Once Again, When We Are Alive

Text by Zoe Teng

Our first fight was about a dying fly or ant, one of those small insects that we’d watch and follow until they disappear. We saw this one dying, struggling on the ground, we felt the time passing by…I said “you have to kill it, Steve, you have to end this suffering.”

And you starred at me bitterly, in panic; you said, “I’d never kill anything, any little thing, even it’s the short cut to end its suffering.
If you think killing it is the best way to save it, do it yourself, Zoe, do it yourself.”

Our peace was in the cemetery, we walked through all the stones with their real and fake flowers; we fixed the fallen vases, and sat under the tree in the middle of the graveyard.
Reading short stories, in your book half chewed by a mice.


When they asked me what dreams I have, I said, “I don’t dream anymore, I think I have made my real life a dream.”
They smiled and started telling me about their dreams, they fly, they scream, they dream in their dreams; when they look away but still try to tell you something, they know they are dreaming


“Zoe, you should definitely hang out with these Frenchies when I go away,”


“When Digger Street crumbles into dust, you can also move into their house, they cook the best food ever, and it’s all free, cus they steal everything from the supermarket…”

I like Digger Street, Denis. After you died, I went back there from the hospital with two stitches in my chin, it was the people there who drove me all the way back to the waterfall, to find your car before the police. But they had taken it. Nothing was left at where you parked but a small wallaby, killed in the middle of the road not long before we got there. So we picked it up, and BBQ it when it was still fresh.

It was too late to drive unpaved paths in the woods with your lost spirit, but we opened the window of the van, calling to give you a lift on the way back… Sorry we couldn’t get there before the police, I know it was something you don’t want your family to see, somewhere in your car.

The Frenchies, yeah, they wear those dirty working pants with lots of pockets as kitchen hands. They were kicked out from Digger Street, they steal TimTams, listen to awful psychedelic music, and make space cakes, which was not too bad.
But they steal TimTams!


Which did you enjoy more, Denis, the gravity when you jump into the water, or the lightness that makes you breathe again?

You gave a lot of people their first dose. “It’s like learning how to swim,” you said.
I agreed. And you drowned in front of me.


“I got an email from my son, I’m not sure if I should show you but…I think he is suffering from depression, and anxiety…it’s a genetic heredity, remember I told you about my insomnia? Though I knew there’s not much we can do about it, and no one to blame, I emailed him back saying maybe he should go see a doctor.

Now I got this almost disjointed email from him again, which I don’t know how to reply…Do you think I should just leave it?
Should I just wait? Do nothing but hand him to the hands of God, and let him decide? I’ll pray for him.
Is that right or wrong?”

“I think that’s completely wrong. Do something, John, do you love him or not? Call him, don’t just email him. Call his sister, his neighbor or…”
“No, that’s not going to work, he doesn’t want me to call him, he asked me not to. I know that’s not going to work.”
“Then why don’t you go and do something you think will work, instead of asking me if you know much more than I do? I mean…you’re the only one who can decide.”

“I can’t.
I don’t know. I think it is destiny.
Zoe, I just want peace, I really do. Have you heard of the story about a man asked Buddha how to have peace?”
“’Kill me,’ the Buddha says.”

“Do something, John, both of you are still alive.”
“I know…”


“I have seen my son’s mother suffering the same thing, when we were still married in Darwin, I saw her lying on our bed, her face buried in a pillow saturated with tears. I kneed down beside her, ‘Penny, I love you,’ I said… it was silent; there was no response, no movement on her body, either. So I went out.
Sometimes I think it would have changed everything if I hugged her shoulders at that time, or laid down next to her.”

“You can never regret enough if you decide to, John.”
“Is it someone’s quote or did you just make that up?”
“That’s what I think.”
“Write that down… or I’ll forget.”
“Okay…I’ll write it down if you put the bottle down, and stop drinking.”


There was a Japanese girl in Cairns, who flew to Melbourne to attend your funeral. She told your mum what your needle looked like, and then reintroduced you to your family as someone she knows better than they do – a cocaine addict, a great tragic lover, a romantic hero who took her away to escape into a better world, a wild, beautiful dreamland once was shared with her.

“She was obsessed with Denis,” said Torsten, your best friend, “well, we all know he was never a single man, and it’s impossible to say who he really was from all kinds of stories about him.

The truth is he never tries to be anyone, to escape from anything about himself, his complexity.

He just cruises around and walks into other people’s lives. To tease them with a straight face, play tricks on them when they’re unconscious…but he doesn’t laugh at the fools, he just wants to see if they’d wake up, from lies and fantasies of this modern world. That’s what he was doing, by any means.”

It was not a surprise to find out that we both love Blond Redhead, when I heard “In Particular” in your car for the first time; I thought it’d be the only thing I need to know about you.

And there was a Japanese girl we picked up in Gosford on the way to a festival, who didn’t worry too much about the music in your car, when you asked if she’d like to listen to anything in particular; “Anything,” she said, and smiled before falling asleep.

She’s now married to her Australian boyfriend, and had a baby girl.


I’m sorry I said you’re a demon, Steve, I was drunk. I didn’t know it’d stay in your head for weeks, until you carefully asked me again if I really think so.

You had a job when you were in Canada, sitting in front of screens of live satellite tracking of the traffic, and answering phone calls from drivers who got into trouble. You follow their cars on the screen as you listen to their stories, answer their questions, give directions, calm them down, lock or unlock their doors with a remote if there’s an emergency…
People knew they’d be fine because you were on the line, watching from high above and have a better control of everything. You loved your job, especially before you hung up when problems were solved, and some drivers thanked you for being there as if you were their only friend, it seemed impossible to hide your happiness in a professional tone.

It was like playing God, until you got fired from doing some extra stuff… but no matter what it was, I know you were just trying to help.


The fire stairs in my first apartment in Sydney, where we met and lived in the same unit for a while; the fire stairs there, where I had my first time and you had a haircut.
When we moved out, the Chinese landlords wouldn’t return some of our bond, you were sitting on the balcony with a cigarette, slightly windy night. “We should just let them have the money,” you said, I was sitting on your knees.
“we know they need it much more than we do.”

A year later, when we broke up and I moved out from our unit, you still owe me fifty bucks.


“What’s this?” you looked at the book on my bed.
“ ’Chaos’, it’s a theory I’ve been studying.”
You smiled and took off your clothes, didn’t say anything else before I turned off the light. We were both too drunk and exhausted.

“I knew he was very sad, I knew because I helped him out twice when he was suicidal, and he always asks me to look after things when he feels like going away.
But I got a message from him this time, that things seemed to turn around in very little time after he met a girl. He was happy. You must be special Zoe, because Denis was special,” said Torsten, your best friend.


I woke up on the sofa again, every morning, felt I was just part of the house, so I vacuumed it again.

I’m still house sitting for Jimmy; when I met him, I sang the song ‘Jimmy’ of Moriarty: Jimmy, won’t you please come home, where the grass is green and the buffalos roam…
He said he had heard it before.

The neighbor told me there’s a jungle in the house, since Jimmy never comes back.
“I’ll make peace with the chaos,” I said.


“Tell me some shit, Zoe.” We were so comfortable, sitting on a sofa barefooted, in the middle of a shopping mall.

“I was eighteen in New York, and I met a guy in suit, when I was taking a photo of the status of Rockefeller Building. He invited me for a drink in the lobby of Shangri-La Hotel, I can’t remember his name, but he was from Greece…he talked about girls from different countries, and he asked me if there’s anything I want at the moment.

I said I want to be an artist, and I want to travel.

‘No,’ her said, ‘if there’s anything I can buy for you, anything from the 5th street.’
I couldn’t think of anything, and he looked disappointed…so I went to his apartment, the security guard almost stopped me at the door. He said he would open a bank account for me if I move to New York after my high school finishes.
He asked me if I like anything in his home, he could give it to me…but I didn’t see anything special; I liked the French window in his living room though, you can see the city with the sky from high above…So he pulled out about $400 cash from his wallet, insisted that I take them for nothing in exchange, and he drove me to the bus stop. ”


The drivers, no they didn’t rape me, because they’d have to stop the cars if they try to; instead, they asked me to live with them, and they can keep driving anywhere they want.
“But I’m just a hitchhiker,” I said.

So they wanted a photo with me before they go.


“So what’s not a drug after all?”
“Life is not, I guess.”