Ne me quitte pas

Nonfiction / Karis Ryu


:: Ne me quitte pas ::


**CW: men­tions of death.

Did you know?

            In ele­men­tary school, I was assigned to the same table as a boy I had a crush on and start­ed scor­ing low­er in class behav­ior because of it. When I got my report card back and saw the unfa­mil­iar let­ters star­ing back at me, the wave of shame that hit was sud­den and colos­sal. Before the age of ten, I learned that lik­ing boys came at the expense of being myself. So I cut him out of my head as quick­ly and as sharply as he had popped into it, and through sheer force of will I drilled back into myself the words MY FUTURE IS MY OWN MY FUTURE IS MY OWN.

            In mid­dle school, the clos­est I came to telling a boy I had a crush on him was by proxy. He was old­er, and a line of girls had already liked him. I scoffed ini­tial­ly, so sure I would nev­er join that line, and then a few months lat­er I was run­ning out of rooms the moment he entered them. On my last day, two younger girls approached me with mis­chie­vous eyes and asked if they could tell him.

            “Why not?” I shrugged, feign­ing non­cha­lance. The truth was I was relieved, because I actu­al­ly want­ed them to tell him. I want­ed him to know with­out hav­ing to tell him myself. I think I was afraid that if I told him myself, I would trem­ble and my spir­it would crack into pieces and he would end up tak­ing some of me with him, parts of me I would nev­er get back.

            I was twelve: old enough to under­stand that girls who felt things and said so lost their faces and nev­er got them back.


Did you know?

            I am twen­ty one and I am so young. Peo­ple are so quick to press their hands to their fore­heads and per­form dra­mat­ic faux strokes when they hear how young I am. We are in the same place, yet I am three, four, five, six, ten years younger. I have worked so hard to get here. All I have done is work. After all, MY FUTURE IS MY OWN MY FUTURE IS MY OWN.

            At first I thought he was impressed. Then he kept pok­ing at it, pok­ing at me, in nudges of embar­rassed laugh­ter and patron­iz­ing nods that bol­stered his pride by push­ing me down. Now I can­not help but won­der whether my pres­ence emas­cu­lates those who have to breathe the same air as me. So I wor­ried, when I real­ized how well we got along, that you would poke like he had. I wor­ried our silences sig­naled your dis­com­fort. I wor­ried our silences sig­naled your bore­dom. That my pres­ence damp­ened the room with how heavy it was. That my pres­ence bur­dened you with how too-much it was. My worst fear con­firmed, set in stone, the cold hard truth: I am a strange and over­whelm­ing con­coc­tion of fren­zy and fear and too many ideas, and you say I am bril­liant, but that is only as long as I am at arm’s reach because if you look any clos­er, you will real­ize what I already know: I am unpalatable.

            A boy I liked said this about me once, that I was too good for the guys at school. That’s all well and good, but where does that leave me? Some­times com­pli­ments don’t mean shit if you’re lonely.

            I am twen­ty one. I am sit­ting out­side of a cof­fee shop and cry­ing because I am so young, yes, but being so young at this stage in this place means that I am alone. I am alone, and it is heart­break­ing. I have a bright future ahead of me, so they say, but I can­not do any­thing about it right now because I am so young. I might have grown up quick­ly and I might know how to do lots of grown-up things, but ban­dag­ing my own bro­ken heart is not one of them. So I sit on this bench and cry because that’s what girls in love and pain do.


Did you know?

            When I was thir­teen I walked cir­cles and cir­cles around a lake in my neigh­bor­hood. When we lived in a city a one-hour train ride from my mother’s birth­place and a thir­teen-hour flight across an ocean away from mine. Cou­ples dou­ble-ped­aled duck boats across the water. At night some­one would busk on the plat­form, their voice echo­ing through the mic and through my head.

            When I was thir­teen I thought a lot about death. I thought a lot about whether or not I want­ed to die, and how I had no answer. I thought about how my lack of an answer at the very least sig­naled how I felt about life: that is, my utter lack of a desire for it. Yet I could not bring myself to die.

            I looked at every­one around me and remem­bered I was sur­round­ed by a dialect adja­cent to my mother’s, a lan­guage I kind-of-under­stood and just as much kind-of-didn’t, a lan­guage I was so glad not to speak and just as much longed to.

            Yet I could not bring myself to die.

            I thought about death so much I believed I no longer thought about boys. That wasn’t true, because there was a boy that year, there was always a boy, wasn’t there, for each new wound that the world ripped into me that I then fum­bled to balm with what­ev­er sub­stance was closest—whatever would do for a fan­ta­sy. I thought more and more about death in the hopes that it would make me think less of the boy, of what I want­ed him to be and what I knew he was not. Dying was eas­i­er. Dying felt more mean­ing­ful. It is more poet­ic to die than to like a boy. It kind-of-worked.

            I walked the lake in a bizarre jaunt that the bright­ness of the sun made even more macabre. I walked the lake while think­ing about dying while lis­ten­ing to a marim­ba play while Regi­na Spek­tor asked peo­ple not to leave her, feel­ing some­what more livened up by it but then because of that, feel­ing sad­der than before. Yet I could not bring myself to die.


Did you know?

            I am praised a lot for my hon­esty nowa­days, which is inter­est­ing because it’s when I’m being hon­est that I’m most wor­ried about being dis­hon­est. Like I’m deploy­ing my hon­esty because I know that’s what works, that’s what endears me to peo­ple. At the same time, I can­not help the things that come out of my mouth and I am very much at the mer­cy of the per­son sit­ting across from me as I help­less­ly watch, eyes crossed, my guts push out from between my teeth and spill onto the table. I am ter­ri­fied of being per­ceived as a too-earnest child and noth­ing more, but this is the only way I know how to be that feels the clos­est I can ever get to “true.”

            I’m sure you would rather be with some­body else right now, some­one nicer, some­one more pleas­ant, not some­one who was born with a tri­an­gu­lar mouth and had to train her­self out of a rest­ing bitch face by star­ing into a mir­ror and push­ing the cor­ners of her lips up for years. Here are some things I have learned over those years:

            I am admired; I am not approached. I am a stat­ue; I am not a girl. I believed that too for a while, but I am tired now. I am a girl. I was a girl all along. I will always be a girl. A girl who gig­gles and feels and cries and loves and flut­ters and laughs like every­one else.

            When I was nine­teen, I walked all the way down a hill in the dead of the night. It was a dead night. My legs were dead and my eyes were dead but my soul refused to die. It just refused to fuck­ing die. I could have walked for­ev­er. I could have walked until I died.

            Please, I cried. Let me die.

            Please, it begged. Don’t leave me, too.

            I am just a girl who does not want to be alone.


Did you know?

            I think I am thank­ful I did not take my life that night, or that oth­er night, or that oth­er oth­er oth­er night when I thought about doing it. It has tak­en me years to get to this thought. Late­ly I’ve been think­ing it more and more. Here are just a few:

            I think it when it is our sec­ond week of col­lege and we sit next to each oth­er in a small group where we both feel out of place. You, too? we gasp, look­ing at each oth­er. We walk in the same direc­tion after it’s over and after a while of talk­ing out­side your dorm build­ing, you say to me: Hey, do you want to just come inside? So we talk inside your dorm for two more hours, and that night our friend­ship is born.

            I think it when I turn sev­en­teen and my plan was to sit in my dorm and eat a dou­ble-choco­late Insom­nia cook­ie alone. That is when you call me, a girl you bare­ly know, because Face­book said it is my birth­day and am I doing any­thing to cel­e­brate? Let’s get froyo. No, don’t bring mon­ey, you are treat­ing me to froyo because it’s my birthday!

            I think it when years pass and it is my birth­day again, and anoth­er you waves a card into my hands, say­ing HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU ABSOLUTE ANIMAL, which I know is a com­pli­ment because I know you. The card is almost illeg­i­ble because of your noto­ri­ous­ly loopy pen­man­ship but I can read it. It is detailed, love­ly, and tru­ly some­thing only you could write to me.

            I think it when it is the mid­dle of what was look­ing like the best semes­ter of col­lege yet, but a virus hits our lit­tle life of laugh­ter and sud­den­ly we are three friends sit­ting in Meet­ing Street Cafe, angry and in shock but most of all scared that our first time togeth­er in this booth might be our last one too. Yet all we can do is smile for one anoth­er, trem­bling mouths hold­ing up taut frames. Lat­er we sit by the water and we can­not help it, the words that flow out of us. When peace like a riv­er atten­deth my way. When sor­rows like sea bil­lows roll. What­ev­er my lot, Thou hast taught me to say. It is well, it is well with my soul. We cry and I won­der if I will ever know ten­der­ness like this again.

            I think it after I move to a new city and we have known each oth­er for maybe a month at most when you invite me over for bagel brunch, and I assume that this is for some par­ty or gath­er­ing because the only way I would be includ­ed in an invi­ta­tion is if it was a mass one. But I show up at your house and it is just me, and I ask you if any­one else is com­ing and you smile and shake your head and say no, today it’s just me.

            I think it when you remem­ber me on New Year’s and send me a text because I am who you’re thank­ful for.

            I think it when you invite me at ten o’clock at night on an impromp­tu excur­sion to the beach because you missed me, you say, and there is anoth­er one of us, anoth­er friend, look, you again, you’re there!—to love is to be one and isn’t that won­der­ful—in the pas­sen­ger seat of the car you are dri­ving, and there is a pack of lychee beers in the back, and any­way you’ll be in front of my apart­ment in three min­utes so get dressed and don’t go to sleep!

            I think it when two years after we cried by the water, you are grad­u­at­ing and at your depart­men­tal cer­e­mo­ny we stand there beam­ing at you. We hand you a bag, and inside that bag is our gift: a cook­ie from Meet­ing Street Cafe. I almost cried while I stood in line for it, did you know? So cir­cles do end some­where after all.

            I think it dur­ing the silences between our con­ver­sa­tions every time you walk me home. I won­der if this is spe­cial for you, too. I think about how wor­ried I was and at times still am that no one would ever want to exist with me like this. I think about how there is no one else I would rather exist with right now than you. I hope I mean some­thing sim­i­lar to you, and while that hope is tinged with fear that I am wrong, it is beau­ti­ful pre­cise­ly because it is frag­ile, and I would much rather cling to it than have noth­ing to cling to at all. Any­way, we keep going, held by the same deep indi­go sky each time, in mur­mur and laugh­ter and silence, cush­ioned in all that I do not yet know how to say but want to let you know some­how. I am scared of what will hap­pen when I do find the words. I am scared I already have them. I am scared of what they mean. Of los­ing my face. My room­mate told me once that to ask for a place in someone’s heart is to ask for per­mis­sion to break it one day. God for­bid, but it could hap­pen. I don’t want to hurt you. Even in my own fear of my own heart­break, my first thought is of you. That scares me most of all. But some­times I dare to believe that your word­less thoughts might be search­ing for me too. I dare to trust that what­ev­er we are fig­ur­ing out togeth­er is good, very good.

            (To make a dec­la­ra­tion is to, in the back of your mind, always won­der just a lit­tle bit if you even believe what you are declar­ing. But to feel any­thing at all is to risk being wrong, and that ten­sion is what makes life real. So lean into it. Embrace it.)

            I think God is telling me there is a way. A way to con­fess with­out los­ing my face. A way to love that keeps the heart intact.

            (Or: Love is an exer­cise in trust.)

            I used to think that love was about what is said. What is spo­ken aloud. What is com­mu­ni­cat­ed through touch, through stare, what is pro­ject­ed onto a wall in blaz­ing let­ters and yelled from across a long, long room. That love is some­thing you can­not miss.

            But love is trust, and silence is sound. Love is hav­ing faith in what has not been said. Believ­ing in a glance and per­haps in the absence of a touch entire­ly. Maybe you are care­ful with how you touch me because I am some­one to treat with care. Maybe we sit side by side because we hope the time we give each oth­er says what we do not speak aloud, because the dam hold­ing back every­thing we could say or do is so thin and oh, how excit­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing it is, how dear­ly I would hold you to me if you would let me. But first I have to let you know.

            Love is as shy as it is bold. It is shy because it is bold. It takes the breath out of you to expose the heart for one sec­ond. Blink and you might miss it. But if you do, that’s okay. Trust that it is there, because you are loved. You are loved and so you love, because I trust you, I trust you.

            You are my friend. You say my name. “Have you ever judged some­one for being hon­est about their feelings?”

            No, I respond. I always thought they were brave.

            “Exact­ly.” You nod your head. You say my name again. “So why are you scared?”

            In May, you tell me how strange it is to think we have only known each oth­er for less than a year, because you feel like, in the best way, a life­time has passed between us. And I say, I can’t com­pre­hend some­times how I love you as fierce­ly as I do. And you say, you know where it says that eter­ni­ty is writ­ten on our hearts or some­thing like that, and I think, yes, and you say, in feel­ing like I’ve known you for a long time, eter­ni­ty is the free­dom to love you as if I have.

From the writer


:: Account ::

As the read­er can tell, I was twen­ty one years old when I wrote this piece. It has been revis­it­ed and revised peri­od­i­cal­ly since then, but at the beat­ing heart of this con­fes­sion of an essay was and is the earnest­ness of a per­son craft­ing a bur­geon­ing def­i­n­i­tion of love as she learns to love oth­ers and to love herself.

The inspi­ra­tion to write this piece first struck me one spring after­noon, while I cried on a bench out­side of a cof­fee shop near my apart­ment. (This scene made it into the essay. In a way, per­haps I start­ed there.) I was, in short, pro­cess­ing many firsts: my first year out of col­lege, my first year in a new city, and the chances I had tak­en on expe­ri­ences and peo­ple dur­ing that time. The love those risks had brought me, but also the hurts and the losses—and the heart­break of real­iz­ing that the time had come to say good­bye again. Grow­ing up as a mil­i­tary child, I had built up anti­so­cial detach­ment mech­a­nisms in order to mit­i­gate the hurt of get­ting attached. Twen­ty one was the year I tru­ly began to shed those walls—and had to face the beau­ti­ful consequences.

These ongo­ing tumults wouldn’t quite resolve for some months’ time. But writ­ing this piece over those dif­fi­cult sum­mer months kept me com­pa­ny dur­ing peri­ods of lone­li­ness, con­fu­sion, and grow­ing pains. I have, of course, grown since I first wrote this, and am shar­ing the expe­ri­ences and feel­ings of a past me, but I con­tin­ue to hold this piece dear­ly for its vul­ner­a­ble hon­esty. That’s the per­son I want to stay true to in all that I write and do.


Karis Ryu is a writer, artist, and grad­u­ate stu­dent cur­rent­ly based in New Haven, Con­necti­cut. She grew up mov­ing fre­quent­ly across North Amer­i­ca and the Pacif­ic as a U.S. mil­i­tary child of Kore­an descent. Her work has pre­vi­ous­ly appeared in Chaot­ic Merge Mag­a­zine, HerStry, The B’K, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Find her in a cof­fee shop, a library, or at