starry, night sky.

welcome to Napa!

Sometimes I… scare myself.

Napa Valley is beautiful, though I’ll be honest – I’ve seen more beautiful vineyards during my travels in New Zealand and Italy last year. Still, it was incredibly nice to be away from campus that I’m not complaining. Wonderful weekend getaway – great girls for company, breathtaking views and lots of fun.

Then it happened.

Sometimes I… freak out. Panic. Anxiety.

Large crowds scare the shit out of me; unfamiliar settings set off alarms in my mind. Being in the company of strangers or newly made friends for long hours – more than I’m used to – tends to throw me off-balance. I’m aware that I am at fault because I over-think everything and every single person, or puts pressure on myself to be or act a certain way but as I’ve discovered the hard way over the years – it’s always so much easier said than done. While I rarely ever comply and give in to the pressure, ironically not doing anything about it leaves me wounded and sore just the same.

It was 630 PM and time was ticking too slowly. We were stuck in the restaurant for the next two to three hours while our friend-cum-driver attended a separate dinner elsewhere. There were four of us at the table and by 730 PM as we attempted to kill time by ordering desert and hot drinks, the conversation flowed more loosely. The lights in the restaurant were dim, orange hue everywhere. We sat in the far corner, tucked away at the end; four girls squeezed in a boxed seating area. From time to time, I leaned against the wall on my right.

They continued talking, moving from one topic to another. Parties to bad dates to gossiping about course mates to drunken night escapades to awkward moments… I listened carefully to every word, each story shared and responded fittingly – I gasped at the horrible details, laughed at the funny encounters and nodded thoughtfully at the serious bits. All the while I stayed mum, sipping my coffee quietly.

Another hour passed and stories continued to be shared by them; awkward dating tales, boys versus girls debate and more crazy night-out experiences. Once more, none… I could relate to, but I politely played along. The stories were fun to listen to and it’s somewhat unbelievable to know they’re real. Whenever one of them tried to prompt a story out of me related to the topic-at-hand, I could offer none. I smiled and shook my head.

At 9 PM, I excused myself to go to the bathroom, just as they got into the heat of sharing recent dating stories. One of the girls wanted to define her relationship, something that’s been on her mind for a week now – are they friends with benefits? Are they just dating? Are they exclusive? Why isn’t he prompting this? I couldn’t offer any advice obviously, so I figured it was a good time as any to timeout.

Once I was in the bathroom, I locked myself in a cubicle and stayed in there for a minute or two, awkwardly standing in the middle of the small space … holding back my tears. Sometimes I hate myself for always being this way, for always ruining a great night out or being the killjoy to a light, happy occasion.

This isn’t the first time. It won’t be the last, I doubt it.

I stayed that way for long minutes, trying so desperately to hold back my tears until I felt composed enough to join them again at the table. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint the trigger, equally as hard to explain why. At that time, what came across my mind was how out of place I felt – always so fucking different.

There they were, bonding over drunken tales and heartbreak and genuine desires to be in love. Recalling random encounters at parties, awkward conversations on dates and mistaken make-out moments – “That never should’ve happened!” – and laughing at these memories while I sat quietly at the corner, fiddling with my coffee cup. There they were laying bare their concerns and whatnot, while mine?

Mine concerns things like worrying about missing my prayers, internal monologue with God, family matters and this desperation to get away and travel. While theirs are about being in the moment, living up to the twenty-something young and free notion, mine involves topics which are mostly abstract and serious. None of what runs through my mind on a constant basis relate to boys, drunken nights or whatever else which were just shared. I have never been kissed, nor do I wish for it. I have never even held hands with a boy, what would I even know about making out? I hate house parties and avoid them like the plague, how could I possibly imagine what happens on a crazy, Friday night party?

Sometimes the differences between my life and what is the so-called norm here – the gap is just so fucking huge.

I’m not judging them for living their lives however they choose to, just as I don’t blame myself for the way I choose to walk my path. To each his and her own, that’s for sure. But in moments like this when it’s fun, light-hearted and allows for easy banter and bonding, I find myself, as I always have, the odd one out.

Finally at 930 PM the friend-cum-driver called us to say she’s outside. In the car on the way to the hotel, the darkness enveloped all of us and I couldn’t be more relieved for this short recess. I love the girls and I’m so glad I went along on this trip, but in that moment I desperately fought back the tears that threatened to fall. I took several deep breaths, trying to steady myself. I craned my neck to the window, hiding my face away from them and noticed the starry night sky. Before I knew it, we’d arrived at our destination.

Later that night as I performed my prayers quietly and rather awkwardly within vicinity of new friends, I felt like I bared naked a part of myself – one I’ve always tried to keep hidden until one gets to know me much, much better after long, extended period stretching months to years. Perhaps I’m just too ridiculously guarded.

I laid out my beautiful, hand-woven prayer mat from Mecca, a gift from Mum, at the far corner of the hotel room. I dared not look at their faces as I donned my praying gear, a pair of gold-pleated knee-length white telekung and its matching long skirt. Halfway through my prayers, I accidentally banged my head against the table but paid no heed to the sharp pain and surprised gasps. I clung on to the raw, guttural and naked emotions I felt since couple hours ago as I prayed, this time letting my tears fall freely as I faced my praying mat.

“Maybe it is because you’re different,” she responded kindly to my frantic text messages sent during the ride to the hotel, “The adjustment process is tough. It’s like… you’re suddenly placed in a TV show, expected to act but they forgot to give you the script.”

I nodded and clung on to her every word, fighting back the tears.

“And maybe… you just put too much pressure on yourself.”

I thought of the night sky I just saw and remembered the blinking stars. I imagined myself as one of them – a star among hundreds, thousands and million others just resting nonchalantly amid the darkness; no insecurities, just twinkling my light away. I thought of what it means to let go; acceptance.

Will I ever acquire it, truly and sincerely?

This struggle is so seventeen; I am already twenty-two. I’m supposed to know better by now.


3 thoughts on “starry, night sky.

  1. Sometimes you don’t even need to be separated by culture or religion to feel like you did there. What you describe, sitting around listening to other people tell stories that you can’t share or relate to, and don’t even want to, is basically how I spent my high school and part of college life. I’ve always been partially anti-social, so I tried very hard for a while to meet and hang out with a different crowd. I tagged along to the occasional party, outing, club – After a season of that, I never grew accustomed to it. I didn’t like those places. I didn’t like seeing how the people I hung out with changed in those places. So I politely retreated back to my comfort zone and resisted all attempts for them to bring me back.

    Now I’m content not doing much, and I like a small gathering of friends or family in someone’s home. And that makes me happy, where are other like-minded people to share that with. I’m not sure it’s a struggle we ever completely vanquish though. Half the time I congratulate myself on conquering my fear of strange environments, and then I realize that I’ve just come up with a billion excuses one after another for why I don’t want to go out and see people, especially if it’s a big event. For example even if i know a handful of families at a church banquet, and am well know enough that there will be SOMEBODY to sit with so I won’t look awkward by myself, I often feel more alone in a crowd – struggling to keep a conversation going, or using the same nice responses over and over – than I do when I’m by myself.

    Phobia of people and conversations? You wouldn’t guess it if you saw me, chit chatting with a dozen people, smile plastered to my face. But then I sit down and I can’t remember what I just said, and I desperately start craning around for my husband so I can give him the “pllllease can we go home” look. I suddenly feel dirty, and fatigued. Just from putting on an act that isn’t even a bad act. It just exhausts me to be social. And then I feel like a lazy bum and a bad friend. But the relief when we’re home… I feel ashamed, but I hate the effort it takes to keep up with people. Regardless if they’re my age, or a generation or 2 apart. Maybe because I’m already anticipating people moving or growing away and friendships dissolving that I protect myself from that before it happens. It’s a fact of life, I know. I just hate it, and so I ignore it. And life goes on in its own little bubble.

    1. *hugs* THANK YOU for leaving comments like this, as you always do – sharing a part of your own life stories and in the process, reminding me that different is subjective. Also, this whole “I feel so different because of my religious practices” keep being debunked by you as you point out time and again that certain struggles are universal regardless of our backgrounds. Everything you wrote above I echo perfectly, it’s almost crazy! But it also makes me feel so relieved that someone out there understands – I just hope one day I have a Mr too haha, who gets this in ways your husband seems to about it. So cute :)

      This that you mentioned though – “but the relief when we’re home… I feel ashamed, but I hate the effort it takes to keep up with people.” You said it Rosie, as you always do. I feel the exact same way, and I struggle all the time especially on days when I feel so lonely that I’d kill for company … But the moment I have them in handfuls I freak out. I anticipate the same things too honestly; I responded to my sister the other day and admitted having trust issues – that it takes me forever to open up to people because each new relationship and friendship seems and feels temporary, especially here because my final destination as we all know by now, is home. It just feels like what’s the point? Once I’m on the other side of the globe again – I don’t know how much, how far I’ll be remembered still. Which is sad and pathetic to think that way and I’m aware it’s pride talking more than anything – I’ll be the one to leave on my own terms as opposed to being the one left behind kind of perception – but ugh, putting yourself out there for the world to knock or embrace … It’s HARD.

      Rosie, if its one thing I’m sure of thanks to this comment of yours (which I honest to God love so much) is that I am CONVINCED we are meant to be friends! I’m so glad you found me here months ago :”)

      1. Well, chingoo. I’m glad to know that whether or not we’re watching dramas- there’s always something to converse about. xD

        Responding to posts like this taxes my own thoughts on the experiences of my life, or the way in which I deal with them. I know there are other people who get me, who understand me, but who very rarely put those thoughts into words, that I don’t have the chance to respond in kind. That you share your life in a very personal and open way, it’s like a switch turns on inside my own head, and now that I’m used to reading such outspoken thoughts, my own brain unravels and interprets what I’m thinking in random moments, sometimes like a play-by-play in my head. (Of course, this always happens when I’m somewhere, not near a keyboard). Such is life.

        Family Thanksgiving is finally over – another exercise in “does my face look pleasant? Because I feel like walking out and taking a nap. Also I feel like punching people.. Ok but I think my face looks pleasant enough. Crap. what should I talk about.. Dad is also tuning out the world and watching football. I think I’ll join in that… oh but I hate football. But it’s better than anything else right now..”

        Silence. I want silence, and emptiness.

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