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.