The continuum bubble

Frozen but flowing

Two days ago, I had coffee with someone who had discovered that I’m back in Buffalo for Christmas and New Year, and wanted to meet up because it’s been more than 10 years since we saw each other. We have somewhat of a history, this person and I, which left more of an impression on him (if the seven-hour drive up from Brooklyn is any indication) than it did on me. Still, we caught up over coffee and talked about what we had done with and to ourselves since we last spoke, and by the end of it, I like to think he had gotten some of the closure he’d driven seven hours for.

Yesterday, however, it dawned on me that he had never changed since we were in college, and whatever feelings of goodwill I had towards him the day before swiftly dissipated. While it made me a little indignant, it also left me with the same concession I had felt on my birthday: that this was just part of the lesson I had had to learn this year, coming full circle with the people who have stayed in or left my life for one reason or another.

2016 was, for me, like the coming-of-age novel I never wanted to write. I started it on a high — literally — thinking that I had found my way out of the cesspool that was Empire: Lebanon, only for that high to come crashing down around my ears within just three months. And even though things got a little better once work began on the restaurant, I was torn between being happy that I could spend those last months with Dani, but also dying for him to move back to Lebanon so that I could be free of the emotional chokehold his ex-wife had held me in for a full year.

But then, before the year was half over, the tide turned and suddenly, we were faced with the very real prospect of being in a very real relationship from that point. And while it was everything that I had waited two and a half years for, it also meant having to deal with a fallout of sorts, and it’s a fallout that I’m still learning to manage.

I had gained everything I wanted at the price of so many other things I had already had, which was what led me to decide by the time I turned 32 that I would no longer hold on to the things I had to do without this year, and instead focus on what would be important for the future we always talked about. And as my bubble grows smaller and smaller with every decision that I make, my only hope for 2017 is that the world will finally open up to us again.

Full circle

I may be 32 now, but I will never outgrow pretty cakes

Today I had lunch with Yiu Lin, whom I met in the early days of my career in publishing, and who over the years has become as good a friend as anyone has ever been to me. Even though this lunch was more for my birthday, I saw it as just another chance to catch up because we’re both always so busy that we only end up seeing each other at social events, and even then it’s difficult to have any kind of real conversation at all.

It was during lunch today, when we were talking about how social media has pretty much obliterated any kind of human appeal left in humans, that Yiu Lin burst out, “I mean, we’re in our thirties now; isn’t it time we grow out of that and let it all go?”

It was that statement, among many many others, that resonated with me because it was exactly what I had been turning around in my own mind leading up to my birthday. Every year, on the 13th, I take a bit of time to really think about everything that has transpired since my previous birthday, and I try to evaluate how much has changed in that one year. And this year, I came to the startling, but quite satisfying, conclusion that turning 32 has brought me full circle.

On this day four years ago, I celebrated my 28th birthday by making the decision to remove everything that was toxic and unnecessary in my life (read: my ex-boyfriend), and in a way, it felt as though I had bought my freedom from the guilt that had kept me chained to a fruitless relationship for so long. I spent the next four years on a roller-coaster of lessons and self-discovery. When I turned 29, I had a fun group of friends, some of whom I have remained very close to, and I had put one mistake aside for another mistake which turned out to be the greatest adventure — and now the best decision — of my life. I welcomed 30 feeling on top of the world as I truly believed that I could be happy, at least for a while, despite the gnawing resentment at having to always come in second to someone else. By the time I hit 31, I had also hit rock-bottom and struggling to lift myself out of the emotional sinkhole I had dug myself into, but also determined not to spend another year allowing my self-worth to be questioned and tested at every turn.

Then last week, I turned 32 and got off that ride to begin a new one. It may be purely coincidental that as soon as I entered my thirties I began to see things in a different light, but if the last two birthdays have taught me anything, it’s to remove all the negative aspects of one’s life, and to recognize, acknowledge and retain the positive. So with this birthday, I’ve not only cast off permanently whatever I’ve had to live without in this past year, but also come out with a profound sense of who I am and what I’m capable of.

If this is what coming full circle entails, then I’ll consider it the buttercream floral wreath on top of a 32-year-old cake.

An old spirit, glimpsed

We got a Christmas tree!

Christmas at Byblos Café & Lounge

Christmas at Byblos Café & Lounge

It’s one of those bizarre occasions which I would normally never be excited about, but for some reason, this year I am. As soon as Dani talked about getting a Christmas tree for the restaurant, I offered to shop for it. One reason I volunteered to do this is that it’s been quite possibly a decade since I put up a Christmas tree, and another reason is that if it were up to anyone else, we would end up with one of those hideous multicolored trees from the ’90s.

So last Thursday, we followed Yen Tyng’s advice and ventured to Petaling Street — no matter what anyone thinks of this touristy abomination, it’s still the place to go when you want anything that you know would be grossly overpriced in a mall — which is lined with stores peddling their wares at wholesale prices. We went to Petaling Street with the intention of procuring not only a tree, but also party favors for the restaurant’s New Year’s Eve dinner. Apparently, thinking of ways to lure the hoi polloi is what we do for a living now.

The weird thing about me is that I take to a project the way a hitman does: with single-track concentration and almost tunnel-vision precision. Normally I don’t like shopping with a man in town, especially a man like Dani, whose impatience is so palpable I could cut my teeth on it, but that day, I made him hanker along behind me with a laundry basket full of white and gold Christmas ornaments, all the while resolutely ignoring the increasingly dumbfounded look on his face.

Setting up the tree was strangely therapeutic for me. Walking round and round and round a tree, trying to figure out what would look best where, takes a certain kind of concentration that temporarily drives everything else from your mind, and for almost two hours, I saw little else but the tree, and the ensuing glitter that flew off the gold ribbon and stuck itself to my skin.

The tree was finally completed yesterday, after I proved my point that the gaping holes between the branches needed to be filled, and a tree topper had to be bought. When I stood back and surveyed my work, that familiar little feeling of accomplishment stole over me, followed by something I haven’t felt in a long time: peace.

I will admit that the last thing on earth I expected to bring me any semblance of peace was a Christmas tree. When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me that Christmas was not about Santa or reindeer or presents — needless to say, I grew up with an acute awareness that Santa Claus most certainly does not exist — but about seeing the good in others, remembering the good things they have done, and appreciating what they may have had to give up in order for ourselves to enjoy what we have.

My own anger and bitterness towards so many things and so many people have long since eradicated every other good feeling in myself, but looking at my Christmas tree yesterday spared me a moment of clarity in which I saw how just how much I’ve lost to that negativity in my life. The circumstances of my life are such that I will never always have everything I want, but what I have at any given moment is what others can only dream about, and as sorry as I am for that, the only thing I can do is appreciate their sacrifice, and appreciate what I’ve been given.

So even though we have a ways to go, Merry Christmas, everyone.

New (familiar) territory

73 years young, this country

73 years young, this country

I’ve spent the last seven years of my life in cross-cultural relationships. It wasn’t a conscious choice; I didn’t stand up and declare that I would never be with a Chinese man again (although the last time I tried to be with a Chinese man was a spectacular disaster). I just somehow gravitated towards men of other cultures, and sometimes I think I’m the better for it. I mean, nobody could come out of a relationship regretting that they learned a new language, at the very least.

The Ritz-Carlton's incredibly overused banquet hall

The Ritz-Carlton’s incredibly overused banquet hall

So when I attended the Lebanese Independence Day celebrations (in Kuala Lumpur, obviously) two nights ago, it was both surreal and familiar all at once. It’s one thing to be there as the other half of someone whose motherland is being celebrated, but also another when you see people of your own nationality and wonder what the hell they’re doing there. Fortunately there were a fair number of people (mostly Lebanese) whom I’ve known for a while and genuinely like, so it wasn’t an entirely uncomfortable experience for me.

The most bizarre, yet endearing, moment was probably when, at the very end, Dani, his Lebanese friends and their wives gathered for a photo, and one of the beckoned me over: “Come Sandra, you too; you’re half-Lebanese now.”

We catered. You're welcome.

We catered. You’re welcome.

Nothing bridges the gap between nations quite like a buffet

Nothing bridges the gap between nations quite like a buffet

It's a Byblos cake, you guys. The 'Byblos' even looks like our logo!

It’s a Byblos cake, you guys. The ‘Byblos’ even looks like our logo!

 

Clearing the air

“Stop. We are done with the question portion of the program. I’m happy. I’m going.” – Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City

baliQuestions. So many questions. So many questioning. So often questioned.

I was raised to believe that everything has an answer for itself, which means, naturally, that everything can be questioned — or rather, should be questioned. I grew up with a need to know everything that crossed my path, especially their reasons for it, because I needed to understand why some things were the way they were, and why I couldn’t make other things the way I thought they should have been. And no matter how unsettling the answers were, when I finally did get them, I really could feel the weight of not knowing being lifted off my shoulders.

The questions were what shaped me into what I am today. They gave me the resourcefulness I needed in order to achieve what I wanted. They were also my downfall, torturing me with the only answer that I could never abide by: no answer.

It has been five months since the day I regained everything I had come so close to losing, five months since I felt as though a dark and limitless cloud had been parted for a tiniest sliver of light to shine through. And yet, five months later, the wounds remain as fresh as ever, scabbing over every now and then, only to be picked open eventually by a recurring memory. And in the five months that I have spent trying to recover from a year of torment, I have questioned and been questioned to the within an inch of my life.

The questions started out genuinely curious, such as “So are you back together now, for real for real?” “Is everything back to normal?” “How is everyone dealing with it?” Then they turned vapid, like “Are you getting married?” “But don’t you want kids?” “Why don’t you want kids?” and the like. Then the questions delve a little deeper, along the vein of “So why are you together?” “Is it because you haven’t found The One?” “Then what will you do with your life?” and so on.

It’s an inescapable and regrettable fact that most people think in order to live a fulfilling life, I have to be like other women: get married, and have as many children as my body is willing to spit out. Nobody ever took into consideration that it doesn’t take a piece of paper stamped by a court for my life to actually mean something. And as soon as I have the balls to say, “I don’t want to get married,” or “I don’t want to have kids,” they automatically chalk it up to the simple fact that I just haven’t found the right person to do that with yet.

So, once and for all, I will set the record straight. I don’t want to get married, and I don’t want to have kids. Even if I did, I have already found the only man I will ever do that with, but our relationship was founded on his regret that he ever got married in the first place — although he has never regretted having kids — so I wouldn’t be dumb enough to put him in a position where he would regret being married again. And, most importantly, after almost three years of coming (several) full circle(s) to find each other again, we know full well that we don’t need a marriage or kids to live the kind of life we want. And we are happy.

I will never stop questioning. I will always wonder why some things took so long to happen the way I needed them to. I will always wonder what my life would be like now if, four months ago, I really did have to watch him walk away from me so that we could both be free. I will always wonder how long it would be before we could be together again, and how far he would go to bring me back. I will never stop questioning, and thanks to that, I will never stop being grateful for what we have now.

And with that, I hope to return to our regularly scheduled programming.