This morning I thought to myself:
Life is such that the day you forget your umbrella is the day it rains cats and dogs; the one day you’d forgotten to don a jacket after days of wearing one only to be greeted by warm weather – it’s chilly; that moment when you’ve frantically ran for the bus… Only to miss it by fraction of a minute; that moment when you’re away and counting down the days to a big event, only to finally arrive at D-day wondering and forgetting just what was so exciting in the first place; that moment when you’re expecting a flat road ahead, only to be greeted by the winding, uphill road that makes your muscles sore and your fighting spirit battered.
Yes, life’s like that.
But by the evening, having just spent the day with lifelong friend Housemate #1, I thought to myself:
(But) Life is such that it takes only a person’s presence for you to remember what’s it like to laugh merrily and be yourself again; that moment when you’ve taken a wrong turn and panic with fear that you’re lost… Only to come out from that darkness into wonderful places previously unknown; that feeling of satisfaction and pure elation of triumph at the 100th point after 99th failed attempts; that moment when you finally arrive home to your studio apartment after a long journey, greeted by the surprisingly soothing sound of your neighbor’s violin.
I’ve been quiet here as I’ve been trying to sort out one logistic after another, getting acquainted (lost) to this new setting, trying to push away this funky, emotionally unsettling feeling and mostly – trying to suppress this internal burning question of just why the hell did I decide to leave home again, once more and completely by choice, when the life I have at home is good, great even?
Truth: sometimes my Muslimness scares me, because if feel like it scares others. I haven’t changed in that sense – I’m so afraid of the judgment, of the wary looks or confused expressions. I don’t know how to explain without making it a big deal that my coffee break includes a 10 minutes (30 minutes here because I’ve to head over to the prayer room on the other side of campus) break to conduct prayers, five times a day. I don’t know how to not make it a big deal as everyone sits at the table discussing bars and drinks and barbecues that I don’t consume them and why so. I don’t know how to not make a big deal of the fact that yes I look just like anyone else – at least the oriental Asians on campus and the world over, yet happen to be Muslim too.
You know, the truth is – maybe no one actually cares. It’s all in my head.
But I don’t know and I don’t want to take that chance, so I’m fearful and pretentious. I give other excuses of having scheduled other appointments and the like, holding people at a distance because I don’t know how they’ll handle this truth. Mostly, uncertain how I’ll handle the truth – that they care? Or that they don’t?
Here’s what I’ve learned, at least – that one can’t be on the fence forever. If it’s something one believes in wholeheartedly to the point of being defined by it, one can’t be indecisive or impartial towards said matter. So in my mind I’m clear about where I stand and how much my principles govern my thoughts and actions, including the fact that if I lose friends because they’re allergic to religion – that’s fine. I’m not asking to be understood. Perhaps I’m asking for some form of respect, but realizing that as it is I’m disrespecting them by assuming they can’t accept this Muslimness in me.
So in this past few days I’ve been functioning – attending the orientations and mingling with people but I hold myself at a distance. It almost feels like freshman year all over again; I’m paranoid and nervous, it stresses me out. I’m frustrated at keep being lost on campus, frequently losing my way even in the residential area and having to rely on Google Map like a lifeline. The campus is massive and the people are so different than the kind of vibe and environment in my alma mater; I feel small. Insecure.
But such is life – today I met up with Housemate #1 to pickup my books from her and catch up before she flies back to Philly tonight. In the train I thought – it’s funny how our timing perfectly matched to meet halfway. I helped her pack and we sent the last of her boxes to the apartment. When the postal office lady made a fuss about wanting to see her ID to verify the address as the to/from address were the same and Housemate #1 had forgotten to grab hers in the midst of a hectic morning, showing my ID fortunately sufficed. It rained cats and dogs this morning, the wind chillier than usual too and I’d been feeling cold while on my way but by the time I made it to her, the rain had completely stopped and she easily passed me her jacket.
We spoke and spoke and spoke – while unloading the car, packing the boxes, during lunch at our favorite Korean restaurant near her rented apartment, in the long bus ride to the ferry building, sitting on a bench outside overlooking the ocean, over a cup of coffee and pomegranate-blueberry frozen yogurt while waiting for time to pass… We reminisced, reflecting on the past 3.5 years together and how we’re finally here: past the junctures in our present lives, moving forward to act upon our decisions.
Her six-months internship here is akin to my Miri days just last year – the turning points she faced in her personal struggles about her near future and where she hopes to be et cetera… In the post office as we were lining up, I brought up the fact that this coming fall is her last term in school. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I wanted to tell you this in person – I’ve decided to return home for good once I’m done.” I grinned despite myself – I’ve always been pro-returning, genuinely believing brain and talent drain must be tackled by those of us who are able.
By the end of the day, I realized something – just as Eldest Sis pointed out to me upon my leaving days ago that “I’m so happy to see you grown up and finding peace with and within yourself (although this may not be apparent to you…)” and I’d grinned at her words, likewise I realized that Housemate #1 has metamorphosed too. There’s a kind of quiet confidence and contemplation, a form of maturity if you will, that was not there before within her. Through her, I see myself again.
Now I remember what it took for me to have gotten here.
As I sat in the train on my way back, I’m hit once again as I have repeatedly this past week by my present – that I’m in friggin’ California, the state of many people’s dreams; that I’ll be receiving knowledge in one of the best, if not the best, institution in the world especially for my field; that my girlhood dreams of wanting to experience a campus setting university – I’m getting that now as I keep feeling awestruck at the beauty that is this school’s architectures; that I’m living solo in a space that’s all mine as I’d always dreamed of… And many, many more blessed reasons why this present is meant to be.
Minutes to parting ways, Housemate #1 admitted aloud once more just how great her six months here had been, how much she’ll miss it and just imagine, “If only I could take this kind of environment unique to San Francisco and bring it home to Malaysia, then life would’ve been perfect!” I looked back at her and we both laughed, knowing how wishful thinking that is.
“True,” I responded, “but then it wouldn’t be life. It’s too perfect that it’s not worth anything.”
I have no idea when we’ll cross paths again between the two of us… But I’m not worried. There are things you know in your heart to be true just by knowing, crazy as that may sound and in my life’s worth – this friendship’s one of it. May we always live our lives sincerely governed by our innermost desires to stay true to ourselves, honest in our ventures and should we lose our ways – which of course we will, in this unpredictable thing called life – that we remember we can count on each other to be found.
To this new chapter in my life – I will honor it, I promise.