Ethan Luk was born and raised in Hong Kong. His work as a multidisciplinary artist has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, 92Y, and One Teen Story. He is currently an undergraduate at Princeton University.
ORESTES IN THE INTERNET
by Ethan Luk
inspired by The Oresteia by Aeschylus; Orestes by Euripides
“What were you before you met me?"
"I think I was drowning"
"And what are you now?"
― Ocean Vuong, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
“For when a man dies, children are the voice of his salvation.”
— Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers (tr. Lattimore)
ORESTES late teens to early 20s
TIME AND SPACE
The year: 2050
None of the props should be physical/tangible except the letters and the stool.
ORESTES scrolls through his phone.
He is bathed in blue light.
He notices the audience.
(To the audience)
The watchman of the Internet, wearing a Yankees baseball cap, is right outside that door.
I’m convinced he wants to kill me.
He has given me twenty minutes to clear everything.
And I’m the one clearing out my father’s space because no one else wanted to do the dirty work.
It is the year 2050 and our lives are entirely online.
Our bodies are nothing but pixels.
I’m retrieving memories for my father because once somebody dies in the year 2050,
You need to gather all the space they take up online, their photos, memories,
Or else it dissolves into the void of internet trash.
I haven’t seen my father in years.
And all I got is a text from his caretaker: complications due to pneumonia.
My dad probably screamed at the people around him too much so his lungs finally caved in.
Let’s get this over and done with.
ORESTES walks around the space.
His hands hover over a bench.
This is the bench where I sat with my father at church
My father brought me to church every Sunday without fail.
My father loved the hymns.
He always raised his hands, closed his eyes, as if receiving something wonderful.
I never understood that.
My father was one of the most God-fearing men I had ever met.
If I dared say I didn’t want to go to church, he would—
My father’s not very pleasant sometimes.
He has this one look of pure rage...I can see it now ... that could just gouge your eyes out.
At the end of each sermon, my father clasped his hands and placed them on his forehead.
I’d always wonder if my father was really be praying, though.
Do you know how to pray?
I still mix up praying with complaining.
ORESTES walks to a pile of letters.
From my father.
ORESTES opens a letter.
He reads it.
I’m sorry for everything.
I’m sorry for your mother and I.
I’m sorry for being—
Do you know the story of your name, Orestes?
It’s quite funny actually.
I chose the name Orestes because of his bravery.
But your life revealed another truth of Orestes.
His mother, Clytemnestra, killed his father.
Because there was nothing but unsaid agony between them.
I remember when I first told you that your mother and I could still live together,
Only on the terms that we would no longer be intimate.
You tilted your head to the side because intimacy
Still doesn’t have a place in the playground of the mind of an eight-year old.
Then I moved into the basement of our little house as your mom stayed in our room two floors above.
I’m sorry I always get angry in front of you.
I just get too lonely and I have to scream to ensure my sounds are still absorbed by this world.
I tucked three letters in the back of this online void.
I wanted to give you something tangible. I could’ve sent you three lengthy texts but…
Letters are more tender.
Do you know of this old Cambodian tradition?
Remember when we went to Cambodia?
These monks would whisper all their secrets into holes in the walls of the Angkor Wat temple.
All of their darkest secrets. The ugly breadcrumbs of regret.
And then, they would stuff the hole with grass.
Orestes, I wish I could tell you everything.
I don’t know how to be a man.
Your Father, Agamemnon.
ORESTES closes the letter.
There is an upwelling of emotion, but ORESTES suppresses it.
ORESTES picks up a notebook.
This is my father’s notebook, full of his equations of the world.
He could only make sense of the world through its limits and exactitudes.
The ends of forests. The pitch of winds. The rhythm of tides.
My father sailed ships and he loved fishing.
I always thought fishing was the most tedious chore in the universe.
He discovered these equations that calculated the perfect conditions for sailing.
ORESTES dives into a memory.
He steps on the stool and faces the ocean.
He swims in the memory.
My father taught me how to swim by throwing me into the ocean from a diving block.
I remember the first thing that scared me about water was its depth.
How I couldn’t see the hundreds of feet of kelp below me.
And how my legs could never reach the underbelly of the ocean.
I remember crying so much that I couldn’t tell the difference between saltwater and tears.
Then my father struck me on the cheek
And he told me about the agoge,
The Spartan training ritual where young boys limped their way through pain in the Eurotas River.
Those boys were purposefully underfed so they learnt how to steal food from others.
So I sucked up my tears and I began to swim.
Come on Orestes…
ORESTES breathes in the ocean.
The sound of waves.
The waves retreat into the ocean.
That was when I learned to bury tears for my father.
ORESTES steps down from the stool.
He picks up another letter and reads.
I remember when you left home.
Leaving home is like setting your bed on fire and walking away.
The fire leaves a sickening music in your head but you choose to sleep it off.
The tides bring you to a new time zone and a bed with fresh sheets.
Be brave, Orestes.
I can only pray for you and it never feels enough.
Sometimes sons are taught to think fathers know all the secrets to the universe,
But I am just a wanderer like you.
ORESTES closes the letter.
He returns to himself.
I left home when I was fourteen.
My mother saw our home as a place of dissonance.
I also couldn’t be with my father, who only taught me how to suppress everything, any longer.
I packed home into fourteen paper boxes and left.
My father taught me how to swim away.
So I did.
I tried to plant my feet in this new country, but I was nothing but homesick.
The food didn’t taste right, the bed didn’t hold me right.
I learned to cry very quietly in bathroom stalls.
Until a boy came to me.
His name was Pylades.
ORESTES draws the name ‘PYLADES’ in space.
I just called him Pilates.
Because when you have a crush, saying their name out loud is too much.
So you make nicknames for them instead.
Pilates was a boy who also left home.
Pilates was a boy who was also finding a home.
I carry Pilates with me everywhere.
He became a very good friend.
Maybe even more than a very good friend.
When the word ‘love’ is so carelessly tossed around, you stop believing in it.
But love sneaked up on me one day.
It happens when you sit under a tree.
ORESTES sits under a tree.
One day when Pilates and I were sitting under a giant magnolia tree,
He picked up a leaf and he began to sword fight with me.
So I sword fought back.
Then he started to scream. So I started to scream.
Then he started to sing. So I started to sing.
Then he fell into my arms.
A completely shattering revelation.
Pilates fell into my arms and I didn’t know how to hold him.
His armpits were sweating through his white shirt.
I felt the membrane of my brain collapsing and pulsating.
I thought “FUCK! What do I do now?”
Because I didn’t know I had the tenderness within me to cradle someone.
Then slowly, like a baby learning how to crawl, my fingers crept the startling planet of his head.
I remember how heavy his thoughts were.
I wanted to let his thoughts spill out from his head so I could dissect them.
My father could swim, hunt, fish, play just about any ball game.
But he could never even keep eye contact with me.
He would pinch my shoulder, at most, succumbing to a brief moment of softness.
ORESTES leaves the memory.
He picks up a letter
Just as he is about to read the letter:
You know what?
I don’t understand why my father had to tell me everything through letters.
Why couldn’t he just tell me how he really felt?
Is it really hard for two men to sit down and have an honest conversation with one another?
You know what?
It is actually that hard.
I remember my father and I were talking over the phone one night.
He was talking proudly about his work at his mentor group in church.
How he successfully converted a lesbian hairdresser to think she was ‘straight’.
And there was a moment where I imagined there was a split universe.
A split universe that contained a future where I could tell my father about Pilates.
Where I could tell him I’m just so…
Where I could tell him I don’t even know how to label myself.
Come clean about everything.
I was scared then.
And now I will never get to tell him.
Look at where you got us, Dad.
Neither one of us could tell each other how we felt.
He continues reading the letter.
I always knew you were different.
When you were a boy, I gave you Lego sets, hoping that you would build warrior ships.
But instead you built amphitheaters. Stage sets.
I could tell you liked dolls but you were never brave enough to tell me.
I always knew you were different, but I didn’t know what that really meant.
I gave you a name that carried the weight of violence.
I gave you beliefs that carried the weight of men who did not look or think or emote like you.
Maybe in another life we can try again.
I hope you find love. It is what pulls everything in orbit.
I taught you how to suppress everything because I thought that was the only way men could survive.
There are both truths and lies in old myths.
And you must learn to differentiate the truth from the lie.
I want you to know I’m consciously choosing to sail away.
I’m packing my fishing gear now and I’m finding new horizons to chart,
Because it’s the only thing I can do without hurting anyone.
ORESTES drops the letter.
He is shattered.
What happened, Dad?
How did you do it?
Did I scare you away?
Did you always know about me?
What did it feel like to walk to the edges of the universe?
Was there a cry for help that I missed?
Is it my fault?
His limbs strangle around himself.
A pause breathes and expands into a moment.
ORESTES begins to piece himself back together.
It takes a while for him to gather the strength.
I remember this one time when you and I were skiing.
We were on the top of this glorious mountain and there was a storm below us brewing ferociously.
ORESTES enters a memory.
It begins to snow.
My five year old self was no stronger than any paper figure.
The wind thrusted me forward, so I used my ski poles to try to ground myself in the snow.
But I kept going.
You started to scream ‘Son!’, ‘Son!’
The wind carried your voice and it began to snow inside me.
My thoughts were pellets of ice in a blizzard crashing onto asphalt.
I couldn’t see where I was going. I kept hurtling forward.
Then you seized me.
You, holding me back against the howl of nature.
The inertia of your body against mine.
For a second, just us, suspended in time.
It was only then that I found out that I was headed towards a cliff.
Your nose was bleeding.
I looked behind and the fresh sheet of snow was dotted in a glaring red trail.
You were there to catch me, once.
There’s a moment in boxing passed down from ancient Greek wrestling.
When two fighters are so exhausted they have no choice but to embrace each other.
They call it clinching.
When their heads are pressed against each other,
Testing who would let go first.
You told me you didn’t know how to be a man but you did, once.
We know how to be men when we are finally brave enough to lean on each other.
ORESTES exits the memory.
He pulls out a pencil and paper from his pocket.
He writes a letter.
I’m sending one futile letter to the ever-expanding universe of the Internet.
I don’t know what use it will make.
Maybe the sea you are sailing on has magical, rainbow-scaled trout that can pass this message for me.
There are millions of tragedies and miracles every day.
So much so that even births, deaths, crushes of cosmic proportions seem trivial at this time.
I think about the earliest Orestes, the sailors, and the chorus women who sent their prayers to the void of night.
Now, this Internet is our void.
A new, weird religion.
All our thoughts, commentary, doubts bravely and recklessly flung into the limitless abyss.
And who’s listening?
If even the tenderness of letters are all simulations, what can I hold onto?
Memories. That is the bridge we built between you and me, Father.
I hope when you’re swimming with the salmon you’re thinking of me.
How my five-year-old self tried to keep up with your strong legs.
Did you catch any fish today?
I hope the seas are calm wherever you are.
Your son, Orestes.
ORESTES tucks the letter into his pocket.
He steps onto the stool and looks out at the horizon.