenly aware that I would have the briefest, most abrupt encounter to love them and bask in their love and for them to be gone, unsure of when I’ll ever see that distinct shade of pink again. Is it clear to you now that the expansion and passing of time caused me great grief?

The fickleness of time tears through my chest, I call it anxiety. I can somehow pinpoint its root in the individual yet collective uncertainty for the future in conflict with my contentment with living in pure, pure, pure beauty. I was struck by my cognitive dissonance. Beauty, from how I understood it at that time, was always fleeting and though it had healing properties, it never outlasted the burns of reality’s horrors. It became natural for me to experience at one moment, a daze at the animated quality of butterflies, leaving me wistfully tickled by their playful chasing, my body light without the burden of thought. Then right after, comes what felt like an inevitable, looming feeling of aggravation. My anxiety talking to my thoughts in ceaseless overdrive, stressing the global pandemic, my career, my artistic competence, injustice against women, injustice enacted by the torture chamber of white supremacy, and of course, the toils of Hong Kong’s future.

I marvel at the moon everytime I catch her rising to the apex of my window at 12AM. I never cared or understood so much of the passion for the pale celestial paper circle body in space till I succumbed to this paralyzing anxiety. I recognised my stillness in her careful floating and desolate delicate yellowed reflection onto the blackened South China sea. I felt less alone. Unlike the sunrise or sunset where it was an hour of tumultuous ever-changing love affairs with light, colour, and cloud, I had so much time to face the moon, to see her fully, to love her and bask in her love when she showed up to meet me.



SUN BEAMS OVER THOSE WHO CHOOSE LOVE (LATE JUNE TWENTY TWENTY-ONE)


Lately, I have been reading Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto. There is a quote at the most pivotal moment of the text that I've recently been able to experience and now, able to distinctly understand. Yoshimoto writes, “At that moment I had a thrillingly sharp intuition. I knew it as if I held it in my hands: In the gloom of death that surrounded the two of us, we were just at the point of approaching and negotiating a gentle curve. If we bypassed it we would split off into different directions.”

This quote best represents the ideas in Kitchen, which speaks of the pain of loss and what one would do to mend a loved one’s suffering. Kitchen is moving because it represents the blind belief in love, the trust in acting by opening yourself up to love which heals all wounds. I was there too, at a critical junction to choose to alleviate our grief with acts of tender devotion.

It was 2AM, still high out of my mind even though it had been eight hours since I smoked. Tucked in bed, we had our nightly Facetime call. We found ourselves in an argument.

I never really enjoyed having our nightly calls, it always made me aware of the gaps in space we had and how it created holes in our communication. I never knew if what you said meant something more serious or if it was just casual or conversational.

I wasn’t sure what you were really trying to say and I thank my anxiety for being so unsure as to how to carry myself in this five point seven five by two point seven five inch phone screen of you. Was it because there was no room to read in this digital space? Was it because I don’t really know you enough? Or you don’t really know me well enough? I was in tears, I felt my chest tighten and bounce to the tune of an almost-panic attack. Is it because I have to get a little too anxious and panic at every confrontational remark from you? My heart raced three beats then slowed down and quickened again.

I was at a loss and I felt like a jittery nervous child, so far apart from you. Back against my bed, I couldn’t breathe, my nose stuffed up with teary snot. From a birds eye view, it looked as though I fell to my death on my mattress, legs and arms mangled with my head lolling pathetically. I looked at my ceiling and felt the deep distance we were sharing. Why on earth was I crying? I knew in the back of my mind that I had overcomplicated a simple conversation with my anxious tendencies. I frowned deeply, why did I do that? At that moment, almost 4AM, I felt that we tore a rift into our recent happiness and I was wracked with sadness for us. This pain exercised itself into the center of my heart, a space where I couldn’t tend to myself. “I miss you. I wish I was with you. We wouldn’t be like this if we were together.”

I knew it was selfish of me to say since I was the one who lashed out but you understood better than I did how to take care of me. “Come over. I want to hold you.” It surprised me when you reached out.

It was almost 4AM and it seemed ridiculous to uproot myself from this tissue filled snot bed to disturb you once more before you ultimately underslept for work at 7:30AM. I debated the little things to distract the pain, did I have to get dressed? Did I want to pay for an overpriced Uber? Was I imposing? But my anguish returned. I believe we both knew then that we were “at the point of approaching and negotiating a gentle curve” and it was up to me to decide if we were to bypass it and “split off into different directions” like Yoshimoto wrote or be courageous enough to return on the same track as each other, to be close to you again. My chest puffed up with conviction, this was a decisive moment. I had to act. Our strange digital communication suffering could heal slowly or we could lean into our pain and hold each other at the time when we needed it the most. This would heal us immediately, binding our hearts tighter together for a much needed reaffirmation of our love. With these thoughts, I was rejuvenated with new energy, I had that “thrillingly sharp intuition” and I left my apartment determined to find your familiar embrace.

We held each other into the night, your face illuminated by the moonlight of your skylight, you were so beautiful. Gripped by each other’s softness, I held onto you firmly as you delivered flutters of warmth into my chest. It was the tender space between our neck, shoulders and chest we cuddled in each other which melded this crack in our relationship. It was action and not words which allowed our hearts to be held again.

I awoke that afternoon taken with midsummer jovial sunlight pooling into your room, I didn’t know what to do with myself as I bathed in your pond of sun. Rolling around on your tartan mattress, it smelled of you everywhere.

You came back from work to walk me out at 12:30PM and I had never seen your street look so magnificent till that moment where the bright sun casted broad beams over the street. In Kitchen, Yoshimoto wrote simple lines about light which I too was able to understand. There is one quote which this instance of the light and my lover illuminated, “Little by little, light and air came into my heart. I was thrilled.”

We hugged each other on the sidewalk and as we pulled apart, I saw with such clarity how the proud noon light touched your face. I was in awe of your beauty. You kissed me tenderly and we stepped away from this momentary hold, you looked at me and I looked at you. You smiled and it faltered, I knew that look because I had the same one, the kind of smile that fell at the admiration of how lovely you are it pained my heart slightly. “You’re so pretty”. I said it back as my smile softened.

We stepped further back and our arms tried to extend to each other as if we wanted to touch hands. “You’re so beautiful.” The light was bright and yellow as it kissed the right side of your face, “You’re so gorgeous”, I was breathless. There were no words to describe these feelings. “Goodbye my love”, we said with large smiles as we backed away, looking right at each other mouthing “You’re so beautiful”, “I love you”, “Bye bye”.

At that moment I knew we were the most beautiful couple in the world as the cars rushed past us, watching these devotional lovers retreat.




© Tiffany Tong