Wednesday, September 29

We All Have Issues

I just finished reading Jay Asher's "Thirteen Reasons Why". I definitely will write a review on it; it's such a good book. The story deals with the 'snowball effect', where little things, mean things, callous things, all amount to one girl taking her life. Sure, taking your own life is a decision you make on your own. Blaming others is unfair, as if justifying the wrong thing you're doing. But I can relate to Hannah Baker in the book. Sometimes life gets too much, too scary, and even though you're surrounded by people who care about you, sometimes you feel all alone. And when you want so desperately to find one reason to cling on to life, someone will disappoint you. How do I know? I tried taking my own life, once. I still have the scars on my right forearm. Whew. I've never said that in public before. Only a few people knew about this, but I know now that I need to heal. However, I don't want to talk about it. Not yet, anyway. What I am going to come clean about is what happened during the final year of my high school. I went to SJI, an all-boys' school in the middle of KL. I was a runt; I was small and skinny, and I wore clothes 1 size too big (Mama said so I could grow into those clothes, and we wouldn't have to buy new ones -- she was still blindly hoping I would grow, and not stay a midget). But I had never been a bully victim. Even when I first entered school, I defended others who were bullied. Ended up making friends with the bully himself. Imagine this: a chihuahua (the small dog that looks like a rat -- Paris Hilton's dog) defends his human against a bear. Yeah, I'm the chihuahua, but with two 'Immunity Idols', as they use in the Survivor series: a. my excellent grades. People pick on smaller kids, but not when they are academically accomplished (well I was, up to Form 3). b. in high school, my status as 'Lisha's younger brother'. Boys older than me kept on asking me to say hi to my sister for them. Of course, I often replied with "Go to hell", but that didn't seem to deter anyone. Chihuahua, remember? Make that 3. I've forgotten I had another reason, one that played a significant role in defining me in later years. So here it is: c. I would freely give whatever extra money I had to anyone who needed it, and I also had this big-ass pencil case that fitted a stapler and a lot of pens and pencils, and paper clips. I even brought a paper puncher to school. I was a walking stationery shop, minus the business transactions. People liked me because I could supply them with things they needed. Anyway, I remained a geek, but a happy one. No one disturbed me as I leaned against a pillar and read the Dragonlance series I borrowed from my friend Ming-Han. Well, teachers did try to confiscate the books, but I told them that I was reading a book, instead of jumping around making noise or drawing graffiti or skipping school to smoke. Saved my books every time. Yeah, I had no fear of authority figures even back then. Form Four (equivalent to Junior Year) was the best year of my life. I had two best buds, one an Indian and one a Chinese (eat that, 1Malaysia campaigners). I held the post of junior editor of Garudamas, our school yearbook. I was failing my Additional Mathematics and Physics, but only because I hated the teachers who taught them (I heard one of them was a much better tutor at his private tuition center -- heh, money does make some people better). I aced other subjects, but Mama kept screaming in my ear about how I could have let red letters ruin my report card. Toward the end of that school year, a transfer student came in. A hockey jock. I couldn't be bothered at first, but we were in one of the top classes, and he was flunking almost everything. You know me and my lost causes. I helped out with whatever I could, at first, but the more I got to know him, the more I was intrigued. His life was less than perfect, and after a few months, he admitted it, and we instantly became close friends. I was still close with my two buddies, but I spent less and less time with them. Yeah, I know where this is headed. So let me set things clear right off the bat. I wasn't romantically inclined with him. Sure, I admit he was good-looking. But so are my cats, and I love them, but never romantically so. Sometimes I think of myself as a leech (or a tapeworm). Once I get attached to someone, I tend to be a bit clingy -- I did say I want to come clean, right? I want their world to be a better place, and I go all out to do it, even when it's saving a whole week's allowance (translation: minimal purchase during breaks and lunches) so we could have lunch at McDonald's after Friday prayers, my treat. I know. The perfect setting for a psycho-stalker story. And you may be right. We were great friends, the two of us. I would go to his house to tutor him Mathematics. Mama would have killed me if she had found out I didn't go home straight, but went to my friend's house after school instead. During weekends, I would spend time on the phone trying to get him to get the correct answers. In turn, I got an A for my Additional Mathematics during the first-term exam in my senior year. After failing throughout Form Four. Go figure. All my grades went back up, actually. And after Friday prayers, we would just chill. Not saying anything, not doing anything, just stayed in the mosque and...chilled. You have that too, right? Someone whom you can spend time with, without having to say anything, but still enjoy the comfortable silence? I had that. I loved it. That was when I didn't have to be the over-achiever who's too afraid to disappoint anyone. Someone who used to be a friend of mine since primary school talked about what happened in the mosque to the two buddies of mine (one's a Buddhist and one's a Hindu, so they had no reason to go to the mosque with me). Well, I had trusted that particular friend, too. I had spent 2 entire months not going to the canteen during rest breaks back in Standard Four just because that friend had his arm in a cast, and didn't want to get jostled about by other boys. I had (still have) issues, I tell you. So what did my 2 buddies do? Spread rumors behind my back that I was gay. Naturally, when this close friend of mine heard about it, he started distancing himself. Things started to go downhill form there. I couldn't figure out, at first. All I knew was one of the only reasons I felt good about myself was drifting away. And when he started dating and spent less and less time with me, I freaked out. Needless to say, I did a lot of stupid things, things I won't mention here because I know they'll make excellent material for a YA novel, dammit! One thing I will mention, though. One day I got too far. Our school's Sports Day, to be exact. I had entered a 4 x 200m track race (didn't win, but that was the first time I entered a sport event in high school!). My friend ran, too, in several events, and won medals (well, he was a jock). We had planned to grab lunch together, along with other close friends of ours, but at the very last minute he canceled, to go out with his girlfriend instead. I snapped. I stampeded toward the girl (1 year older), grabbed her shoulders, and slammed her against the wall. I had made a vow to myself long before that, that I would never hit a woman, and I renewed my vow after that. What I did was wrong. Immediately after I realized what I did, I knew I had much to atone for. Sometimes, even though over 12 years have passed, I relive that moment. I relive that shame. I didn't care about other people's reactions. I saw the surprise and pain in her eyes, and the betrayal in his. If I could go back in time, that moment gets to be top priority. I lost my friend for good, and deservedly so. Retrospectively, had I been cool with his girlfriend, we would have stayed friends. Maybe. Well, maybe not. Other people started to distance themselves even further. One stormy day, I climbed onto the roof of our Form Five block, not to kill myself, but to just get away from the looks my classmates were giving me. That friend of mine? We were no longer in talking terms (he even shifted his seat to the back), but he came after me. He found me sitting against the wall, crying. He may not have seen my tears, because we were both drenched. And he sat there, beside me, without saying anything. Remember the comfortable silence I talked about? He gave me that, one last time. And I'm eternally grateful for it. But the others? The two friends I had trusted so much actually ran to the library at the building across the field from ours, where they could see the rooftop scene unfolding. They brought a few hangers-on with them. I found out later that they actually placed bets on whether I would jump or not. Those backstabbing bastards. I was adrift after that. Those two friends of mine stopped talking to me altogether, even though we hung out occasionally (I didn't know their schemes at that time). But my breaking point? When one of them walked in a rush, and I had to run to catch up with him. Then he turned toward me, with his finger pointed at my face. I can still recall this vividly (the curse of my good memory). This is what he hissed at me: "You either walk in front of me, or behind me. Don't ever walk beside me." If I had known how to skip school, I would have. I made excuses not to go to school, pretending to be sick. Sometimes it worked, but only occasionally. By then, we had covered all of our syllabuses, and classes were mainly for revisions. Whenever I was at school, I buried my nose in my storybooks even though what I needed to do was study. I ate alone. Most of all, I would borrow the editorial room key from my teacher, Mrs. Brahma, to escape from everyone, including myself. I would lock the room, to immerse myself in old school magazines, in my revision, but most of all, so that I could freely cry. Since I had attempted suicide years before that, I knew that it was not worth it. But it didn't mean I had to love life. Then a miracle of sorts happened. My computer broke down, taking with it all soft-copies of my yearbook. I was the Editor-in-Chief, by the way. It was already August, so close to the deadline where we had to submit our files to the printer, and much too close to our final exam (end October). Other Form Five Garudamas members couldn't help me, and I didn't mind. That exam took priority. The two friends of mine? They were also in Garudamas. Found out later that they played a role in deterring everyone else from helping. Losing all the files was a disaster, so how could it have been a miracle? I had my junior Garudamas members to help me retype everything. And since other seniors no longer worked on the magazine, I had free reign to redesign it the way I saw fit. Mrs. Brahma encouraged me. We bought professional magazines and bounced ideas off each other. I suspect she knew something was wrong with my life, but she didn't prod. Instead, she helped me focus on repairing my school magazine. We did more than that, so much more. We redesigned the entire magazine. And you know what? 1998 was the year when Garudamas became more than just another school magazine. We became a benchmark. From then on, Garudamas became the envy of other school magazines. I'm not sure if it still is, but Mrs. Brahma and I, we initiated a change. How many people can say the same? Both of us share that special bond, and we still reminisce, whenever we get to meet each other. Mama blamed Garudamas for my shitty SPM results, though. She kept on insisting that had I not spent too much time with the magazine, I would have gotten much better results. I defended myself by saying Garudamas was the one thing that kept me on track, but she wouldn't listen. I didn't explain why, either. She had too much in her hands to worry about, and I didn't think she would understand, anyway. I wasn't underestimating my own mother. Can you understand what went on with my life back then? Can you honestly read all that and not think I'm either gay or crazy or both? Most of my extended family members think I am gay. I'm almost 29 and I don't even have a girlfriend. To be honest, I had one, back in uni. We didn't declare it or anything, but all my friends could tell that I loved her. She knew I loved her. I even had a confusing relationship with a faculty member, later on. That didn't end well. I'm not in a relationship not because I'm gay. The truth is, I do not have the capacity to love and care for another person because I hate myself. I hate myself for the things I did, and for being a people-pleaser. I'm not exactly ugly, but I'm not good-looking, either. I have this demented view that people will only like me if I have something to offer, and with the people closest to me (including family), I push them away to test them. I still fantasize about what would happen if I die in an accident. I won't intentionally hurt myself, but I can be reckless during surgery as well as on the road. Only when I'm driving alone, though. So, being in a relationship will be unfair for the unlucky woman. Of course, people want to introduce me to their younger sisters and/or their daughters (mostly because I'm a sweet, good guy, I think), but I have too many skeletons in my closet. Do I want to be in a relationship? A lot of my stories are about relationships, so that says everything. But I have to learn to accept, to love myself first. So some of you wondered where I get materials for my stories. My life's a never-ending drama, and writing is how I channel my emotions. I hit the lowest point in my life in my second year of university. The stress was too much. I turned to my family. I told Mama I wanted to quit Medical School. She immediately scolded me, saying I almost gave her a heart attack so early in the morning. I shut her out for over a week, after that. I briefly thought about offing myself, but I wrote about a girl who committed suicide instead. Turned out to be one of my strongest stories back then, and I immediately felt better. I always turn back to writing whenever I feel a strong need to vent. Have you heard about the term 'altruism'? In psychology, it means a person's selflessness to benefit others, without obvious benefit to the person, and may cost the person in the process. There's a point when altruism overlaps with hedonism (pain gives pleasure). One of the only reasons I love my job is because by saving other people's lives, I don't have to deal with my own. I can put my life on hold while I deal with life and death situations. Sometimes I jump to do CPR without taking precautions such as wearing an apron and gloves. Nurses call me to help patients even though they're supposed to call other doctors, and I can never say no to them. I give everything I have at work, so that when I get home, I'm too tired and too drained to be of any use to my family. At least I don't have to deal with my life, or lack of it. If you've read this far, I'm sure you won't look at me the same way ever again. I'm sure some of you will even say, "So what? We all have problems. Deal with it." And you're right. I will. Someday. Is this a suicide note? Far from it. I may have issues, but one suicide attempt is more than enough in this lifetime. I've been feeling depressed and repressed, and I needed to decompress. And I do feel better. I honestly do. To that best friend of mine, to Sani, even though he won't ever read this, I am sorry. I truly am. You're a good guy, bro. To Mama, despite everything, in spite of everything, and because of everything, I am where I am today because of you. That I'm broken inside is my doing. That I'm a decent, successful and kind-hearted man, that's all you. To Reza, brother in everything but blood, I've done a lot of shitty things to push you away, but you've always been my anchor during stormy days. You've kept my sanity intact. To anyone reading this, thank you.