Falling in love, finding a soulmate was never a priority. I had my share of relationships that were sometimes fun, sometimes tiring and sometimes downright crazy. I couldn’t help but thank my lucky stars I hadn’t fallen in love, yet. Watching my mismatched parents bickering all the time, watching my friends going through so much heartache just made me cringe.
My folks were a trip as it is, making friends never came easily for me. So why would I want to invite another person into my inner sanctum that I kept stress-free?
Now those I wanted to have.
The big plan was that I would scale the corporate ladder and get myself a nice terrace house with children, a beautiful garden to tend to and pets. We would all jump on the huge trampoline in the backyard and we would camp out there some nights. It would be us against the world.
I know, sounds silly 🙂
I knew I wanted children when my cousin brother had his first child and I was there to watch him through infancy, toddlerhood. Such a miracle of life.
What would I do to get pregnant?
There were anonymous sperm donors weren’t there? Easy peasy.
I hadn’t dated a Southern Indian guy because my childhood experiences in primary school had scarred me. So I steered clear. But life of course had other plans for me.
I was an intern at a psychiatric ward in a local hospital, eager to learn and eager to please. My prior internship at a small counselling centre had nothing on this place. This was Hardcore. This was what I read about in textbooks and watched in old 80’s American Psychological Association videos..where they wore ugly jumpers and had the funkiest hairstyle.
I came home the first day feeling like I had taken a journey into Rene Margritte’s paintings. Oddly enough, I also came home feeling quite content. It was as if something clicked in my head telling me “THIS is your calling”. Most people would shudder to consider a psychiatric ward a place to feel right at home in as a workplace. But I loved the challenge. Somehow the trouble of bringing work with you never happened with me. It was like my brain had an auto switch once work was done – that was work, now was rest. I actually think living with my folks taught me how to learn to disassociate so well, because if I carried the weight of my troubles from home around me, I wouldn’t be able to function let alone study or retain a job.
In the midst of finding my vocation,
there was mingling with the staff. In order to escape the woes of home, I readily accepted overtime and doubles shifts even though as an intern I was clocking in enough hours. Oh I definitely have had my fair share of standing at the Xerox machine and doing the menial stuff..you’ve got to start somewhere 🙂
So it was one such Saturday when I walked into the ward – by that I mean punched the password to the heavily guarded main door to the ward before entering – and was greeted grimly by an Indian staff I had not seen before. Me being the eager intern went ahead and shook his hand, introducing myself. He mumbled a hello and I went on my merry way. I thought to myself “Ugh how unfriendly”.
Note to Reader:
Years later, the hubster casually mentions that he thought I was the new affluent Indian inpatient due to arrive that day. He decided I was not that patient about 10 minutes later when he saw me waltz into the staff office.
As luck would have it, we had to attend a few training courses together. The psychology and counselling profession requires us to constantly stay updated and educated on the latest necessary tools for the job. We also happened to live in the same suburb so we began to share train rides. We shared a pretty decent sense of humour, we both couldn’t wait to migrate to another country beyond the confines of Singapore, we loved similar genres of movies and music..and we worked very well as a team at work so there was plenty to talk about and share.
Over the course of 6 months, we hung out in the same crowd of colleagues and exchanged plenty of flirty banter. It did not happen overnight, it blossomed. First of all, he was not my type. My type at that time was Any guy that wasn’t Indian (so that I would never have to deal with his family’s indian histrionics since my family was nutters enough). Plus we were colleagues so I did not want to complicate my work-life. Until then I had done very well with keeping my personal and professional life as far apart as possible.
But then I started to feel these butterflies when he entered the office. I wouldn’t stop blushing or giggling around him. I’d find any opportunity to walk past him or have a chat during breaks. He showed NO signs of interest during those months though, so I started to keep my head busy with work again. We were close friends by then so that was nice too. What was I thinking anyway, he was not going to like Me. There were far prettier, slimmer, more stylish lasses for him to date. Plus I was 7 years his junior, maybe he preferred someone of his age.
One fateful night at a colleague’s birthday dinner, I excused myself early from the event because I wasn’t feeling too well. He decided to accompany me to the train station lest I passed out because I did look pretty ill. Sometime during that walk from the restaurant to the station, he took my hand into his. My reaction time was a little slow because I was worried about barfing but when I did notice my hand clasped in his as we walked, I turned to him slowly and asked “Umm. What is this?” Being the wisecrack he is, he replies “We’re holding hands”. I roll my eyes and say haha, followed by “What does this mean?”. Give me a straight answer you ape. To which he simply said “I like you, a lot”.
I don’t remember reacting much because like I said, I was still afraid of barfing. But I do remember having a silly smile on my face throughout the train ride back home.
He like me. Me. ME.
Silly klutzy bespectacled plump unpretty Me. Why he did, I could not fathom. But I didn’t want to sound like an idiot by asking him Why Me.
This was at the tail-end of my internship while I was starting my second year of the psych degree. It was a magical first year of courtship. I was never fond of the showy stuff so he made me very happy with planning picnics, boat rides, sitting by the river and munching on eclairs. We professed our mutual love a month into courtship. I felt giddy with joy. I told myself that I deserved this and I deserved Him because I had such horrible parents and unreliable friends. The balance needed to be struck somewhere, he was my balance.
He championed everything I wanted to accomplish. When I was nervous about jogging at the park beside my block of flats because I was painfully shy of my body, he would come by and jog with me. When I wanted to try something beyond jogging, he introduced me to a gym. He would be confident that I would ace that dreaded statistics examination or that I would look amazing in a pretty dress. I began to see Myself through his eyes.
I loved every minute of life and even the nonsense my parents would occasionally bog me with was not as upsetting because I had the hubster’s encouraging voice in my head when I put my joggers on and ran as far as my feet could take me to clear my head. I pushed myself physically at the gym and marvelled at how naturally strong and limber my body was. I pushed myself in Uni and was amazed at constantly coming back with distinctions, surprising everyone around me who expected me to amount to nothing. I was at my fittest in every way possible.
I also got angrier.
Angry at my folks for having put me through hell, at my so-called friends for having no faith in me, at my extended family for saying the extremely hurtful things that they did while I struggled as a teen.
What goes up must come down.
On the second Valentine’s Day I had ever celebrated, I was getting dressed to meet the hubster for lunch and a movie. The phone rang and at first I could not make out what he was saying. Was he crying? I got him to calm down and tell me what was wrong. His cousin brother had jumped to his death from their block of flats.
He had been suffering from depression followed by paranoid schizophrenia and had tried to end his life before but there were no signs that he was going to do it again.
I wiped off my makeup, changed my outfit and went to his side. When I arrived, his cousin was still lying at the bottom of the block. His auntie was beyond herself, unable to believe what she had just witnessed. Hubster was a wreck, as was everyone else in the family. The next few months were the toughest period of his life..trying to understand why and how..watching his auntie and other loved ones break down from the grief and utter disbelief.
By this time, my parents were well aware that I was dating the hubster. Imagine my horror when they told me to stay away from the grieving household because I would lose focus on my third year midterms. I stared at them incredulously. But I did not wish to burden the hubster with troubles from my home so I kept mum, but did not keep my distance. I did everything I could to bring a cheer to his face and revive his wellbeing.
I remember thinking to myself, that is the last time I will celebrate Valentine’s Day. I didn’t have the right man by me before to celebrate it with but now that I do, I cannot even bring myself to celebrate it with him. How could I?
So from that year onward, it’s just another day for us. What we have now is a testament to the love we have solidified over the past 15 years. So we don’t need one day out of the year to remind us to love or cherish each other.
Soon after the demise of his cousin, my health began to fail. My compromised immunity began to crack down on my tonsils as I worked out harder and harder everyday at the gym or when running. Exercise was my panacea, running was my daily dose of serenity. But my body could not take the strain. So in July that year, I underwent a tonsillectomy.
It took time and a lot of convincing from the hubster to get me started with working out again. I was angry with my body for not allowing me to divert my mental and emotional strains in the way I wanted to. It made me so angry that my body was working against me.
What I hadn’t realise was how tired I was. I spent hours at the gym or at the park. I threw myself into my books and studying. I worked overnight shifts so that I could study in the office instead of at home. I cried in private when I had arguments with my parents and wished that I could just run away from home. Suresh was grieving and I didn’t have the heart to run to him with my stupid problems.
I studied myself to exhaustion with the third year final terms. The aim was to avoid as much contact with the family so I started to study until dawn and sleep through the day. As my father began to realise that I was excelling in this vocation, he began to smother me by hovering around to see if I was studying enough or to give me sagely advice on studying techniques.
Let me give you an example of what happens when someone smothers me with their advice or attention :
I used to play the keyboards from age 13-19 and I was pretty damn good at it. Before I discovered the adrenaline from running, I had my piano to keep me sane. Unfortunately my father did not like my tinkering to eat into study time. So he slammed the piano cover down on my hands when he thought I had wasted far too much time on the keyboards. At 16 when my academic future looked bleak, he tried to push me into getting a teacher’s certificate to teach the keyboards. Then he wanted me to do nothing but play play play the keyboards. Something snapped within me and I never touched the keyboards again. I just couldn’t even look at a piano for a few years. He was infuriated and exasperated when I decided to quit, but I would not budge. I was done.
End of Story.
By the end of the final terms, I was at breaking point. The results of my hard work were excellent but they still were not good enough for dad because according to him I had distracted myself with ‘that boy’. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of this island and never see my family again.
Which was the grand plan as I boarded the flight to Melbourne to pursue further study. As luck would have it, hubster had enrolled in the same course so we were going to get some much needed time away from this madness. Unfortunately I was also a goner by then. The threads of my sanity that had been threatening to come apart for years had finally come undone. It wasn’t as if I had absolutely gone off my mind bonkers, but I was not myself.
I found myself crying in the bathtub, hating that now I had the pressure of performing excellent in Uni because this was funded by my dad. My father had no faith in the fact that I would be able to ‘concentrate’ and excel if I studied abroad. I hated that he was right. Although he wasn’t right for the same reasons. He was right that I wasn’t able to concentrate. I wasn’t able to concentrate because I was so tired.
Also I had to pretend everything was okay when family called but the fact of the matter was, I had started seeing a psychiatrist to treat the erratic mood swings. School counsellors were very sympathetic and asked me if deferring the course was a possibility. How could I explain what that would cause in my household? A person didn’t just defer, quit studying or working. Not unless they were terminally ill. How would I explain this to my parents who were expecting me to return flying the family pride flag for being the black sleep turned white?
This in turn wrecked havoc with my relationship with the only person I considered a friend, the hubster. He did not know how to console an inconsolable soul. I don’t blame him. I grew increasingly socially withdrawn and lost my flavour for life. I wanted to walk across the road and get run over. Be done with my life. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a part of this world.
Maybe I was a mistake.
Eventually I had to come clean with my poor grades and the folks did not take it well at all. Why was I giving them these troubles all over again? We had heated phone conversations and by the end of the year, we ceased contact completely. I was done with them. I was going to get through this course and get a job, find myself a place in Melbourne to survive.
That did not happen.
The depression escalated over the months. I was overcome with rage and self destruction. One very fateful day, I had drunk myself silly and in a fit of rage kicked my foot through the glass kitchen door. When I kicked my foot into the door a second time, I howled in pain and blood sprayed from my right foot. Suresh had just entered my apartment and he applied pressure to the crazy amount of bleeding with a bath towel while he called the paramedics. All I kept saying over and over again was “I just want to die. Please just let me die”.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I found that out as I was wheeled into the ambulance. I was losing far too much blood and the paramedic at hand was unsure if I would walk for a while. There was no way the foot could be moved. Because there were no orthopaedic surgeons on call that day, I was doped up with morphine until surgery the next evening. By then I had lost several pints of blood. I was in and out of consciousness, barely registering the Hubster’s voice as he spoke in hushed tones over the phone telling my folks what had happened.
Naturally my father being the man that he was was livid but also very worried. My mother who until then was always in the background as a ‘fuel to the fire’ sort of person during my fights with dad, was very worried and took the first flight available to see me. I needed her. I needed my mother. I was so angry with my family but I really needed my mother there with me because I had never felt so alone and afraid in my life. The hubster was with me but our relationship had deteriorated and I didn’t expect us to last beyond the flight back to Singapore.
It took 7 hours, one plastic surgeon, 2 orthopaedic surgeons, a month of physiotherapy and a lot of strength to haul myself on a plane back to the place I never wanted to step foot on again. At that time, there was no other alternative. I needed the expert medical care and my father had the means to provide for it. I hated having to go back and face the music, but I thought it would be a lot less dramatic since I was rendered immobile on a wheelchair and told by doctors that I was never going to walk again.
That, was when my father’s normally annoying doggedness paved the way for my recovery. We both refused to accept the fact that I would spend the rest of my life confined to a wheelchair. He had seen me come out of some bad times and he was going to make sure that I got my mobility back again. I spent my waking hours staring at my passive foot, willing the big toe to move. It started with a flicker, then a wiggle.
It took me 2 years to regain some semblance of normalcy with mobility.
In the first year, I called it quits with the hubster because I reckoned he deserved the break and I needed to focus on nothing but recovery. There were some really bad days and weeks living with the folks, where I would leave dinner untouched after a particularly harrowing conversation with dad and shakily find the way to my bedroom with my crutches. I would bury my face into the pillow I had cried into for years and swore that once I regained my self sufficiency again, I would leave the family home for good.
Which I did a year later.
I regained my mobility and the daily pain, swelling was a huge setback with daily functioning but I made it work. I secured myself a job, packed my bags and left at his extreme distaste.
If you let something go and it never comes back to you, you know it was not meant to be. With the hubster, he never let go. Not even when I made it clear that there was no way I was returning to him. He fell deathly ill with pneumonia after mandatory in-camp training and I remember thinking to myself “I cannot lose him”.
One evening as I held his feverish palms against mine, he turned to me and asked “What does this mean?”
To which I smiled and said “I like you, A Lot”.
So by that time, my body had gone through numerous transformations. It was skinny when I lived in Melbourne, it was flabby after being immobile, it became fitter after resuming mobility and getting back to the gym. But the constant physical pain made it increasingly difficult to hold on to a fitness regime. My state of mind was also debatable. Things were left in the wake of my injured foot but not healed or worked on.
When I moved out of the parental home, there was an immense sense of relief and freedom. I would no longer be monitored with food portions. I controlled my food portions under their roof so I didn’t have to hear them say “Should you be eating that?”. So admittedly, I went on an extended binge fest upon attaining freedom. I was tired from my then-physically demanding job of working with special needs children. I was tired of the stress of having to make ends meet in order to have my next meal and pay my household bills. But I was still happy.
A year into this new lease of life, I decided it was time to buckle up and get fit again. I began to jog at the park close to my apartment. Unfortunately, my left foot got snagged in a pothole and twisted unnaturally all the way to the other side and boy that hurt. Once again, I found myself immobile and wearing crutches. Not half as bad as the first injury but still bad enough because this time my ‘good foot’ was injured.
I call that injury Karma.
That’s what you get for hurting yourself time and again – a freak accident to remind you to be thankful for the body that you have and to be good to it.
When news came round to mom that I had injured myself, she came by to visit and dad began to ask after me. By then, I had no want for animosity so I did the dramatic meet up with the folks after two years and started the journey towards healing my wounds. A lot had changed within dad in those 2 years and he was shocked when I had walked out. He expected me to come crawling back anyday but I did not. I think he learnt something about his firstborn through that experience. I might be more like him than he thought.
Seven years of courtship had passed by then and our folks were eager to have us wed. There was no romantic going down on one knee proposal but the gesture of my assent to marriage was a huge romantic feat in itself. The girl who wanted nothing to do with men in her life? She was getting married.
And oh boy what a wedding it was.
Oof so it looks like this will have to be continued in a third part. The third instalment will be the last, I promise!