Grief. (pt I)

TW // Suicide Attempt. Death. Abandonment. Psychological Abuse. Trauma.

This isn't fiction. This has been a topic that I tried to approach with as much grace and honesty. With honesty, that means mentioning things that aren't going to make people feel comfortable. It is difficult. I have kept actual names out of this in respect of their privacy and also the deceased. Everything that is expressed here, are my own perceptions and feelings, and should not be taken as facts, or any form of endorsement. If you have any depressive thoughts, please reach out to someone, and if you are currently experiencing a huge loss in your life, whether it's a failed relationship, a fallout with a friend, a death of a friend, and you have so many questions unanswered, please feel free not to continue further with this post. I don't want you to feel more hurt than you already are. You may return another time to read this when you are ready. 

And because it is a series of events that have taken place in my personal life, it would be impossible for me to have it condensed in one post. As such, I may be posting 2 or 3 parts of this topic that surrounds grief. While there are mentions of the fear of abandonment too, this story solely focuses on the stages of grief that I went through while coping 3 separate losses, all in which took place in the same week.

I knew Felix* only enough to exchange greetings when we passed in the university halls. I was the president of an English society and in the parlance of the time, fairly introverted. And I was insecure, too conscious, especially around people in general—species I found perplexing and more intimidating than lightning struck bright and sudden. All of which may explain my confoundment when he pulled me to a side to ask if I was all right while we were inside an International Students’ Society room. I’d just finished handling an event and I was exhausted.

He greeted me calmly. I remember the twinkle in his eyes whenever he spoke, he had a certain kind of gentleness he carried with him, the one that you knew you’d feel safe with. I recall the conversation like it was only yesterday.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘Do I look not okay?’

‘You just look tired. More than usual.’

‘I don’t know if I’m not okay either.’ 

Thus, whatever plans that he had, whatever work he was supposed to do, Felix laid it all down to talk to me. He wanted to make sure that I was feeling okay. He never mentioned that he had plans to go out with another group of friends for supper. He never told me of the time that he was having a difficult time with his family. He had to teach himself to be independent on his own, and all the struggles he was facing on his own, would become the root of both his compassion and his sensitivity to someone else’s hurt.

I was grateful for him, of course, and had a habit of thanking him for being him whenever we bumped into each other on campus. Each time I reminded him how indebted I was to him, he would smile and say it wasn’t a big deal, and that he was more happy to hear out a friend. Friend? Yes, he said I was a friend. I needed that. 

The last conversation we had face-to-face, alone, was in 2018. One night at Astaka, we were sitting on the benches that faced the campus field, it was empty and lonely. There were stars that night. They were shining bright. Out of nowhere, he spoke the words that anyone who has dealt with some form of depression, would freeze for a while.

‘Isn’t it so random how the most amazing people die so quickly?’

We talked about Chester Bennington, specifically about the song ‘One More Light’ by Linkin Park. Initially, the song haunted me, but it was also comforting. I would listen to the lyrics and it was almost as if I was listening to suicidal notes, an imagery of a candlelight flickering. Perhaps that was just the nature when it came down to Chester’s voice and words. He may no longer be around physically, yet his legacy leaves on. There is still so much of him that is very alive to this day.

It was strange. I remember telling Felix how tragic it was, that life seems so bleak, so short for a person so loved by the world. As I said so, I told Felix I knew that he was capable of great things, and that I couldn’t wait to see what the future held for him, and what he would be contributing to the world. Felix smiled and thanked me.

‘Can I help you, not to hurt, anymore?’

Each time I consumed a creative piece, be it a song, film, spoken words, poetry, instrumental… I can’t help but wonder each form of art is about a person who struggle with a sense of belonging, who is sad, depressed and dealing with issues they can’t possibly talk about. Or even if they tried, no one really cared enough to understand or be patient with them.

And I wondered then too, why, despite all the obvious cues, the social hints, we are never truly able to save a life. But I guess, what no one really talks about depression is that it is ocean deep. You learn to swim to shore by yourself. No matter how sharp the rocks are, or how they can cut you, you have to find the strength to get to shore. Because it’s scary. It’s terrifying to fall into the comforting familiarity of the harsh waves and the sensation of drowning. I told Felix, despite whatever pain we were both going through, I told us to hold on. He said he believed in good things to come. And I believed him too.


22nd September, Wednesday — I had known this amazing person since July, I still think of him as someone special. For the sake of keeping this individual’s privacy, I will not go into full details. But do understand that what I share, is solely from my perspective, and may not necessarily reflect on that person’s character and feelings at that time. I’ll call him Sean*. We had our time set aside for each other then, we would talk of the things that mattered to us. I was happy to be myself around him. Yet, we drifted. Maybe that’s not an entirely accurate way to put it. The words we speak, the voices we drown, the choices we make, the dreams we question, they each come with their own repercussions. To put it bluntly, what he did, hurt me. And I need anyone who is reading this to understand that, while it broke me, I still care a lot for this person. The times we had spent together were golden, a bit unreal. I wouldn’t have traded those memories for anything. Despite that, everything that we had said and done, I could forget nothing.

How was I supposed to?

And again, why would I want to forget the good things?

I was in tears. I was livid we ended things through a text. I didn’t want the conversation to end in a bad place, so I left my last text. I couldn’t continue on with the conversation because anger was going to take my stead. I had to save this friendship. Even if that meant not getting out the exact emotions I was feeling.


24th September, Friday — I received news of someone passing. We never talked much, but this individual would confide in me from time to time. Just how do you respond to a text when their sibling informs you they have taken their own life? It made my head spin. There was a lot I simply couldn’t comprehend. I thought of how differently I would feel looking at their texts knowing they won’t wake up anymore. Sad? I wasn’t sure if I was saddened. I hadn’t had any proper emotions since 22nd September.

I thought staying over at my second brother’s was going to cheer me up. I was wrong. He tried his best and cared for me like any older brother would. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get up from bed without the pain in my chest. The worst nights were the ones where I would have vivid dreams of having conversations with Sean, where he’d say he wasn’t being himself, and that we’d talk again. I hated that I had to wake up, to be disappointed, that it was just a dream. But mostly, I was just terrified of falling back to sleep if I was going to dream about the good times we had, only to be slapped by reality that I was left behind.

It broke my brother. Not a single day went by where I wouldn’t struggle to breathe, get panic attacks, and cry. I would cry even whilst I was doing nothing. And it felt apparent at that time too, that I amounted to nothing. It’s something else to be hit by someone and getting hurt, and it’s also something else to have someone make you feel like the world, promise you that they would never leave you, only to leave you. And what difference does it make even though we still have each other on social media? What difference does it make for me to follow him, and him to follow me, now that we are just ‘strangers’? Because I already feel like I don’t exist. Maybe, I was the only one who wanted to feel seen. Maybe, it was wrong of me to reciprocate. Yet, asking myself now, do I regret any of it? I don’t have an answer for that. All I know is, it hurt then. Still hurts.


25th September, Saturday — On my way back to my apartment after what I felt was just me burdening my brothers with my presence in their home, I thought I was finally going to make it. For me, I was going to try to be strong, just for one day. All I begged myself was to not cry for one day. I needed to be strong. Then it all came crashing down. I missed a phone call. I couldn’t answer anyone in the state that I was in. Then a text notification came in, I froze. 

My friend, Felix, isn’t here anymore.

I wanted it to be a joke. 

I called up my friend. This had to be a joke. It had to be. I didn’t care how low it was to be one, but there was no way, a bright 26 year-old like Felix, who had huge aspirations, who inspired the people he encountered in life, has died. This must have been a prank someone thought of, and maybe Felix was just planning for us to meet up or something. But hearing the uncharacteristically quiet scratch of my friend’s voice on the line, I knew Felix had left us that day.

‘I thought you might want to know. He was close to some of us.’ my friend said. ‘Do you want to come to his funeral?’

‘I’d like to go,’ I replied.

The word sounded strange even as it left my mouth. Like? Why would I like to go to a friend’s funeral? Is that what I am supposed to say knowing a friend—a kind, bright and sensitive individual who was going places? I left my apartment room and walked aimlessly in the common area. I am told by friends that through texts, I seemed completely out of it. I don’t seem to remember what took place except people kept mentioning I was just not being myself. 

Even then, I was present at his funeral. I saw people weeping. Some didn’t. It was odd to be hugging friends that I had not spoken to in years. To be meeting up with former friends in a funeral. Why did we have to meet up this way, in the midst of a pandemic, on a cold rainy night? And the night felt long, I still don’t remember much of what happened. 

It was past midnight by the time I settled down in my apartment. Settled down, or so I thought.  I threw up whatever I had for dinner. Back in my room, the sight of my antidepressants made me sick to my stomach. As my anxiety grew worse, even the order that was present in my room soon became a disarray. My focus and vision both grew scattered so that it became a challenge to stand still. And I fell to the ground. Shaking. I was scared.

I mustered what seemed of my remaining strength, switched off the lights, and dragged my heavy feet to bed, forcing myself to sleep. The nightmare came, I saw Sean again in my dreams, and we talked happily. It shouldn’t have been a nightmare if we were still talking, but everything that felt beautiful then only turned to sheer terror for me when I opened my eyes. The problem with being in the care of a person consumed by their own pain and grief is that your problems can’t exist to them. In a weird way, you don’t exist to them. And so the neglect is ultimate. The abandonment is real along with the unfulfilled promises and loving words spoken carelessly. 

It’s not just the abandonment that hurts. It’s the post trauma that follows it when you have opened up to someone you trust. It’s waking up and checking your phone for a message that isn’t there. And the last exchange is still apparent. And you know, they have left you.

I was left behind.

I woke up screaming.

I felt as if the world used to laugh with me, hold me when I spent my time with Sean—no longer. Now the world mocked me. It was as if the world had shrunken away to leave a cold void around my skin, as if I had become detached from reality itself. It was dark. And then I asked myself the question I had been meaning to ask myself, but was always afraid to.

What if I just do away with myself?

What if I just swallowed every antidepressant and went to sleep?

What if I just don’t have to wake up anymore?

Because it sure as hell beats living.

But I can’t. 


I have a purpose in this place. But I wasn’t convinced either. I needed to reach out. I could only think of one person to call at that time, it was Sean. It was just a matter of time before I consumed those pills. I had them on the floor with me. I dialed his number, I was fighting back the tears, and I bit my lip so hard it bled. He didn’t answer. 

Second time. Nothing.

Third time. And nothing.

Did it matter if I called again? Because if he stopped caring, then who would? If he thought the best solution to go about parting with me was through texts, then did I even matter to him now? Did I matter to him then? I couldn’t just call him to start over this friendship. I couldn’t ask him to be here when I was at my lowest. And I started believing that I wasn’t good enough. But I still wanted to live, I still wanted to have hope. To breathe.

Now, let me tell you… there are times in life where you fall down and you feel like you don’t have the strength to get back up, you sort of put on a mask. A mask where you deny your vulnerable self the chance to breathe and cry. And it starts forming into a survival essential where you are from. It shuts your emotions down, it makes you more alert, more adept, yet more detached to compassion. I didn’t want to go back to being that. I was fearful of indifference. 

You know how when you have to pretend that all is well when it’s going downhill, and you head home, you lay down in your bed when the world’s no longer watching. You don’t have to impress anybody and you are yourself. Then fear comes in. You know the fear that you have as soon as you walk into the doors of your house? Or the fear that comes when you are leaving home and you remind a parent, ‘Please, don’t make them angry today. I don’t want to get hit.’ Yes, that. Maybe it’s a broken home. Maybe you are constantly walking on eggshells with your family. And it scares you. Maybe you are worried about what people perceive of you just from the first contact. You don’t know what they are talking about behind your back. And that fear paralyzes you. You feel as if you can’t do anything. 

Well, I told myself to call another number. And if the second person didn’t pick up, I wasn’t going to think anymore and kill myself. On the call, when Helen* answered, that soft voice that said, ‘Hello?’, that gentleness in Helen’s voice dissolved whatever stood between me and my sorrow. My torrents of grief were unleashed. 

‘I tried to kill myself.’ 

We spoke for about 3 hours on call, taking turns for me to cry, and for Helen to comfort me. With her, I felt safe, even though we were separated by a huge geographical distance. I found solace in the words she had to say. For it was through her words, I believe that she too, felt the pain that swirled in my brain, all the unfinished chapters I kept telling as if they held answers. They don’t. Helen said something along the lines that hurt people do things because their emotions are driving them that way.

‘All those things that hurt you, hun, had nothing to do with you at all… and perhaps that’s even worse. Because you know you did nothing wrong, and you are hurting. And these heartbreaks that you feel, hunny. They don’t get easier. The end of a relationship always hurts. And when you have to deal with other deaths one after another, it gets too much for you. You are allowed to cry. And no one should have to judge you for that. You have been giving too much of yourself to others, you haven’t saved any love for yourself.’

At that time I didn’t understand how Helen who had known me in less than a year, just virtually too, would notice that of me. 

‘Do you know how I know this? It’s because I keep my notifications on for you on Twitter. And see your every interaction with people. You give everything to others, putting their feelings first, validating them. It’s always yours that comes last. And all the hurt that you have been through, you still find the strength to forgive and let go. You still show love and care when everyone else would have found many reasons not to continue anymore. Because that’s who you are. You are so important. The world needs you, even if you don’t think it needs you. This world needs you to take up space. It needs you to continue showing understanding, patience, and love. It needs you to spread joy and bring a semblance of hope to those who have none. And whenever that voice tells you otherwise, it’s not true. That voice hates you, because it knows how strong and capable you are in this world. So, whenever you feel like it’s too much, that you can’t go on, please don’t keep it to yourself. You need a shoulder to cry on too when you’ve been carrying the weight of everyone else’s for so long. I love you so much, don’t kill yourself. You are needed here.’

Outside the apartment window, I could finally hear the wind rustling through the silence. It was hard for me to imagine that someone whom I have never met was able to comfort me with such intensity. I laughed inside, remembering those early days that had seen me rush out from my classroom to avoid being hit by my pursuers, grab a piece of wood for safe measure in case someone would hit me with a brick. I remember all the fear I felt for not being able to speak up, where the teachers never noticed the bruises on me. I wished, how I wished Helen was around then to keep me safe. But here she was now, miles away from me, believing in me and telling me that I served a purpose in this world.

I went to bed that night, finally smiling, even if it was a small smile.

(to be continued)

Ropes.

Finally, in a low whisper, he said, "I think I might be a terrible person."
For a split second, I believed him -
I thought he was about to confess a crime, maybe a murder.
Then I realized 
that we all think we might be terrible people.
But we only reveal this before asking someone to love us.

Why do I cry? Why are the tears flowing? This unexplainable pain in my chest, the tears that won’t stop its flow. Is it my fault? The curtains in the office, they look just as bare and blank as I am in my life. I hear the standing fan, it doesn’t try to pry into my thoughts for the voice inside my head, is louder. Am I not strong enough to adapt to this life where I was told since young, that it was I either I gave it my all or nothing at all?

So why am I on the verge of tears? In the office, no one sees, how could they? Their backs are turned behind me as they scramble to finish a monthly report. Meetings after meetings, quotas to be met. It’s not their fault either. We are all just good at pretending we are okay. These all-or-nothing achievement systems our societies had been promoting all along was supposed to make the world a better place for people to achieve their dreams. Instead, it seems to be an incubator for adolescent depression and suicide. I was led to believe that this belief of perfection was the only viable way for me to survive and it was cruelly adapted into me. But why should that even matter? I am an adult, I am supposed to have this figured out, right?

Right.

No, I can’t.

It’s hard. And I know perhaps this might be relatable to some, or not—either way, this is what I am going through. Perhaps some of you can find comfort in knowing that I am not perfect, that I do come with my own flaws.


Wednesday, 9.00 AM — I told my second brother that I didn’t return his messages sooner because I was hit by anxiety (again). I believe he set aside the things he needed to do to assure me. It was difficult for me just to type the words I wanted to say. Finally, I was able to come up with a concise text, “I don’t know exactly why, but if I must take a guess, it has been an on-and-off thing since I accepted this job position in a reputable corporation. I can’t help but feel the blame is on me because maybe, just maybe I am the one who is not trying to adapt? Or maybe it’s the added factor that I got accepted into a job during the pandemic.”

I further told him about my growing anxiousness regarding my vaccination appointment which would possibly fall on the same day in which I am supposed to handle a livestream video for my company. The fear of not being able to present for my task and to let someone else even manage it for a bit didn’t sit well with me, and there was the added stress of thinking that I have let the team down for being away… In truth, it wasn’t fair at all for me to blame myself. My chest was hurting at this point, one hand on my chest and the other on the keyboard, I had to force myself to tell my brother my fear of disappointing my team and how some days I felt distant from them.

What followed next was nothing but words of assurance and compassion from my brother. My chest still hurt, but somehow, reading what he had to say calmed me, even if it was a little.

He said, “Rather than thinking of failing to meet your team’s expectations, it is okay to make mistakes. Be more compassionate and patient to yourself. If you feel distant, why don’t you try asking them how they find you as a person in or out of work when working together with them?” And he continued on, “I do understand the feeling when your responsibility and things or events just overlapped each other. I would advise to give your team a heads up about it and have a contingency plan in hand. You have been working with them for quite a while now. I believe you can navigate them a little bit on how it’s supposed to run with much ease.”

Those three words.

“I believe you.”

Why? Why did my second brother have such faith in me when I had none for myself? How could he possibly hold so much faith in me when I have been nothing but a mess? Am I not seeing something in myself that he can see? Or perhaps, I am the one here with little faith.

I still didn’t quite catch what he said, and I couldn’t understand where he was coming from having such confidence in me. When I finally mustered some strength and had both hands on my keypad, I typed away and told him that one of the biggest things I had always struggled with anxiety is when things are sudden and changes its course. I even told him how it sounds so silly and childish, that because I am an adult, I should be able to know how to manage myself and my schedule… isn’t that right?

And I don’t think I was fully prepared for the question he raised next.

“Why do you really think it is silly and childish? And what makes you think that an adult can manage themselves 100%?”

I never thought about this. Have I not been giving myself enough grace, or was it the perfectionist in me that feared the unknown? And thus, my brother carried on, “From what I see or understand is that you have set your ‘if and then’ rules, in a manner such, ‘if I fail to manage myself perfectly, then I am an immature person and I contribute to the failure to the team as a whole.’

Unbelievable. Like he read through me. I agreed and he went on. “My next question would be, is it not okay to let loose then on the ropes that you grip so tightly and constantly? Whatever the rope may represent in your life.”

Now I’m not the most religious or spiritual person, but I am in my own ways, sensitive to certain things. But what my brother had allowed me was to question the ropes that I have been holding on in my life, and so I lamented.

“I look up to you, kor, mom, and dad. I always feel that somehow everyone else seems to know what to do in life, and I just don’t? Take mom for example, she is so good with accounts, and knows things about estate, property, etc. Dad knows how to deal and manage himself in an unfamiliar territory, even kor too.”

Perhaps what I said made perfect sense to me then. Isn’t that how it is though when we look at someone with our own perceptions? I could tell my second brother was incredibly patient with his worrywart sister, and so he asked, “What makes you confident and feel that way? Are you assuming from your stored information or having a talk with us personally and inwardly? If it is through your observations, does it really reflect on how the said person actually feels inwardly without you talking and understanding with them? Take for example, your friends have been observing you as a reliable friend that manages everything well, but they haven’t spoken to you and understand what or how you are feeling on the inside.”

That’s how it is though, isn’t it?

All of us. You, me, and everyone else. We only know what we think we know. I had grown accustomed to the image of “I can’t mess up or fail anything in whatever I do, otherwise I am a failure.”

With much love and patience, my second brother advised me to talk to my colleagues on their struggles with life. I considered, but I didn’t want to force a conversation with them either. My anxiety went down a lot and I managed to eat something. I didn’t want to fixate on a miscommunication that happened in the office, but I kept my brother’s word at heart.


Thursday, 3.17 PM – A miscommunication happened which caused me to have my storyboard idea to be half scrapped. I was frustrated as the idea was presented more than a week and the review came in late. That meant more work on my end, and at the very last minute too, just the day before a presentation. I took a leap of faith and voiced out my feelings to my manager.

Now, I wasn’t expecting her to take my side, to pity me, or anything. I just really didn’t want to bottle up my emotions. Because I trusted her too, I wanted to be honest with her. What I didn’t expect was her to really, listen to me, and tell me an incredibly personal story.

“Everyone should pull their own weight in the team, the final results will tell who puts in effort and who doesn’t. But life never goes the way we plan at all, especially not in this industry. And when you’re in the corporate world, you face all sorts of people. You might face people who are slow with instructions, the ones who get confused all the time… sometimes we think our efforts are wasted when we spend so much time trying to help them to understand our ideas, they can’t see it, it gets rejected. It hurts, you might think everything you did was for nothing, but what you had gained on your own, the knowledge, the skill, it stays with you—no one can ever take that away from you.

Anyway, you might think I’m not the one who stays up and prepares all these concepts and storyboards, that’s why I’m doing all the talking here… But what I am trying to help you to understand is that the corporate world is full of challenges. It can break us, it can make us stronger, how we navigate around those challenges is important.

Like you, I kept my feelings to myself. I handled things on my own. I wasn’t relying on anyone, did everything by myself, it overwhelmed me. I cried. I had a breakdown in the office, and I left in a sudden. The previous general manager had to call someone to find me, and they brought me back to the office to calm me down. A lot of things happened before you showed up here… and you know, slowly, it just got better when I formed my own team.

I don’t ever want you to feel that your efforts are not seen. I see your efforts. I see your struggles. I see your frustration. Understand this, I share how you feel, not as your manager, but also your friend. Don’t ever keep things to yourself. Even when I am being unreasonable to you, talk to me, tell me that I am being unreasonable. Because you are the person I hired. I saw something in you. So did our general manager. Does that not speak enough of your own worth in our eyes?”

Now… I didn’t know how or what to respond to her.

I was just, shocked.

I didn’t realize I had shed a tear too. One of the few moments I’m grateful for working at home so no one could see me cry. But you see, in that moment of all the hopelessness and loss I felt, assurance came to me when I least expected it. And I can’t exactly describe how it feels because you have to experience it for yourself—feeling like you are nothing and having someone to remind you your worth.

Suddenly, I recognized that these triggers or anxiety attacks that I was experiencing so frequently were exposing me to parts of myself that I may have yet to make peace with and fully accept. I realized in my feelings of “not being enough” that were coming up, that I had still some work to do on accommodating the parts of myself that did not feel safe and welcomed. That for those parts to feel welcomed, they first had to be acknowledged and welcomed by me.

What would I have changed when I was a child?

What would Lucid do?

A lot of my mental dissociation or anxiety attacks are connected to childhood wounds, tied to moments in my earlier development when my needs were not met. For me, I suffered not feeling safe and welcomed in the social spheres I entered. Even in family gatherings, gossips and rumours would spread, and the wound of alienation would soon spread to me. I lost a huge chunk of my childhood. I went through a period of anger and hurt myself. But now, things are different. I messed up.

Still, I will persevere.

If I can’t wake up at 7.30 AM, I will try getting up at 8.00 AM.

And that’s still something.

It’s remarkable.

More importantly, the conversations with my second brother and manager had opened the door for me to give myself some grace. Compassionately, I took a break from social media in the day. I made time to speak to my inner child.  I told her how much I care for her and how responsible I feel for her safety. I also assured her that she was safe within my body. That, today, I will reparent her and meet her needs; essentially, that she is welcomed here and everywhere she goes.

That she belongs and she is loved—especially by me.

So I say goodbye to the ropes, the ones that I’ve held on for too long, the ones that left me bruised and scarred. This time, there are no more ropes. Just hopes.


Someone gave me a tough pill to swallow. It's the same one I intend to give you. Please take a deep breath beforehand...
Breathe in...
Hold it for a couple of seconds... 
and exhale... slowly... ever so slowly...

Here's the tough pill:

You are not your pain, nor your shame, nor your grief, nor your trauma. You are pure, unconditional and unadulterated love. 

Your mind may scream and say it's a lie.
It's okay. Take your time. Like I said, it's a tough pill to swallow. 

You are loved. ♡ 

Doors.

I was looking
for the key
for years
but the door
was always
open.
—Aravind Adiga

[ Click to play recording ]

I heard myself whispering some words with a voice that was not mine. This place. This space. It’s empty yet filled. This floating path inside my head reveals the things that I encounter each day. Windows. Doors. Still, they are not quite the same this time around.

I am just but a passive wanderer looking into a window. Ah. It offers me a glimpse of what takes place in that moment. I am merely just an outsider; a spectator being offered a view from a certain angle. I have seen enough.

But the door.

Oh, the door. One step, two steps. And passing through its doorway, it invites me in of what lies beyond. You might call it an entity that guides the arrival and departure of a being. Should such potential not lie in its grasp, the door might as well be windows, or even walls. Breathe.

One.

Two..

Three…

I am still here. So is my heart—a door shut so tight. So is yours.

Our doors remain closed. It tells me of my rejection or of your seclusion. What if we open our doors? Will it welcome us into each other’s lives? Or will it engulf and imprison each of us? I have seen them frame farewells, joyful reunions, tearful reconciliations… But I can’t remember why mine is closed. Give me a moment. Let me recollect my memories here.

All right, I remember now.

I slammed my door on you. Like periods at the end of scenes of anger and frustration. Again. My door. It seems to be telling me something here. Almost as if it’s beckoning me to a haven now that the world around me has regressed in a state of too much demanding and wearying. Now I am feeling cold. It’s freezing in this nothingness. How I wish that your door would enclose me in love and warmth. How I yearn for your door to guard me solidly from perils and harsh weathers and the unknown. If I, if only I could open my door…

Will it admit surprises? Delights? Of fresh air, new beginnings for us, my dearest long-lost lover? Damn. Damn it all… I have lost my key somewhere. Counting my blessings, I have not lost my memories. I will find a way to open your door. For I have not given up. Once, I saw a door opened before me. Seductive and promising. That’s when I discovered you, I found you. I am also remembering that my doorways were never used to exclude or divide feelings; they had always been arranged in a way to bring focus on some vista of grace or beauty beyond… a glimpse of a rose garden, an enticing succession of rooms, or the upward spiral of a staircase; they reveal prospects to me—they led me to you.

Now I am no longer in my head. I am right here. I am right in front of your house, your doorstep. I must surely feel still the irresistible pull of what lays behind your door. Scattered thoughts of our youthfulness, your smile in the rain, the grace of your fingers touching the roses… I no longer want to be afraid of opening your door and mine, those small hidden doors in the deepest sanctuary of our souls. These doors inside us, if we fear too much of passing through them, we will be prisoners no matter which side of them we stand.

So please, will you open your door for me?

My voice trails off as I see your door open before I could knock on it.

This marks our moment of truth, a new point of our contact. And from here now on, we will go from one passage of our lives to another, retreating, arriving, departing, returning. I can confidently say this now, from the bottom of my heart, this has been an extraordinary, unforgettable moment for me. I believe what follows are not so much of the heartbreaks and hurt we have been through, of our frustration and anger—but of what our regained vulnerability set free, in our hopeful and pulsing heart, with every tear that washed down every happy face.

We are home—and together once again.

Free at last.

I have seen too much feelings poured out on my timeline. Seeing friends closing off their hearts. Sometimes I can't help but think that being vulnerable goes hand in hand with trust and acceptance, akin to being open to life and everything that comes with it. To feel no guilt and regrets in spilling our souls... I haven't reached that stage yet, but I don't wish to close off that possibility for me. Perhaps it is the perception that being vulnerable makes us more receptive to pain in misery. This isn't completely wrong... but learning to be vulnerable for me now, I think it makes me way more open to happiness. Today everybody takes calculated steps. People have stopped trusting others. Intentions have become questionable. Afraid of being hurt, everyone masks their vulnerabilities... I, for once, would like to live without any mask or filter. It's the best way to feel alive.

Paradox of life.

As kids, we were much sold into the notion that life would go the way we planned as long as we aced in our academics. We fantasized about the future as kids and teenagers, believing the myth that life after high school would follow a specific trajectory. From movies to TV shows to pop culture, some of us were convinced of a picture-perfect life. After high school comes college, then we are off leaving our nest finding a dream job and making a living for ourselves, perhaps falling in love with a soulmate, starting a family, and eventually retiring in a comfortable manner. It made sense then from all the hortative speeches from the adults.

Except nothing in life goes as planned. There isn’t one universal prescription of life. The most unexpected twists and turns are the elements that shape the futures of our lives.

Yet, it is in this paradox that we find the beauty of life.

Embracing this unorthodox beauty of a paradox allowed me to grow and come to terms with unanticipated situations that occur on a daily basis. Life has been the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn in my college years, and even more since I graduated and found a job as a writer. Life truly never goes as planned, especially not in the long run. Plans I have made today for myself two or five years now, likely won’t take shape in the exact way I imagined them to be. Things happen and these things change the trajectory of the future. 

If I convinced myself into thinking nothing could go wrong, I would be stuck in mediocrity. The mere notion of constant change has to reflect in me, my actions and my outlooks, otherwise life would be pointless. If life changes, then so do I.

When life deals me with a blow, I have two choices in hand:

I can either grow from it or cower in the shadows and become a shadow of a person myself. 

There’s no matter time in this life now to stand up to the adversity life deals, bettering myself for the future. The lessons learned today affect the person I become tomorrow. I always try to be a better version of myself and take everything life deals in strides. If not today, then tomorrow. No one is perfect and I have to acknowledge my constant growth to see how life has shaped me and whether or not I like the person looking back at me in the mirror.

This is the beautiful enigma of life? I guess so.

Outgrowing friendships.

“But then I wondered if sometimes our friendships are a bit like clothes and when they start feeling uncomfortable it’s not because we’ve done anything wrong. It just means that we’ve outgrown them.” ―Zoe Sugg

You could spend years with mutual friends and still not know each of them behind closed doors. Special occasions could bring about everyone a special cocktail of memories and lingering vibes, then eventually everyone else goes about on their own ways. For one, friendships are one of the most (if not) complicated things for me, because no matter what I’ve done, I ask if I could’ve done better. I could hear a friend past midnight and would later still have room for doubts if I am showing them enough love and care. 

Sincerity, brutal honesty, frankness are utter hell for a doubtful yet understanding heart. Those qualities of mine would have been better suited for thick-skinned friends. My frankness would have a blast surfing the waves with conversations among like-minded individuals. Except not every one in our social groups can swallow a red pill. Especially when your red pill is laced with love but it ends up giving them the complete opposite effect, that they just don’t want to be hit with facts. They just want to be upset because nothing we say, can change how they think. Real tough.

Have a moment to yourself. I want you to think of all the friends you have met and known. Some you’ve known longer than the rest, some you’re still getting to know. There are also the ones you don’t talk often to but when you do, it’s the best moment of your life, and they bring out the best in you even in your darkest moments. Mentally or on a paper, list out your friends. Now highlight the names that share that mutual commitment to the friendship — those who reciprocate respect and support the things that matter to you.

Something like, “Hm, Alan gets my dark humour. Blake is the precious cinnamon roll who tries her best to make me smile. Cameron says he shares the same sentiments as me…” It goes on. Don’t ponder on who do you like better because you do care for them regardless. The names without the highlights — who are they? Why do their names come to mind?

The reasons are plenty.

Either you have known each other in high school and you feel bad for leaving them behind, or this person saw you through a difficult time and you “owe” it to him to stick around… even when he’s still the same since 14. Now this is concerning because everyone else grows.  You’ve changed as a person. Why has he stayed the same person since the first time you have known each other? Why is he not growing as a person?

First of all, you are not writing ABC’s anymore. You’re not wearing the same clothes from 10th grade, so why are you holding on to the friendship? Maybe, you are both feeling the same way. Maybe, the other side isn’t aware. Eventually, someone has to draw the line and walk away. You don’t “owe” anything to that person who was there for you as long as you have thanked them sincerely. Believe me, they will appreciate your honesty.

Let’s say you have an old, wasted cell phone that keeps freezing every now and then, even though you have more than enough money to actually buy a new cell phone. But you’ve had this cell phone for years; it’s been with you through thick and thin and it’s still with you for nostalgic reasons. Also, do you actually need a new cell phone? You’d think after so many oh-my-cellphone-is-randomly-crashing-again episodes, you would be wiser to get yourself a new one. It’s rather similar to friendships. 

Why in the world are you still browsing at hoodies, gawking at celebrities and having lattes with this person who is dragging you down? There is absolutely no reason for you to invest in that friendship. You have done your part trying to bring the best out of them. They are not taking it. Stop giving them that time and energy; give those to someone who would reciprocate. You are not responsible for these kind of people. It is not fair for you to hold onto them for fear of hurting their feelings. 

Deep inside, you know yourself better. You know when you have outgrown the friendship. Because the reality is people change, they grow as life goes on. You are growing, your core values and beliefs are changing. When you change, certain friendships can’t withstand that change. If a friend changes (and I meant for the worse) and you’ve tried, and you can’t handle how much they have changed, you can always move on. If it doesn’t work anymore, it doesn’t work. To pretend isn’t grown up.

I don’t think for a moment that anyone actually predicts that when a friendship fall out would happen precisely. I earnestly believe that once people all spend some time apart, there’s a possibility to rekindle something in the future. You never know how these things work out in life. Question is, How do you walk away? It’s a painful process. It hurts because the friendship served its purpose in its time, but now there’s no longer a need for it. It hurts even more because despite all the class lectures, group meetings, social gatherings, and late-night conversations on a beach; you were all integrated in each other’s lives from quite a young age. So how does one deal with outgrowing friendships?

Perhaps the most logical and constructive way to work through this is honesty. Have a mature conversation about it but don’t expect the other party to have the same opinion like you. There are possibilities that if the friendship has become dysfunctional or weak, the conversation may not end well or get cut off midway. Mentally prepare yourself for what might come such as some manipulation, gaslighting, social media slandering, and other drama (or if none of that happens, that’s great). As painful as that would be, it would be your definitive evidence of why the friendship should have ended. It just overstayed its welcome.

A face-to-face talk is undoubtedly the best way to go about this. Express your feelings clearly and truthfully, but if you feel strongly about texting instead (especially when circumstances do not allow you to meet), then do that. No matter how you go about with your words, avoid blaming and try your best to come from a place of love and compassion. Another plausible way is to let the friendship whither on its own. Stop pushing yourself to make the relationship grow if it doesn’t want to. Eventually it will wilt once you stop watering it. Your friend may or may not contact you asking what’s going on, and when that happens, tell the truth. Don’t ghost.

And I know it’s tough to talk with a person who is not confrontational at all, especially when it comes to matters that they have caused out of neglect or not thinking rationally. Remember, just because an individual is poor with confrontations, that does not excuse not talking to the respective person about it to deal with the conflicts. In the first place, it wouldn’t have to be confrontational if people could be direct about their feelings and take things with a grain of salt. Nothing has to be ugly unless one makes it out to be.

Whichever way you choose, I want you to not look back on it. In any case, I would like to pat your back for standing in integrity in such a situation where you know you’ve ended things in the best way possible. There is no reason for you to be tolerating or trying to nurture a friendship that doesn’t empower you, inspire you, and make you a better person. I think it’s time you meet another because you’ve gone too long without a smile. An unfulfilling friendship that has been going on aimlessly is essentially life clutter you need to sort out. The names that I’ve asked you to think about, who matters now?

The stranger who paid for my coffee.

It was late in the night, the pages of “A Matter Of Form” by Horace L. Gold have long been read. I just wanted to be in a place other than my home for a breath of fresh air. The next best place that came to my mind was a stall just a stone’s throw away from where I live. It wasn’t a fancy place; only that of a modest one that the locals found comfort in.

The place was crowded and it had life. Behind my face mask, I saw the stall owners chatting with the servers, friends catching up, and families having a late dinner. It was busy for sure but I didn’t want to leave empty-handed. I looked around; my eyes drawn to a spot. Yes, right there. It was right in front of me. One table with a spot for me even though it was already occupied by a man. There’s got to be a way for me to get coffee, I thought to myself. As if this stranger heard my thoughts, he pulls down his mask and smiles at me.

“Would you like to have a seat and join me?”

Now you might say it was naïve of me to just sit with another man waiting for his order. I didn’t think so. I really wanted my coffee. He looked a few years older than me. I could be wrong. Didn’t stop us from exchanging our names anyway. My order has been made. We sat in our seats for a few seconds in silence. Then he asked, “Back from work?”

“No, I came from home. I live around here.” I answered. “I just wanted to drink some coffee outside. What about you? Where did you come from?”

He gave me another smile before he answered my question.

“I came back from a funeral.”

I was in thought for a few seconds and then I shared my condolences.

I was unsure if I wanted to ask for the details. Our coffee arrived and he gestured me to drink. For the next few minutes, we were just sipping our coffee, occasionally I would take a few biscuits and munch on them. He would later offer me a cigarette to which I politely declined. He didn’t bother lighting up his cigarette afterwards. He told me he had lost a family member due to cancer. He probably was questioning why he still had the box of cigarettes with him though. He explained to me it even though he expected her death, he still wasn’t ready for it. It pained him a lot. You could see in his eyes he was trying to accept that fact. 

He told me he hadn’t been in the best mood to talk to anyone. Said he didn’t want to see a familiar face telling him they were sorry for his loss. He just wanted to stay lost in his thoughts but the fact I looked around persistently for a empty spot, he gave in. I think he was just lonely and needed someone to talk to too. The conversation was all about his late aunt whom he grew up closely with. He went on about his agony, fearing of the thoughts which would keep him awake at night. Even as he held his cup, he seemed lost.

“There are some new feelings I’d have to get used to. It won’t let me sleep for a while, that’s why I have to talk to a stranger. I don’t want sadness to be on my mind all the time.” He said after taking a sip of coffee and putting it on the table.

I’m not quite sure what this stranger was thinking of me at that time. As he went on with his lament, he asked what did I do for a living. I told him I was a writer and I had a blog. He looked at me with a fond expression and told me that sometimes he pens down his emotions as words to get the unbearable feelings of his chest. I wanted to tell him to continue writing as long as it helped him to cope. But he looked close to tears and I guess I didn’t have it in me to break him in public.

I think he knew what I was thinking. He switched the topic and we ended having the usual conversations. You know, the ones like Covid-19, Elon Musk, and the Malaysian Education System. Sometimes, he would speak faster than usual when he got excited. His sentences without a full-stop. But he would catch himself back and ask of my opinion. Funny how his words flowed, I honestly thought he could have been a writer himself. He could but he didn’t.

“When you realize the only thing permanent in life is death, gaining popularity on social media becomes a joke.” He finally laughed.

From that statement alone, I was more convinced that he should have been a writer. The words weighed on me for a while. The nature of life and death was still a gray area for me. I admitted to him that while I was slowly adapting to the changes of metamorphosis into young adulthood, life still can hit me with conflicting emotions and dreaded mundanities. 

“Sometimes you just want to move past all the misery, but it gets lost in translation.” I sighed. “Your judgment is clouded and everything becomes pointless. Is death really the only thing that stays?”

I don’t think either of us had an answer for that. I noticed he was smiling more though. Perhaps the accepting that death was the only permanent thing in life was the actual reason that compelled him to approach a random young person. We all return to dust eventually so why not give that seat to a stranger? Yes, he seemed to be sure of that himself. If he wasn’t, his voice wouldn’t have been so rough when he mentions ‘death’ specifically. Not good… he might just cry. How would I know, you’d ask? You see, I wasn’t just listening to his voice. I listened to his eyes because they spoke so much truth. The eyes will tell the truth whatever society permits.

But I also wanted to remind him that something else was permanent.

“Change is constant.” 

“You’re not wrong.” he replied. “Maybe I should be happier for a change.”

I’m not sure what he really thought about what I said. I guess what deeply affects the hearer is beyond himself. Heck, time flew. You could give us all the time in the world, it still wouldn’t be enough for us to wrap up the conversation. After some 20 more minutes, he had stood up and let me know he was going home. I nodded. My cup of coffee; half-full. It was cold but for this occasion, I didn’t seem to mind. I considered my meeting with this man a sincere one where the hearts and minds connected. I didn’t know until I got up to leave, that he had paid for my cup of coffee. I wished he had let me know so I could thank him. I’ll probably never see him again. Then again, I don’t know, but I do believe he’s going places in life.