answer me, 2012: revisiting a summer of car rides & youth.

i. 

Since 2010, my life has been a series of ten weeks but none more poignant and memorable than the ten weeks spent in Miri, Sarawak, two summers ago. Frankly I don’t know if I could relive that experience – I hitched rides with a record-breaking of 15 people in ten weeks (don’t ask me where I’d put my face and how thick my skin was then). In retrospect, thank goodness for those rides because I was introduced to a plethora of colorful individuals I’d likely not cross paths with given my sheltered life. I was nineteen when I left to the US, and had only ever lived in a cocoon that is Klang Valley, convinced Petaling Jaya was The Best Place In Malaysia (how foolish).

I remember that summer as one about friendship and growth – I haven’t been the same since. During my last three weeks, I made fast friends with some awesome folks with whom I felt an immediate kinship. It’s been two years since my magical summer of friendship and youth, and today I finally reunited with one of them. We met for lunch near his office, him in a crisp dress suit with a lanyard around his neck; typical office look. We crammed two years’ worth of stories within two hours – still not enough, ha – but it wasn’t until we stood on opposite platforms – symbolic – that I understood the reason for the heaviness in my heart.

Funny what time takes away, and what we receive in return.

There’s now a clear distinction between us: Working Person and Student. It’s strange, realizing that I’ve been stuck in one place and whining over the same school-related issues, crooning to old tunes while my friends, like him, have boarded a different train: trying to find that sweet spot between work-life balance, juggling relationships, dreams – trying to win against reality. Strange that all these are so foreign to me.

I thought back to our conversation and wondered how much opportunity determines the roads not taken. “I’m envious of you for having choices,” he said. “Sometimes I think I’m the wrong person to be granted this [freedom],” I admitted, “Because all I do is keep trying to find my way back home.” For a moment it felt like all of a sudden, the friend I last shared so much idealistic notions with has… grown up. He’s boarded that train – a whole different ball game. Strange.

Just before we parted, at the ticket machine where I apologized profusely for having him pay for my train ticket (small change only, gah!), he chuckled and said, “Please – don’t be so polite with me.” And suddenly it’s summer 2012 again, and we’re just twenty-somethings trying to figure things out, whatever that means.

Glad that the gold dust is still working its magic on one of my best friendship finds :)

___

…is the version I wrote and shared, and had early on gotten permission to feature him in this reflective note.

ii. 

We were sort of in love. I knew
how many lines your lips have when you’re
not smiling, I knew something hurt.
I knew this sort of tears, this sort of hands-holding.
Our fingers interlocking like secured old gates
when someone we did not know passes by
with a look of trespassing in their eyes.
Maybe this will end in tragedy, an accident perhaps,
both of our seat belts not working, breaks ignoring
the kisses of our feet. I will cry a little
and you will walk away, sort of.
Our hands in our pockets, your heart
floating on the surface of a well, my heart
breathing the almost-empty water underneath you.
It will sort of hurt, and somewhere in between
I will sort of pretend that it doesn’t.

– Kharla M. Brillo | Confession XIV

iii.

We parted ways at the train station, headed in opposite directions. I gave him a quick, and what I convinced myself as friendly, hug. It was a mistake; I’d forgotten how tall he was, towering me by at least a foot. My heart skipped a beat. On my way up to the platform to catch my train, I texted him with a simple “We forgot to take a photo!” I noticed him immediately from across the platform but unlike me, he didn’t scan for me in the crowd. I wondered if he’d already read my text. In that few minutes when I lost sight of him, my mind wandered on its own – if this was a drama, he’d surprise me by appearing on my side of the platform just to snap that quick photo.

But of course that never happened.

His train arrived first and like magic, he reappeared and we exchanged glances and a quick goodbye wave before the train whisked him off. My last view of him was his side profile; he leaned against the glass partition between the seats and the door with a hand on his chin, deep in thought. So different from how I last remembered him two summers ago – my magical summer of friendship and youth, a perfect epitome of the latter. Sometimes when I recall memories from then, my heart aches over an irretrievable time and a friendship circle that no longer exists. We were four strangers who were at the right place and time. Our stars had aligned with each other just this once – my twenty-first year. When I left Miri, Sarawak, ten weeks later, I was a different person. Grown.

Two years later, at last I reunited with one of them – him. Strange that so much has changed. We met for lunch, squeezing two precious hours between his busy schedule and later, I found out that not only had he snuck out from an office luncheon to meet me, he had to rush back to make it to his meeting at 2 PM – we left the restaurant at 145 PM, dragging our meet to its end. I’d arrived at the restaurant first and when he finally did, there he was in a crisp dress suit with a lanyard around his neck; typical office look. Unlike him, I was casually dressed in jeans.

We crammed two years’ worth of stories within two hours – not enough – and it wasn’t until we stood on opposite platforms – symbolic, so symbolic I thought I could hear the sound of my heart breaking to pieces right there on the train tracks that separated us – that I finally understood the reason for the heaviness in my heart.

Funny what time takes away, and what we receive in return.

There’s now a clear distinction between us: Working Person and Student. It’s strange, realizing that I’ve been stuck in one place and whining over the same school-related issues, crooning to old tunes while my friends, like him, have boarded a different train: trying to find that sweet spot between work-life balance, juggling relationships, dreams – trying to win against reality. Strange that all these are so foreign to me.

On the train on my way back, as the vision of the city blurred past me, it was like seeing memories of summer 2012 whiz past my sights. Back then in Miri, we hung out until late at local eateries before eventually moving on to coffee shops discussing a myriad of topics – bucketful of what ifs, hopes, dreams, and idealistic notions. It was at the memory of our past conversations that I felt it: an unmistakable sadness. A sense of loss for the persons we were and for his youthfulness that I no longer sensed, and didn’t know I held on to for the past two years.

I think what affected me most was the dejected tone I sensed in his voice; hollow. I thought back to our conversation and wondered how much opportunity determines the roads not taken, or is it that our opportunities have been unequal from the beginning? That it all comes down to our different lots in life? “I’m envious of you for having choices,” he confessed. For having choices, he said. For having choices. That struck a chord with me, echoing to the deepest recesses within my heart. “Sometimes I think I’m the wrong person to be granted this [freedom],” I admitted, “Because all I do is keep trying to find my way back home.” He has a hunger for the world and dreams he claims keep being out of reach. He hungers for a world… that I’ve had the opportunity to wander and get to know, and one I’ve no intention to find permanence in. The irony, how it hurts.

For a moment it felt like all of a sudden the friend I last shared so much idealistic notions with has… grown up. He’s boarded that train – a whole different ball game. Adulthood. Financial woe. Letting go of his long-term relationship with his college sweetheart because it seemed the best thing to do – not holding on to each other because they’re both just starting out, and the long-distance didn’t help. “It was the best I could do for her,” he said. “An amicable breakup,” I responded. He nodded. It wasn’t clean, but for now it’s finished.

Secretly I wondered, if we weren’t who we were – what we were – could I have had a chance?

When we stood at our respective platforms, within sight and yet apart, divided by the train tracks – I understood. This gap I can’t close. This leap I can’t make. The clear boundaries I can’t cross. I am Malay, he is Chinese … it’s more than that. I am a religious and practicing Muslim, while he is a staunch Buddhist. If ever that we stand a chance to be one-half of each other, honest truth: I’m not daring enough to start something I can’t finish.

For a split second – a split second – I wished we were different. I was different.

___

…is the version I would have written, had I the liberty to not hide behind a pseudonym, rather as a real person.

Note: If you’re interested to revisit my magical summer, my favorite write-up about that is this. I did dedicate a series of write-ups, which you can find here – though I gotta warn you that not all of them are… great writing.

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10 thoughts on “answer me, 2012: revisiting a summer of car rides & youth.

  1. Hello, Jandoe.I’m back from my trip and finally have normal interent connection so I read all your new posts.I have just read this and I want to say that this story really stroke a chord with me.I don’t know how to explain it but it felt so real.I think I understand what you feel even though maybe not coompletely.You remind me about my past and about my first love.Also you reminded me about similar story which happened this spring.I met my former classmate whom I met for the first time in three years.We exchanged stories,I told him about my university and then he asked me if I had a job.Frankly speaking I was suprised.I don’t know why but the idea of working before I graduate from university never even crossed my mind.For some reason,maybe becuase of my apparent suprised face I was embarrased.His family is poor and he is working for them while I have everything I want.My parents pay for everything I need.I’m so used to that so I take it for granted.He doesn’t have those oppotunities that I have.We all are really different I think.

    1. Paloma! *hugs* I read your encounter and weep for you too – that’s exactly it, what I feel when I think of him and our meet yesterday (still thinking about it). “His family is poor and he is working for them while I have everything I want.My parents pay for everything I need.” While my friend isn’t poor, we’re not within the same socioeconomic bracket and like you, it never occurred to me until recently just how affecting this is and what a difference it makes. My heart aches right now over everything – him, us, a “what if” that I’m not allowed to consider. You and your friend – our friends’ respective reality checks. *hugs you tightly*

  2. I remember reading your previous post on this guy. I’m glad you got to meet up with him again after such a long time. It sounds like it was both a happy and sad reunion though. :'(

    1. Hey girl… Not sure if it’s the same guy you’re thinking of, since there’s three of them from then – at least three that featured prominently in my write-ups: A, E, and C. This one is E, who I haven’t seen since I said goodbye to him back then, so it’s literally been two years. A is now my good pal who I actively keep in touch with. They do share a physical trait: all of them are Chinese, haha, and a similar personality trait: nice guys. I’m fortunate to befriend them. I reread my summer break series last night after writing this (and can’t sleep over perplexing emotions), and was surprised how often he appeared in my writing, once I’d gotten to know him. He’s the guy I accidentally said aloud I like drummers when he said he plays the drums. Also the person I share so many things in common with. Sigh. I don’t know if he sees me in this way, but I do know that as friends we genuinely love each other dearly. This line I can’t cross though – this gap that won’t ever close; ugh, sigh, I gotta admit it breaks my heart a little. We’ve promised to meet again in September before I fly back to Stanford, so we’ll see how much of my sentiments here will remain (or multiply?!) by then.

      PS It was a great meet, no doubt. Soooo good to reunite, but poignant for sure.

      1. OH! Well I was thinking of the one where someone asked you if you would consider him as a possible partner if he was of the same religion. Is this the one?

        1. Oh that was A. Who is my good pal now… who is kinda like E, except that I honestly think with A we friend-zoned each other from the get-go – it’d always been platonic haha. I meet him regularly to whenever I’m back, so all is good with A :) with E… surprised. I think I really thought he’d be his same cheery self but the intro to “the real world” must’ve been quite a challenge for him. The loss I felt … it’s hard to place … I guess the best I can call it is a loss of youthfulness. Or something. I’m currently all over the place with emotions T_T

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