Serendipity

Was I born a masochist or did society make me this way?

288

In the end all that matters is that you chose me once. That you smiled at me across the room and invited me into your life when you were still a recluse. That we enjoyed every moment in each other’s company and you kissed me like a lover who felt like a friend.

That you saw my pain and believed it because you felt it too. We didn’t wallow together but I felt understood.

In the end what matters is this: kindness and faith. Waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel and seeing it shine brighter than you ever imagined possible. That gnawing sense of regret in the pit of my stomach because you’re not here to see it, I so wished you were here to say you’re proud of me.

In the end it doesn’t matter that you chose her. I was unbreakable by then.

287

In a lot of ways the past few years have felt like a blur. A mostly happy blur, or at least limited to a level of sadness that I could handle without falling apart. I don’t know whether to attribute that to age or wisdom, or perhaps an uninvited combination of both.

It might be a testament to my own narcissism that I seemed more distraught over losing my university boyfriends than I was about losing my grandmother, or hearing about the death of our family dog. It felt like a different sort of sadness, a dull ache, not a shattering. Or perhaps the defining difference was that I had the chance to say goodbye this time, with a full heart.

I was too young to be concerned about her mutterings when she lived at home with us, but thinking back, it pains me to remember how deeply unhappy she was. She would constantly tell me how she wished she was dead, and was annoyed with her body for not obeying. Even being surrounded by her children and grandchildren couldn’t ground her enough to make up for the loss of her husband. She was from a different era, and the idea of seeking new happiness never even crossed her mind. As far as she was concerned, her life was over when he so selfishly passed away so soon, and she was merely waiting to follow.

As the dementia set in, we became a blur too. But there were a few moments of clarity towards the end, or maybe just my wishful thinking convincing myself that she was happy to see me.

I remember feeling an uncharitable degree of anger towards members of my extended family for being true to themselves. Aunts who refused to let her live with her sons despite it being custom. People who balked at the idea of spending money on someone with one foot in the grave, now trying to alleviate that guilt by contributing to an expensive coffin. Their giant crocodile tears and banshee screeches at the funeral almost making me laugh out loud. Her favourite son who decided he didn’t need to be there in her final moments, but rather stayed in China to guarantee his inheritance and avoid inviting squabbles. A cousin who cited young children being difficult to travel with, and a demanding work schedule as reasons for his absence. I’ll concede that funerals don’t have quite the same appeal as an island getaway.

I know that I am being unfair, yet felt that anger magnify whilst scrolling past cleverly worded social media tributes to a woman who could barely turn on the television without assistance and had never owned a mobile phone. It filled my mouth with a bitter taste I was unaccustomed to. I was never close to them but had always felt a fitting level of camaraderie, which vanished as quickly as their feigned trauma. I grew up being told that family was more important than anything, and blood was thicker than water. It took years to unlearn those little white lies, and let go of the associated disappointments.

I might not ever become one of those people who wake up in the mornings feeling a sense of purpose, but I no longer wake up with dread. It’s taken years to drag myself away from depressive and suicidal thoughts but they no longer take up the majority of my day. Most days they’re not even an afterthought. I still feel anxious and I worry too much despite knowing better, but I’m comfortably optimistic about the future. I want to build a family, the one I’d always wanted, filled with joy and laughter, and bursting with love. For the first time ever, that doesn’t seem impossible.

286

The temptations of unfamiliar flesh. When an attractive stranger desires you, lusts for you, dreams of you, whispers your name with an urgency you don’t recognise. Those little moments feel better than the orgasm itself, and the orgasms aren’t bad at all. The way he pulls your hair, hard, but restrained as he’s trying to learn your limits. The way he bites your neck, digs his fingers into your back, and explores your body with his tongue. The adrenaline rush that came with being exposed, vulnerable. The excitement of tasting someone new.

As unfulfilling as they would be in the morning, I adored those small moments of simple, animalistic pleasures. A few moments to forget who we are, why we’re here, where we’re headed. Just you and me, strangers, lovers, friends, all, and nothing.

285

My happiness came in fleeting bursts. It was superficial, forgettable, insincere. I didn’t know whether it hurt me more that he couldn’t see it, or terrified me that he might.

I was dissatisfied, but mostly with myself. My stubbornness, my imperfections, my undoing. My inexplicable need to sabotage and destroy any semblance of stability. I could never make myself believe that he loved me as much as he said he did, even as he was saying it. I felt alone, even when he held me. Especially when he held me. I felt empty, maybe because they’d left wounds too deep. Or maybe I was always hollow to begin with.

I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that I was wasting this life, this precious, exhausting existence. That every minute I spent feeling ungrateful would come back and haunt me with poetic justice. I never deserved any of it, and sooner or later it would be taken away, which would be unbearable, yet inevitable. I was angry with him for not understanding me, even though I didn’t either. I was regressing, and anger was my defence mechanism. I wanted to be heard even when I didn’t like my own voice.

I fell apart at the last wedding I attended because I had been uninvited to another. Not just unceremoniously removed from a list of invitations, but permanently barred from an entire life. She knew better than to leave him with access to relationship poison, they were ready to remove therapy from their budget and progress to the next phase of suburban paradise. I locked myself in the bathroom stall and sent a drunken message that would never be read. Or perhaps read and deleted to avoid incrimination. Or perhaps read and elicited only annoyance. Everyone had moved on while I let myself be haunted by a kind smile more than a decade old. I could never keep enough good people around to make me better. You could never love me enough to stay past the bad weather.

284

After all this time, you were the one who taught me what love ought to look like.

I’d never taken the time to observe the wonders of nature, the beauty of a well kept garden. It had seemed frivolous, wasteful, time that could be spent more constructively. I was taught as a child to remove myself from unnecessary distractions. I didn’t forget how to have fun. I never learned how to.

Love came in many forms and disguises, but yours was the sweetest. You whispered empty promises until I believed them, and I am still falling for your bad intentions.

There was a small part of me, naive and blindly optimistic, that was sure I could mean something to you even after I was gone. That you might think of me as the girl who loved you unconditionally, until she had to leave to recover all that she had lost in loving you.

I never wanted your gratitude, or gentle thoughts, or even nostalgia. But if I held on tight to my memories of you whilst you let go, how much of it remains real? Was it only ever lust imitating passion? Perhaps I’d unwittingly fantasised my own importance, my recollections of how fiercely we fought for our temporary infatuations being a mere extension of my narcissism.

There was a time when you meant the world to me, but I was only ever a small star in your galaxy. She will make you forget my name. She will make sure of it.

I will whisper my silent goodbyes. I will love you to my grave.

283

Let’s be serious, our generation never grew up. We never had to. There were no wars for us to fight, and we tried not to think too hard about the ones in faraway countries we’d never visit. It was irrelevant, it was nothing we had any control over, so why bother with upset? #War would never become trending. Don’t waste your pixels. Our understanding of starvation extends only to a delayed UberEats delivery, and we treat the mildest inconveniences like life ending catastrophe. Our lives revolve around the same first world problems and petty grievances, intermittently interrupted with the latest shiny object within our budget.

Our parents think they had it hard, or at least harder. Some become resentful, bitter that life wasn’t as kind on them as it was on us. They know it isn’t fair or right to feel this way, but that doesn’t stop them from muttering under their breath “…back in my day…”. You wish they had the decency to keep those thoughts to themselves. They don’t care what you think at all, you petulant child. They belong to the generation that believes emotional trauma builds character. They credit themselves for every achievement in your life but your failures are your own to bear. Don’t you dare burden them with disappointment.

Misery loves company only because it’s so damn lonely. I want you to understand my suffering, I have to make sure it’s equally devastating, or you won’t begin to comprehend my pain. But the world’s changing too fast for us to keep up. Round and round we go, we tell the same stories with new faces who distract from familiar, predictable conclusions. We go anyway. The devil’s in the details.

But you can’t escape the nagging feeling that you’ve drifted from the proper path. It’s like pressing the wrong key in a video game and knowing you’ll never get to the ending you wanted, that you worked so hard for. But you’ve come too far to start over, so you settle for second best. Before you know it your entire life becomes a series of second bests. You settle for less, then less, until you’re an empty shell of wasted potential. You spend the rest of your life convincing yourself that this is enough, and if you’re lucky, you’ll believe it.

282

This feels cruel to say. Sometimes I wonder if my mental health would be improved if I were an orphan. Unlikely in a place like China where I was born, but perhaps I would have stood a chance if I wound up here somehow, or if my father had a chance to discover himself without the constant belittling.

The strange thing about growing up with abuse is the inability to recognise it. When it’s the only norm, only truth that you know, how are you to expect anything different? Why would you think it should be any other way?

It wasn’t until late into adulthood, when becoming a parent seemed less of a distant future and more of an inevitable development, that I started to skim through all the “helpful” guides being shared by every new parent around me. Every article about harmful parenting styles read like a full transcript of my childhood.

I am afraid to share good news. It becomes either something she could take credit for, or something not worthy of being celebrated. I could never share the bad news. It becomes something that I must have caused, or deserve, something that could have been avoided if I could just be less lazy and more obedient. My fault, my fault. All the wrongs are mine. I must be grateful for every bit of good in my life. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for their sacrifices. Oh don’t I know it.

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. My mother is kind, generous, good hearted, caring. But somehow, through some misguided attempt to be a “successful” parent, she couldn’t offer me the same kindness she provided to strangers. Perhaps because on some level she believes I ruined her life. I remember her telling me so. “My life would be so much easier if you and your brother were never born.” I took gratuitous pleasure imagining the satisfaction of fulfilling that wish. I considered the possibility of finally having the last word. I’m still uncertain if it was weakness or strength that led me to stay.

Why do you let her hurt you?

You’re too old to be seeking unattainable approval.

What do you want from her?

I want freedom from her spell.

I want to be loved unconditionally.

I want you to make me believe it.

But not all wounds heal, darling. You don’t know how much I’ve bled.

279

What was it like to be seventeen? The smallest inconveniences appeared to be insurmountable difficulties. Every emotion you’re feeling for the very first time, magnified until they seemed all encompassing, all consuming. That was the state of my affairs, the day you first smiled at me.

You seemed almost angelic. Not that I’d ever believed in the hippie trippy trash about auras, but some strange energy drew me towards you. It soon became clear that we enjoyed each other’s company, and you were unsure if that was suitable. You had appearances to keep. I had too much baggage, too much gossip that would follow.

I shouldn’t need you to see it in order to be happy with this life that I’ve built. But some stupid childish part of me wishes you would glance back, just for a second, nod your approval, the way you used to wink at me across the room, our little secret. I promise not to tell. She never has to know.

I don’t know what I’m hoping to prove. I never said I loved you. We never dared to dream of it. Maybe it hurts because you refused to give me a chance to be a better person. You simply decided that I wasn’t. That was the end of my chapter in your story. It kills me that this is how it ends. She looked beautiful in that dress. You looked handsome as always in that perfectly tailored suit. How dare you look so happy. The nerve of you, to make me feel happy for you.

Now I know my few remaining friends have given up hope on trying to save me. I know I’ll come up with a perfect plot to piss off the dumb few that forgave me. I’ll burn every bridge before I make it to the exit, I’ll follow you to the edge of the sea. I’ll mark your name in red before I leave, you’ll never get another chance to deceive me.

I hope you lie when you tell people she’s a good wife, there’s no cure for our kind of lonely and she makes you cry. I hope I die young and you finally learn to miss me. It’ll be too late. I burned the olive tree down.

278

I’ve never truly felt like I belonged. People had friends, they had groups, they had their chosen families. I never felt close to my own family and I didn’t know how to be close to others in that way. I was too awkward, too riddled with anxiety. I worried about saying the wrong thing. I worried about the sound of my voice. A mistaken tone. Accidentally offending someone. It would be easier if I never had to talk. Why was it no longer appropriate to remain silent. Why are we obligated to fill in the blanks, always.

I was so tired of the asinine small talk. The needless banter with strangers we wouldn’t spend a moment with if there wasn’t some sort of banal transaction binding us together. The annoying wastes of space you had to speak to on the phone, making your job more difficult by merely breathing. If murder had no legal consequences, more of us would grab a bone-saw. We have violence in our blood, some lose the battle to contain it. Who are we to judge, really? What about the darkest most depraved thoughts you’ve ever had. You’re no better. You could be worse.

I miss you. Losing you makes me wonder if I lost something within myself. The part of me that was worth loving, because you loved me once. You made me believe there were people out there who could see the truth behind the whispers. Now you whisper about me too. I become an anecdote. The wild girl who offered unlimited stories. Who put her life on display for your amusement. She would have died for you. You’d let her.

I hate you. For giving me hope before you snatched it. The illusion of salvation, my bitter dissolution. Watching me shatter for your bragging rights. But you were a victim of your own imagination. You saw something in me that never existed. You tell her I was a mistake and she believes you. I never needed any convincing.

 

277

For the longest time I thought I was like my father. I’d inherited his temperament, his easy attitude towards life. At some point I had to learn how to be cruel, how to be mean, how to put on armour. I’d like to think maybe she forced that with good intentions, maybe she believed I’d have a greater chance at surviving if she hurt me first. What is dead my never die, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, that kind of bullshit.

Did your mother ever tell you that you were worthless? That she regretted having you and you had ruined her life. Maybe plenty of mothers feel that way. Maybe most of them don’t say it. It took me a long time to stop ruining her life. It took me even longer to unlearn everything she had taught me.

I know that statistically speaking every relationship except your current one is technically a failed relationship. But some of mine failed so spectacularly that I’m still waiting for you to wake up one day and feel the same. He woke up one day and decided he wasn’t happy. That I wasn’t the one. That I never was.

I should have understood that it was nobody’s fault but I couldn’t fathom the truth. I’d done it before. I had broken a heart before it happened to me and I thought nothing could feel worse than the guilt, but then it did. I felt every bone in my body ache and I wanted to rip my heart out so it would stop beating for him.

I’ll never learn how to just be fucking happy, you all made sure of that, didn’t you.

 

276

On the evening celebrating my 27th birthday, just as my friends arrived, I received a call from my father that I needed to fly home immediately. My grandmother had a fall and was in the hospital. There was nothing the doctors could do for her, she was unconscious and probably not going to wake up, but I should see her one last time before the inevitable.

I’m not sure if we ever get better equipped at dealing with death. Does it become easier as more and more of our loved ones leave us? Is “easier” the right word when we’re simply numb to the pain?

I’ve always been slow to process my emotions. Compartmentalising always came so naturally to me. I found myself dissecting the situation like an unfeeling robot, and drew the unpleasant conclusion that death may in fact be a relief for her, and the rest of us.

She was 93 and had been suffering from dementia for the past few years, her condition worsening as time went on. More recently she would call me by my cousin’s name when I came to visit. With the exception of my mother who undoubtedly loved her the most, her four living sons have spent the past decade pawning off the responsibility of taking care of her, passing her around each family in rotation so they could split the burden as much as possible, in a manner deemed tolerable to their wives.

Maybe death is harder for our atheistic generation, when we all “know” that nothing happens after. Although the older I get the harder it is to be dismissive of religion entirely. I simply know of too many individuals far more intelligent than I will ever be who have found ways to maintain faith despite evidence to the contrary, that I can’t help wonder, and however reluctantly, begrudgingly, submit to such possibilities, because to claim otherwise would be unbearably arrogant.

In the final days we took turns holding her hand, my mother calling for her with a desperation that weighed heavily on us all. We did our best to remind her she was loved, and would be dearly missed. It’s strange how death can bring people together, how goodness can sometimes be found in the middle of hell.

275

I miss you and I hate you for that.

A part of me always knew there was no happy ending in store for us, but I imagined that I would find contentment along the way, and for a while I pretended that would be enough.

When you said you loved me, I could tell you meant it in the way others pretended to mean it. I sometimes wonder how I ever found the strength to leave you, when so much of me wanted to stay. I refuse to acknowledge that I ripped myself open for you. But it was the last time I ever let anybody in.

There was an easy charm about you that you pretended to work hard for. Maybe you even convinced yourself that it was hard, just so you could take the credit. You viewed the world through a different lens and you were convinced your version was superior. I would never have been enough and you knew it. We would have ruined each other in exquisite ways. You would have enjoyed every minute of it.

She bores you, you’d never admit it, but you know it. You’re sick of the way she looks at you. Whatever part of your ego that she once satisfied with her presence now finds her mediocre and taxing. You could have done better, you’d never say it, but you know it. With every kiss you feel your affections fade, until you barely remember why you chose to stay. You made the choice, long ago, that you would always stay.

It could have all been different, we might have never crossed paths and you might be happier for it. I brought you so much pain and so little joy to compensate. I don’t know how to truly convey my sincerity in a way that might move you. I thought I left you for new beginnings, but perhaps they are only new mistakes. New people to disappoint, more hearts to break.

 

274

Some people were not meant to be kept. They feel trapped, claustrophobic. Erotic asphyxiation, minus the erotica. You make them hollow when you try to make them stay. They thrive on the new, the shallow, the promised missed phone calls, the lack of commitment, the paper thin walls of hipster hotel rooms and the false pretence of romance emanating from scented candles that don’t belong to you. He doesn’t want to belong to anyone but himself.

Some people don’t know how to be alone. They choke on anxiety at the idea of a poor conversation, they want so hard to be interesting, but having never overcome the fear of attempting to be anything other than ordinary, they will continue fading into the walls, deeper into obscurity. You never notice them. They’re just strangers walking past, they leave no trace.

Some people want to be remembered. For the good, the bad, and the ugly. Maybe the ugly are always more memorable. Remember the name, remember my name. I was capable of great horrors. There is glory in being a monster. Fear me, fear me, he cries. Then I will no longer be afraid of anything.

 

 

273

Exordium

Despite our bitter dissolution, I can’t deny that he once saved me from myself, and I will always remain grateful for that brief respite of unexpected kindness.

We met under peculiar circumstances. I was lost, certain only of the fact that I must be damaged goods, and desperately searching for anything to prove otherwise. He saw me drowning and reached out a hand, for no other reason than he had been walking by. He had kindness in him once, on that day, and the days that followed, perhaps I simply used it all up.

It was only intended to be temporary, and neither of us knew what to do when we grew accustomed to waking up together in the mornings. I suppose he bit off more than he could chew, and I was still greedily clinging to him for breath. He was always a realist. I should have known then that he would cut me loose if it meant saving himself.

Falling

It was both gradual and all at once. One day we woke up and smiled at each other and that was the beginning of the end.

We were smitten, obnoxiously attached like codependent Siamese twins. It was overbearing and mildly irritating even to friends, but we were too enamoured to care. I believed him when he said “I love you”, despite all evidence to the contrary. I had been so deprived of affection that those words were enough at the time. I let my imagination fill in the gaps. I was too infatuated to see past his carefully calculated responses. He did the bare minimum to maintain us and I was all too eager to pick up the slack. 

Melancholia

My depression wasn’t the only battle, but it was enough to cripple our already fragile foundations. He convinced me to stop taking the pills and felt his own acute despair when his presence proved to not be enough.

It was the lack of purpose, the grind and pressures of university, the constant procrastination and guilt, my repugnant inability to change. There was so little hope,  and he remained the only constant. That must have been unbearable, but he never complained.

The more I believed love could save me, the more he wanted to run. He would never have admitted to it. He never wanted to be unkind.

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I can understand it now, in hindsight, how appealing she must have been. All gentle smiles and grace, an undisturbed childhood and a mother who could compliment without degradation.

I was barely enlightened enough to be in denial, only irredeemably naive.

The more I craved for him to choose me, the more repulsive my desperation appeared. It’s bitingly sardonic that the only thing that might have saved us would have been walking away, but I wasn’t strong enough then.

It wasn’t a lesson I ever wanted to learn. If you’re lucky, a blessed childhood can heal all life’s trauma. If you’re unfortunate, you’ll spend your life chasing the ghosts of your past.

 

 

 

 

272

There’s no organic way for relationships to repair themselves. It’s nothing like a bruise or a cut, when your body can simply clot the wound and rebuild under layers of scar tissue. We live in a world so offensively connected, it takes deliberation to lose touch with someone. Everything you never said can become personal, we take it all so personally.

I imagine you’re the same as always, picture perfect barbie doll-esque. Your lipstick colour hasn’t changed but your lips have become more refined at lying. Silver tongues can be contagious. Clever men can be dangerous, sometimes deadly. You mistake his duplicitous nature for strength. Your mother taught you better than this, so you speak to her less.

I’ve worked so hard to forget you, you’d be sufficiently flattered if you knew. I hate myself for my inability to let go of the past, to let regrets simply be. They fill me up, they’ll break me, I know. I never stopped being fragile, I only got better at pretending. I can’t think of you without my insides aching. You stole the last part of something pure, my misled belief in some goodness in this wretched world. I believed in you, in us, in friendships that could not be broken, in promises that would be kept. Where were you when I needed you the most? I never thought I’d have to survive you.

He builds you up until you no longer recognise yourself. He wasn’t a good partner when she needed him the most. He wasn’t a good son until it was too late. He wasn’t a good man for the most part of living. But he’s good to you. He’s good enough, you keep saying. Does it matter if he has a good heart? I suppose it depends how deep you’re willing to dig. My my, what a pretty grave.