speech act, killing teens, all about lily chou chou, los angeles i love you.
As a teenager, a fantasy always appeared at the front steps of my heartache: a Volkswagen Mk1 GTI slowly pulling into my driveway so that a soft white light would seep through the blinds and flood some kind of heaven across my ceiling. I would look out and see a car full of friends I did not have. They’d sit there waiting for me, waving to me, tempted to honk to get me downstairs faster, to wake up the neighborhood and speed me into a fast loneliness deep down my own carpal tunnel fixed on a janky Dell laptop that died after 30 minutes off the charger.
In All About Lily Chou Chou, there are moments when texts appear on screen to convey typing online as a speech act. There’s a nowness to it, even years after its original release date because it beckons this absolute alonesomeness inherent to interest-based chat rooms, seeking for voices in deep nights. There were nights where I thought I could outlive the ways my Dell overheated, reaching a fricative state of human warmth, trying to be as angsty as me, as hot-headed with my lukewarm opinions. There were nights where I was far removed from people. My speech act was human longing.
“I think people are tired of the apps,” she said from a thrifted red varsity jacket. But it was not hers. It belonged to a man she was hiding behind, shielding herself from the overcast blur burning too bright for a day too cool even for Los Angeles.
Seated along the sidewalk, Laveta takes up a corner of a somewhat residential area. I wait for a cold brew made with maple syrup and half-and-half.
“People aren’t meeting people anymore,” she continues. “The pandemic has changed how our circles interact with each other.”
I nod in agreement from another table. As the world dips into the metaverse, we realize less and less that our physicality is nothing but a rotting shell doomed to age, calories, and the loss of collagen. Moshfegh will write about the body and how repulsive it is as we work, sex, and sleep our way through the week, and people will hate her for it. But we’ll listen to Emergency Intercom and be completely fine with hearing about how Enya micro-pisses and laugh it all off. Drew even mentions that we do these things, wetting our beds, incredibly human things, but people brush it off as if it doesn’t exist, as if we’re embarrassed or afraid of our own bodies.
As I’m aging, I’m watching my mother age. I see the white hairs she hides in dye. My waist expands and the beer is adding up and I am always tired. I am tired with her. She asks how I am doing and I know that she can answer for me.
In LA, I’ve been looking for answers, allowing daylight and coffee spills and stains to offer signs and symbols to where I should be and how I should be. My eyes are billboards, exacto-knifing broadness from the meaningless of all these tiny details, but they’re merely there as their own: daylight, coffee spills, stains. Nothing more.
The tiresome question How are you? haunts me. I never know how to answer, the lie before the truth, so deep in me that I don’t know if the lie is the truth, if I’ve become anything but an expired white lie looking for the discount shelf to call home. Half off and ignored.
But there in the imaginary driveway and the imaginary cast of teenagers is a place that wants me to call it home. The fake teens are gaunt and cold with PBR’s and cigarettes, tumblr-famous fiends with VSCO eyes. They want to drunk drive me to smoke along to XXYYXX and high-eat my way through a stack of Denny’s pancakes. They want me to feel invincible, feel freeway air cut up acne scars to make bleeding feel like living.
I let them cut me up.
Tiny pieces, easy to swallow.
I’m a stiff carcass tossed between desire and discontent. Coffee and cigarettes, grave decay, and I realize, I’m killing these imaginary teens in my head. In my own head is death, and yet, somehow, life has given me enough real death to realize that both places are fucked up and nowhere is safe. Safety isn’t in love nor is it in a McDonald’s cheat day. So, I look for it in magic.
Most of writing is staring at blank walls, in spots no one is looking at to avoid eye contact and create unsaid words, conversations I’m supposed to be having with concrete people, but I am having them with myself. The blank wall, in ways, is a mirror, pale and blank, and yet incredibly informative.
Every time I’m met with the back of a book, I am filled with so much stimulus.
There goes another world.
What’s my response?
In tears and waiting, I met a friend whom I’ve called Instagram video called twice, but have known since undergrad. Dayglow in Silverlake, a latte that was supposed to taste like Howl’s Moving Castle. I think we mostly talked about the present tense, his life, how it lulled, stopped, stayed somewhere, and ruptured, in blessings and joys, over a few hours, a drive, and, finally, at Grand Union Station, where our time ended so quickly I hardly remembered how it even began, if I had even said hello. How did I say hello? How was I found? But it ended in a hug, in the tufts of his pullover and the scent of a cool evening. When I hear a Joe Hisaishi song, I think of him. When you lose track of time the wind rises. There’s magic here, in the track lights of a train, waiting again. A part of speech act is also thinking of what to say. The great long pause until you meet another face and speak into it. This pause is magic.
So, I took shrooms. From a candy bar that tasted like Crunch, chock full of that Rice Crispy air. I couldn’t taste the earth in it, but when sound sank back and told me to lay down and seep into the carpet floor, the wind rose, sung from the open window and laughed in my face. The ceiling was an open sky and I was laying in lush grass, Zugerberg, where you placed my body near the water and fed me whispers through my slit tinny mouth, unable to speech act. And that was okay. My eyes opened and there were the teens. They looked down at me, concerned.
You’re so fucking lonely, aren’t you? one of them asked me, but at that point, they were a single voice.
Can you help me up? I ask.
I put out a hand and touched my sliding door closet mirror. This entire time, I had been sitting up, and I touched my reflection as if it were another person. I stared at my every pore, looking for ways into a skin that felt so far removed from me.
That night, I slept by my reflection, sitting up, only to wake up to puffy eyes and a kink in my neck.
In all the ways I’ve tried to deconstruct my life, I’ve never underwent self-destruction. I have not bloodied my body to the point of roadkill to stretch myself flat and new as the angel-headed hipster I’ve claimed to be through filtered pics and edited posts.
I even watched your favorite movies and read your favorite books because you begged me to like what you liked, until I became an empty receptacle without reciprocity. Recycling, rinsing and repeating until there was nothing but streaks of dry, cracked semen and a crooked smile.
And like the cat, I had nine times to die. I don’t know what number I’m on now, but it happened somewhere in my body, somewhere in a cold sweat panic in the middle of the night, somewhere along all the ways I’ve called out to my mother in Vietnamese because she believed a sneeze was a sign that someone missed you.
Two sounds that evoke a depth and a range. A calling, a beckoning, a prayer, a way of screaming out to a mountain in desperation that could also be said in such a tired monotony from across the living room that makes it a speech act in itself.
I am lonely, but it’s because I am all I have left.
Má ơi, I’ve touched the American Dream through the carpet floor of our two-story home, to feel the earth by way of a half-finished shroom choco bar. I tasted God, met him tongue and cheek, aren’t you proud of me?
© No part of this article can be replicated without permission from the author