On my mother’s refrigerator in Chiang Mai, Thailand, are pictures from my high school dances in Chicago, when we lived in bi-level as a happy immigrant family—Homecoming, the Sweetheart’s Dance, Prom. There are so many photos of me you can barely see the surface of the fridge, just a hundred smiling faces of Ira with various forms of facial hair. But those dance photos—someone is missing in every one of them.

My mother has cut out my dates.

It is me, in suspenders and hunter green slacks, an arm around No One. It is me, wearing contacts for the one and only time, and my hand is on the hip of No One’s waist. It is me, in a tux, cheek-to-cheek with No One.

“Why did you cut my dates?” I ask.

My mother sews together the pants I ripped earlier in the day when I was kowtowing to Buddha at a temple in the center of town. She laughed so hard her dentures popped out.

“I save what I want to remember,” my mother says. “Those girls, I don’t want to remember.”

“Do you do this with other pictures?”

My mother shrugs. She does not lift an eye off of the needle. “Sometimes.”

“Who else?”

“I cut your father out all the pictures, too,” she says.


My mother’s glasses are thick. When she looks up, they enlarge her eyes, like a bug. “I want to remember what I remember.”


They have been relegated to oblivion—my dates—that void where all halved pictures go. I imagine a planet of them. So many lost partners, so many severed parts. Anniversary photos, family vacations, too-close selfies. All disunited. There they mingle, in a two-dimensional world. There they try to find a fit to complete the photo. But no cut fits flawlessly, an imperfect puzzle.

Those dates—Becky, Sharon, Vicky—find a table in the corner of a coffee shop. They are beautiful in their dresses, their hair primped and pampered, their nails painted vivid red. Vicky’s banana straps made boys in that coffee shop look with envy. Becky’s lips stood out from the pale of her skin. Sharon’s blonde hair fell soft over her shoulders, like strands of fine yarn. In this world, they are best friends, though in the walking and talking world they occupied different circles. In this world they play one role, and it is the one role they share: Ira’s date.

The night comes early here, but the sky never darkens. Lights swirl like a perpetual disco ball. They tell each other stories of the dance.

“Ira, he can move, can’t he?”

“I didn’t know a Thai guy can James Brown like that.”

“Did he do the running man for you?”

“I love how his face gets puffed and red.”

They comment on how he was the perfect gentleman, except for Becky, who found him dancing with Tanya Tallon, his senior year crush; they went as friends anyway, so it didn’t matter.

“And when a slow dance came on, he’d pull you close and you can feel the warmth of his torso.”

“He had shoulders you can rest your head on.”

“You felt other things, too.”

And they laughed and laughed and laughed. There was so much about Ira that was entertaining, how he went to the bathroom every fifteen minutes to check on his hair, how he was always paranoid a booger was hanging out of his nose, how he kept asking whether they were having fun. They agreed he was such a boy, but different from the others, respectful, always thinking about them before anything else. They said he was the perfect gentleman, never going for a grope or fondle without permission.

“He let me wear his jacket when we were on an after dance cruise on Lake Michigan.”

“It rained hard afterwards, so he gave me his umbrella and carried me to the car, so my dress wouldn’t drag.”

“He was so shy when he kissed me.”

A melancholy settled in among them then, those three, dressed-up girls. This happens a lot in the world of halved pictures. They wished their other half was there, their versions of Ira, asking them to the dance floor, holding them tight, singing in their ear how beautiful they were, how this song was theirs, how this night was theirs, how they did not have to fear anything, not even a pair of scissors come down to sever them.

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the The Melting SeasonSouthside Buddhist: EssaysIn Thailand It Is Night, and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy. His essay collection, Buddha’s Dog & Other Meditations, is forthcoming in 2018. He teaches at University of South Florida and edits Sweet: A Literary Confection.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore