the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Monthly Archives: August 2009

Breaking point

“Maybe I dissect each little thing, and put myself out there too much, and maybe even thrive on the drama of it all — but at least that means I still care. You think you’ve won because women are expendable to you? Sure, you don’t get hurt or make an ass of yourself that way, but you don’t fall in love that way, either. You haven’t won, Alex. You’re alone. I may do a lot of stupid shit — but I know I’m a lot closer to finding someone than you are.” – Gigi, He’s Just Not That Into You

he's just not that into you

I remember the first time I watched this, back in early April. I hadn’t been very keen on it when Sophia had mass-emailed saying she had passes to the premiere, if anyone was interested. And at Becca’s insistence (“I really think this is something you and I have to watch!”), I agreed to go for it.

With so many characters and storylines in the movie, it was easy to get them all confused. I couldn’t remember how one person knew the other, nor how each story became intertwined. I only remembered coming out of the movie in a bit of a daze, nodding vigorously when Becca vehemently announced that we were going to delete every text message that we had kept in our cell phones out of sentimentality or false hope.

I write about this now, nearly five months later, because nearly five months ago I was at a loss as to how to put into words the effect the movie had had on me. But after watching it for the second time last night, on DVD — losing spectacularly to Becca, who has watched it a good ten times or more — I was reminded of how I had come away from it the first time, thinking, Yes, I know what I have to do now.

I used to think that everyone had their breaking point, and when they reached it, there would be no going back from it, because that would be when they knew they had exhausted all their efforts in getting what they wanted, and were ready to admit defeat and walk away before they could hurt themselves any further. I used to think that I had a breaking point, and when the time came, I would reach it and completely let go of everything I had hung on to that had defined my life and the pain I had put myself through.

But time and time again, I thought I had reached it, only to bounce back and stretch that line a little further, thinking that if I could just be a little more patient, wait just a little while longer, everything would turn out all right. And time and time again, I turned away from that breaking point, terrified that if I reached it, it would be too late to turn back even if I wanted to.

And now here I am, at a point — breaking or otherwise — where I can’t do anything but move forward, because to turn back would not only be fruitless, but also hurt other people besides myself.

Naturally, Becca was more successful at keeping her vow than I was, and possibly less sentimental too: the text messages I had saved dated as far back as December 21, 2007, and even after watching He’s Just Not That Into You again last night, I’m no more successful than I was the last time.



Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile; what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile

I know now that no matter how happy I am, no matter how much reason I have to smile these days, nothing can take away the pain, the heartbreak, and every tear I’ve shed. But because all that is from a different life, a different time, the only thing I can do now is hide behind a smile.

Loath to the camera

I hate having my photo taken. I hate it with a passion usually reserved by others for more teeth-grinding ordeals. Like enemas. That is not to say that I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing an enema, but even if I did at least I know I wouldn’t have to see the outcome of it — unlike a photograph.

I have no illusions about the way I look; I am well aware that unless I go through at least half of my usual makeup routine (or ‘putting my face on’), I should not be allowed out in public, as I have the pallid, colorless look of a chronic invalid, which only gets more haggard — and more unrecognizable — as the day wears on.

So it was with a heavy heart that I read the email sent out to my entire division yesterday, announcing that we would have photos taken for our new staff IDs this morning. While my colleagues agonized over what to wear (‘bright colored dress’, the email said) and how to get their hair done and subsequently sleep standing up, I agonized over how I was going to get yet another decent photo taken.

The last time I had my photo taken in these circumstances was back in March, when I had to renew my passport. I had smiled my best smile, and with God’s grace (and a little help from the photographer), I had my first decent passport photo in twenty years, which I vowed to use until I’ve aged too much to pass off as the same woman in the photo.

And this morning, having chosen a pale pink shirt over mourning black, as I don’t own anything belonging to the neon family, I stomped up to the ninth floor of Tower Two with the same kind of dread one feels when awaiting a jury’s verdict in a murder trial. And after three (three!) tries, I apparently managed to have a relatively normal-looking photo taken, which was lauded by the photographer as ‘very nice’.

It didn’t help that the photographer, who was Chinese, was shouting instructions at me in Malay (“Jangan gelak! Jangan gelak!“* which I swear I wasn’t), ceasing only after I said, “I’m Chinese, you know.”

* He meant to say, “Jangan gerak,” which means “Don’t move” in Malay. However, the Chinese tongue is unable to tell l from r, and therefore it came out as “Jangan gelak,” ironically translating into “Don’t laugh,” which I was too irate to do anyway.

Color-blindness (Part V)

In a bathroom at the Westin Hotel:

Woman: Excuse me… excuse me, do you come here often?
Me: (thinking she was about to ask for directions) No…
Woman: Oh, but do you fly over here all the time? From KK*?
Me: (completely taken aback) No, I’m not from KK.
Woman: Oh, then from Jakarta, is it?
Me: (horrified) No, no, I’m from here!

As Eza pointed out after the woman left the bathroom, it was probably because of what I was wearing that day. This is what I get for having to adhere to the Islamic bank’s rules of wearing a baju kurung just to host their events: nobody can take me seriously.

Afham was appalled at being mistaken for a Burmese, but now that I can add ‘Indonesian’ to the List, I win. Even his mother and sisters almost laughed me out of the house when they saw me later that same day.

* Kota Kinabalu

Oh, hello. Goodbye.

They say time heals all wounds. They didn’t say that these are the wounds that can be reopened in a heartbeat, even after being closed for years. And this was one wound — of a great many others — that I never wanted to touch, or look at, ever again in this and all my other lifetimes to come.

It was a perfectly normal good Sunday; I had found the black Charles & Keith shoes to add to my collection of Shoes For Work, and at a reduced price at that, and I had managed to buy the dress from Warehouse that I had been coveting for a while now. I was about to watch G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and had been able to procure tickets without fighting the unwashed masses. I was content.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone walk a step closer towards me and say, “Hey, hi!”

My brain didn’t tell me to ignore him. It didn’t tell me to walk away. It didn’t tell me to give him — or the girl walking a foot away from him — one of my nasty looks and say something scathing. It told me to be polite and reciprocate his greeting; after all, the man had already slowed his walk to a stop to speak to me. So I obediently said, “Oh, hello.”

And then I kept on walking.

I knew it had been rude of me to do that; I might as well have pretended I hadn’t seen him, instead of doing a lofty “Hello” and sailing right by even though he had clearly meant to follow up with perhaps a “How are you?”. It may have been because he was with someone whom I can only assume was his girlfriend, and I didn’t want to detain her by making small talk with her boyfriend. It may have been because I had resolved long ago never to set  eyes upon him again for as long as I lived, and I had lived up to that resolution faithfully for the past four years. It may have been because, even in those two seconds my glance had fallen on him, I could already feel the sting on my cheek that always lingered for a while whenever it pleased him to raise a hand to my face. Whatever the reason, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stand there and hold a conversation with him and live with myself.

Admittedly, there are moments when I feel a smidgen of shame for how I behaved. I could have been the lady I always try to be and said, “Oh, hello. How are you?” I could have smiled at the girl with him and shaken her hand. I could have introduced the man I was with to them. Instead, I chose to give in to the memories of the pain, the anger and the fear — the memories that still make me flinch whenever Afham lifts his hand to touch my face or hold my chin. And with the memories came the realization that the wound had never fully closed in the first place.

The upside of this is that the dinner invitations that have recently surfaced have now stopped.

I suppose some cuts run too deep.

Buyer’s (or seller’s?) remorse

Temporary, but no less painful

For all the laughter you brought me.

For all the movies and the music we shared.

For renewing my faith in love, and testing its strength when you took it away.

For teaching me to put others first, and not make anything about me.

For helping me learn more about myself through what I learned about you.

Thank you.

“Never again.” That’s what I said to myself
Never want to feel your kind of pain again
Just when I think it’s over
Just when I think it’s through
I find myself right back in love with you

Whitney Houston, Why Does It Hurt So Bad –

It’s a girl thing

Or maybe just our thing

pieced together

Ever since I was old enough to date, I always tried to maintain a balance between my friendships and relationships. Acutely aware that the presence of my friends — especially my closest ones — long preceeded that of the person I happened to be dating at the time — and perhaps also driven by my determination never to become dependent on a man in any way — I swore never to become one of those people who would become so immersed in the relationship that my friends were left forgotten. I had already witnessed my own friends turn against one another primarily because one was too engrossed in her relationship to care much about anything or anyone else — a tragedy more common, it appears, among women than men.

In the last three months, I’ve found myself desperately trying to balance the new life I now share with someone else, and the lifeline I’ve cleaved to for over a year with my best friend. We speak often, over the phone, because I’m bored at work and she’s bored being unemployed. And every now and then, we bring up the subject of how our outings have been reduced to the occasional dinner, the even less occasional brunch and rare movie screening:

Becca: Nancy and I were in Pavilion on Saturday and after that we went to M-Circle and —
Me: Oh! Why didn’t you call me? You two went gallivanting without me!
Becca: Because you’re not allowed to gallivant anymore.
I am. I can still gallivant.
No, no, you’re not allowed to do the kind of gallivanting we do anymore. Nancy and I decided that since you’re the only one in a normal relationship, it should be left untainted by the things you used to do with us. Don’t worry; soon we’ll find ourselves normal men and live normal lives with you.

And then yesterday, while I was doing some damage at Marc by Marc Jacobs…

Becca: Hi. I called to tell you that I’m going to Jakarta tomorrow for five days, and I’ll be back on Monday. Then we’re celebrating Nancy’s birthday on Thursday, and I thought we could get her the Hammam gift certificate and all three of us can do a Hammam day!
Me: Oooohh, yay! I haven’t used the Hammam gift certificate you got me for my birthday.
Becca: Yes, I know, which is why I thought of the Hammam for Nancy as well, so that you may make full use of yours that cost me a DBKL parking ticket. When do you want to do that?
Me: Well, it just so happens I get four days away from the ball and chain next week, so it would be easier for me to get away then. But if you’d rather do another time I can work it out.
Becca: Oh! Well, no, no, then we’ll just do next weekend, since it’ll be the weekend of her birthday anyway. You want to be all fresh and well-scrubbed for when you put the shackles back on.
Me: And then we can do our Bodega breakfast over the weekend; it’s been a while since the last one.
Becca: Yes, yes. We’ll do Bodega and a Hammam day then.
Me: Oh, good! I’ve been wanting to do all that, but it’s been so difficult. I’m always being dragged off to some party or movie or birthday do.
Becca: Yes, that is, in fact, what normal relationships entail. You’ve just been devoid of one for too long. Well, OK then, at the very latest I’ll see you next Thursday. I’m about to go sunblock-shopping and exchange money. He says I don’t need to bring money but I’d rather have some on me, lest we be separated by running mobs or war. And I intend to spend the five days in flats, in case I need to run or scale a tree.
Me: You said that before you went to Bangkok last year.
Becca: Yes, well, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.
Me: OK, if you must. Well, have fun and take care of yourself. Call me when you get home, or if you’re about to… go. Or if you’re… you know… hiding amongst shrubbery or somesuch.

After hanging up, I realized how different things have always been with Becca than they have with my other friends. It appears that the unfortunate circumstances of our lives over the last few years have led us to a point where, when one meets with unexpected good fortune, the other cheers her on. And we’ve somehow reached an unspoken understanding that no matter how long the intervals between our meetings are, we will always manage to catch up, come full circle and close off that interval — and eventually start that business together. Even if one of us is atop a tree.

No words needed

My latest source of amusement, procured at the Creative Juice Brave As Hell party last Friday, July 31, 2009:


Yes, that is, indeed, (a wax model of) my hand. And it will be placed strategically on my desk at work so that when ridiculous people come simpering in with their ridiculous requests, I can save myself the indignity of speaking to them by merely pointing at this.