If Only You Knew

If Only You Knew

Picture Credits: Carlos Ebert

Dear Sean,

I killed an elephant today. You know, it’s one of those things that you think about for a long period of time, convinced that you will figure out someday, but can only really do on an impulse. The killing itself was unexpectedly simple: I took a deep breath, waited for the adrenaline to rush through every vein of mine, and with impulse came unimaginable strength. I took a stab. It stopped moving. Its eyes stayed wide open, but there were no tears. I felt no sense of sorrow or shame, just anger. “Angry at what?” you’d ask. I’m not sure. Perhaps at myself, for having no patience with animals and their lovers; or maybe I just have an innate aversion to elephants.

I didn’t just kill it. I was so hungry afterwards I ate all the bananas we used to feed it with. I guess anger is a state of emptiness, just like hunger. It’s not a real emotion, but an impediment to accessing our real feelings. One banana at a time, I tried to fill the void inside me. I finished the dead elephant’s portion, and then moved on to the rest. No one was there to stop me, for they were all trying to figure out how to move on with life after such a tragedy happened. And you just looked on in silence unfeelingly. How I wish you’d be proud of your little sister.

Remember when we always complained to our parents about our tiny apartment as kids? After every playdate or someone’s birthday party, we would come home and went on about how Isabella’s house was two-story, Nick and his siblings all had their own rooms, and Gabby’s bathroom came with a Jacuzzi. They told us we didn’t need any of that. What we needed were nice shoes for Sunday school, funds for the next summer missionary trip to Asia, and devotion—to God or to their expectations, I still don’t know. We were wired to believe from an early age that everyone was assigned a different reality, and our reality was one that obliged us to follow their rules. So, we stopped complaining and our apartment felt smaller and smaller with every day passed.

I didn’t figure out why that was until you made a decision for yourself without anyone else in mind for the first and last time. Was it also something that you could only acted on an impulse? I strive to never find the answer, but one thing I do know is that I started seeing elephants everywhere around the apartment. Nobody believed me when I told them. To them, I was just an overly imaginative twelve-year-old, and my unease over nonexistent creatures of my dreams was the least of their concern. But they were hypocrites. They loved those elephants, nurtured them in a way they never did me, so terrified of the possibility of any harm that could be done to them. They were so occupied with the elephants that they didn’t notice how at church, when everyone clasped their hands to pray, I held hands with the boy sitting next to me, unable to take my eyes off his. Mom never wondered why grocery shopping always took so long, and Dad never looked at me long enough to notice the ring he gave me went missing.

I probably had a smell on me. I started attracting elephants, and I couldn’t stop them from following me home. Sometimes it’s a newborn, sometimes a herd. Our parents continued to pretend that they couldn’t see them, and I was guilty of the same crime. I could never have imaged how quickly they propagated without witnessing it, but I guess you knew about that already. You were able to see them years before I did, weren’t you?

I killed an elephant for you today, Sean. Our house is too small for so many to be walking around, occupying spaces of our minds and feeding on our bananas. When our parents were saying their evening prayer, asking God to forgive your sins, I let words fell out of my mouth, “he would still be here if you listened.” The killing itself was incredibly easy, yet the aftermath messy. I should help them move the body out, because only when the elephant is out of the room can we start fixing the things it broke.

Sean, if only you knew how simple it was to kill an elephant. If only you knew I would believe you and help banish them from our tiny apartment. If only you knew your fear for elephants was the opposite of weakness.

Born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, Yu-Chieh (Andrea) Chung is a filmmaker based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Just as her passion for documentary filmmaking suggests, she cares only for the real stories.

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