i have imaginary conversations with you in my head. they make me smile and they make me tear sometimes. i haven’t walked that path for some time. the last was when it was drizzling and i wanted to buy some macaroons for T. maybe tomorrow.
You wake up feeling like you haven’t slept. It is six and it feels like you’ve just lain on your bed at midnight. You recall having woken at four, no rhyme or reason. Doing what most people would do, you reach for your phone; you wonder about certain individuals, you look through old photos, Instagram. Weariness overtakes you and you shut your eyes against the bright screen of your phone. And fall into slumber once more. The alarm at six is an unwelcome sound. It pierces into your consciousness. It invades your little cocoon of self. It beckons you to a new day; yet another new day of assuming roles, of tasks, of routine. You rouse, your lids puffy. You head isn’t heavy but there is a dull ache at the back of your head. As the day wears on, the pain doesn’t dissipate or increase. You are sometimes bleary. Towards the end of the day, your eyes are dry but somehow puffy. A wave of tiredness washes over you. It is almost like a heavy hand on your head, pushing you down, closing your eyelids. Home is a welcome back. You switch off all the light and even enjoy the sound of the pattering rain. You shut all the windows just for the silence that echoes. And fall into a deep sleep almost immediately. The dark room disappears. And you become nothing. You are only existing. You are one with the matter in the room. You are clear of all thoughts.
I’ve been listening to Nelly Furtado’s All Good Things. I don’t remember how long ago it was that this song was a hit (not that big a hit if I recall correctly). The days lately have been a bit like getting out of water. Immersed for too long, you think you’ve grown used to the dizzying and intoxicating smell of chlorine. Accustomed to the deep blue veil that surrounds you in the time that you are underwater, you linger and tread water. And realise you rather like it there. The slippery tiles and warmth that cocoons you when you curl up like a foetus and listen to your own heartbeat. Coming out of the water, the sky seems too bright. The sun just emanates rays that hurt and pierce your eyes like shards. Yes, the days lately have been a little like that.
This time, there are no tears. Not a single one. I haven’t been through many losses. I have been through letting go. Letting go when the time gently dictates so. Letting go when Time tugs and send a little reminder. Or when your head detaches itself from your heart and tells you what to do. Or akin to just shutting a door and never looking back. Or just knowing it’s time to keep everything in the trunk and stow the trunk away somewhere. And the next time you open it, you’ll know that things have changed; that the things will be yellowed, almost mouldy. And you’ll cast a look of dispassionate nonchalance at it, a thing of the past intruding into the present.
Rush hour and the train station. I wouldn’t have been there if last-minute circumstances hadn’t dictated so. Or if our lives hadn’t intersected at that juncture and others. Just the same as all other serendipitous encounters, I ask myself if our paths would have crossed, say if I’d chosen to take the train over the bus. Or if I’d shopped just a while longer. Or taken a different route.
We walk past each other, strangers now, in another time and place from almost seven years ago. seven years. Those were the days of shopping silly, booze and clubs. Those were the days of staying past eight at work.
Let me indulge in my memories for a bit. The happier times. Let not the knowledge that perhaps these times are long-forgotten taint the image of them fresh and supple in mind’s eye. And though strangers now we pass, we once let giggles slip out of our mouths simultaneously when you tried balancing on one leg. And failed. Or one morning when the cistern didn’t stop till water gushed out of the receptacle, flooded the toilet and went on until the carpet was thoroughly wet. The doorbell rang and there was the room service waiter, sumptuous breakfast in tow. I remember the good, and I remember the bad. But mostly, they’re just bits and pieces, floating about in my consciousness, dredged out only when something appears and tugs at memory.
So I look at you then, oversized shirt tucked out and laptop haversack on back, weaving into a shop, I wondered if I should retrace my path, to glance into the shop, to take a closer look and see if you are still as I remember.
But then I realise that it really didn’t matter, and I didn’t want to bother going through that trouble. You can’t put an exact date to it and you can’t wake up and simply tell yourself that this will be the day, yes it will. You can’t. But one day it will happen. You’ll wake up and see that no one needs to make the sky brighter than it already is. That you are once more comfortable to be in your own skin rather than who you want to be for others. That life can just go on. That there is no hatred or disappointment left because you’ve simply moved on and it doesn’t really matter anymore. That you can look back and see the good times as they were but also recognise that they are part of a larger past, your past that makes up the You in so many ways.
So, one day.
- 2013. The first month is almost over and what’s transpired so far has been a mesh of work, a steep learning curve, getting used to waking earlier, Cantonese songs on my way to work, walking on heels (yes, i do wear heels now!), more online-shopping, stolen bits of lunches and after-work slipaways.
- On Change. Of course I do miss what used to be my former life. After all, it was what I had two years to get accustomed to. Sure I had a good three months to ready myself for Change, but how do you ever prepare yourself for change? The other day I jogged past both my previous Workplaces and marvelled at how some things never seem to change. I know each corner and the smell of a mundane morning. I know the carpeting and the stool that’s propped next to the cupboard. I know the curved mirrors and the ‘cubicled-pathways’.
- On alcohol. Am trying to drink less now that my beautician’s asked if i drink often. A catastrophe of epic proportions. Ironically, I had a Singapore Sling yesterday and am having a Bailey’s tonight. It’s Saturday. Chill!
- On holidays ahead! I have a mini-KL trip to look forward to next week. Gel nails, pedicures and massages are in store. Add new shoes and dresses to make it a perfect equation. Tickets to Switzerland - booked! And at a steal of less than $800 to boot. Thank the entry of a new airline. Still loads of time to plan and decide where to head to.
- On solitary lunches. I don’t have a tight ‘lunch group’ at work, but it suits me just fine. On days when no one from my gang is rostered (ha!) to have lunch with me or is free to do so, I pack a book along with my brolly and take a jaunt to my usual coffeeshop. Of course, the quaint bakeries and jazzy cafes beckon, but it is at the hot, crampy coffeeshop where I feel I belong. Enter thin old man with bad perm who serves, the sullen people at the Yong Tau Foo stall who bark at their customers, the frenzied woman who plonks down a pair of chopsticks on a saucer of chilli unapologetically on your table once you’ve ordered.
- On Music. I started listening to the Bee Gees and my favourite is Holiday. I’ve rediscovered my love for the Amelie soundtrack, Les Jours Tristes in particular and find that walking through the quaint estate where time seems to stand still, I feel like in many ways, I’m being brought back to Paris, the shady trees lining the avenues.
- On walks. I walk alone to the coffeeshop when I have no lunch date planned. I pass the sleepy estate and most times, i stop to notice little things. Like a pair of shoes hanging from their laces on the bamboo pole stand. Or windmills that spin merrily in the wind. Or a toy basketball stand which has seen better days. Or just people.
- On sadness. I have been sad and unhappy. But as with most things, I believe the lower times in life only serve to remind us how we should learn to cherish and relish happier moments. I daresay I’ve indulged a little too much in tears and alcohol this year. There is a difference in knowing what’s good for you and actually believing in it and carrying it out. Perhaps things that we search for in life are representative of things missing, things we unconsciously know we lack. And too often, we end up searching in the wrong places. And we very well could end up clinging on to that which we believe could bring us true happiness, when the reverse is true since we’ve hoodwinked ourselves into believing what denotes happiness. I’ve lots to learn.
- On the birthday wish. I could have been too ambitious or perhaps not. All I can say is that however much I believe in God, things not mean to be will clearly not be. A beacon, I don’t know of what. All I know is that perhaps I’m discovering more about life, be it good or bad. In retrospective, perhaps all that was buried, hidden or stowed away and emerged when presented with new circumstances.
- On the future. I know not what the future brings. And I suppose I’m too old to say it’s uncertain, bleak and wane, but it does. This doesn’t mean it will always be. It just means I’ll have to work harder at finding my own happiness, knowing my limitations and boundaries, and accepting what I have and will not have. It saddens me sometimes, but I am inadequate. How can it be difficult to let go of something that brings you pain?
So more walks alone, more dinners, more snatches of moments, more moments under streetlamps that I think to myself, how can this not be real?
Kübler-Ross states that one who goes through grief goes through Five Stages of Grief - from the initial stage of denial to acceptance.
There can be so many theories on grief and getting over grief, but ultimately we all grieve for different things, don’t we? And there is no single theory or fixed path through which we need to walk in order to move on. We attach varying degrees of sadness to tangible things; little worthless trinkets or bus tickets - these make up our memories, each crease a measure of time. Then in the end you realise that you can eradicate the tangibles but not the intangibles - that you cannot stop that little tug in your heart when you come across something that reminds you of the past. That walking past a particular place would bring a stark memory of the night when the stars hung high in the night sky, or how a few words could pull the sides of your mouth in a sweet upward curve.
It matters not whether something is worth anything, the truth is - emotions are irrational and defy logic. You could have all the facts laid out to you bare, cold, stripped, and the truth stares you in the face - and you do recognise it as truth; yet your emotions defy all your convictions and you realise that there is little you can do about it.
that perhaps recognising this to be true is the first step in healing.
The bus will weave through Orchard and I will cast a fleeting glance at the decorations - already put up, the candy canes a cheery beckon to the end of the year, the shiny balls on the giant Christmas trees almost reeking with ostentatiousness. I will pass by Ion and cast a glance at Wheelock and remember Borders that used to be at the ground floor - of its heydays when it was packed with people up to almost midnight. I will have my earphones in my ears, possibly listening to the Cantonese song that is on my loop-list, because I have since moved on from the ballad from that almost-cheesy teenage movie. You will rouse from sleep in those white creased sheets at the exact moment that i shut my eyes in the bus.
and this love is going to take us somewhere.
Can I bottle this moment and open it for a sniff at whim?
To remember just this moment and not the others.
This moment, the sheets upon skin.
The sunlight slipping in through the slightly drawn curtains, the moment on the cusp of another day.
This moment, before the blare of the TV, before the clinking of glassware at breakfast downstairs.
Can I bottle this moment?
The Pursuit of Happyness.
I watched it last night alone. Outside, the mist obscured everything, giving me a sense of desolation and loneliness. Gazing out of the window, I could only see vague lights from a distance - no people to be seen, no lit shops.
Leaning against the pillows, I idly ran through the channels till I saw The Pursuit of Happyness being shown.
Chris Gardener was a man whose wife had left him. He becomes homeless and has a son to take care of. The scene I stumbled upon shows him and the son with their belongings in a deserted subway station with nowhere else to go. When his son gets fidgety and restless, Chris makes him close his eyes before immersing him into a world of their own creation - of dinosaurs, creatures and caves. They dodge beasts and run into a ‘cave’, the restroom, where they spend the night. The scene has Chris clutching his sleeping son as his son lies on wads of toilet paper in the cubicle.
I teared. I can’t remember the last time I teared but I did.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it was that moved me to tears, but I cried. It has been so long that my tears flowed so freely that I’d wondered if something inside me has gone numb. You can claim to have many things in the world. You can own almost everything but joy is elusive. Don’t we all know this to be true? Yet we set our sights on material comforts - or maybe we’re just chasing after the wrong dreams. Dreams of what we think can fulfill us. Dreams that others think nothing of. Because there’s only so much one can do - because things beyond our control remain beyond our control, no matter how hard we try.
So that is why I cried.
Memory is a strange thing.
Nostalgia hits you not as you are leaving the desk you spent one-and-a-half years slaving at - i overuse the word slaving in this context - but as you stumble over the box of things you’d brought home, left in a corner and not thought about as you quickly immerse yourself into the now, the present moment which sees you free of work obligations for the moment, conformity begs that you book an air ticket over the Internet (oh how easy it is nowadays, a bane or curse?) and jet off for either a shopping holiday or a beach holiday.
I’ve come back from Thailand after drowning myself in Tom Yum Goong and stuffing myself silly with Pad Thai. I’ve ventured into a boys’ club where there were less than five women and was accosted by Number 23, who probably thought there was a chance i might take him back to my hotel room and he might be three thousand baht richer. Sadly, no. T brought me to Patpong and I walked the streets while he was indulging in massages - I only chose a 30-min foot reflexology session so that I could have time to shop. And what is Bangkok without the obligatory visit to MBK with the overstocked 199 Baht bag shops, shops selling overpriced knick-knacks, tidbit shops and the numerous rundown eateries? With my parents I always have MK steamboat, but with T it was Fuji Jap food on one day and foodcourt beef and duck noodles with mango sticky rice on another.
But I digress. It was a welcome break, even if it was comforting to wrap myself in all normality and let time pass as it always has, going for mass, lunching with dad, lazy dinners at the hawker centre, lazy jogs (I’ve been missing out on them).
Memory is a strange thing.
Nostalgia hits you just as you stumble upon a treasure trove of things that used to be so close to you, for hours at a stretch in an air-conditioned room. There they were, just within your reach and there since you owned them; so difficult it is to imagine them otherwise. But your mind stretches to the last glimpse of your desk, so empty and distant and purged of memories or any ownership, or any slip that might reveal that you were once there. after all, packing up means purging the place of your existence, your soul, and there is a sadistic pleasure in cleaning up every bit of evidence that you once were there.
But choices are made and for the better. Memories can only take you so far.
you are a stark reminder of the life i never had.
When once contentment took me by the hand and gently led me to sit at the river stream.
“Sit,” He said.
“But the ground is wet,” I said.
“Have you ever sat on wet grass? Or looked at raindrops balancing on a blade of grass?”
I hadn’t. So I sat down on the damp grass. On the ground, I was closer to the grass. I smelled the crisp, dewy smell of grass mixed with the smell of rain. I saw and heard the stream flow - an endless rhythm against the smooth rocks. And I wondered when this endless flow would come to cease, that perhaps I would first cease to exist while the stream still went on its own merry way, oblivious to the losses of the world. And the sky - that beautiful endless expanse of blue, with swirls of white. The swirls reminded me of how, as a child, I would swirl my paintbrushes in water if I wanted to use them to paint another colour. When clear water was used, the paint from the brush would evaporate in swirls into the water and appear to vanish.
I looked around for Contentment, but He was gone. Contentment. He was now all around me. I was alive and I was living in the moment. I was opening my eyes to all I could see, spreading my palms to grasp all that I could. I did not need to cross rivers or mountains to seek beauty in the moment. And that was what I had learned.
A pity then that happiness is more than often short-lived.
A stark reminder.
that i would see all days ahead as part empty, part full, depending how you look at them.
that it matters not the length but your vitality and how you’ve drunk from the fervor of life that matters.
that i have trampled across hanoi, bangkok, hongkong, macau, UK and paris alone.
that i have lain in a dingy hostel feeling despair and on a separate occasion, never felt better being in a place where no one knows me.
that a life lived without zest and challenge and relish would be close to meaningless.
that sometimes, we look at the wrong things in life.
that i have had the courage to take the steps to change what I was unhappy with.
that i have dressed up at halloween and lived the life that was young, foolish and devoid of care - what a mundane life drives you into.
that i have sipped cocktails alone seventy stories up in the air, looked down at the glittery lights of Christmas, but it’s a pity i don’t remember what exactly I’d thought.
that Friday evenings with an evening jog and a simple dinner once spelt contentment, but no more.
that routine somehow weaves its way into being part of me - my Saturday mornings and the slow walk home after a jog.
that so many things make up the me in so many ways, but when we fade, we just all but fade away.
you outgrow a place in so many ways.
when once routine was comforting, now a state of regression threatens to swallow you up whole. when once new things excited you and promised a whole world of learning, you grapple for meaning at loose straws which hold little promise.
the people. while it does ease you to be in a place where little is unpredictable, there arises little stubs of irritation that eat away at you like sore bugs - that a hum sprung from someone’s little immersion of joy at being here in the now could be the root of you hearing nothing but an irritating drone - and hence blasting your kind of music into you ears.
no, don’t blame the place. you, yourself have changed. when once you found joy in staying late because simply, there wasn’t anywhere else you’d rather be, today the night holds so much promise, a night that should not see you walking home, dragging your heels and scuffing your shoes. or pumps rather, since nothing deigns the heels to be worn.
oh you who have known the joy of immersing yourself into a whole sea of learning and satisfaction. of beginning a task that you could hardly wait, almost literally, to bite into, to relish every bit of it. that almost pulling your hair out in the quest for perfection could be so enjoyable. that you wanted every single moment of it to be perfect, even the imperfect moments which contributed to it finally attaining perfection.
to craft something from out of nothing at all, to watch it in the early stages of growth, having a hand in it changing, molding it during the developmental stages and making sure that every aspect of it is carefully considered. have you known such joy?
ironically, i shun changes in other aspects of my life. hitting the path along the canal for the past two years or so, twice a week i try, and then buying a drink from the provision shop at the first floor of a row of shophouses on my walk back home. with the beverage slipping down my throat, i’d listen to Homecoming by Kanye West or more recently, Constant Rain by Sergio Mendes. The last time I went to the shop, the walls were stripped bare of the shelving, the freezer was emptied. The shopkeeper who would sometimes ask where I’d jogged was more brusque than usual, saying that he’d given up on business since it was so poor. frankly, i don’t want things to change. i’d like to have a jog just as I’ve had for the past two years, strolling back sweaty past the same neighbourhood. but what right have i to demand for status-quo when i resent it? No. i shouldn’t.
I see the next few days as a mesh of blur. a stoic longing and frustration. of tempting fate and company and grasping for clandestine moments. that in those moments i would revel in my own clandestine pleasures. Pleasures.
i can’t do it.
rarely do these words spring forth from me. i am a person who knows what i want, and what i can and cannot do. i don’t believe in venturing into something i’m bound not to be able to do well in. so far, i suppose this has served me well. either that or some choices in life that are far from ideal - we just make do and somehow we shine in our own ways by excelling in the things we’re made to excel in. but sometimes in life, some things are just a lost cause. perhaps you may have known it from the start, but delusion or a queal of quiet, steely faith somehow injects in you the confidence that somehow, someday, things might just come true.
There is a season for everything. you think so? i didn’t. for why should there be a season for sadness, for a summer’s happy flighty release of joy? or a winter’s trepid, broody countenance? but this is the season for me of letting go and giving up. of course the words of loss and being beaten come to mind. of these i have no retort, or rather, i lack the need to qualify. for surely if it’s time to just let go, there is no need for anything like that. i won’t use the words of having tried my utmost or having a lesson gained. if any, time has just flown past. it was here and now it isn’t. it leaves in its wake a ghoul of restlessness. of carving emptiness.
voids that time will fill.
so away i must. yes i couldn’t do it, but that is all. i have a bagful of laughs under my skin, wisps of memories that i can pull out at whim and smile over, a bagful of regrets that caution and temper me, a satiated longing and a means to an end.
voids that time will fill.
time is moving too quickly. two months. two years. how do you condense two years into two months? you can’t. this time, there isn’t the certainty that accompanied me before. There was no ‘this-is-it’ moment like the previous time. That knowing this was inevitable given my choices doesn’t make it any easier. There are times in life when things get you down, but change is always, for want of a better word, scary. Like that worn out sofa you’ve sat on for years, that’s taken your spillages, the leather cracked and worn, the smell it exudes reminiscent of nights spent curled up and watching telly. Yet, let go you must, when the time comes.
sometimes, once in a very, very blue moon, a resplendent joy finds its way to me. it could be a mundane night; it could be melancholic songs on the radio; it could be the quiet stillness of the night; it could be a sudden sprig of hope that emerges from nowhere; it could be joy mirrored from some obscure corner of the world which somehow found its way to me.
and all of a sudden, i look back and see that there’s much to be thankful for, so much. like how i can just wake up at the break of dawn and listen to the world arise, as everyone makes their way to a languid weekday morning. that i can see the day unfold in moments that might otherwise be lost.
yes, i want to wake at the crack of dawn once more.
And so July is upon us. The year seems to have gone by in a flash- albeit seemingly draggier at some point. Mid year and the fact that we’re into the second half of the year calls for some reflection. Typing ‘mid year” out, I couldn’t help but think of school - Mid years? Mid year examinations? It takes some time before I can recall that they were long over in May and even the June Holidays are past. Hell, the school term’s started for a week. Sometimes you just go with the flow and the grind, and forget about reality.
January was all about ushering in the Lunar New Year. February was Chingay month, which kept me busy for a while. There was the Golf and Arts events in March that I was busy with. April saw me jetting off to Taiwan and attending quite a number of courses. May spelt hope for a while, and June just seems hazy in my memory. And all too soon, we’re into the second half of 2012.
I want to be grateful for the present as I always have in recent years. It pleased me with waking at six the other day and jogging along my usual path. That and having a cuppa kopi and soft boiled eggs alone at the hawker centre. At such a time it makes sense to lose myself in the present and dream.
the day hasn’t even started for many and I’ve been up since the break of dawn. Sure, inertia and the want to just vegetate under the covers and allow myself into be seduced into sleep beckoned, but I tore myself away from the covers - alright, maybe ‘tore’ doesn’t quite describe it accurately, since the knowledge that I’ve been indulging myself in good food was a stark reminder that I’d better go for a jog before my intake starts getting reflected on my thighs! Anyway.
Out of the house by a little past seven am and I still saw little stragglers making their way to school. It was a beautiful start to the morning, or so I’d like to believe. Saw a neighbour who teaches at a neighbouring school standing near the traffic lights - presumably on ‘road safety’ duty or something to that effect.
The group of joggers along the canal are a different group from those who jog in the evenings. after two years or more of my regular evening jogs, I’ve come to recognise individuals who jog at the same place - the old man with a surly face who cycles, the energetic young man who practises dance movements while riding on a bike without using his hands - people find him strange, but i say, as long as he’s happy, random couples pushing a pram, an ex-colleague - a Chinese teacher who’s also since left the service who used to co-teach the same class as me back in 2006, another ex-colleague- we used to be close but have since drifted apart, as with many friendships and other random people, whom I don’t think about save during my jogs when I cast a glance at the faces of people running in the opposite direction.
It wasn’t quite hot today, though I can’t understand why the jog seemed longer than usual. Enjoyable nonetheless - banter on the radio on how Italy triumphed in the Euro Cup (is that even right!?).
Good old coffee was to follow - not fancy latte or artisan tea, but good old strong coffee with a dollop of condensed milk. And half-boiled eggs - no matter that they were a tad overcooked. That and sharing tables at the hawker centre, watching Singaporeans have their breakfast of noodles or local delights.
My kind of a perfect morning.