Wednesday, November 3, 2010
It wasn't my first experience with death, but my first experience knowing someone who had been murdered. I came home shaking with fear and shock -- mostly shock -- and confusion, whereupon I cried hysterically in Monster's arms for the next few hours. I was mourning her death, of course, a death described in such gruesome detail by her friend, a death which nobody deserves, least of all her. But I suppose I was also mourning the death of my world view as well. My whole life, I've been sheltered and naive, believing in fairy tales and castles and wishes upon a star. I couldn't comprehend how or why this could happen in this world -- in my world -- sure, I read about this stuff all the time, but the fact that it had happened to somebody I knew crashed through my computer screen and gripped me by the heart.
I went to work today after crying for a good part of the night, and then reading to distract myself until my eyes stung so painfully from the tiredness, I had to read with one eye open. I figured the distraction of work was better than staying home crying all day, thinking about the friend and the naivete I had lost. But of course I bottled that sadness up all day long, where it sat inside me like a spring coiled as tightly as a snail, and when the end of the day came and a co-worker asked me a question, I opened my mouth to answer and the tears came flowing from my eyes. I was embarrassed to have lost it like that at work, but in the end it did me good to have cried a good hard cry, and I'm lucky to work in a place that has an incredibly supportive and caring environment. My manager gave me a hotline number to call for counseling services, which I fully intend to do in order to make sense of it all.
Here's what I remember of this girl: she was fearless. Her spirit was indomitable. We were both camp counselors for a high-school philosophy program during the summer of our freshman year, and there's one incident I'll never forget. During the night, someone broke into her room and stole her computer while she slept. The thief then proceeded to send her a series of taunting emails, including one that asked her to meet him, alone, if she wanted her computer returned. With or without telling us, I can't remember which, she went to confront him by herself. Luckily, he never showed. When she came home and told us what she'd done, we were beside ourselves -- "Are you kidding?! Do you know how dangerous and stupid that was?!" -- but in retrospect, nothing would have stopped her from going. She, shorter than me at probably five feet or less, told us with a fire and a hardness in her eyes that she was going to confront her computer thief if that was what it took to get her computer back. She was that determined and independent; at the time, we told her she was foolish, but moreso, she was just fierce. She ended up soliciting the help of a resident computer expert who tracked the email IP addresses down to the library, where campus police made a dramatic and triumphant arrest, and the computer was returned to its rightful owner. I'm glad that story had a happy ending, and I would tell it for the next 6 years, whenever a conversation reminded me of it: how dramatic the incident; how dangerous the situation; how daring my friend.
Trite though it may sound, I still consider myself and my generation invincible. Growing up, and even now still, I believed I could leap, fly, and fall without getting so much as a scratch on myself. Hearing about my friend, it shook me and my foolish foundations to the core. It taught me that no one is invincible, least of all myself. And it finally allowed me to understand -- and be intensely grateful for -- my parents' protectiveness over me as I was growing up. For the entirety of my teenage years, I resented them deeply. I wasn't allowed to go to the mall by myself because I was a girl; I wasn't allowed to wear clothes that were too revealing when I went out because I was a girl; I wasn't allowed to stay out at a party later than midnight without my dad showing up at the front gates to personally walk me to the car and take me home, because I was a girl; I wasn't allowed, I wasn't allowed, I wasn't allowed.
The summer before college, when I was back home in Malaysia, there had been a series of kidnappings of girls at the local malls. A group of boys and girls headed to college in the States invited me to have dinner with them at one of the malls, and not only did my parents make sure I was dressed appropriately, but they walked me to the restaurant, met the people I would be dining with, and watched as I walked away when it should have been me watching them walk away. When it was over, they were waiting outside the restaurant door to make sure there would never be a time when I was alone. At the time, I resented them for not allowing me the sweet freedom all my other friends seemed to have; I loved them, but I couldn't wait till college to enjoy the freedom I was never permitted. But now, I understand why they were so protective. They were showing me that I was the sun and the stars to their world; that with me, they would always make sure to be safe than sorry.
I don't know if there's an afterlife, or what happens to our souls after we die; I like to think our souls come shrieking out of our bodies and race their way up to heaven. I wonder if my friend is watching me right now, me who hasn't talked to or seen her for 6 years, mourning her death so intensely it feels like sadness is my skin. I wonder if she knows that she is remembered, and missed, and that she was admired. To that friend: I will never forget your fierceness and determination, the way you marched through life with confidence that you wielded as boldly as a badge. I'm not sure how long it will take before I feel like I have fully finished mourning your death; it may be a week, it may be a month -- but it will be a lifetime before I forget you.
Friday, July 30, 2010
UGH, this is the part where Monster gleefully disappears for a week and I don't see him until the game is finished. THANKS A LOT, STARCRAFT II. I thought I was the only one who could make his eyes light up that way!!
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Recently, I've been thinking about a girl I used to be friends with.
Breaking up with a girl friend can be just as hard, if not worse, than breaking up with a boyfriend. Girls fight differently; they fight dirty. When guys fight with one another, they usually apologize quickly, forgive quickly, move on. When girls fight, they don't use fists or violence. They use words, the pain of which can sting twice as hard and last thrice as long. They know what to say to cut to the heart, and they use it. I sometimes catch myself doing this with Monster, a flaw of which I'm not at all proud. In the heat of my anger, I say things that hurt, deeply, and I know it. Things that, if Monster were to ever say back to me, would lodge themselves like a splinter in my heart and take a long time, if ever, to dissolve. Words are my greatest weapon, and, like most girls, I know how to use them.
I first saw this girl performing with a swing group at my school. She lit up center stage with her grace and her energy, every movement radiating her passion for dance. I loved watching her. One year later, after taking dance classes and going out social dancing, I tried out for that same swing group and got in. I was lucky to get in, having never danced in my life before college; the other girls who tried out had experience learning choreography and had taken jazz/ballet classes before, and it showed. They knew how to move their bodies, how to control their movements with grace. I stuck out painfully when I came to the group's rehearsals. I was the worst dancer of all the girls, and I knew it. Everyone did. During all the peer review sessions, I was the only one who was constantly given suggestions for improvement. The other girls in the group ignored me for the most part, or else they were cordial to me during rehearsal and forgot about me when they left the rehearsal room.
But this girl, she took me under her wing and decided to help me. Later on, I learned that she was the only one of the girls who stood up for the decision to accept me into the group; while all the other girls preferred to take dancers with more experience, she could tell how much I wanted to dance, and fought for the chance to give me that opportunity. She liked me, and we clicked. She stayed late to help me refine moves, and it turned out she was talkative and quick to share. I absorbed her stories eagerly, grateful that someone I looked up to so much would take such an interest in me; confide in me, even. And just like that, we became friends. She told me about bad dates with boys, and I set her up on a blind date with someone she had a great time with. I nestled chocolate-covered strawberries from my dorm cafeteria into a box on Valentine's Day and left them outside her door with an anonymous card, hoping she'd find them and think a boy left them for her. But she heard me rustling around outside and opened the door, inviting me into her room, where we chatted about our lives--the best way to spend my Valentine's Day that I could think of.
During the two years that we were in the group together, she became my idol and my mentor, both on and off the dance floor. She had many qualities that weren't so admirable, to be sure, but I overlooked them all. In my eyes, she could do no wrong. She taught me to be such a good dancer that she felt comfortable leaving her group in my hands. When she left the dance group, leaving me in charge, I wept with fear at what we would become without her in it. I didn't trust myself to continue what she'd started. Mainly, I dreaded her not being a constant presence in my life. I mentioned her name constantly while leading group rehearsals, thinking that in this way, her presence could continue to be a significant one within the group.
That last year was the hardest one of my life, and she was there for me. One of the things I loved about her was how willing she was to speak her mind, no matter what, where, or to whom. When I started dating one of the boys in the group, I confided in her that he made me feel something I hadn't felt in a long time. That I thought he might be someone I could fall in love with. When I found out that he'd been seeing his ex-girlfriend behind my back, it shattered me and my stupid, naive heart. My friend--let's call her SC for anonymity purposes--was the first one I cried to. She stepped up to take the bat for me, marching into the middle of our dance rehearsal, whereupon the sight of her filled me with relief and broke me down in tears. I left the room, and found out later that she'd humiliated him in front of everyone, made him confess what he'd done to me, made him break down in tears at the way he'd treated me and his overall degrading view of women. That wasn't the first time she'd stuck up for me, summoning a voice to speak out for what I couldn't. What I wouldn't. When another girl in the group was giving me a hard time, I confided to her about it, and she called the girl up to give her a piece of her mind, starting the conversation off with, "You might want to sit down for what I'm about to say to you." When it took me longer than it should to get back on my feet, she baked cakes (with strawberries and sweet cream, and a crust that crumbled on my tongue) and left slices in Tupperware outside my window. She called me and emailed me constantly and, when I was too depressed to reply, showed up at my door and threatened to drag me out of my room if I didn't let her know how I was doing. I would have slipped into anonymity, if it weren't for her.
She was there for me during my highest and my lowest, as I was there for hers--her lowest, to be sure, and there by her side looking at bridal dresses when she got engaged to her first love.
In the end, it was Monster who came between us. Because Monster used to be friends with the boy who broke my heart, she was convinced that Monster was a bad guy too, that he would inevitably break my heart. She was convinced, and nothing would change her mind. "He's different," I would say, begging her to reconsider. "I know he would never do these things to me. I know I've been naive before, but this time I've learned. Promise." But nothing would sway her opinion. We joined a different dance group together, and every time I saw her, she would make snide remarks about Monster, remarks that hurt me as if they had been made about me. "Stop," I pleaded, but she didn't. "Can't you see how happy we are?" I asked, and she would reply, "It won't last long."
I wondered how someone who was truly my friend wouldn't be able to give Monster a chance, especially when he had finally made me happy in a way that I hadn't ever been. After one rehearsal, when she'd gone off about Monster for quite a long time, I pleaded with her one more time to stop, and she wouldn't. I won't go into detail about how things blew up between us, but they did. We both had tempers that were larger than us, especially when it came to the people we loved. It was Monster I loved, and it was me she loved, and we were both relentless in our decisions to protect the ones we loved. Silly, I know, but heartbreaking nonetheless. We said things to each other that cut deep, that were irreversible, that I typed out in a fury and pressed "Send" and felt relieved and horrified about all at once. Monster held me in his arms and I sobbed like I had lost a part of me. Which, in fact, I had.
I knew that I was put in a position where I had to choose between her and Monster, and I knew that it would be Monster. For a long while I thought I would never get over the pain of losing her, who I loved and idolized so much. Like a breakup between a girlfriend and boyfriend, our "mutual" friends took sides, too. One friend in particular, who I thought was my friend, who I thought would be decent enough to at least listen to my side of the story, decided to side with SC. She told me she found me lacking in my ability to maintain relationships, a statement which hurt at the time but which I now laugh at because of her own failure when it comes to keeping guys around. Listen, I have nothing against single ladies, and I know how hard it is to find a good guy, let alone hold on to one. But if you're going to talk the talk, well then you'd better walk the walk, sister.
Anyway. I quit the dance group we both belonged to, knowing that I couldn't handle the pain of seeing her on a weekly basis. (Ironically, my so-called "friend" who sided against me criticized me for having such a shallow reason to leave the group. Less than a year later, she too got into a fight with SC, quitting the group for the same reason. Like I said--walk the walk before you talk the talk, SISTER.) Anyway. After the raw anger and the hurt of betrayal subsided, I just missed her. I missed not being able to confide in her. I missed being able to dance with her. To watch her dance, as I had for so many years. I missed her, plain and simple. But after the things we'd said to one another, I didn't see any way of reconciling.
A few months later, she sent me an email apologizing for the things she'd said. Reading that email, it was like the proverbial weight off my shoulders had been lifted, and I could breathe easier. I wrote her back with my own apology, letting her know that she had been, and always would be, my hero. In the end, I decided that we could never really go back to the way we were before. And I would never really feel comfortable letting her know about my life with Monster, who she was so unwilling to accept as a part of my life. But I still miss her every once in awhile, and I have been recently. I still remember the things she did for me, how she took me under her wing, how she spoke up for me when I lacked the strength to, how it was from her that I really learned how to dance.
If you ever read this, SC, I want you to know that I wasn't lying about you being my hero. And that if you ever need me to, I'll always step up to take the bat for you.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Last night, Monster and I went to watch The Taking of Pellham 123, a high-speed action movie in which a subway train in Brooklyn is taken hostage. The main terrorist insists on doing negotiations with Garber, who’s just a mere train operator, rather than with an actual hostage negotiator. This is just fine and dandy with Garber – no harm in talking to a man over a telephone, kept safe by distance and anonymity, right?
Just when we’re about to let ourselves breathe a little more easily, when the money that the terrorist demands arrives on time before he shoots another hostage, the terrorist insists that Garber is the one who must deliver the money, or more hostages will be killed. At this point, we know the terrorist isn’t joking around, either. He shot the train conductor in the beginning of the movie when the hostage negotiator refused to put Garber on the phone; he nearly killed a teenage kid because Garber refused to admit that he’d committed crimes before (crimes which Garber eventually admitted to in order to save the kid’s life, crimes which he confessed he committed so as to put his two children through college); he threatened to hunt Garber down in real life and kill him.
I watched Garber call his wife up right before getting on a helicopter to be taken to the terrorists, and tell her what he was about to do. I watched him explain to her, “If I don’t do this, then people are going to die.” I watched her eyes widen with panic and helplessness and terror, I heard her say, “Then let them die. Just as long as it’s not you.”
And I wholeheartedly agreed with her.
I leaned over then and clutched Monster’s neck even more tightly, whispered to him that he could never do that if he were ever in a situation like that – and he whispered back that he couldn’t make that guarantee, that if innocent people’s lives were at stake, he wouldn’t be able to promise me that he wouldn’t do the exact same thing that Garber was doing.
And it broke me. I lost it afterwards, thinking of that poor wife, of what she must be feeling. I cried for her. I cried for her anger, for her helplessness. It reminded me of a short story I read once, at a philosophy camp in high school. In it, a bridge operator brought his five-year-old son to work, his only child, and turned for a second to find the child had vanished downstairs into a room filled with machinery. At that very moment, the three-o-clock train was approaching, a train filled with 300 complete strangers. The operator had to make a choice, then. Go downstairs and save the boy, who would surely not survive amidst that machinery, or hold down the lever that would lower the bridge for the train, and save 300 strangers from falling into a wall of water.
It was never any question in my mind that I would save the child. My child. I was the only one who would save the child, or at least the only one who spoke out about it. I would not bat an eyelash. But how would you live with the guilt? my classmates asked me. How would I live with the pain and hollowness of having lost a child? I asked back. How would your wife forgive you when you came back home after killing 300 innocent people? they asked. How would my wife forgive me for killing our only child? I asked back. How would we sleep at night? How would we move forward? How would we live?
I knew even then, at that young, that I would save the person I love, selfishly, blindly, without any other thought. I reasoned to myself then, as I do now, that any guilt I would experience would be nothing in comparison with the pain I would feel at losing the person I loved most. That any publicity I received, whether good or bad, would be nothing in comparison to what I would have to face when I looked into the mirror and realized that I had to live without the person I love. That surely when I climbed into bed at night, I could breathe easily, completely, knowing that the person I loved was breathing next to me. Because once all the publicity dies down, it’s yourself and your own loneliness you must face.
Perhaps I think this way because of the way I was loved growing up. My father, he loved both me and my brother so wholly and completely, that there was never any doubt in our minds he would give his life for us in a heartbeat. That he would give anybody’s life for us in a heartbeat. I read about him once, in a textbook during my first Psych class at Stanford. There was a picture of a brain, split into four sections. People with particular brain structures are able to cope in different ways with the death of a child. Some people would be able to handle it just fine, some would be devastated but able to go on living, some would be crushed beyond any measure of reconciliation and not be able to go on living as normal. I’d circled the last section and called my father up. “That’s you,” I said, ballpoint pen tapping against the picture of his cross-sectioned brain. I recalled a conversation once in which my friend and I were talking about our parents’ love for us.
“I don’t think my father would be able to go on living if one of us died; definitely not if both of us died,” I’d said. “Of course he would,” my friend replied, “of course he would.” But she didn’t understand. She didn’t understand how wholly and completely he loves us, to the point of no return if anything were ever to happen to either of us. Perhaps that is where I learned to love like this. Letting my whole heart attach to someone else. And if that someone else were to die, well then you can bet my heart would, too.
I needed Monster to understand that. I’ve seen the movies and read the literature where husbands sacrifice their lives for others and worried wives open their front doors to grim policemen who break the news to them. Worried wives who then scream and cry in anguish and pain, who must deal with the anger – oh God, the anger – of their husbands leaving them. Anger towards their husbands for leaving them. It was a choice. It is always a choice, even if it’s not the most utilitarian one. I’m not saying that I don’t value lives, or that my life is more valuable than the lives of others. I am saying that I value my love over the lives of others. I value Monster’s life over the lives of others, and I don’t care who judges me for it. At the end of the day, I want him to consider his life as a package deal – his and mine, hand in hand. If anything were to happen to him, I cannot imagine the pain, the utter despair, of living a life without him. I am not strong enough to consider it. I would not be strong enough to live it.
Even if I didn’t have small children to hold in front of him, to say, “Look at your children. They cannot grow up without a father. They cannot live with a mother who would grieve forever.” Because I would, I really would, grieve forever. Even if I don’t have them to use as leverage for my love, I hope that my love, my stupid, blinding, all-consuming, selfish, selfish love alone, would be enough to make him understand that it doesn’t matter how dangerous he thinks the situation is or how many innocent people might die because of him or how he would be able to live with the guilt. Judge me as you will, call me the most selfish person in the world, but what is the purpose of our lives if we cannot live? And don’t tell me that living without him is living, because it is not. I don’t want to be that worried wife who opens the door to a grim policeman one day, no matter how big a hero my husband makes of himself. The only thing I ever want in this world is to open the door at the end of the day to Monster, my Monster, holding his arms out to tell me he’s home, to fold myself into them and press my ear against his chest to hear his heart, pulsing strong.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The more our relationship developed, the more we continued to argue, as every couple argues. But we talked through it together every time, no matter how many tears and broken hearts and shattered spirits were left in the wake of our anger. We re-emerged with patched-up hearts, ready to face whatever came our way next. But one day, we got into a silly argument over a board game, one of those arguments so silly that a few hours later, you don't even remember what it was you fought about to begin with. The thing is, we had it in front of our friends.
I didn't think anything about it until I found Monster terribly distraught, which alarmed me because it belied his usually calm, cool composure. It startled him that we fought so publicly, he said, because when he was growing up, his parents never fought in front of him. Come to think of it, my parents never fought in front of me, either. I'd naively taken it as a given that once people walked down the aisle and swore to be with each other forever, till death did they part, their problems were tucked away along with their single lives. I realized that people married and divorced, but my parents were simply not one of those people. Contrast this with a conversation Monster had with one of his cousins, who assumed that fighting and shouting was a norm among married people, because her parents fought openly all the time. Monster didn't want us to become one of those couples--didn't want our children to remember their childhood as one where their parents were angry and loud, where fury resounded off the walls as slammed doors and screeched retorts.
People say that children are quick to forget, but what they don't give them credit for is that a traumatic memory can be etched like a scar into the folds of your mind. The first time I saw my mother cry because of something my father said, when I saw her face pinch inwards like she held something sour on her tongue, I swear to you, I felt my heart splinter into a million different pieces. I will remember that image until the day I die; I will remember the pain I felt in feeling like I caused my mother that pain, I caused my father that anger. Children remember, and they blame themselves.
Since the moment that I saw Monster so distraught over our public fight, I've been a lot more conscious about keeping my emotions in check until we're free to resolve our issues in private. Several of his family members have asked whether or not we fight, and at first I worried that we came across as a flat couple, one that lacked an emotional connection and therefore didn't have anything to fight about. "I guess we can fight in front of my family..." Monster said, and we'd burst out laughing as the silliness of his statement made me realize how silly I was being. Anyone can see the depth of the love we have for one another, even the blindest man.
Everyone has a different childhood, and everyone is comfortable setting different examples for their children. One of Monster's aunts, giving us relationship advice, confided that there is no such thing as a happy ending--the fairy-tales are fake, and the rosy life is something that requires work and effort and patience. While that may be true, I want our children to be as naive as I was. I want them to believe that their parents are in love, and that while people in love may fight, marriage is not something that comes hand-in-hand with open shouting and doors slamming and anger and blame and guilt. I will work hard for the rest of my life if I can save one child from feeling the guilt I felt upon seeing my mother cry. I want my children to love freely without fear of hurt or a reluctance to commit; to look at their parents and think, You are all wrong--happily after ever does exist, and here it is.
Friday, November 28, 2008
We got tired after about ten seconds of this tomfoolery; my mom grabbed the knife and ripped that turkey apart. The rest of our day was filled with games, fun, movies, and just general family time. This is my fourth family trip with Monster, and I think we get more and more comfortable with each other's families every time we do it. Monster told me yesterday he truly feels at home with my family, which warms my heart. It's so wonderful to be here with everyone I love, and not having to wish Monster were here with us too. Granted, there are some parts I wish he didn't have to see, like how heated we can get during a game of Settlers, when we're all yelling at each other because of a stolen resource or fuming because someone blocked off our trade route. But family is family, and you gotta love 'em.
My little cousin is participating in nano-rhino...well it's actually "NaNoWriMo," or short for "National Novel Writing Month," but "nano-rhino" is what I heard the first few times he tried to explain it to me. He's typing away furiously, and I still can't comprehend why one would want to write 50,000 words in a novel just for nothing when they could be busy doing other things with their fingers, like stuffing their faces with turkey. But maybe I'm just bitter because I have so many papers to write for next week, and I keep telling Monster I'm going to be a crying mess on Sunday night because of all the work I haven't done due to turkey-eating and Settlers-playing. I wonder if I'll miss the homework once I start working. I actually know people who are odd like that.
My cousins, Monster, and I have also started a competition against each other on a Facebook game called "Word Challenge." It's interesting in the sense that after every score, the game will liken your vocabulary to a certain vocation. I've been told that my vocabulary is equivalent to that of a pro-wrestler's, a schoolyard bully's, an actor's, a scribe's, a celebrity chef's, a librarian's, a politician's, an anagram cyborg's, and a carpenter's. This game must be terribly insulting to those who actually have those occupations. Also, who decides which occupation matches with which vocabulary level? Who's to say that a celebrity chef has worse diction than an anagram cyborg? 'Scuse me, but Bobby Flay could talk rings around any ol' cyborg any day.
Tomorrow I've agreed to play Diplomacy with everyone, which is apparently like Risk. For those of you unfamiliar with the game(s), it basically involves forming alliances and then backstabbing those in your alliance. Since Monster's been begging me to play, I've agreed to play with him against my better judgment, but knowing how competitive I am, he may be sleeping on the couch for the next few nights after we get home.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and I hope it's filled with the things and the people you love most.