Anita Wu: Stages of Truth

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Stages of Truth

Anita Wu

They told me that some things are better left unsaid, that some secrets should be taken with me to the grave. But what if they eat at my conscience and drive me to my demise? Should I tell you then, before the lies consume someone else?

Act I: The First

Dear …

I never meant to hurt him. You have to believe me.

It was something minor — innocent — like the pranks he always pulled on me when we were kids. Yeah… like his pranks.

Like when he told me to wait for him after class, told me with his ear-to-ear smile that he would drive me that day, yet I found myself walking the hour and a half home when the sun was setting because he never showed. I found him there, watching a movie before he apologized for “forgetting” that he was busy and had promised someone else a date.

Or when he stayed over at his friend’s place and refused to answer anyone’s calls for days. He convinced his friend to tell us that he was not there when we frantically called everyone, including the police, for fear that he was kidnapped.

It was a prank. Just a look-a-like.

The body was not his. The blood was not his. It was just a photo.

He would waltz into the house again, his legs wobbly beneath him and his breath reeking of alcohol, and he would collapse on the couch with his stained shirt and sticky hands, slurring the words only he understood. I would find him in a pile of vomit in the morning and smack him in the face.

He will answer my text in three days’ time like he always does. I will force him to brunch with me, he will sleep in, and we will argue about time: my insistence that people were busy and his retort that people didn’t deserve his holy presence.

He will be back, just like I remember him, just like how he always came back.


Act II: Public Knowledge

Everyone kept their distance, but their murmurs sounded louder to my ears than usual. Perhaps it was their gaze on me from the corner of their eyes, or their weak attempt at pretending to be talking about something else, or their fingers pointing my way while poorly concealed by the books they held to their chest.

“That’s her brother,” they whispered.

“She’s still coming to school? I would have stayed home. Perfect excuse to skip Tojin’s chem exam.”

“Were the pearls real though?”

“I slammed my computer shut when I saw the blood.”

I reached my locker, and the crowd around the area quickly scattered. A brief grin flashed on my face as I was not against being alone this day. I wasn’t sure what I would do if they asked me about the article. I wasn’t even sure why I kept sending texts to Jim after the same photo someone texted me appeared on the news.

But I heard the familiar click of heels and winced. Lilia walked up next to my locker and leaned against the metal frame, her head tilted like she had a question, her eyes on mine. Her arms crossed, her perfectly painted nails tapped against her skin like she was waiting for the acknowledgment she deserved. I continued to rearrange the contents of my locker, ignoring her.

“Hey,” Lilia popped her gum, “is it true?”

I closed my locker and turned to leave. I had never entertained her before, and I refused to start today. I would have preferred if she stayed away like the rest of the school, like everyone who treated me and my family as though we were poison.

“I mean, he had it coming, right?” one of Lilia’s tag-alongs showed up and chimed in.

“Totally — gambling like that? He was bound to get it someday.” Another one.

“But who knew he would try to pull one over his debt collectors?” Lilia laughed with that sweet voice of hers.

I spun and punched my locker, just missing her nose, the crash slightly rocking the entire row. I glared at her. “Shut up.”

Lilia smiled, her eyes narrowing as she realized she hit her jackpot. “Well, if your family would stop cheating the innocent community, then maybe I would. Sure, you guys can gamble if you want, but only do it if you have the money. Don’t do things you can’t afford. Especially don’t try to repay debt with fake pearls.”

I clenched my teeth and curled my fists tighter, my nails digging into my palms. I didn’t have the luxury of starting a fight with the rich girl. Mom was already devastated by Jim’s death. I could not make it worse for her; her old heart would not be able to handle it.

I imagined hitting Lilia’s face, pulling her braided hair, and smearing her makeup against the metal lockers; I imagined returning the bleeding favor her family gave my brother without the covert of the night or the police’s purchased blindness.

But I probably deserved worse punishment than she.

“My brother is no liar,” I spat instead and walked away.

“Perhaps you should check to see where he hid the real ones then,” Lilia called out, laughing. “You might need it someday.”

Act III: Secrets

Dear …

Could I swap my life for Jim’s? He had done nothing wrong. He just wanted to pay off his debt honestly. He wanted to give them the real pearls — he did.

I just didn’t know at the time. If I knew it would lead to this, I wouldn’t have done it. If I hadn’t done it, he would still be here. So, he should be here, and I should be wherever he is. It’s only right.

God — is that it? Do you want me to recognize you? Call your name? Would you listen to me now, then? What do you want from me? What do I have to do for you to give me Jim back?

Do you need a confession?

Do you need the real pearls?

I’ll gladly tell you, gladly hand you the pearls myself. So long as you give me back my brother.

I did it. I —

There are some secrets that must be taken to the grave, and I should not have the luxury of relieving my heart of its pain.

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2 thoughts on “Anita Wu: Stages of Truth”

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