Just another day

24th January 2019, Adelaide was burning at a record-breaking 46.7 degree Celsius – a day the whole city’s been dreading, a day I was sure to be grumpy and irritable, a day everybody was keen to get over with. How could anything good happen when your city was going to be the hottest place on Earth? The universe has its twisted ways of proving you wrong, and for once, I was glad to be corrected.

Walking home that afternoon, I silently cursed the winds for bringing this massive agonising wave of hot front, and wished that this was the warmest weather I’d ever have to experience in my life, very sure that another degree would kill me and the rest of humanity. I came home to an AC that was malfunctioning – overheating from the heat, the irony. My heavily iced glass of water normalising to room temperature within minutes, my blood boiling from both the heat and the annoyance. Surely, this was going to be the worst day of 2019, everything should be uphill from here-on.

It was still 35 degrees at 9pm. We were sandwiched between the hot tar road, still dissipating heat like a freshly used oven, and the night sky laced with stars, ready to welcome a 20-degree drop on a much anticipated day-after. Just another Thursday, but also one that made history, one everyone was proud to have survived.

On this day, Adelaide made the news all around the world, news that seem trivial now, retrospectively, because we tend to remember the fonder memories better.

 

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Stop trying to mend

Ever thought you knew someone inside out, upside down?

And then one day you snap out of that trance and realise you’ve been nothing but disappointed for a very long time.

You step back, scissors and thread in hand, trying to figure out when they started to change into this person you barely recognise. You play back the last few encounters, snippet by snippet, recalling on turbo, mind ready to pounce at the slightest sign.

Could it be? But not really.

Lying alone in the dark one night, you realise that they didn’t change. Neither did you. Things were always as they are now, only previously you were projecting all your expectations on them. And sometimes, by chance, they deliver. When they don’t, you tell yourself that they did before, that they’ll be better, that they will become who you want them to be.

At 23, I now know that people don’t change for anybody else, and it is unwise to expect anybody to. It’s not our job to pull people out of gutters, to picture a reassuring future when they themselves cannot. People are who they are, you just need to find those who fit the picture.

the reason

‘Red-white checkered? Or maybe plain white? Which was her favourite again? Or maybe something more casual.’

‘Is my hair a bit too much? I look like I’m ready for a job interview.‘

‘Goddammit is that a new pimple emerging? Of all days, really?’

He was micro-analysing every minute detail in the mirror, his fidgety hands holding a can of hair wax in one and tucking in lose strands of hair with the other. He turned his head side-ways, 45 degrees on both sides, making sure his hair was flawless, only to notice that he looked like Barbie’s Ken – plastic mannequin.

He sighed at the plain white Levi’s button-down, wondering if that crease was too noticeable, if he should iron once more, or change altogether.

‘You don’t want to look like a waiter,’ he told himself as he shrugged away one of his many worries.

He glanced down at his watch, and wondered if he should be right on time. He knew that she’d be there at least five minutes before 7pm, a habit that he thought would never undergo the slightest alteration.

‘Okay maybe I’ll just try to match her time.’

He made his way to the front door, slipped on his brown Oxfords, taking a final glimpse of himself in that faint window reflection.

In his car, driving west, the sunset was particularly spectacular, and he found himself wondering if she’d see it as well. He pulled out his phone, quickly snapped a few shots of the pinkish-orange hues. Just in case.

It’s been five years, since the cruel reality of circumstances had set them apart. A few relationships later, his mind still occasionally wanders, to that little corner reserved for her, for them, that he so carefully left untouched and safe from the contamination of life. Those places she used to love, he avoided taking the girls he dated, refusing to risk having his memory of them muddled up.

‘Why?’ he frequently asked himself, very sure that he was over her years ago. Yet, he repeatedly ended up comparing others to her, disappointed when they didn’t react the way he’d imagined her to. It wasn’t like he was thinking about her a whole lot, but when it came to expectations, she was always the unreachable benchmark.

‘Why is the memory of her still haunting me?’ – Because he kept them in between bubble-wraps.

‘Why can’t I just start afresh? Blank piece of paper and an open mind.’ – Because he made sure he drew her in permanent ink, and her laminated, framed, in a safe box.

Standing outside the dimly lit restaurant, he took a deep breath and pushed hard on the frosted-glass door. His breath halted as his scanning eyes fixated on a face all too familiar. She was looking at him, grinning generously, her cheeks slightly flushed as she stood up for a hug.

At that moment, at 6.56pm, he realised, this is why.

 

taking the leap

‘You always choose to assume the best of everyone,’ someone once told me, in a disapproving tone.

I remember defending myself, explaining how ‘Everyone’ is too vast of a population, that I too have my guards up, almost offended by that remark, ashamed because it make me feel somewhat stupid, naive, and so very ignorant.

Five months later, I’m still doing the same old thing, making excuses for those I ever cared for, defending them when the rest of the world is calling them names. I always end up finding myself trying to justify their actions, thinking of all possible thoughts that might have ran through their minds, sleepless nights thinking about all the ‘maybe’s’.

Five months and a few life lessons later, I still don’t see any wrong in wanting to believe the best in people, because despite those who did screw me over, I’m mostly surrounded by those who’d always have my best interest at heart. I’m almost around people who genuinely wants to hear me out and keep me in their loop, and wants me to keep them in mine. Wouldn’t it be extremely unfair to them if I were to suddenly believe in ‘assume the worst unless proven otherwise’?

To those who would pick up my 3am call for company/listening ear, you’re worth every benefit of the doubt I give to that other person I’m unsure about, because you strengthen my faith in people and the rest of the world. You give me the courage and emotional capacity to let new individuals in, because I know that whatever happens, however things turns out to be, you’ll be there to catch me when I fall.

something

What were you really?

You were something. You appeared when I was most confused about myself, and you left me even more unsure of what I’m searching for, but crystal clear about what I need. You don’t have a title, because you were busy dodging the whole world, carefully placing each step you take, telling your sob stories which I innocently believed, blaming everything on the emotional baggage your past has hooked on your back.

I said that I don’t want to regret this, and I can very confidently say that I don’t regret a single bit. Not because it was so enjoyable and that I was the happiest I think I could be, not because you said the right words and said the right things. I have no regrets because I now know that the right words and right moves are often crafted, drafted and practiced, and they’re completely redundant if they’re not followed up with acts of commitment, and that they’re a hundred percent rubbish if they’re followed by excuses and pity cards. I have no regrets, because I now know that if I ever had to pretend, for even a second, or if I ever had to hide anything from people I love, I could be happier without you.

I’m glad that our paths crossed, because this is a lesson I’ll forever thank you for.

Despite how things went down, the fact that I don’t actually know who you are, and my friends calling you names – I met new people, saw a world that I wouldn’t have otherwise experience, and I’ve never been so sure with my gut feelings. You always made me feel like I’m enough, and that I can achieve anything, and I guess you’re right.

Whirlwind

Present, Equator

Only 20 minutes in and the humidity was already killing her. She tied her hair into a pony tail, as she waited for her phone to connect to the airport WiFi. Two decades into the century and the WiFi was still unstable, and baggage collection still took forever.

Waiting for my luggage. It’s gonna take forever,’ she typed.

K, just wait for me at Gate 6,’ her best friend replied.

Her head jolted up as the conveyor belt started to move. A bright blue luggage came out, it’s tag reading DXB in bold. She went to check the screen again, and sighed in frustration. The Dubai flight landed 5 minutes later than hers, it made no sense. She shuffled her way back to the spot where the bags make their first appearance.

It can’t be, she thought to herself, her feet stopped moving, her heart beat became increasingly noticeable, as she spotted a side profile that she would never miss, even among the busiest crowd.

He was scrolling through emails, working even after a horrible long haul. He caught a glimpse of his bright orange suitcase, and looked up, only to see a face that he thought he would never see again, not outside a screen. He stood motionless as his luggage approached, went past her, past the space between them, then past him, in an airport they were both most familiar with.

‘Hey,’ she finally broke the silence.

He had a million words lined up behind his tongue. What are you doing here? How have you been? How’s your family? Are you with anyone? Do you still think of me? 

‘Hi,’ it was all he managed to say. I missed you.

 

Three years ago, South

‘I used to wish I had one of these bunk beds with a slide,’ she said, as they strolled through the mazes of Ikea, holding hands, both extremely full as he got greedy and ordered too many meat balls, as usual.

He told her that they should get one for their future kids, and she smiled at him, the smile that made him fall in love over and over again. She loved it when he spoke of the future as if it was happening tomorrow, and he loved how she’d smile and lean her head on his shoulder. He stole a sniff of her freshly shampoo-ed hair, she rolled her eyes. She could never understand his obsession with her hair, and why, if he loved the smell so much, did he not get the same shampoo.

They were two poor students, in an expensive foreign country, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Despite the constant tiredness and small arguments about who contributed more to the surge in their electricity or water bills, she was contented. She was studying culinary, with a vision to open her own confectionery store in her new-found home. They were always busy through day and night, juggling between classes and jobs, but they always had each other to themselves at the end of the day, and it was all she needed.

He was frustrated, tired of the status quo. He’d notice the businessmen in suits and ties, chuckling over glasses of imported beers, as he cleaned after a table of messy eaters, and sigh in envy, those people must have nothing to worry about. Him on the other hand, was working day and night to pay bills that were barely his doing, saving up for a business which, at this rate, he would never start. Also, how was he going to save enough to marry her, without her mother giving him the cold shoulder as if he was never good enough for her daughter.

‘Who does she think she is?’ she was ranting about a co-worker again, the one who made her weekend job a living hell.

‘I forgot that I have an assignment due next Wednesday,’ he talked over her as she went on and on about things he was hearing for the hundredth time.

She threw him a glare, stormed into the bathroom, and slammed the door behind her.

Of course, her problem was always the bigger problem.

 

Present, Equator 

‘Thanks for meeting me,’ he said, as he sat down opposite her, in an empty Starbucks. He cracked a slight smile as she handed him his drink. Mocha Frap, his favourite Starbucks indulgent years ago, but it was too sweet for him now. He would’ve gotten a latte, but he kept that to himself.

She looked great. Her hair was long, with soft mild curls now, and red highlights, a colour that he’d always convince her that she would look good with, and she’d say, what if I regret?

She laughed as he made remarks mocking the new Starbucks drink, updates about his family, his new niece, his new job around the corner, his first car, his recent ex-girlfriend who turned out to be an obsessive shopper and spent way too much on eyelash extensions, how he almost died running his first marathon, and a Beagle puppy he just got.

‘Two years huh,’ he said as their gazes locked, ‘It feels like forever.’

‘I know, ‘ she pursed her lips, worried that the next sentence would escape her mouth. I missed you.

On a humid Sunday afternoon, two people, who once believed in forever, now as unfamiliar as strangers, tried to fill in the gaps of those two years they spent pretending not to give two craps about each other.

 

Two years ago, North

It was her first time visiting him, after 9 months apart. He moved here for a job opportunity, one that he had been eyeing for months before.

She stepped out of one of the busiest airports in the world, into the crisp autumn air. Her eyes darting left and right, looking for the bus stop. She’d asked him not to see her at arrival, because she knew how much trouble it would be for him to take time off work.

She dragged her luggage up two flights of stairs, into his tiny rented studio, surprised by  empty beer cans and take out containers that greeted her. He’s been very busy with work, she told herself to calm the budding annoyance, and started to clean up the room.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, disrupting his chain of thoughts. It was a text from her.

‘Are you meeting me for lunch?’

‘Busy. Dinner at 7. I will send you the location,’ he replied.

He grunted at the ‘D:’ which appeared on the screen 2 seconds later. Did she not understand that he had work to do? She shouldn’t have come. He had warned her multiple times that he had no time to entertain her or to take her around. And yet, she still went ahead to book the flight tickets.

He still loved her, but it was a different love now. It was a love that cared for her deeply, but not one that longed for her like it did 2 years ago, and it bothered him. He wanted a career that will prove his worth to those who doubted him, and he was prepared to give it all he had, and she was of no help. He’d go home after 14 hours of work, and she’d call him, telling him about her day, and get whiny when he said that his day was ‘ok’.

‘You need to find ways to solve your own problems, I can’t always be there for you,’ he told her once, while she was going on and on about her new boss, his friends raising their brows at him over two buckets of beer. It caught her by surprise. She apologised for ruining his night out, hung up, and cried herself to sleep, his last few words replaying in her head on loop.

She knew then, that she had to build a routine for herself, based on happiness that was independent of him and his attention, and she did. She had newfound reliance on her friends, things to do on weekend nights that took away the loneliness, and she became a person who was her own.

‘I told you! I can’t just ditch work for a day, just because you want to see a stupid museum,’ his voice stern and almost loud. She was stunned, blinking back tears.

‘I only asked you a question. It was an invitation, not an obligation. I really don’t need you to live you know,’ she turned, grabbed her handbag, and left the studio, already regretting the last sentence.

It was the second last day of her stay there. Guilty of her outburst, she made him dinner that night. He came home to a piece of sirloin steak, roasted baby potatoes, and a few stalks of asparagus.

‘How was your day?’ she asked, her eyes wide and bright as she grabbed the cutlery.

‘It was okay,’ his gaze downwards, studying his medium-rare steak. It wasn’t the only thing that was bleeding in the room. She stopped trying, and they finished their meal in silence.

‘I can’t do this anymore,’ he finally gathered the words to say, the water was still running, her hands in the sink covered in soap bubbles. He stood behind her, and watched her, in slow motion, cleaned her hands, and dry them with his red checkered table cloth.

The truth was, she saw it coming. She never imagined it being said out loud, but that night he told her that he couldn’t always be there for her, she knew it would take a great deal for them to end up together, forever. Previously, it never crossed her mind that they would come to an end, perhaps because she was willing do anything to keep them going, maybe because those times when they were happily together, that those memories would stop him from pulling the trigger. However, at that very moment, she knew that she’d never be enough.

‘I’m sorry, but I realised that I’ve stopped caring, at least not the amount that you deserve,’ he explained, his voice soft, mildly trembling. Lie. He felt his insides twist and his chest tightened.

‘I can’t see a future with you anymore,’ also lie.

She was sobbing now, still not a word said.

‘You deserve someone better,’ he said, straight out of every on-screen break up scene in the world, ‘Thank you so much for the memories, and your love. I’ll always appreciate that.’

She shook her head in disbelief. She looked at him, and saw a man she now barely knew, reciting words he thought were the ‘right’ things to say. His gaze was gentle, his face unreadable, emotionless, he looked away. She opened her mouth, and closed again, unsure of what to say.

‘Is there someone else?’ she finally muttered.

‘No,’ he answered quickly, and felt his heart ache a little more from her distrust.

‘Wow, so it’s all me then,’ she spoke through her sobs, never felt worse about herself her entire life. Within minutes, she saw her hopes and dreams, her comfort zone, her trusty pillar and anchor break into pieces, and vanish into thin air.

They didn’t sleep that night.

He told her that they were heading in different directions, that he couldn’t be the one to care for her anymore, that he had too many plans for the future, none of them involving or accommodating of her. He told her that he still loved her, but not the way a lover would. His love was almost out of pity, out of guilt, and bits of responsibility.

The irony, she thought, was that she always felt lucky to have him. Despite his shortcomings, and flaws in their relationship, she always felt blessed to had share her life with him, and to carry his burdens and his fears. Little did she know, she was a liability.

She was very quiet. She didn’t dare to say anything to salvage them, because she was scared of what he’d say to reject her plead, because she knew how cruel he was capable of being, and how he can destroy her soul with merely a few careless words. She kept quiet, and she’d spend the rest of her life hating herself for being too cowardly to even try. She’d spend the rest of her life wondering what things would be like if she had begged him to take her back.

 

Present, Equator

They were back for good now, both with new jobs, living 20 minutes away from each other.

‘You want meatballs?’ he took two days to summon enough courage to type this, and erased it again. He stared at the picture of her next to her name for the next 5 minutes, wondering if she was happy, if he should come barging into her life again, and if she would allow him to.

She let out a huge sigh, eyes fixed on her phone, at the word ‘online’ under his name, wondering who he was texting.

 

 

2 months

61 days.

I was staring at my screen for a good minute, trying to think if I’m feeling much today. But I think this is one of my up days. Or maybe it’s a sign that I’m actually progressing.

I chose to write today, to remind myself of the days that didn’t feel so awful, when I didn’t feel too alone, that I was sure that I’m better somehow.

Someone told me that I’m entering this phase, after sadness/feeling of loss. I find fault. And I have never been more disappointed in you my entire life. I’ve known you for 5.5 years now, and you never lacked integrity as much as you do now. I’m glad that I have learnt enough about you to be able to step out of my ideal world of ‘if it’s written in the stars’, because these things don’t exist.

People, in order to stay in each others’ lives, put in effort. They love through the difficult and the ugly, the stressful and the chaotic. They love, even there might be urge to blame or grunts of dissatisfaction. If you love, you’d continue to do so, and to fight what reality throws at you. You can’t tell someone that you’ve loved as fierce as you could, and turn around and give up, and tell them that you hope that it’s all written in the stars, and that you hope that things will somehow fall into place again, when the time is right.

You’ve loved me good, I will never deny that. But not enough.

I just really need to put my emotions into words right now:

Sometimes, I still miss you.

I still miss all the hopes and dreams we shared, the memories and the littlest milestones. I’d smile to myself when I see things that brings back little snippets of inner jokes and scenes we once experienced. How bittersweet is this? Grateful for having these memories, sad that I no longer have you to reminisce them with.

I still miss hearing about your day, and making remarks that make you chuckle and roll your eyes, our goodnight routine and making plans for the future.

You’re a book that I’ve clearly finished but refuse to close and put down. Instead, I keep re-reading highlighted paragraphs, in disbelief that they were once real.

I always took pride in knowing you, at times more than I know myself.

I was wrong.

As familiar as I am with your tiny quirks and habits, your food preference, your favourites and least favourites, I failed to recognise distress and discontentment. I couldn’t tell when you weren’t getting enough, that you wanted more. I failed to reassure you, like how you’ve been my trusty anchor for the past 4 years.

I hope this decision will only take us to better places, to meet better people, to enable us to follow our dreams, to fly high, no strings attached to the ground.

You were the person who made me laugh the most, and shed the most tears. I didn’t know it’s physically possible to finish a box of tissue. But like you said, it’s because we invested to much emotions in each other, and how lucky am I, to have a first love that was so hopeful and wonderful.

Thank you, for loving me and letting me love you.

I will try as hard as I can, to tell myself, that this is for the best.

twenty-seventeen

twenty-seventeen,

i flew off to the land down under lived in a foreign country for the first time

there was a lot of learning and adapting, some late-night crying, and lots of friday night alcohol binges

visiting banks, GP clinics, groceries and lots of k-mart runs

i scrubbed into surgeries for the first time, my first one in upper GI being a small bowel exploration which i held loops and loops of small intestine as my fellow searched for a leak

saw a case of pancreatitis that occupied the bed for 2 months, and helped pull out a black, stinking, necrotic pancreas

sat for my first ever osce in australia, scored a B

got extremely stressed for every single end-of-rotation exams for no good reason

i jabbed people for the first time, cannulated some of them

drove 8 hours from adelaide to melbourne and back again, over easter

i witnessed a code blue for the first time during my medical rotation, ran ABG’s, multiple ABG’s because he was severely acidotic, a CO2 retainer. he survived.

visited the UK alone, for the first time, and had lots of first-time’s, things my parents should never know, and i’m missing every minute of it

came in very close contact with cancer in oncology and realised that although incurable sometimes, you’d be so much better off if you were diagnosed in a developed country, but i also learnt that there are plenty that are pretty curable, it’s not the end

i knew for a fact that i’d never go into ortho

thought that i’d like psychiatry but no, it’d go mad trying to get a manic patient to answer my question when all she could do is to blame the universe for that blister on her toe

studied my ass off for the first time, during my 3-week-long swotvac, and it was horrible, and stressful

passed my second-last exam in med school

officially a 5th year med student

visited a a previously-communist country and actually came close enough to communism to really know why we’re lucky to have escaped it

very reluctantly, forcing my self to start studying paediatrics before i regret