Aug. 27th, 2013 at 3:42 AM
Last night, after leaving your place and taking back with me the strange stirrings within me that looking at you induced, I sat at my laptop trying to capture the precise sense of feeling the earth shifting ever so quietly on its axis. This earth, of course, contains only you and me. It was what you created when your sun shone its rays on my moon, cajoling it towards the splendid warmth of your embrace, convincing it to make a new world. In our brave new world for two, there is no East or West: these conventional terms in the old world have collapsed and melted into a single entity. Your accent is as strange as mine. You are as fascinated with my native language as I am with yours, such that I felt the plates move beneath my feet as I watched you talk to your family on Skype last night. It was not the first time that I heard you speak in your own language; but somehow, listening incomprehensibly to your conversation with your family made you real in my eyes.
I felt the change. I tried to capture its essence in words, my way of making sense of things that I can't in the moment comprehend. I tried to write something that was commensurate with the potential enormity of that which I wanted to write about - how it was plausible to say that we wanted the same things despite my cringing inwardly and marvelling at how our roles were so reversed whenever you talked about children, or how I thought it believable to suggest that we were on the same page despite your liking me first and having a two-month head start over me to figure out what you liked about me, because I felt like I was finally catching up with you. You wanted me and I wanted you. It was that simple. It was as simple as breaking into a smile and feeling a deepened sense of adoration when you glanced over at me in the middle of your conversation with your mother and gave me a small grin, as simple as cupping your face in my hands and drawing your lips to mine, as simple as hitting you lightly on the arm when, in response to my saying, Are you saying that you won me with your B game?, you said, More like I won you with my T game.
We'd been all fun and games from the start. What you could always do was to make me laugh; what I've always had was a weakness for guys that made me laugh. I spent half our dates laughing at your inappropriate jokes, the bullshit stories you made up, the cheeky pranks you played on me. I had memorised the udulations of your giggle, the way the corners of your mouth deepened into small crescents when you smiled or laughed, and the corresponding glint or sparkle in your eyes. There was a touch of innocence about your playfulness that I was inexplicably drawn to; but of course, you would just say, You just couldn't resist my charm, no?
You would be right. Yet, the lightness of your presence in my life lulled me into a false sense of comfort, one that could not accommodate the seriousness of what I could not put down in words the night I left your place after the world changed irrevocably. I tried to write about how I felt but all I could think about was the things that you didn't know. I didn't know what to tell you or even whether to tell you, but I knew that I had to when How much of myself should I reveal to him? was preceded by I have to tell my parents about him. It had become more than just a matter of a grown woman grinning to herself like a lovesick schoolgirl on the Tube to Kings Cross St Pancras when she thought of you; it was about a grown woman feeling like a teenager discovering the capacity of her heart to house another all over again when she thought of you.
Tonight, over an Indian dinner, you were exasperated by my pickiness in my flat-hunting and my seeming unwillingness to listen to your advice; then you were flabbergasted that I would pay 21 quid for check-in luggage for a three-day trip to Amsterdam. Perhaps that was the moment when tapestry of my image started unravelling for you. Or maybe it was when I laid lazily on your bed, moaning about my flat-hunting, and saying half-jokingly, I wish my parents would buy me a flat, to which you said, You're sounding like an only child. I'm sure that what you really meant was You're sounding like a spoiled brat.
That could not have prepared you for the weight of the baggage that I dropped on your lap only hours later, post-dinner, when we retired to your room and I'm carrying these new feelings with me that I can just burst with, which I try to articulate when I'm looking at you and feeling like I'm seeing you for the first time. I want you to know what I am going through. I want you to know what I am feeling. I am blurting out the words in my head that try to shape into correctly-arranged letters that which is intangible, which is incoherent, which is confused, which is jumbled up, tangled up, knotted. These words of mine, these feeble words - I really like you, this was unexpected, I didn't see this coming - they do not express what I really want to say - that, on some level, I think that I may be falling for you.
This 'baggage' consisted of the few oversized items of my recent past. Before him, I have often wondered what it would be like to tell a new (potential) boyfriend about what I have gone through and what I have done. I tried to imagine a range of possible reactions but I could only picture one: disgust. It seemed to be the logical reaction, shaped by the dictates of basic human decency...and perhaps coloured by an inability to stand apart from an intensely personal response to the events of the past 18 months. The events, that is, of my life; and a response that made it difficult to fathom the exculpation of another for my actions.
That night, he showed me another side of human decency. If it weren't for him, I would perhaps still be in the same place: pinned down by the weight of my guilt, unable to see past it - and towards how simple it would eventually prove to be, the quintessentially human act of letting someone else in.
Under the protective covers of a darkened Victorian era-styled cocktail bar in Old Street, he told me about the road trip, showed me the possible routes on his phone; and when he was facing me once more, I saw the look on his face. A slight smile, his head cocked to one side, a pure look of adoration and longing. I wonder if he planned it, whether he carefully picked his moment: first enticing me with the promise of excitement and of seeing Southern Europe, and then, after reeling me in hook, line and sinker, sealing it with a kiss. He closed in on me and pulled me towards him at the same time, and I was surprised not by the kiss itself, but by the intensity of it. It was aggressive. It verged on hunger. He wasted no time on what he would later term the kisses of children and signalled his intention and desire immediately. When we stopped for air, he looked at me, smiled, and said, "Sounds like a good plan, no?"
In two days, we covered France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. I saw the Eiffel Tower but I recognised Paris even before catching sight of its iconic landmark. I was blown away by the stupefying beauty of the Austrian landscape - the lush greenness of its pastoral fields, the arresting majesty of its mountain ranges silently dominated by snow-covered mountain tops. He lived life to the fullest and did a 210 on the German Autobahn while I sat in awe and envy; his thrill came in spurts, governed entirely by the specific parts of the Autobahn that the German authorities deemed permissible for unlimited speed, but it was everything that he wanted all the same. While accelerating the Audi at top speed, he said to me, You will remember this moment right? The moment when you hit 210km/h on the Autobahn with your French boyfriend.
That moment came and went, whipping past me like the wind would have done had I wound down the window. What I remember, though, is not the speed; I barely felt it. What I remember is the excitement in his voice, the excitement that he radiated, so palpable all of a sudden within the confines of his Audi. I could understand it only vicariously in that moment; the next day, when he replicated that moment over and over on an empty Croatian motorway, I was too busy sleeping to be fully present in that prolonged, elongated moment of sheer thrilling freedom with him.
When we hit the pebbled shores of Brela beach, however, I finally understood.
The discrete moments that stand out in the disappointing dullness that is life are, for me, signified by the way that I felt in those moments. For example, five years ago: lying on a deck chair on a sandy beach with my best friend in Crete, Greece and looking out to the Aegean sea, its dark blue striking and daunting at the same time, and feeling a subtle sensation of a pure peace gradually settle within me - the kind of peace that I would lose, slowly, in the intervening years, caught in the trappings of Real Life and all that it promises and takes away.
Five years later: adrift on my back in the Adriatic sea; looking up at the mountains above me (taking in the sight of a mass of grey clouds hovering ominously above its peak, casting a commanding shadow over it); soaking up the sight of the calm deep blue sea that surrounded me (the surface of the sea glistened with the rays of the sun, the wind making gentle ripples across it); and staying afloat with only the use of my arms and legs. This was another dimension of freedom - and it was addictive. I could do this for the rest of my life: the sun, the sea, the mountains, the blue sky, the shore (sand or pebbles; I'm not choosy); and the trees all leaning at an alarming angle towards the sea, as if wanting a taste of the freedom that they spent their whole lives watching us enjoy. I want to freeze life into that singular moment: drifting, floating, imbued with an unparalleled sense of fearlessness, forgetting the meaning of the word 'danger' - convinced (if only fleetingly) that nothing could ever hurt me again.
Of course, that was a mere illusion. Sometimes I find myself genuinely buying into the myth that I have worked hard to create in order to shield myself from the emotional maelstorm which I would otherwise have to confront. Namely: that the process of compartmentalising my emotions is complete. Namely: that I did not just compartmentalise them, but I got rid of them entirely as well, like an amputated deadweight limb. I lived recklessly for a while, chasing illicit pleasures in darkened rooms, seeking escape in the lukewarm bodies of men that I did not love, exploiting the feelings of the men that did love me for my own benefit. Then: feeling absolutely nothing at the end of everything.
As I sat on the rocks on this Croatian island staring at mountains at the other side of the sea and wiping tears from my eyes, it became clear to me, if it wasn't already clear before, what I tried to turn myself into - and how I had utterly failed to do so. I wanted to be untouchable. I wanted to be as formidable, as strong, as immovable as the mountains in front of me. Those men - they couldn't hurt me because I was a rock, and I was unbreakable.
The moment when I realised that I was none of those things was when I collapsed into a tragic sobbing mess after he shouted at me over something stupid and insignificant. I refused to talk to him; I didn't want to be near him; in my moment of anger and hurt, he became just like the rest of them; and oh, how stupid I was for letting a pair of beautiful blue eyes and an initial sweetness con me into believing that he was actually different.
After some time, he gingerly sat down next to me and put his arms around me. His face was an open book and I knew what he was going to say before he said it: I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?
The night that he kissed me for the first time has long since been burned into my memory; I can still see in my mind's eye that particular way in which he looked at me just before he kissed me. The 10 days that we spent together on the road (and on the beach, and in hotels, and in castles, and in a French mansion, and on a ferry) gave me more moments that induce the same exacting sensation of a warm, gentle wave washing over me that I feel when I think about that night.
In Montenegro: driving on the busy streets of Kotor in the sweltering late summer heat, he pulled over with no warning and turned to me. We had been driving in a tensed silence for a while and I had been crying. Before this, we argued for the hundredth time on this trip (I started it) and it quickly escalated and deteriorated; he said, Do you still want to drive back with me? You can book a flight back to London if you want. He also said, We spent half the trip arguing. Surely that is not a good sign.
He eventually got back into the car to resume our drive to our accommodation. When the sun started glaring in our faces again, I reached for the pair of sunglasses that he bought for me the day before to protect my eyes from the sun and I gave it to him; his own pair was nowhere to be found. A few minutes later, he reached for my hand and held it tight.
When he pulled over and turned to me, the look on his face made my heart beat a little faster in nervous anticipation. His eyes appeared an almost luminous blue in the brightness of daylight and there was an intensity in them that matched the look of urgency on his face. I saw his vulnerability, his naked, hopeful heart, and I felt a lurch in my own as he said, I really like you and I react badly when I'm afraid that something won't work. I think I love you, Yalan.
Later, after we finally found our accommodation located in the middle of nowhere in Radovici, we went down to the beach - a 3-minute drive away - in time for the sunset. He made a beeline for the water and I lingered behind, taking pictures on my camera. Eventually, I joined him in the sea. The water was lukewarm, the air was cool, there was no one in the water except us. In front of us, in the distant horizon, the setting sun painted the sky orange and purple. I wrapped my legs around his waist and my arms around his neck; he held on to me tightly. Against the warming glow of the dusty twilight, we tasted sea salt on each other's lips.
The next two nights, the last two nights of our trip and the last of three nights that we would spend together for the next two months, were brutal. We left Montenegro a lot later than planned and decided, more or less on a whim, to drive through the mountains of Montenegro and through Bosnia to get to Zagreb, Croatia. We stopped for dinner in Bosnia, after which we got lost trying to find the border to Croatia. We ended up at the smallest border control that we had seen, which turned out to be a border for locals only.
Eventually, we sorted out the mess and we were on our way again. I fell asleep at some point and in my hazy state, I heard him say, Go to sleep; when you wake up you'll be in a nice hotel like in Germany. I'm sorry I'm making you suffer.
I woke up when I felt the car come to a stop. He'd pulled up in the parking lot of a motel somewhere in Croatia. It was 12.30am and the motel was completely dark. When he finally got back to the car, he told me that the motel closed half an hour ago. He had to be exhausted by then; he had been driving since 4pm with barely any significant breaks other than dinner. Nonetheless, he spent the next 2.5 hours driving around, inadvertently crossing into Slovenia and covering half the country on these winding, deserted roads, trying to find us - me? - a hotel.
Earlier in the day, we had spent the afternoon walking up the old Venetian fortifications of Kotor. It was a relatively warm day and the sun was out; by the time we were done, we were both sweaty and dirty. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxing shower in a clean hotel room in wherever we would end up. When it was past 1am and we were still on the road, my own discomfort at the stickiness of my skin was wholly displaced by my worry that he was tired. I told him, We can sleep in the car if you're tired. He replied, I will give up at 2am.
He found us a hotel off the Slovenian motorway at 3am. Shortly before that, while still navigating the Slovenian countryside, he stopped in front of a signboard that forced him to choose between two divergent routes. I looked over at him then, noting, as I always did, his perfect side view; and in that moment, I was struck by the beauty that life sometimes showed me - such as the beauty of a boy who adored me enough to drive through the early hours of the morning to make sure that I spent the night in comfort.
The next day, on the last day of our trip, the weather changed its mood and we saw rain for the first time. The rain, combined with road works at various points on the motorway, made traffic from Austria to France via Germany intermittently nightmarish. Once again, we were delayed, but this time massively. At 11pm, it seemed unlikely that we would find a hotel in France, and so he decided, and I eventually agreed, to drive back to his house in Normandy to spend the night.
He estimated that he would reach his house at about 3.30am. I was confused and disoriented when it was 5am and we were still on the road. I slept more or less the entire way; he made two coffee stops to stay awake. We eventually reached his house at 7am. He had been driving since noon the previous day.
I was exhausted, but not so much that I failed to take note of how luxurious his room looked when he ushered me in. It looked like a hotel room and its en suite shower room looked more luxurious than some of the actual hotel bathrooms that I had been to. I climbed into his bed shortly after showering. He came in to say good night before heading out again to talk to his parents before they left for work. His bed felt like heaven, a comforting warm cocoon. In the late dawn just before the breaking light of day, I fell into a fuzzy state of sleep. When he finally came in and laid down next to me, I turned to face him. We smiled at each other; I held a hand to his face. Our noses touched.
It is interesting how quickly we get used to something and, by extension, someone. On my first day back in London, I woke up alone in my bed and was hit by a displacing sense of emptiness. I enjoy living alone and I need to have my own space; yet, I got used to his nightly presence next to me over those ten days, the way he hugged me close to him in the morning, and even the way he took up half the bed through the night and left me with too little space. I remember the first few times I slept over at his place when he lived in Pimlico and how I spent hours wide awake staring at the ceiling because I couldn't fall asleep with someone else next to me. How strange it was, then, that sense of something missing, when I woke up without his arms around me.
He is in Bangkok now on a two-month internship and I am quite struck by the profundity of my missing him. I miss him with a wistful sadness, a longing to have him next to me, to hold his hand, to look at him without a computer. I think it is safe to say that those ten days we spent together were a game-changer. I wish it could continue, that it didn't have to end; that we could keep soaking up the sun on a pebbled beach in Croatia, or kiss, endlessly, as the sun sets on a deserted beach in Montenegro.
That's the thing about life. Everything comes to an end at some point, no matter how undeserving, how premature, how cruel. Being back in London, especially being back in London without him, feels like waking up from a very vivid Technicolor dream to a dreary real world of coldness and dampness, and an aloneness that I like a bit less than before. Still: we forge new memories, create new memories that feed the flame - such as those thirty seconds in Heathrow Terminal 3, shortly before he boarded his flight, when he held me tightly and said, I love you baby - my Singaporean beauty.