for grace, after a party

[Note: The following is something I wrote months ago, maybe in March? I just rediscovered it in my Notes app today and decided to publish. It’s a diary entry, maybe the location will be familiar to you.]

Thank you for inviting me here. I don’t know any of the people around me, but I feel happy to enter a part of your life. 

We’re on a rooftop at midnight with your friends. It’s a party—someone’s leaving soon. All along the rooftop are plants and various little gardens. The atmosphere is easygoing. I can’t tell who owns the space; there’s a little bar set-up that everyone seems to be welcome to.

Towards the back of the rooftop, there’s a barbecue going, with fish and Gardenia bread frying over a grill. Some of the people I know, and some of them I don’t, but it’s OK for me to sit down and not know anyone’s names. I’m introduced to the person who’s leaving, and we have an easy conversation about where he’s going. 

Some people arrive, some I recognise, and it’s so surreal to me! Someone exclaims, “you’re here!” I turn around to see who’s arrived, and it’s someone i know, but i don’t know how everyone is related any more than i know how I myself am related to the entire scene. I’m a bit nervous to touch anything, to eat, so I light a cigarette, but you get a plate for me all the same and all these people who I’ve just met keep telling me to take anything I want. 

She says that she is a witch. Her eyes are winged like Amy Winehouse’s. She has high cheekbones on a narrow face—she looks a bit like you, actually. She’s telling me about her ex-marriage, and she says that she was inspired to get married by a painting of yours. “To be fair though, I was also tripping on acid.” We’re all joking about it for a while; I wag my finger at you and say, “You better not show me any of your art, huh, I don’t wanna get married.” You widen your eyes at me like you’re offended, even though you’re laughing, and you sling an arm around me. 

“Yeah, you better be careful of him. His art is dangerous!” 

I ask her what it was in the painting that moved her so much. She says it was just a painting of a guy, another friend of yours (he’s here, actually, somewhere behind us), naked and lying down. I haven’t seen the painting, but I think I can understand. How the image might move someone to marry: a man, naked, and laying down. To wake up every day beside. 

The night is a sweet fruit, there’s a light breeze going. someone asks me if i’ve tried the fish, pretends to get offended when i say i haven’t, because he cooked it. i go to the back and take your plate. I press into a fish with my unwashed hands and pull the small bones out through my teeth. Someone else says the mushrooms on the grill taste really good, but when I try them they just taste like mushrooms. [Someone asks if you would like your eggs a little different today…] 

during the day, i feel insecure about my job, but tonight i think the people around us who don’t have a stable day job outnumber the people who do. artists, dancers, musicians, free people, bohemians. 

I’m not drunk, but I feel tenderness towards everyone around me, and at some point I’m propounding life advice to someone who didn’t ask for it, saying, “It’s all about what you accept—if you accept your life as it is, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks—if you want to be hugely successful and have your own house and car and family and kids, then that’s fine, but if you don’t want that, then you should just come to realise and accept that—if you’re happy just to be here, then that’s all that matters—” 

Maybe I’m saying it to make myself feel a bit better about something, but maybe I’m just happy right now. the night is tender, the night is soft and sticky. tonight i’m affirming everything. tonight i remember: that apocalyptic future i worry so much about doesn’t yet exist.

There’s a smaller rooftop on top of the bigger rooftop, a small outpost that you climb some narrow steps up to access, and then you’re really on the top of the whole building. The guy who’s leaving — he’s a DJ/VJ who makes experimental art, he’s moving to Germany — has started playing music on the level below us. We’re all dancing to the music, and you take my hand and I twirl you around like a princess. Sporadically, we start up conversations that die out just as quickly, but we still keep moving. you are looking at me, but I’m shy, so I only look back sometimes.  

I can see the entire Kuala Lumpur skyline, and I think of all the places I recognise, and wonder if the places I know are different from the ones you know—which things stand out to two different people looking at the same thing? 

Rooftops will always have a cinematic and rebellious quality to me, I guess because every building has one but you’re usually not allowed to go up to them. When you’re up on a rooftop, you feel invincible, away from anyone who could watch your actions. you get to be the one looking down at all of them. Every day we go about our lives on the street level, having to make way for everyone. And now we’re up here, moving freely, watching everyone down below! next time when i’m walking on the street, i need to remember to look up more often, to check who’s happy. 

It’s a little past one in the morning, and when I lift my head from your lap I notice that a lot more people have started arriving to our little rooftop on top of the bigger rooftop. I still don’t really know who anyone is, and I notice I’ve left my pack of cigarettes on the ground so I go over to pick it up so no one steals it. It’s getting a little crowded up here. Our friends — your friends, and maybe mine now — are still dancing in a corner, I don’t know how they have so much energy! the girl who is a witch is instructing people to shake their bodies like worms to let out the bad energy. 

tonight has been different — it’s not dancing to forget, it’s dancing to affirm. everyone here doesn’t mind remembering. when i wake up, i will still be happy. 

i think i want to go home. but not because i’m unhappy—in fact, tonight is the happiest i’ve been all week. but i’m just a bit sleepy. i woke up early yesterday. tomorrow there’ll be work to continue doing, back on street level. you do not always know what i’m thinking, but now you take my hand, and we pick our way through the bodies.

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