Joyride (Subtitled: Gratitude, Part II)

On the second day after I’ve reached Alor Setar, I’ve been desperately trying to search and compile evidence of my time in Sunway, and of my friends. It’s almost so easy to believe that none of the things we did for the past 1.5 years was real, that none of my friends are real. The metaphor we used was that of waking up from a really long and nice dream, and after waking up, you’re back at square one. Dream’s over. Everything’s back to how it was. Continue with the life you’ve always known prior to the dream.

I’m desperately clinging onto memories of my friends. I’m so scared. Absence leads to apathy and I’m scared.

It’s crazy to think how this is all a product of chance. If I’d chosen to go to Taylor’s instead of Sunway (which I was very, very close to doing). If Bellyn had chosen to do IB instead of A Levels. If Taliza had decided to join a different A Levels intake. If we hadn’t met Zitian and Qiujing on the first day of SMR orientation. If Harris had chosen a different college that was nearer to his house. In a parallel universe, one in which we had chosen our alternatives, all of this wouldn’t have happened. And I like to think this version, this current IRL version, is the best version there is.

I’ve been digging up old Whatsapp conversations, tweets, blogposts, Facebook photos, Instagram posts, letters, cards, polaroid pictures, receipts, name cards; anything at all to remind and prove the existence of these memories and my friends. That they’re not just part of the most wonderful and longest dream I had. That they’re real. Even though I can’t see them and talk to them and go to classes with them and go on spontaneous road trips with them anymore. Because 1.5 years is long enough that you can fit in so many things that happened rather compactly, but short enough that it’s not unbelievable to think that it hadn’t actually happened. When you think about it, 1.5 years is nothing much to take out of the equation of our lives, unlike primary school or high school, which was approximately five years each, and spread over a wider span of physical and mental growth. I need constant reassurance that they’re still there, they’re still real; I can’t bear the thought of permanent severance from them. They’ve been my home for the past 18 months, there is nowhere else in the world (except perhaps my own home with my parents and even that feels really foreign right now even after 36 hours) I feel safer and more comfortable than with them. There were countless times when I managed to overcome my anxiety merely in their presence; it made me feel like I could do anything, that I was strong and brave enough to be a better version of myself.

The digging process made me realise how different of a person I was in sem 1 compared to sem 2 and 3, and while sem 1 was the idealistic version of myself that I wish to be now, it wasn’t me (I realise that now), and I managed to feel comfortable enough during the consecutive semesters to reveal bits and parts of who I was of which I was previously ashamed of to these people I consider my close friends. I never would’ve been able to learn to accept my own failures and flaws if it weren’t for my friends who were willing to accept me for who I was, flaws and all, even before I could even do it to myself.

Farewells at Sunway before going home whenever there was a break got progressively more difficult as time passed. Even at home, a lot of the things I did was accompanied with the thought of “If only [friends] were here doing [the things] with me; [friend] would be [doing thing] and [friend] would be [doing thing]”. I didn’t really understand it at first. It was reverse homesickness. I was always sick for something that I didn’t have, until I have it and then I take it for granted.

I found myself getting more and more comfortable with where I was as sem 3 progressed. I hadn’t gone home for two months (even though I was supposed to twice and twice I chickened out and still I felt quite okay with it) but it didn’t feel strange or uncomfortable, as I previously would’ve felt in sem 1 or 2. In fact, I felt like I was starting to get a stronger foothold of myself and this place. I was easing myself into this environment that sometimes still felt rather foreign. And then A2 happened and there was little room for, I don’t know, appreciation and sentimentality but as soon as A2 ended, everything was just snatched away abruptly. But I’d just started getting used to this life and actually liking it!, I whined. I whined and moaned and moped because that’s what I do best when things don’t go my way but I had to face and accept the rude awakening of A Levels ending and leaving this place.

I cried all the way back from Sunway to Alor Setar in the car yesterday, which, is it really surprising at all? It’s true, I’d probably cooked Broccoli with all my tears because there was absolutely nothing else I could do in the car except cry and sleep. There was hardly even space for moving my limbs. Sleep didn’t come easily either because I’d be five minutes into dozing off when a memory of the life I’ve left behind would pop up and I’d be jolted awake with the sudden pang in my heart. I wish I could say I was being hyperbolic. It was not fun at all. And when I finally gave in and resorted to listening to music, the first song that came on shuffle was Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second by STRFKR. Like. Thanks a lot, universe. I’d never felt so violated in such a cramped space in a moving vehicle before.

The next consecutive hours spent at home were not unlike the Pavilion trip I had on Saturday. I felt like a detached, mindless human being taking up space, not willing to do anything else other than sleep or look at old photos/conversations or cry in the middle of meals. I am aware of how pointless and self-inflicting all of this is, but I feel like if I don’t mourn this breakup properly, I will not get the chance to do so in the future when everything and everyone feels…further away, and I wouldn’t have been able to give it the justified attention it deserves. Don’t worry, mum and dad, after the time allocation for this mourning period is up, I’ll return to normal again, whatever “normal” means anymore. I will be okay, but for now let me use up my not-okay quota until it runs out and feels right again.

I kept on saying “it feels weird” back in Sunway when my term was almost up. It feels weird, because things are changing and change is always weird, like an itch on your back that you can’t scratch and never seems to go away. Even the unpleasant memories become nostalgic, purely because you know you won’t ever experience them again. The pain and sadness felt during the past year were definitely gruelling, but they were familiar and recognisable, and mostly they were comfortable. I didn’t know that then, because I was too caught up in my emotions to realise it, but now that I’m miles away from them, it feels like my ability to feel shit about something that was important to me has also been taken away from me too. How can I feel shit about something if it’s no longer there anymore? And this makes me dangerously wonder if I’d rather go through the shitty feelings over and over again if it meant staying in one place in Sunway. It doesn’t seem logical or even safe, but the absence of familiarity feels like I’m losing my balance and at this point I’m desperately struggling to grasp onto anything at all to prevent myself from falling, even if it’s having to grasp onto a thick branch filled with thorns.

I know exactly what I’m doing – I’m making myself stay stuck in the past and feeling sad over it, and it’s not a wise thing to do because there’s nothing I can do about it. There is no solution to this melancholy that I’m coercing myself into feeling. I’m doing it for the pure masochism, and the inane belief that it is what is required of me. Along with this comes the fear of forgetting. Right now, everything seems intense. Right now, it’s all we can think of, and all our sentiments echo the same way. But the worst thing is the inevitability of forgetting. We will gradually become occupied with different matters, as we take on different commitments in our respectively separate lives. Previously, we were brought together in a classroom setting; seeing each other and hanging out with each other was almost an obligation and we were more than happy to comply.

That’s why attending classes in college never truly seemed like a chore. I still remember during sem 1 when I would dread the weekends because it would mean that I didn’t get to see my friends and there was nothing to do at all. I looked forward to weekdays more than anything else. Classes started to get progressively stressful as sem 2 and 3 rolled around, but even then, I’d never really felt the same kind of stress and dread I used to have everyday when attending high school classes. A Levels was tougher than SPM, definitely, but it still wasn’t as stressful as SPM period. It also didn’t help that the friends I’ve made in Sunway were the first group of people that I could truly connect with, people that I trusted more than myself. Essentially, all this added up to a really great life in Sunway. I say this almost like as if there weren’t moments when I felt like escaping from Sunway in its entirety, but right now, with the knowledge that the end is permanent, it’s difficult to see the shortcomings of it. Much like when I came home for short breaks knowing how brief a time I have to spend at home that I don’t dwell much on the downsides of it.

I’m afraid of the person I will become. I’m afraid of becoming apathetic. But at the same time, there is nothing I can do, except immerse myself completely in the torrential downpour of emotions that I’m smothering myself with. Which is why I spent a good half a day free writing everything that I could possibly interpret from my emotions. All into this giant masterpost of post-leaving thoughts and feelings.

I miss my friends and I miss my routines. And while staying in a bubble forever would have been ideal, it would not have been possible. Moving on is necessary, and I know this. This transition process I’m facing is difficult but I’ll get through it. We all will. And while I love to dramatically throw around the phrase “the end”, I also know that’s not true. It may be the end of our little 18-month bubble of hedonism, but much brighter things await each of us individually outside the bubble. It’s just the beginning of life as we know it, and the pricking of the bubble does not equate to the severing of ties that we’ve formed between ourselves. More adventures lie ahead for all of us, collectively or not. At this point, this is my logic!self writing this to reassure my gut!self that everything is not as bad as it seems. Just because it’s the truth doesn’t mean it’s easy to believe in it. But I’m getting there.

The movie is ending, and as Bellyn would like it, the violins in Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve are echoing in the background as the screen fades to black before the credits start rolling. I had the best time of my measly 19 years of life for the past 18 months, and I can never thank everyone enough for giving me that. I don’t know what I’ve ever done to deserve this, but I’m so glad I did. Thank you for being great characters in my story; I’ll write us the best story anyone could imagine.

(a new chapter)

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Author: Michelle Teoh

23-year-old cynical Asian, book enthusiast and purveyor of fine sarcasm.

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