When life adopts another regret…

“Leading a normal life as I have been endeavouring to for a long time, is really, really difficult. Every hurt is amplified, every success dulled, laughter lasts but for a moment, the rest is bleary grey. I can’t think my way out of these sensations that override the protocol of normalcy.”

– from avalon’s entry, Shards

I can’t celebrate success because I don’t remember much of them. I don’t because I find it hard to accept them. It feels as though I don’t own whatever I have … done. But they dull moments after and then, they are tossed to the recesses of my memory. And only when I am reminded that they appear for the briefest of moments, serenading my heart for a bit before they are overwhelmingly shadowed by the more sinister of thoughts.

I am not sure if this is way too common, but can one get through days on end without laughing? On most days, the laughter I conjure is to pander to those who made a funny remark, told a humourous story or joke during social occasions. They don’t last. And naturally, these funny moments are never remembered.

Hurts? With age, they have been dulled. The pangs of longing are no longer as intense, compared to the days of youth and dare I say, hope. They still occur and are followed usually from events or scenes that trigger envy. The greater the envy, the sharper the colour of the subjects in the scene or event, while everything else fades into grey – the cold, hard, melancholy and biting grey monochrome.

But I do lead a normal life now. Because this is the normalcy that I know of. It is normal to me, because the storms no longer rage as often or as hard; the torrents of emotions no longer toss my heart from one end of the deck to the other; and the air of resignation is now more pervasive than ever.

I respond in words and I now speak from my heart in words. I don’t say them anymore. There is no audience, not even of One. Normalcy has faded Him out. I don’t know how to open that door anymore. I’ve taken out the screws to the knob. I’ve thrown away the screwdriver. I build another wall. I keep the true emotions out, until the next storm breaks, or the next trigger tears it down.

Or maybe I’m slipping.

They’ll sparkle no more

“There’s no life, no sparkle in your eyes.”

This wasn’t the first time she said it. It was for the umpteenth time she commented about his eyes and how they had changed over the years. Usually, this monologue of hers would continue with her attribution of this to the chronic lack of sleep that she thought he suffered.

He didn’t want to draw himself into a protracted argument about how, at 35 years, he could take care of himself. He knew exactly when he needed to rest and how his body functioned. She couldn’t understand how he got that socially inhibiting disease and reasoned that it was simply because he didn’t eat enough fruit which leads to a vitamin deficiency. More often than not, he took great pains to explain that it came from somewhere up the family tree but it was to be in vain. Always.

He had no desire to respond to her comments about his eyes. They would open a can of worms, starting from the trips to the Institute and ending with the short time he popped pills that were prescribed for children with ADHD. He didn’t need to have to deal with her being aghast at how her son had made numerous trips to that part of Hougang. He didn’t want to tell her about the discomfort he felt while waiting for his consultation with the shrink.

But, in another place and at another time, he would think about how he would respond:

They say our eyes are the windows to our soul. If someone’s eyes no longer hold the faintest of sparkle, what does that tell you about that person’s thoughts, feelings and his past? How would you describe the eyes of an infant or the toddler? How can you compare my eyes you saw when you carried me in your arms and in your bosom with the eyes that I have now? Would you know that besides the probable lack of sleep, they tell another story? Would they have told you about the storms in my life? How would you have reacted? Could you do anything to bring the sparkle back?

These words were never spoken. He suspected that they would remain that way for a long time to come. Or they may never be spoken to anyone in his life.

Then, when he remained the only unmarried offspring on the wrong side of 30 from her extended family, she possibly wanted to ward off the endless questions blabbermouth relatives would ask about his longstanding marital status. Therefore, she had to press and pressure.

But she had no inkling of how, in his world of solitude, storms have raged and are raging. She had no idea of the loneliness that engulfed him whenever special occasions rolled around. Or that there were so many moments in his life when he just needed to talk to someone or bounce his thoughts off. Or how, he spent 50 pounds to subscribe to an online dating site with nothing to show for except one youngish gal who decided to disappear after their first date.

She didn’t know he was prepared to take any chance. She didn’t know the pressure he had to deal with. Or that he had been mulling over the thought of visiting one of those foreign bride agencies.

He wasn’t sure if she could deal with a foreign daughter-in-law. In her haste in wanting to marry off her son, has she considered the scenario of having a Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Pakistani, Burmese or Chinese national as her daughter-in-law? This was notwithstanding the possible problems in communicating.

It is entirely possible that the sparkle left his eyes a long time ago. He’s now just soldiering on for the sake of it. It would take a woman with an amazingly big capacity to love for her to accept him. Whatever qualities he had have been suppressed to the point of oblivion. Even then, they would amount to nothing in this world where looks, egos and money rule. He was more than ready to accept and work on something. But, in a world full of options, is she, or are they, willing to do the same?

How not to love my ride

I came across a comment made by someone on my Twitter feed. It’s about the jingle that thousands of wee islanders had been subjected to for the past months. It was probably an attempt at breaking the dour monotony of anyone’s daily commute, while it served a reminder for commuters to be civic-minded.

There are thousands of ways to make your point. Now that we’re deep into the not-so-new century now, I am amazed at how – with the amount of technology available – people can simply screw things up when they want to tell the masses something.

Paraphrasing the astute commenter on my Twitter feed, the brand fronting or representing the three actresses would be invariably and (I suspect) irreversibly linked to the public-service-announcement-masquerading-as-a-jingle. My impression has been so scarred by the daily drumming of their strains of singing and the sight-for-sore-eyes clip that there is a higher chance of me running naked in the Esplanade than me watching them on stage – now or in future.

When a simple announcement would have done the job, someone, somewhere must have asked for something slicker, something that the masses can identify with (without considering the fact that the three actress would be more familiar to a certain portion of the demographic while alienating the rest), or something funny. For some inexplicable reason, they have failed to consider how trying to be funny and slick (at the same time) often backfires and there is only so many times one can repeat the same joke before it turns horrifyingly stale.

And has it been effective in changing the habits of most commuters? Will there ever be a report made public about how these jingles were a resounding success?

At the very least, the previous campaign, while as contrived, was not as jarring or irritating. You could choose to turn away when a certain character with gold chains, fake hair and yellow boots interrupt your attempt at finding out how long more you would be the captive audience to these … creative attempts. Now, unless you have a pair of earphones that keeps out the noise, there is no escape.

Can we ask that they bring Juanita back? At least her voice was sexy.

***

There was another “try-too-hard-to-be-too-clever” campaign which made the news recently. It wasn’t just the local rags which reported about a gimmick a creative agency was trying to put together. It made the news on the Beeb.

For the benefit of those who weren’t aware of this, the said agency embarked on some marketing gimmick. They got someone to get into a suit of a furry animal – familiar to the locals only when they see it in the zoo, on the telly or the big screen. They probably dropped this guy-in-an-animal-suit at some place with a sizable human traffic. Their hope is that their little gimmick would catch the imagination of the whole nation and boom! They become the new starlets of the marketing scene.

But it backfired spectacularly when the attention they wanted to draw went the other way. A photo, taken by a passer-by, found its way on some pseudo-citizen journalist website. Before anyone can say “bear”, the men in uniform got involved. It wouldn’t be long before the creative agency found itself under investigation.

Was this gimmick effective? From the coverage it received, it certainly got more attention than it deserved. But it caused some unease amongst the citizenry (although it would be stretching the imagination a bit to find this furry animal in any part of the tropics).

Perhaps this reflects how difficult it is for marketers and advertisers to draw people’s attention to something. You need to dress public service announcements up in jingles. You need people in costumes to draw people’s attention to some gimmick. (Funny enough, can anyone remember what this gimmick is for?)

But in the name of creativity, are they doing the right thing with enough class (and considerations) not to jar or scare the s*** out of us?

Her wedding: A mishmash of thoughts

There were times when I shuddered to think what it would be like to sit at the “VIP” table during a wedding dinner. I thought it to be uncomfortable sitting with the in-laws who were, technically speaking, not my close relations, and having to address them the same way as the married couple instead of the usual “aunty” or “uncle”.

The ex-sarong kebaya girl now has a new surname. The last I heard, they had landed in the land of the siestas and tapas somewhere in Southern Europe. It would be November before they return with sunburn on their faces and start getting used to their new marital status.

Back to that important day of theirs, the maternal parental unit was embarrassed when she had to follow the custom of hanging a pair of trousers above the door to our home. Just because the elder brother of the bride was far from being a married man. For me, I wasn’t fazed that much simply because it was a fact (a real damning one) that I was still a bumbling (read: not swinging) single.

Perhaps for the last time, we shared the room we grew up in. Except for a two-year break when I studied overseas, I watched her transformation – firstly, as an infant and a rather unwelcome addition that had usurped my position as the only child in the family; and then, a fine woman (enough to pass the test to become a sarong kebaya girl). That included those awkward teenaged years of ours (she is five years’ younger than I am), those fights and arguments as kids, and the times when I had to carry her luggage downstairs during her stint as the sarong kebaya girl. Despite the cramped room (filled mostly by her humongous collection of bags and clothes) we shared, we managed to find some space for ourselves.

And it didn’t quite occur to me until recently that the sole sibling that I have is a strong-willed and immensely independent woman. So, I didn’t play that big a role in her life (as I would have liked) as an older sibling. I would have liked to have a closer relationship with her. For over 30 years, we developed a healthy distance in respecting each other’s “turf” and “living space” – physically, mentally and emotionally.

No wedding dinner would be complete without the obligatory slideshow of the couple – starting from their near-nude photos when they were infants or toddlers. The few that she chose for the slideshow (and having seen it for the first time in years) were enough for me to reminisce the days when we were much closer as siblings. The things we did as kids, the times when she needed to hold my hand at night after we watched a horror show on the telly, and I, as the older brother, guiding her as we crossed the road to get to school.

Those photos were memories. Good ones, I must add. For almost every photo up to the time when she left her job as a sarong kebaya girl, I could remember when and where they were taken, e.g., the T-shirts she wore as a teenager and the time when she went fishing every weekend.

So, there was a surge of emotions when the slideshow came to the part when her husband appeared and featured photos of the things they did together. Collectively, they represented a rite of passage that she would be taking.

And then, the last photo came on – of her smiling as she looked into the eyes of her husband. While she might have a new surname and had moved out of our home, I realised that our presence in each other’s lives during the growing up years were bonds that would never be broken. While her sojourn continues now with the love of her life, every piece of those bonds would remind us of our relationship as brother and sister. This is notwithstanding our arguments, our warts and our little idiosyncrasies as separate individuals.

While the family was doing the rounds at each table for phototaking, I slipped out quietly to the reception (which was by then deserted). I picked up the guestbook and flipped to the last page. On it, I wrote words that would never be spoken directly – wishing both of them well and that the husband now is charged with taking care of the sole sibling that I have on this world.

They will never be good enough

[X]: sigh
[X]: im sian
D W: why sian?
[X]: my social life is drying up
[X]: my life is so boring
D W: huh?
D W: that’s because of your work what
D W: how exciting do you want it to be?
[X]: no like i said
[X]: work is ok
[X]: i wanna meet new people, new friends
[X]: and get married

***

The belated birthday greeting was perhaps the vehicle to drop a not-too-subtle hint. The date was a disappointing one for her and perhaps led to the end of the road to something or anything that could have happened.

Perhaps the best was not good enough for her. Or that whenever we think about prospects, we tend to stick that person into our vision of the future and see if he or she fits in it. Obviously, my presence jarred that vision.

The conclusion? For all that we claim, announce, denounce or deny, most of us are visual creatures. And there was the discussion and the questions she asked about how high looks ranked in my world in terms of a prospective partner. She had reservations then, before she asked for an exchange of photos.

Perhaps it’s not such a big deal, some might say.

Yet, for all my interaction previously with people who read my words without first seeing my face or the rest of my infirmed body, they would probably have formed little own impressions. Sadly, 90% of them decided to step out (some of them forever) after they met me. In person.

That the exchange of words dwindled considerably right after. The words became a front to my personality. But the physical aspect, with my larger-than-life warts and all? They wouldn’t want to touch it with a barge pole.

These words, mine, are a reflection of a personality, which conceals and withdraws behind walls most of the time. But then again, who the fuck cares?

So, it’s time to retreat. Go back to the woods. Set up camp deep inside. Lie on the damp grass and look up to the night sky. Some people may latch onto the little anchors that keep them trudging on, despite the disappointment. But I won’t allow myself that indulgence. For they have deceived me time and time again. They could have been half-truths. They could have been spoken out of the need to be flippant and perhaps patronising.

And I’ve seen the look. It’s like a cut-and-paste job. It’s like their image or impressions of this person whom they have had the exchange of words with were shattered into a thousand pieces. In their presence now is some boring looking disproportionate bloke, who could have been the worst of all possibilities they would never have imagined.

So, the words became fewer. They slowed to a trickle. Instead of a decent two-way communication, it feels like I’m the only hand trying hard to clap. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying way too hard. I leave them alone. I retreat, while throwing (as always) that offer of a conversation or a listening ear. But with the world bursting at its seams with mankind and the tons of “friends” on respective Facebook accounts, perhaps I have been relegated to becoming that weed of thorns sitting in some god-forsaken grassy mound deep in the forest. More often than not, the offer is disregarded and with time, forgotten. I have become merely a statistic or a piece of convenient personal trivia during dinner conversations.

But for the life of me, I would never forget that look on their faces. It feels as though the sky turned overcast in their worlds with a flicker of two of lightning, threatening to dampen the pieces of their shattered expectations. It has spoiled their night, day, month or whatever.

This is why I hesitate to meet. This is why I prefer hiding behind my words. This is why I tend to let loose with my words.

They are the best of who I am, but they will never be good enough.