Category Archives: Seriously

Ten years later: Stalemate

Larnaca, Cyprus

It has been a recurring theme in my life over the last year and a half, slowly gaining momentum until today, when I can finally, truly say this: I have come full circle.

Exactly 10 years ago today, I stepped off a Singapore Airlines plane, angry, bitter, but hopeful. I had come back to my home country, entirely against my will, yet somehow driven to do so: I had been (literally) abandoned by a man who had walked out my door one very normal day and just disappeared from my life the next day, without so much as a pour prendre congé, and I was also unable to find paid work that would help me stay on in a country that I had always thought of as my refuge. So I had finally thrown in the towel and decided to move out of the U.S. after I acquired my TEFL Certification to teach English, and even though my parents never said it out loud, they were relieved I was coming back, if only to save themselves the humiliation of having an unemployable daughter in an economically unsound country.

My return was not without its caveat. As I packed up my apartment in Buffalo, then Boston, and made arrangements for my personal effects to be shipped back to my childhood home, I swore that I would not become one of those kids whose ‘life abroad’ meant getting a degree from a foreign university. I resolved to come back and regroup, grow up, and learn everything I would need to know in order to find my way out into the world again — and all within 10 years. So I gave up the life and the people I had loved in the U.S. for nearly five years, and came back to Malaysia, my parents, and a handful of friends whom I still had here.

But that was 10 years ago — a full decade during which I changed jobs more times than I would have liked to admit, dated and slept with men whom I now pretend don’t exist, and ran around in social circles that mutated before my very eyes. And with all three categories — work, relationships and friends — I realized that I would never quite fit in. Oh, I discovered what I was good at professionally, I made some great friends who have lasted nearly as long as I’ve been here, and I met someone who would turn out to be my greatest love, but I knew that the life I had here was never going to be the life I truly wanted.

And so, over the last four years, the seed that I had planted in my own mind began to grow, and for a while it seemed as though everything I had thought about, talked over and cried for would really come to fruition. I thought that for once in my life, something I had planned for could really work out the way I wanted, and better yet, it could all happen with the love of my life by my side. But if there is one thing the last 10 years have taught me, and that I should have remembered, it’s that nothing ever works out the way I planned it to, especially not when the stakes and expectations are so high that I’m at constant risk of losing everything.

So here I am now, 10 years later, full circle: still in this country, still angry and bitter, with only a handful of friends whom I’ve somehow managed to keep, and having failed to keep my decade-old resolution of finding my way out again. My only consolation is that despite being only 23 years old when I made that resolution, my feelings about it have not changed; if anything, they have been further intensified by everything that I have seen, everyone I have met, and all the lessons I’ve had to learn in this decade. And as I look at the coming months, I can only hope that in the face of so much loss, there can only be that much more to gain.

A new age

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.

Nine years later: Home stretch

Larnaca, Cyprus

Firstly, I would like to apologize for my absence on this website. To those of you who sent me messages, emails and even Tweets asking if something had happened to me, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your concern, especially since some of you told me you’ve been a reader for more than a decade. I’m aware that my responses were somewhat vague and perhaps a little generic, but I do assure you that I’m fine, health-wise.

What I did not mention in my responses is that for the last three months, I have been in a transient phase of sorts. Dani and I have been trying to figure out our next step in life, exploring any avenues we can that will allow us to tie up our existence in this country as neatly as possible, set it on fire, and rebuild our life in a different part of the world. To that end, my mind has been on anything but writing, and I probably would not be writing this today were it not a very important milestone.

For today marks the end of my ninth — NINTH — year back in this country, and the beginning of the end of my life here. When I left my lonely but independent life behind in New York, nine years ago, and came back to an even lonelier subsistence here, it was with a vow to myself that, within a decade, I would find my way out again. Not to New York, if I couldn’t make it that far, but to anywhere else where I could start a new life on my own, away from all the reasons that I left here in the first place.

This date still holds its importance for me, because it is a constant reminder to myself to never get too comfortable here, and to never back down from my goal to be out of here before my 10 years are up. And if the last three months are of any indication, it’s that I have definitely overstayed my welcome in this country, and the time has come for me to let go of all the things I once thought I needed to live a life that meant something, but now seem so insignificant.

So here we are in the home stretch of our tenure in this country. We came, we saw, and we did conquer it for a little while, but we’re ready to go back under our rock now.