I remember my birthday when I was in elementary school. I think I was about nine or ten. Some friends greeted me. However, there was this group of mean classmates who were chanting cruelly:
“Selamat ulang tahun, Ruby. Semoga segera meninggal.” (Happy birthday, Ruby. We hope you’ll die.)
They did that over and over until our head of the class, Pak Huda, had to stop them. He didn’t yell at them, though. He cut in with that forced cheerfulness in his voice:
“Selamat ulang tahun, Ruby. Semoga segera meninggalkan sekolah dan segera pulang ke rumah hari ini.” (Happy birthday, Ruby. We hope you’ll leave school today and go home soon.)
He failed, of course. I glared at those kids, fighting back tears. Dad had taught me not to cry in front of my enemies. That would be a sign of weakness.
Of course, I’d never give them that satisfaction. I didn’t want them to laugh at me even harder, calling me a cry-baby for being overly sensitive. Surely, they’d say it was just a dumb joke. They didn’t really mean it. After all, we were just kids. Kids tend to say stupid things.
Fast forward to a few years later. I was fourteen and in junior high school, a bloated little freak who made them wonder why. Why? Why couldn’t I be more like my older sister? Why couldn’t I be smart like her? In their eyes, she was always perfect. Absolutely flawless. Our P.E. teacher, Pak Nova, even once asked me these stupid questions:
“You’re Indira’s little sister? How come you’re so fat? How does it feel to be fat?”
I didn’t know how to feel good about myself back then. Somehow, I’d let them make me feel ugly about me. With my sister around, she’d always have the spotlight. I’d never be good enough in their eyes.
It was after school. A lot of kids had already left. I was standing in the balcony on the third floor of our school building. Looking down, my head was filled with crazy thoughts:
Just one fall and that’s it. They’re not going to miss me, are they? Ma’s still got another, more precious daughter. She won’t need me that much…
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
I’d nearly fallen off the ledge that I was climbing on when the vice principal walked past behind me and yelled. Thankfully, I caught myself just in time.
“Get down from that ledge, young lady,” he ordered me. “Don’t play around like that.”
So he thought I was only kidding around.
Fast forward to another few years later. Me, in my early twenties. Three years after college graduation. Barely with a stable job, still burdening my parents. Feeling like a complete loser, a useless being.
I’d crossed the quiet streets alone for many nights, silently wishing for a car to run me down and just getting it over with. I guess God still loved me, because that had never happened.
I’ve only told this to a selected few. You know how most people would react if you told them that you wanted to end your life. They’d think you’re crazy. A lot of them would start mentioning God and hell-fire for eternity.
I’d make Ma cry.
About four years ago, I went to Bali with my best friend Hazel Eyes for a holiday. We were sitting by Dreamland Beach in the late afternoon, when a huge wave came crashing down – threatening to drag me under and swallow me whole. It had felt like a quicksand under my flailing feet. Hazel Eyes caught me by my wrist and tried pulling me back to the shore, but the current was so strong that he’d gotten dragged as well instead.
That was when I realised one thing:
No, I’m not ready to die. I still want to live!
God still loved me, because my best friend had finally managed to pull me back to the shore. I held on to him for a while, shivering. It wasn’t even cold.
“You okay?” he asked, his hazel eyes were a mixture of post-terror and relief. I looked up at him and sighed, nodding.
He hadn’t known then like he knows now. He didn’t just save my life. He’d shown me one thing that I should’ve done and always do:
Never give up on myself, no matter what.
Looking back, I am forever thankful that the insanity has passed. He was one of my heroes, sent by God.
I’ve survived. I’m glad to be alive.
(Jakarta, 2/9/2016 – 9:00 pm. From Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Writing Challenge at Bangi Kopitiam, Sabang. Topic: “suicide”.)
It is not something easy to bring up again, even after about four years or so. Looking back, I am not proud of what I did and I still have regrets. I have to admit this, though:
I was an online bully.
How did that happen? You might be wondering or scoffing: “Who has never been one since the internet era, even for just once in their lives?” Well, even if it is true, this does not make me feel any better. Looking at how most people have been trolling @Awkarin online these days just brings back those dark memories.
No, I was not bullying anyone famous, even by social media standard. It was an acquaintance.
It started with my friendship with this girl at work. Let’s call her ‘Celia’*. Celia and I started hanging out together after our mutual friend had introduced us to each other. Shamefully, we were already in our early thirties, with her being three years older than me. She had also been divorced from her first – and abusive – husband.
Just like the usual drama, everything went well at first. I had been having some ‘difficulties’ at home, including the fact that my father had already been a long-term stroke patient on a treatment. It was nice to have someone like Celia around. She had been nothing but sweet, understanding, and amazingly supportive for someone I had just gotten to know. We occasionally hung out with the same group of friends. We texted each other. We chatted online – mostly through our social media chatroom – quite excessively. We had grown close…and opened up to one another about our own issues. My communication problems with my own family. Her insecurity long after the divorce.
Until she suddenly came up with this crazy idea of bullying another girl on her social media friends’ list. Let’s call her Naira**.
I should have seen this coming, even before she proposed the idea. First sign? Celia bitched about people she did not like…a lot. That included girls she had always found prettier, sexier, richer, and more ‘whatever’ than she was – according to her. Celia said those girls had always had problems with her, especially when she close to men they happened to like. She did not know why. She had even bitched about one of the girls in our circle of friends constantly, often over petty things. I had felt like I was one of the minor cast on “Mean Girls” and it was not comfortable.
Then why did she want to bug Naira online? Celia said that Naira’s posts were annoying as hell: constantly expressing self-pity after her last boyfriend had dumped her. Celia found her pathetic and disgraceful, because women should remain strong and independent, no matter what. Since Celia was divorced after three years of marriage, she said she had earned more “rights” to complain about her life.
I am not going to justify what I did or make an excuse about it. I was at my weakest and lowest point, vulnerable and insecure. I had let Celia use me to bully Naira online. Naira, the girl who had never caused me any trouble at all. At first, I thought it would be fun. Here I am, a chubby girl who has often been bullied and made to feel guilty about her looks, now getting a chance to bring a slim, pretty girl down.
For a while, it was intoxicatingly fun. I started commenting to Naira’s every ‘lame’ status with my scathing “don’t be such a cry-baby or a damsel-in-distress” taunts and other ‘sophisticated’ insults that I could come up with. Celia was clearly enjoying every bit of it. We had laughed about Naira a lot.
Until things got way too far and Naira was really hurt. She had even asked me once: “What did I ever do to you?”
It was also the very moment that I started seeing Celia’s true colours…and they were not pretty. I know I wished to know how it would have felt like to be hurting others like I had been hurt before.
Well, it sucked big time. There was my answer. Not only had I wasted my time, but I was turning into someone I actually despise, thanks to the emotionally-manipulative Celia.
My first serious fight with Celia had been through our mutual friend Tobias***. The two of them had an argument and she had flooded my phone with her angry rants about him – on every app and social media inbox I shared with her! I did not say much until I confronted Tobias about this and boy, was he furious. He told me that if Celia had had a problem with him, it should have just stayed between them and not involved me – causing me all that unnecessary stress and anxiety. Celia was not being fair.
So was I with Naira.
When Celia decided to stop speaking to Tobias and me, I let it slide. Her accusation? “Don’t bother; I’ve already known whose side you’re on.” She did not even bother wait for my explanation.
During that time, Naira approached me online. We had a serious talk. I apologised and she said she forgave me. Surprisingly, she also said that she had known all along that I was not the bullying type. Whatever had happened between her and Celia, I did not (want to) know. That should never have been my business in the first place.
Putting up with Celia and her behaviour had been worse than riding on a roller-coaster with your stomach full. I am not going to list down all the awful things she had ever said to me, because it is just not worth it. However, if you happened to know her and asked her about this, believe me when I say that her version would be much different. Anything to save her own skin.
Celia had tried to repair our friendship many times, but she also kept repeating the same old pattern. She still bitched about people she did not like, as if there was no other topic left. She still had this crazy double-standard: her wanting to know other people’s personal business, but she kept hers a secret.
When Celia is not happy that people do not do things her way, she lashes out and calls them names. She backbites them online, even with her #nomention statuses. So typical. It has got so bad that I had to limit seeing her feeds and her from seeing mine. Enough is enough.
I suppose she has done more damage to our friendship than what I would like to admit, even to myself. I know she is not happy with her own life, but that still does not give her the rights to judge others and bring them down. I am afraid that I am still in the process of forgiving her for having turned me into a bully, even for a short while.
We are in charge of what we post on our social media page. However, we are not in control of what others may think of us. I am not saying that I agree with whatever @Awkarin and her ex Gaga has done. Since both are still minors, they should be their parents’ responsibility. Who are we to judge? We can only express our worry and concern. If you think trolling her social media page with curses and other harsh words will get her to change her ways dramatically, then good luck with that.
Keep yourself busy, people. What you see online is endless, just like real life. No need to consume everything. The choice is yours.
(* , ** , *** – All names have been changed.)
Soulmate wanted: for the love cynic.
You and me – an unrequited love.
Family portraits: only me, without you.
Forever mine: you…in my jar.
Two shots for your wedding gift.
Returned to sender: love letters unread.
(Jakarta, 9/6/2016 – for the “6-word-story” writing challenge a la Hemingway (http://www.openculture.com/2015/03/the-urban-legend-of-ernest-hemingways-six-word-story.html) at Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Gathering at Filosofi Kopi, Blok M – Melawai, South Jakarta, 8:00 pm onwards.)
My parents never told me where I came from. They only said that they found me on the doorstep of their small house, left in a large basket of cucumbers. I was sucking on one when they opened the door.
And why cucumber? I had no idea; their story was just weird, hard to believe. But my parents also told me not to think about it too much anymore. What mattered was that they loved me.
Growing up, I didn’t go to formal schools like most kids my age. In fact, I was home-schooled. I wasn’t even allowed to play with other kids or invite them over. They said it was to keep me safe. From what? I demanded that they tell me. Still, it wasn’t easy. They said they would tell me when it was time.
When? I asked them again. They still promised me with two words: in time.
“A promise is a promise,” I reminded them. They both nodded.
Goldie. By the way, that’s my name and I’m not even blond. Since my parents – or should I say, my foster parents – had kept me under house arrest for most of the time, I never got the chance to roam outside – not even into the nearby forest. A neighbour once told my father that there was a house there. I wondered who would ever want to live there. Bears?
Then I finally learned the truth when I turned fourteen. With a tearful confession, they told me that they’d been taking care of me to pay off their house debt. WHAT?! I’d nearly shrieked. It was a really big man who worked as a village debt collector who had given them the assignment. They’d never had any kids anyway, so why not?
“Then we fell for you,” my mother said sadly. “Unfortunately, there’s a catch.”
“What is it?” I asked worriedly. I thought taking care of me until I was old enough to fend for myself had been the only catch.
“We must give you back to him when you turn sixteen.”
“Why?” Wait. That would be two years from now.
“So he can marry you.”
“What?” This is unbelievable. “What does he look like?”
When they showed me the picture of that ogre, I fainted.
I was sixteen when that ogre-looking debt collector came to my parents’ house to take me away. Damn, he’s really ugly, leering at me with those hungry, lecherous eyes. Ugh.
My parents were afraid, but I wasn’t. I’d already come up with a plan.
“Are you ready to come with me?” he asked me, his grubby hands were already tightening their grip on my arms. We were staring each other down. I only smiled at him and shook my head.
“What?!” he growled. Before he could do anything more, I slipped the knife out from under my sleeve then stabbed him in the heart with it. The ogre-looking creature bellowed before falling hard on the ground. Dead? Of course.
“What are you doing?” my parents freaked out. I stood there, still with the bloody knife in my hands, staring back at them.
“What do you think?” I shot back. “I don’t wanna go. I wanna stay with you.”
The three of us looked at each other for a moment, before we dragged the body to the backyard of our house…
No one knows where the ogre-looking creature goes. He’s been declared missing for weeks already.
I’m still living with my parents. In our backyard, we started growing cucumber plants. That was my idea.
(Jakarta, 27/5/2016 – from Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Gathering and Weekly Writing Challenge at Carls Jr., Rubina – Kuningan, Jakarta. The topic for the writing challenge: “Fairy tales with a twist”.)
They found his diary under the bed.
I was so angry when he left. He’d gone without a word of goodbye. Why? What had I done to deserve such a cold brush-off?
I pretended that I didn’t care. Fine, just leave. He wasn’t the first who’d left me. There had been others.
I looked back at those very short months, the timeline of our whole story. He’d wanted to go all the way. I wasn’t ready. He got mad and left. That was it.
I’d seen him one night with her. Who was that other girl? I didn’t know. I didn’t want to. I didn’t care.
The owner of the inn where he used to stay called out to me that morning. I lived nearby, so that old man must have seen him and I together a couple of times.
“He left this for you.” I received that book from the inn owner. “We found his diary under the bed.”
I went back to my room with his diary. I sat down and opened it. The pages struck me speechless. My tears started.
God, I hate him even more!
The last page. There was a picture of us, laughing at each other, one night in the crowd of (my) friends. I forgot who’d taken it. There was his handwriting below:
“Remember us this way…”
(Jakarta, 22/4/2016 – from The Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Writing Challenge. The topic: “Random First Line: They found his diary under the bed.”)
When you watched the news this morning on TV, you knew that she’d never be coming back. She was gone for good.
Of course, you should’ve seen this coming. You might look at me in anger and shoot back: “How dare you. How dare you blame this all on us! She should’ve known better. Why didn’t she think with her brain?”
Excuse me? Of course, it was your fault! She’d told me all about how you’d always treated her, ever since she was a little girl. So she was rather chubby like her old man. So what? What was so bad about that?
Why did you have to keep comparing her to her older sister? Why did you let them do that to her too? Worst of all, you’d never backed her up, supported her. You told her to lose weight, so people would stop making such nasty comments about her body.
So she started doing whatever she could, just to seek your approval. She ditched foods. She threw up. However, when she fell sick, you still blamed her for not looking after herself well. You never asked. You never wondered why.
“Why can’t you be like your sister more?” Well, what kind of a stupid question is that? Of course she couldn’t. She was never her. She was who she was, like the person she’d always been. Why didn’t you see that?
Why wouldn’t you? If you had, she might still be here today.
Do you know why she’d become an overachiever – both in school and at work? She knew she was never as bright as her older sister was, but at least she’d tried. She’d been making more money and a great career, in hope that you’d have seen that and just been proud of her. She’d hoped that you’d have overlooked her not-so-ideal, physical features (well, according to you) and just loved her.
Instead, you never did. You kept reminding her of what she hadn’t got yet: a boyfriend…or better yet, a husband. She was 34, but then again – so what? Shouldn’t you at least have been grateful that she was alive and well, that she was still willing to care for her family?
“You need to lose weight. Don’t you want to have a boyfriend?”
“Don’t get too picky. Know your age.”
Go ahead. Keep on blaming her for everything. Or blame the guy she was last seen with. Thankfully, somebody had seen the two of them together before she fell off the cliff and crash-landed on one of the huge rocks by the waterfall.
He claimed to the police that it had been an accident. They’d only been going out briefly. It was nothing serious, he’d said. He was just looking for fun, but she’d been infatuated by him. Desperately in love. Desperate for a real relationship.
He said he hadn’t meant to kill her. It was just a light push.
I can still understand her fear. After countless breakups, she was afraid. She was slowly losing her confidence, because you kept reminding her to fetch what any normal woman her age should’ve got already. A husband. A family, with a kid or two at least.
You’d always overlooked her other achievements. That’s why she’d been too happy when he came along. She’d thought that maybe that was it: he’s the one. She did whatever he’d asked of her. She’d stopped listening to all her best friends’ warning. Her friends, the non-blood-related people who’d loved her unconditionally – far better than you ever did.
Then she’d gone traveling with him!
She’d stopped sharing her stories with you. Why? She’d wanted to give you a surprise. Perhaps this time, she’d bring a guy home to introduce to her family. Perhaps they’d make her stop feeling guilty and ugly.
And he was afraid. They’d done it, you see? She’d been late for three months. If they’d broken up and he’d left her, she knew how it would turn out: it would be all on her. If people found out, they’d call her easy. They’d label her as ‘that stupid slut’, despite her college degree and great career.
It could happen to anybody, you know? Even to ‘good girls’, believe it or not.
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter now. Congratulations, she’s gone. You’ve lost a daughter, a sister, a niece. It was all because of how you’d treated her, how you’d always made her feel.
‘That stupid slut’? That young woman most people would label her as that?
No, that wasn’t her fault. That was not even that guy’s fault. How come?
Because that was yours. You’d never reminded her just how beautiful she always was, no matter what. If only you had – even for just once in her entire life, she’d definitely still be around by now…
(Jakarta, 26/11/2015 – from The Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Gathering @Anomali Coffee – Senopati, 8:00 pm onwards. The writing challenge topic: “Violence Against Women”.)