Monsters in men

Dear Seafarer,

This is a story about the monster within me. I have grappled with it for a long time. I do not write this to make myself sound good. I wish to come to terms with it. Here we go.


One: The gentlest cruelty

One of the most difficult concepts for most of us to contemplate, is the notion that we can be cruel. We want to believe that we have the purest of intentions, that we aren’t monsters. Surely we know better. Surely we can’t be that bad.

Human cruelty is terrifying, because it doesn’t always look like cruelty. Sometimes it looks quiet and subtle, the sort any ordinary person can perform. It looks like the passengers of a plane who sat back, and watched, as someone else got brutally dragged off.  It looks like the boy who said nothing, when his friends bullied a gay classmate to death.

Then, there’s the sort of cruelty we do to those who love us. It looks like a son who doesn’t call his mother during Chinese New Year. It looks like a harmless fat joke you make to a friend, using their vulnerability at their expense.

It looks like me, selfishly hanging on to a lover I’m not sure I can love.

The exact moment I peeked into my monster within, my mind went white. I grappled with it. I made up disgusting, flimsy excuses. With every rationalisation, I lost inch after inch of respect for myself. Perhaps, deep down, I recognised it. I couldn’t run away from it.

The darker aspects of my personality has always fascinated me. I’m someone who feels physical pain from knowing I’ve hurt or inconvenienced others. I couldn’t kill an ant, or a spider. I feel deep, penetrating guilt, and shame. I want desperately to believe that I am good.

Despite that, I am shockingly good at cruelty. My cruelty looks tender and warm. It hides its cowardice and selfishness with polished words, good intentions, love, and hope.

The gentlest sort of cruelty. 

I know this, because for the first time in my life, I am currently someone’s girlfriend. Every morning, I wake up, and I question if I can love my boyfriend. My mind recognises a thousand things that could go wrong with our relationship. I’ve noticed myself become impatient, sharp, condescending, selfish, unreasonable.

I tell him that I may leave him, but our hands remain intertwined. I tell him I’m not sure if this is what I want, but my hands stroke his head at the same time. He looks at me with his big eyes, and I know he is wounded. I apologise, and we kiss. He holds me in his arms, and caresses my body to sleep, his heart satiated. My body dissolves into peaceful slumber, but my heart remains empty and confused.

Have I found home within him? Is effort more important than the right guy? Shouldn’t it be enough that he’s so loving and kind? Does it matter if we don’t have the best chemistry? Would things change if we kept at it? 

A thousand questions race through my mind.

When did I get so selfish? When did I fear loneliness so much, that I would ignite love I’m not sure I can return, in another’s heart?

By objective standards, there is nothing wrong with my boyfriend. He is handsome, patient, and caring. Whenever he comes over, he makes sure to bring little things he knows I’d like. Smoked salmon. Tea. Blueberries. When I tell him something important, he listens attentively. He shaved clean because I made a passing joke before on how his stubble feels like sandpaper on my skin. He constantly asks how he can make my day better. He’s curated a long list of notes about me in his phone. so he doesn’t forget any details. It is full of things I’ve said, things he plans to do for me, things he wants to ask me.

He would give the world to me, in a heartbeat.

But, I am still trying my best to give the world, to him.


Two: He loved me too soon

I’ve been here before.

Prior to my current boyfriend, I was dating a loving, established man. He gave me the world too. He lavished me with gifts. He caught on to all the things I liked, and made sure he would treat me to them. He sat with me through my thesis. When I was sick, he drove an hour to see me, with a bag of medicine, then drove back. We dated casually. Enjoyed each other’s warmth. My heart was always light and happy when I was with him. We had an easy, natural chemistry. However, I remained conflicted. The only thing that was missing was physical attraction. I battled with this for ages. I wondered if I truly loved him, but I enjoyed all benefits of a wonderful relationship at the same time.

That was the first time I realised there was an ugly, shallow monster within me.

I never labelled our relationship, and made him feel insecure. We dated casually for too long. Eventually, I rejected him. Almost immediately after, I started a new one with my current boyfriend.

That was the second time I realised how cruel and thoughtless I truly was.

I allowed myself to be swept away by the thrill of having a handsome, new lover. Over time, I realised that our chemistry wasn’t quite natural. Conversations fell flat, we didn’t quite meet intellectually. I found myself mentally checking out with him. I didn’t feel the security I felt with my older, more established ex.

It’s like a demotion, I cruelly thought. Almost immediately after, this was followed with a flood of guilt and shame.

Ironically, I am a better girlfriend now with my current boyfriend, compared to my ex. I try my best to be caring, attentive, and kind. I tell him frequently that I appreciate and value him. I remind myself to be patient daily. I thank him for loving me.

In some strange way, I feel as if I am atoning for my mistakes. I feel like this is karma. I didn’t want to make my current boyfriend feel unappreciated and insecure, the way I might have inevitably made my ex feel.

The only problem was, I realised at this point that my heart belongs to my ex.

However, it was too late.

He loved me too soon, and I loved him too late.


 Three: Moving Forward

I am worried that I won’t recognise love or a good thing, even if it is staring at me in the face.

Perhaps that is why I’m afraid of letting my current boyfriend go. Some part of me hangs on to the promise that it could become love, eventually. I am afraid of making the same mistake I made with my ex, of letting another good man go. I tell myself, perhaps everything takes time. Perhaps I’ve been wrong in thinking that natural chemistry is important, the way I overestimated the importance of physical attraction to me.

Ah, but then it sounds like a justification, does it not? 

Perhaps, the bigger, deeper reason, is that I don’t want to be alone. I have been alone for a quarter of a century. I have had nights where the gaps between my fingers ached to be filled. I miss feeling the warmth of another. I miss being held. The world is big and cold and frightening, and I want to face it with someone by my side.

Ah, but then, it sounds like I’m a coward.

They say that life unfolds in proportion to your courage. The more you do things that frighten you, the more you discover strength within yourself.

Is it courageous to let him go now? Am I inadvertently holding him back from his true happiness? 

Tomorrow, he is coming to see me. I’ve made him some ‘omurice.’ He wants to hold me in his arms, and I will let him.

As I smile warmly at him, I will quietly pray for the courage to do the right thing. If I need to let him go, I hope I can sit with the discomfort of him hating me. Perhaps that is the only place where cruelty can be useful, when it helps with emotional detachment.

Until then, I might dangerously still try my best to love him.

That is my kind of cruelty.

Fin

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Lessons #2

If there is a splinter that’s bothering me, and it’s big enough to remove, tweeze it off. The pain is barely less than a second, but the relief is a lifetime.

 

Lessons #1

Going to Indooroopilly

Exit Indooroopilly Shopping Mall using Station Rd or Musgrave Rd.

The U-turn is slightly on the right.

Going to Suj’s house

You can stay on the middle lane to get to M3

Cooking breaded tofu

Use firm tofu. And mayo. More egg. Keep the tofu dry.

 

Making matcha cheesecake

Cut the cream cheese into smaller bits. Let it melt for a smooth finish.

 

A Person Who is Trying

Dear Seafarer,

 

Waking up is not difficult. Going to bed is not difficult. I am alive and well.

I am comfortable. Living in a bubble. Food passes my belly daily. A house over my head.

Family and friends and people I’ve loved and lost.

I am already so blessed.

This sadness will gently pass.

 

The Alternate Universe of an Unremarkable Life

Dear Seafarer,

I am dying, and I know it.

I mean, yes, technically, everyone ends up dead at some point, but I am dying in a way far more terrifying than the biological atrophy of my body.

I am dying in my soul. A death of the mind and its passions. An intellectual decay.

I profess that I have been feeling rather demotivated lately. I’ve recently flown home for a bit after completing an intense final year in my degree. I am now a graduate. In cruder terms, I  am also “officially unemployed,” and at a complete loss as to where to go from here. Prospective offers which once seemed promising no longer feel within grasp. My visa progress seems to also have stagnated. I have no idea if the application will be accepted.

There’s something terrifying about not having a concrete plan, and realising, with rising urgency, that time is ticking. The twenties seem to surge past us by like bullet-trains. Suddenly the thirties loom just around the corner.

My life, I feel, has not yet begun.

So here I am, back at home, attempting to recalibrate my life. I find myself back in limbo, deeply uncertain of the future, and threading the line of apathy and hedonism. I wake up as the morning tips into the afternoon. I eat what I want. I catch up with my friends. I talk to my parents, and listen to my mother complain about the maid. I watch mindless Youtube videos of a bleached blonde ranting about her cheating boyfriend, and manage to be strangely invested. Occasionally I’ll indulge in a documentary, or an intelligent commentary about the veiled meaning behind so-and-so movie, but that only slightly  alleviates the guilt that I am wasting my life, potential, and opportunities away.

It is effortful to plan and get productive. Somewhere within the recesses of my mind, I recognise that I am being foolish and irrational, but I simply cannot bring myself to do anything. My brain is trying its best, sparking off with lists and creative fun activities and miscellaneous things that will probably make tomorrow a better day, if I committed to doing them. But somehow, I don’t get to doing anything substantial. One by one, I feel my ideas die within me.

It’s a disconcerting feeling. Each idea feels like an electric impulse, travelling down a neuron, only to meet a dead end, because it isn’t paired with immediate action. The idea fizzles out at the synaptic terminals, and I go back to my mindless Youtube surfing, with guilt and self-admonishing mounting within me. My mind palace is  gradually beginning to go gray, and crumble.

This has prompted me to start thinking about the lack of momentum I’ve been experiencing in my life, and how this could pan out, a few years down the road. Here is one plausible scenario:

In an alternate, bleak future, I’ve forgotten how to feel passionate about anything. I haven’t drawn in a while, and I no longer get creative visions. Art no longer excites me, and I can’t be bothered to try either. I’ve missed out on amazing opportunities, because I haven’t been able to stick to something long enough to see it through. I’m still dependent on my unfortunate parents, who are worried sick for me, because I haven’t been able to find a job. My peers and siblings have moved on, and are flourishing in their careers. I’m poor, afraid, lacking in imagination, and terribly lost. I don’t have much job experience, or skills that I can offer. This affects my self-esteem, and I end up developing social anxiety, making it difficult for me to make friends or sustain a relationship. In attempt to cope, I delude myself into making grand plans, none of which I’ve actually taken action to accomplish, out of said anxiety. I stay within my comfortable bubble of “anticipation,” without actually moving an inch.

Also, I probably still use cheap dollar-store make-up (gasp).

Back to the present.

I’m here, today, writing this blog post, in attempt to dissect the anatomy of this rut. I have 48 drafts of things I’ve started but never finished, but somehow, I feel like I need to push through for this entry. If I do not force myself to break the spell, I feel like my life will somehow go on, underwhelmingly, comfortably. It is one of the most dangerous things that can possibly happen, to someone of my placcid personality.

I am thinking about my unremarkable future, and I wonder, from where I stand now, if I could still change it all. Crossroads terrify me because they unfold the story in very different ways, should one road be taken over the other. I have this feeling that there’s no turning back.

I do not like to seal my own fate. It is far too much responsibility. If I screw up, it’s on me.

However, in the words of Thomas Carlyle,

Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand. 

I’ve been there before, rooted to the spot, afraid to act out of fear. Suddenly, my life passed me by, and I was struggling to keep up. Will I make the same mistake? Is that a future I can accept?

I shudder to think of it. I must not allow it. I must do something, anything.

Tomorrow, I’m driving myself to the salon, to cut my hair. I will make my bed, and declutter my room. It is a small thing, but it is a start. Perhaps then I will write my goals down in a little notepad, and think deeply about how to go about achieving them, over roasted green tea.

Come to think of it, I’ll need to make a dental appointment,  call the immigration centre, update my resume, and work on that drawing….

I must move, somehow. This amniotic sac of time will only last me for a bit, before life ruptures upon me, and grants me rebirth.

The search goes on.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone

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Placeholder image until I draw my own. The night at Mt Cootha. I was supposed to take pictures of the Supermoon. Oh well.

Dear Seafarer,

The worst part about getting used to someone else’s warmth, is forgetting how to sleep alone. Some nights start to feel tougher than most.

But ah, it’s not all that cracked up to be, when you really think about it, right?

First, there’s the stickiness, perhaps of sweat, and the stink of other bodily fluids. Sometimes it gets a little too hot. You’re cramped up a tiny space, or you swear to God that some part of your body’s blood circulation is getting cut off. The blanket-to-person ratios are off-balance. You tangle limbs. You turn around, and your face is buried in the crook of someone’s armpit hair. The bed feels too damned small. You become an automatic audience of gassy fanfares (farts and all). Let’s not get started on the sonorous symphony of snoring, or the flattering view up someone’s nostrils.

But then, they reach over, and pull you close. You feel their heartbeat. You feel their flushed skin. The softness of their fat, or the hardness of their bones. The rise and fall of their chest. The sound of their breathing. Their warmth, right next to you. A tangible reminder that you are not alone, not tonight.

It is a sweetly comforting feeling. I’ve always wondered why strangers crawl into bed with each other. I do believe I am beginning to understand why.

We don’t want to sleep alone. Not all the time, anyway.

Touch is one of the most basic foundations of human contact. We hug, kiss, hold hands, make love. We are reminded of how we are essentially one organism, pulsing together to the beat of life. We connect when we touch; silently, powerfully.

In this wide, wide universe, with specimens as vast as the stars, we are not alone. What a miraculous, beautiful blessing that is! It is one I hope to never take for granted.

But these days, I think, I will have to get used to sleeping alone again.

Yesterday, I wrote one of the hardest message I ever had to, in my life, and sent it. I essentially told a man who loved me, that I didn’t know if I could love him back, at least to a similar intensity. I had been agonising over this conversation for a while, and it finally came to a breaking point.  I had to confront it, as difficult as it was. I felt like scum. I felt foolish, selfish, ungrateful. I cried the whole night through. But, it was done.I did what I thought was the most honest thing I could do, to honour him, and his feelings.

Despite all that, I was miserable, and I only had myself to blame.

I don’t wish to romanticise loneliness. Sure, they wax lyrical about self-empowerment and being “your own person,” before you get into relationships. They tell you to sort out your emotional baggage, or it’ll come back like a demon and haunt you relentlessly, no matter who you end up with. And yes, I largely agree with these principles.

But there are some days when I honestly just… don’t want to be alone. I had gotten a glimpse of warmth, and I craved for more. However, I couldn’t do it, at the expense of someone else.

Yesterday night, after sending the difficult text, and crying my eyes out, I texted a friend. Then, I made mushroom soup, entirely on a whim. I chopped a bowl of button mushrooms, a potato, and some onions. I simmered them with almond milk, covered the pot, and left to cry some more. The pot boiled over. I rushed back to the kitchen, and cleaned the mess on the stove. Then I added salt, herbs, and left it to simmer some more. I started crying again. My friend eventually came, close to 10. P.M. I answered the doorbell, red-eyed, with tear-stained cheeks.

We sat down on the couch, and talked.

I sobbed about how I was afraid I had made a mistake, about how I was afraid, fundamentally, that I’ll end up alone forever. What if I don’t find a man who will love me that much, ever again? What if THIS was it, and I had royally screwed myself over?

She spoke, softly, gently. Her hands were on me, her eyes were tender.

There it was. The touch, the human connection.

The conversation eventually drifted to other things, but I didn’t mind. In that moment, I was not alone.

Warmth, I had to remind myself,  takes different forms too. Sometimes in a friend. A mother. A cat. A cup of tea from a stranger. It most certainly is not exclusive to lovers. But we can forget, sometimes. Somewhere along the way, within a quarter of a century, I myself had forgotten how to sleep alone. It would be a struggle, for a while, to get comfortable again, in my own silence.

But while I sleep alone (for now), I would not be lonely.

Today, I woke up, and my hand itched to text him. Itched to tell him I was sorry. Itched to ask  if he would take me back. My emotions were taking me for a ride, and I knew I would cave in.

So I did the only thing I could do. Remind myself, that I didn’t have to stew in my own loneliness.

I spoke to someone else. I messaged my sister. I confided in a friend. Then, I studied. Surprisingly, I was pretty productive. I hadn’t been flowing in my work, not in a long while.

Around midnight, I went to see the supermoon with another friend, and her sister. I had my tumbler of home-brewed chrysanthemum tea with me. I sipped it on the viewing deck, underneath the stars. The “supermoon” was bright, but still small and blurry from where we were. My camera could not adequately capture it. I did  not bother taking photos, and just took in the atmosphere. Couples were everywhere. The place was abound with chatter. It was noisy, chaotic.

I thought about him, and if I wanted him by my side, at that very moment. I realised that while I wouldn’t mind it, I suppose, I wouldn’t mind this temporary solace, either.

My friend came bounding back to me with her camera. We got up, dusted ourselves, and went home, both agreeing that it was an underwhelming experience.

But still, it wasn’t unpleasant. I had company of my own. Within that security, I was fine being by myself, for a while. I wasn’t envious of the couples around me. I was okay, despite the weariness in my heart.

I suppose, that’s what it is. Ultimately, as long as we have loved ones to return to, we’ll be fine. That’s something we need to remember. Company and warmth does not start and end with a lover. At the same time, solace gives us the space to properly miss, and truly appreciate the people important to us.

Tonight, I sleep alone. Tomorrow, I will wake up fine, just as loved, and entirely blessed. I will miss him, of course. But life moves on. If we’re meant to be, we’ll fall into each other’s orbits again.

Let the healing begin.