Probably from the time I was old enough to talk, I was taught that to be considered a lady, I had to learn to walk and run in heels, keep my chin up, never show any emotion or expression in public, and never let people know what I was thinking or feeling, because it was a sign of weakness. The only problem was, it’s hard to not show emotion when the emotion you feel more than anything else is hatred.
We all try to put up the bravest front we can at every opportunity, as part of the defense mechanism that develops along with puberty. And yet that only makes us think more about our problems and try to deal with them ourselves, and in the process drag ourselves even further down, until we’re in an emotional hole so deep it would take six firemen to get us out. When will we learn that sometimes it’s OK to face uncertainty over certain things? That it’s OK to be afraid of being alone? That it’s OK to sometimes give in to the desperation that sweeps over us? That it’s OK to take as much time as we need to mend a broken heart?
Sometimes when I’m at home and allow the ringing silence to take over, I feel like just packing up and going to Colombia, because I might never make it to Cyprus. When I think of everything I’ve had to give up, in order to even dream about Cyprus, I feel like just giving up and going home to my mother so that I can bawl my eyes out in her lap. When I think of my mother, I feel like going home just so I know that at least she won’t break my heart and leave me alone for at least another few years. When I think of the heart that’s been broken so many times that it will never fully heal, I feel like putting all the ex-boyfriends, and some wives, on a hitlist and slowly and methodically killing them off one by one. When I think of that hitlist, I know that even mass murder will never mend my broken heart and take away the humiliation. And when I think of the humiliation I’ve had to face over and over again for the last 18 years, my bitter and cynical side takes over and I wonder how I can ever afford to show any emotion in public, at the risk of betraying the pain that I bear day in and day out.
Every time I go on vacation, I start making mental notes of what I need to bring with me, what I have to stock up on for my trip, and how I can, hopefully, avoid overpacking. This mental note-taking begins as early as two weeks before I actually get on the plane, followed by the stocking up, but the packing never, ever happens until one day before I fly. While this is a habit I just picked up during my childhood, it was over the last six years that I consciously decided to only pack the day before because that minimized the opportunities for my cats to settle themselves in my suitcase, resulting in them having to be scooped out of said suitcase several times a day.
So when I began my packing for my annual — and final — trip to Buffalo, it dawned on me how quickly the process had suddenly become. And it was with a jolt that I realized for the first time in nearly six and a half years, I could pack without having to chase my cats out of my suitcase every few minutes — because this year, there are no more cats in my house.
It’s something that I’ve spent the latter half of the year bracing myself for. Somewhere along the way of our plans to move to Cyprus, I was compelled to face up to the reality that it would be highly impractical, not to mention dangerous, to bring my cats along with me. We would, most likely, be living in a significantly smaller apartment, keeping the windows open for much of the day, and it would be too difficult to keep the cats under lock and key, even if it were for their own safety. Even more worrying is the risk of them dying or getting lost in cargo en route to Cyprus. And so it was that I resolved to find them all good homes to go to, in pairs: Simba and Stella went to a friend, Costa and Allegra went to my parents, and Sebastián and Offa — my Offa — went to another friend. And as I learned to live with fewer and fewer cats over the last five months, finally spending my last two nights in my house with no cats at all, it dawned on me just how much my life has changed, and was about to change.
I arrived in Buffalo two and a half weeks ago, on my 33rd birthday, as it were. Over the last 18 days, I have been faced with several glaring, but liberating, truths. Three years ago, when I came back to Buffalo for the first time since moving back to Malaysia, it was with the idea that I needed to escape the harsh realities of my life and my relationship, which were always thrown into greater relief during the Christmas and New Year period. When I came here last year, it was, again, under the illusion that I would not, could not, spend the holidays alone once again. This year, I planned to come back and stay twice as long as I usually did, determined, once more, not to be on my own in my silent house, when life, my relationship, and all my plans for the future remained so uncertain.
But in the time that I have been here, I’ve realized that what I’ve really been doing is, as always, running away from the changes in my life. When I turned 32 last year, it was with the acknowledgement that my life had finally come full circle since I moved back to Malaysia nearly a decade ago: I had come back with nothing and nobody in my corner, and I was prepared to leave in the same fashion. My life has changed ever more drastically this year: spent in the company of my own thoughts, and the handful — as always, literally one hand-full — of people who have always accepted me the way I am. I’ve spent 2017 in virtual isolation from society and the circles I used to run in, but I’ve also never been more content. And now — especially in the days since I turned 33 — I finally understand what it means to come full circle: as it was when I restarted my life in Malaysia nearly a decade ago, I no longer care about conforming or fitting in, because I was always only ever meant to march to the beat of my own drum.
And now, with the prospect of starting a new year with a new life, in a new place, and with the one person I love more than anything, I can see, more clearly than ever, that life is so much more than the four walls we have been given. All we need is the courage to reach out and take it for ourselves. It is literally, for me, a new age.