“I didn’t used to be this afraid.”

Sometimes I think of Philly – like two nights ago, when I named my new home wifi after the wifi at my last apartment there – and came undone at the memories. Sometimes it feels as if it was a first love I left behind. Y’know – the one that got away.

And maybe it was. Maybe it was.

Two nights ago, I chanced upon a new year’s resolution – we could call it that – write-up by my first-met-on-Twitter friend Michelle, who mused honestly and openly about what a difficult year 2015 was for her. It might be strange to use these two words together to describe her piece, but no matter how I think of it; they describe it perfectly: beautiful and heartbreaking. She touched upon years of wanting to retrieve then top the life abroad she had had; of an all-too familiar sense of aimlessness that’s made worse by an internal boatload of fears… all of them, well – damn. They hit too close to my heart.

I didn’t used to be this afraid. I didn’t used to doubt myself. I didn’t used to feel so listless.”

I think about this often, lately. I’ve spent several nights just chatting the night away with the intern who is sharing the house here with me. She’s three years younger and of course – still a college student. Constantly doe-eyed and in awe of any new experience and incomprehensibly touched whenever any senior pays her any heed. I try to be a friend but sometimes I think I don’t know how to play that role well; she’s still way polite with me. Sometimes I wonder if I feed her with false stories, exaggerated and fictional tales of a local girl who, urban by upbringing and culture, ventured Stateside six years ago to further her education first in Philadelphia, a city two hours away from New York, followed by Stanford, only an hour away from sunny San Francisco. Sometimes I wonder if she thinks I made up these stories; do I look like her, feel like her?

“I didn’t used to be this afraid,” Michelle wrote with precise, piercing raw honesty. How I ache, because her words resonate. “I don’t know what happened to all that bravery,” I have found myself admitting out loud several times by now.

“I didn’t used to be this afraid.”

So… what happened?

I maintain that I don’t regret the decision I made to come home to Malaysia, for good, following three-and-a-half years in Philly and two years at Stanford – those were great, defining, and meaningful years. Unlike Michelle on her year abroad, I don’t think about topping them – I wouldn’t know how. But I recall the girl I was – especially she who lived my Philly years – and I remember her often because I always wonder, still do, where she is now and what happened to her.

Where did she go, whatever happened to her?

“I didn’t used to be this afraid.”

I want to retrieve her, like how, lately, I wish I could retrieve the girl I was – bright, naive, all-in twenty-one year-old – when I first arrived and lived in this town four years ago. At soon-twenty-five now, I find myself extremely guarded and obsessed almost, to put up a humble facade. Whatever happened to she who was unabashed with her personality and thoughts?

Where did she go, whatever happened to her?

“I didn’t used to be this afraid.”

I remember a week ago, during a car ride with my buddy – myself on the wheels – on the way back to our office. “Do you have a fear that literally paralyzes you?” She asked. We somehow got to talking about fears; I don’t remember how we arrived at this topic. “I don’t think so,” I began, “At least, none that is paralyzing. But I do have social anxiety, that much I know. Big crowds? I don’t do them well; I find them extremely uncomfortable that I break into cold sweat, near-fainting… they often happen.” I paused as I made a turn at a roundabout; one of too many in Miri.

“But I think it’s more about not being a risk-taker… I think I’ve too many fears. There are too many ‘but-‘s in my life. I want to do a lot of things,” I found myself talking freely, “but then I’d think them over… and over… there’s always a ‘but’, basically. In fact, the last conversation I had with my teacher – the one I told you about – just before I came here, she pointed this out exactly. “You’ve too many ‘but-‘s in your life,” she told me. “Drop them.”” I made another turn.

“So I’m working on it.”

I didn’t used to be this afraid – I don’t know what happened. I genuinely don’t know what fucking happened. Maybe adulthood and growth happened – that’s what. Those are why. Maybe. But along the way came feelings of listlessness, doubts, overcompensating, lack of self-confidence… they suck. No two ways about those – they suck, big time.

But here’s my crutch, complex – whatever word you want to use to describe it, here’s mine and I recognize it: I don’t know how not to be myself. Where a typical person often wants nothing more but to hide him or her true nature; the irony, I constantly want to be an open book. I don’t know, genuinely, any other way to exist and just be. So though I’ve no idea where that girl I once was has gone to, whatever happened to her – I’ve intense and acute awareness of who I am now…

…and I am fucking working on her.

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2 thoughts on ““I didn’t used to be this afraid.”

  1. Okay, first, I am made so shy by your very kind words about my writing. I never take compliments of any sort very well, but in this case, for you, I will simply say, thank you.

    Second, you’ve posed some really great questions here and ones that I long to find answers myself. I am glad that you have a very clear awareness of who you are, and that you live your life as yourself. That’s something to admire because you’re honest with the world in a way that I think few people ever are — in the entire span of their lives. Thank you for sharing this, because it is so beautifully and thoughtfully written. And because you inspire me so much!

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