broken mirrors.

Sometimes I am convinced I am alive …on the other side of the world.

Whenever I look at the time here, internally my mind will immediately add four hours and flip day with night or the opposite. Without even realizing it, my mind is wired to Malaysian time. I’ve been here in the States for five years now, so I don’t even know what it is that I miss when I think of this thing that I define as home. For the past five years, I like to think that when I am here, I am all-in. I am present in every moment. Sure, there are many versions of what could have happened but this – this is the happening, the here and now, and so this is where I’ve centered myself. I am present.

But you know, I think something’s shifted. I can’t say whether it’s intentional ergo if I am to blame, but lately it is as if I feel even more convinced that my life, my real life – you’re already looking at me like I’m delirious, I bet – is taking place on the opposite side of the world. And you know what’s funnier? It’s not even anything momentous or groundbreaking, like I’m saving a country or hell, running one. It’s just myself, as I am, being present again in each moment of my life.

What is this indifference that keeps persisting, this gaping hole that stays open?

For the past four months, I’ve lived the most solitary life I’ve experienced thus far. By choice. Already it sounds kind of problematic. I maintain that I am not socially awkward and I want to claim that the occasional smattering of online conversations are enough for me to get by, but you know, to be honest I’m not sure. I wonder how people do it, those who rebuild entire lives away from places they identify as home.

And then there’s that, of course that – what is home, exactly? Every now and then I get swept away by nostalgia and a kind of melancholy for familiarity; faces and places. I think about home and assess what it is that comes to mind when ‘home’ is mentioned. Is it a place? Is it a set of faces? Is it simply a state of being, a particular emotion? Is it a mental spot, akin to a memory, one visits once in a while?

Today I woke up to Housemate #1’s text message – finally. Yesterday she arrived home after a month-and-a-half long meditation excursion in Nepal. There are some friends who inspire just by being – she is that special snowflake for me. Such strong sense of self and so grounded in her principles and actions, sometimes I genuinely wonder how and why she can still love me for the person that I am. When I was first informed of this trip, a week to her planned departure, I remember feeling surprised and yet not. Trust her to pull something like this: to inform, not seek for a second opinion. For the past one-and-a-half months it was radio silence between us with no means of communication, and it’s also in this timeframe that I spent some time dwelling about what is it that I’m doing with my life, a stark contrast to hers.

When she decided to return home despite the promise of a bright future here in the States; when she decided to venture on a completely different path, against her parents’ expectations and internship experiences; when she decided to go on this trip – she’d inform. “I’ve made up my mind,” would be her sentence opener, each time. She is, needless to say, the driver in her life’s course. Always. Some friends inspire just by being, truly and sincerely, and here she is, Exhibit A. So I attempted to mirror by looking deep …but came out empty-handed. I looked ahead …and only found a blank canvas.

What am I doing with myself, truly and sincerely?

They often claim that I have luxurious problems. I hate the term ‘first world problems’ and therefore don’t use it, but I know that that’s probably one of the first things someone who knows me in real life would say to me if I confide in them the things that run through my mind. It’s not that I don’t reflect on my lot in life… I am grateful for where I am now, what I am working towards. I am grateful for having a roof under my head, specifically a studio of my own in the on-campus housing area. I am grateful for the financial security I have when it comes to my education because I am under a scholarship, and financed under Mum for living expenses. I understand that all I have to do here, literally, is study and do well (enough) to complete this masters program.

Surely then… what does it matter how indifferent I feel about myself, where I am and what I’m doing …right?

I think so too, that I live a good life here and I count my blessings daily, for the worries that I don’t shoulder. Yet I am… stagnant. So stagnant I could just as easily be mistaken as lifeless. Partly why it was excruciating to keep conversing with my old buddy during my visit in Seattle last week, I suspect, is because she’d asked hard questions. Those that forced me to reassess my stance as a young Muslim woman, a Malaysian citizen, a student abroad, an aspiring engineer – as a part of society.

I realize, like a fool that I seem to have turned into, that I am not ready.

on society, by kyung-sook shin
On society, by Kyung-Sook Shin (from her novel I’ll Be Right There).

Where is that girl with hopes and dreams, drives and motivations? Where is that girl who at eleven, promised herself she’d make her study abroad dream come true? What happened to that girl, who at sixteen had confided in her soul-sister that she wanted the student presidency post not because she felt she could honor the roll but because she, believe it or not, felt that she deserved it? What happened to that girl who at eighteen, when push comes to shove, took on the challenge headfirst? Where is she, that girl at nineteen who hilariously came home after only six months in the US with an ego the size of the States? Where is she, the girl at twenty-one who did what she needed to do to fulfill a second dream, and turned twenty-two at the height of trying to turn that exact dream into reality?

What happened to the braver, more stellar, more confident versions of myself? What happened to the girls I once were, where are they now? I’ve gotten myself here and then what? So what? My time’s almost up here – and then what? So what?

Home is a concept, they say. A matrix of memories. A dirty little liar that attempts to cheat us of reality; memories are actually dusty, broken pieces and not glossy family portraits. What is it that I hold on to, finding it near-impossible to let go? What… the hell is it that I am doing with myself, truly and sincerely?

While Housemate #1 inspires simply by being herself and taking rein of her life course, here I am, spent from playing many characters and somehow, always, still the one in the passenger seat. Supposedly I am the chosen one; they say I have more than what I need and everything that I want, and I convince myself that at the moment I’m merely wandering, not lost. But… aimless. Isn’t it? I look deep and find an empty vessel. I look ahead and catch wind of a blank canvas. They call this growing pains; I call it lost years.

Why does it bother me so much, how indifferent I feel about myself – who and what I am, where I am and what I’m doing? Why does it bother me so much that I exist without impact? Why… why… if it bothers me so much, why do I still sit here in the quiet, in the dark, in solitary confinement of my own doing, unmoved?

Lately I’ve been avoiding the mirror.

Even under the best of circumstances,
there’s just something so damn tragic about growing up.

– Jonathan Tropper, This is Where I Leave You


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