Nobody asked you to be tough, to always stand tall for everybody. I didn’t know where you’d gotten the idea from.
A few months after your father’s funeral, you moved out. That new job was located far away from home. You needed a rented room nearby, because the traffic was always heavy.
Like all mothers, I never wanted you to leave. If possible, I’d rather keep you close for always.
However, I knew that would make you feel unhappy. I know that doesn’t mean you don’t love me, despite their accusations on you. You’ve longed for an independent life since you were 18.
“Besides,” you told me, “this is my turn to start taking care of you, not the other way around.”
I sighed. Very well, then.
Three years later, it’s still the same. We’ve been living separately, even in the same city. You only return home once in a while, mostly on the weekends. Sometimes we meet up at some restaurant or mall and hang out all day.
I miss you. I miss our Sunday mornings together by the front porch, with our coffee and my crosswords puzzles. Sometimes you read a book or write on your notebook too.
We don’t talk much anymore. I understand that you’re busy. You’ve grown up too. Perhaps you think it’s time you solved your own problems.
Be careful what you wish for. You know many rarely take that seriously until it happens.
You stayed over that weekend. As usual, you slept in your old room that night. I passed by your door when I suddenly heard you mumbling. Obviously, you were talking in your sleep, so I quietly opened the door and entered your room.
“Stop.” You were frowning with your eyes closed. You looked angry. “Stop it. You stop it. Stop looking at her! Look at me. I’m your daughter too, for God’s sake!”
I froze, unable to believe what I’d just heard. Is that why you’ve stopped sharing stories with me? You think I love your sister more?
That’s not true. You know I love you too. It’s just that, your sister has always asked for more attention. You’ve mostly kept quiet. All that time, I thought you were okay.
I’m sorry you feel that I’ve pushed you away…
“I miss Tobey…”
This time, you sounded sad. My heart just went out to you. You’ve always wanted a big brother. I love your hazel-eyed best friend too. Tobey has always been protective of you. He was so caring whenever he was around.
I know you always miss him when he returns to his home country, dear…
I thought that was it, but then you mentioned another name in your sleep:
Who is it? Your frown was not just of anger, but also…fear. You started moving about in your sleep, your mumblings growing louder and much clearer.
“Stop it. I don’t want it. Max, stop it! You’re hurting me.”
My blood ran cold. Who was Max, baby? Why was he hurting you?
I had to grab hold of your hands when you started clawing at your own arms. No, not clawing, I realised. You looked like you were trying to let go of someone’s grip.
“Let me go, Max. I said no! Stop it, you’re hurting me.” You were sobbing now. I shook you awake, pleading:
“Wake up. Honey, please wake up!”
You finally stopped and opened your eyes. I thought you were fully awake, so I said, “Sssh, it’s okay. You’re okay now. Sssh…”
Then you went back to sleep. For the rest of that night, I was lying next to you, holding your hand and stroking your hair…
— // —
You looked completely different in the morning light. Gone were the frown and the tears from the night before. Had I imagined them all? You smiled at me while having your breakfast.
“Everything okay, Mommy?”
“What? Oh, yes.” So I joined you for breakfast. Silence filled the room, mixed with our gulps and clanking of the spoons against the bowl.
After that, it was your time to leave again. The weekend was almost over. The weekdays were ahead. Time to start working again.
“Do you need to bring anything else?” I suddenly asked. When you shook your head, I smiled and said, “Take care, dear.”
“I love you so much, Mommy.” You were smiling back at me, which made me see the ghost of your father for a while then. I silently choked, thinking:
Have I failed her, Ray? I wish you were still here. You’d always understood her better.
I didn’t know why your eyes reminded me of the time you were six, accidentally breaking my favourite china. You hadn’t been crying, but your eyes were pleading – a silent apology.
“I love you too, baby.” There. I’d just missed another opportunity. I stood there as I let you kiss my cheek, turn around, and walk away. The moment the door closed, I sat down and cried.
Do you hide your tears too, everytime you turn away? I think your violent dreams have been enough. I’ve heard more than enough in your sleep.
But how do I get you to talk to me in your waking hours? How do I convince you that no, I’m not going to be angry? I promise you, baby, even when I’m not ready. I just need to knw what’s been bothering you lately.
Please, you can tell Mommy…
Nobody has ever asked you to always be tough, so I’m wondering why you’ve chosen to go down that road anyway…
(Jakarta, 19/10/2017 – for Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Writing Challenge at Caribou Coffee, Sarinah – Thamrin, Central Jakarta. Topic: “sleep”.)
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.)