“There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after.” – The Fault in Our Stars, John Green.
Do you recall the moment that you became aware of your existence?
I don’t mean philosophically, in the sense of finding enlightenment to your purpose of existing, but in the sense of being aware that you are literally there as opposed to anywhere else in our infinite universe as well as beyond. The moment you realise that you are a being and that thing that expands in your chest is actually called breathing and that when you sleep it’s to the monotonous rhythm of your thoughts and lullabies before the whole process begins again and you realise that this is your life and this is going to be your life until “there will be the time after”?
For me, it was nothing mindblowing or particularly astounding. I was a three-year-old on an inaugural trip to the cinema to watch Tarzan with my parents. I remember the chokehold fear had on me when Clayton picked the apes off one at a time; when Tarzan came soaring back on the screen, shedding his clothes to return to his original loincloth state that was both a symbol of freedom and coming home; when Kerchak took his last breath, and the utter finality in the muted thump when his arm falls.
Ever since then, I’ve always had a fascination with movies and their worth. The music, the build up, the climax, the dire consequences of our smallest choices and actions and how it changes the outcome of our lives, the ultimate happy ending complete with fiery sunsets and the knowledge that you survived it all.
Life is not a bed of roses. Life is not a walk in the park with your favourite hot dog stand waiting in the middle of it with a free one for you, the 100th customer of the day. But for the longest time I was downright obsessed with making my life a movie, an epic film with a haunting score that would go down in history and defy oblivion when everything we had accomplished disintegrated to naught.
I would go around and pick out other people in the streets as my co-stars. The girl with the thick framed glasses and loopy bangs beside me on the LRT would be the musical prodigy I would one day write about; the kooky old man in the faded trench coat who I offered my seat to would be an intelligence officer on a top secret mission; the beautiful boy in the worn out Timberlands opposite me, lost to the world in a pair of headphones, would be the one who would grab me by my hand and heart and plunge me into my next great adventure. My climax. My sequel.
And then as we pull into the next station he would get up and leave without a second glance.
They all do eventually.
Still, stupid naïve me never gave up. The notion of making my life into something directed by James Cameron or Tim Burton gripped me so overwhelmingly that everything I did, everything I accomplished had those undertones. I was infatuated with the mysteries of grander maybes and a greater perhaps. I began living in the future to escape the present. I started conjuring sequels and sagas of my life just so that I will not fade away and forget myself, so that when the time comes for me to go home, I would’ve left my mark and not be forgotten. Que Sera, Sera: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”
The internet became my most trusted companion. I would spend hours skimming from one time zone to the next with the world at my fingertips. One story after another, one marvel to top off the next; stories of love and loss and grief and triumph, of one miracle after another and I wanted to badly to be part of that world that I was willing to forsake my present, my gift.
I was so wrapped up in my thoughts for the future that I barely noticed that my life had regressed to a huge non-event. I had lost myself in attempting to seek my great perhaps and now I was perhaps-less and there was no one else to blame but me. My love for mysteries made me one myself. At the end of 2012, after the books had been packed away and the hype of finally being able to call myself a high school graduate had died down and the dust had settled finely on my study table, I realised — like a proverbial blind man embracing sight for the first time and stumbling a little at the sheer intensity of it all — that this had to stop.
And yet, once again, stupid, naïve me found myself back at the very start: my movie analogy, my life starring me. Only this time I guess I could give myself a little credit where credit is due. It became my motto that if my life — my movie — was going to be a train wreck, then I’m damned well going to make sure that the only one with the power to make it that way was going to be me. I was ready to step up. I was ready to be my own director… as well as my own stuntman, as it turns out.
I am a teenager. I am that girl who sits behind you in class every day whom you’d say hi to but would never think twice about. I am the scribbles of poetry on my arms. I am that train wreck that catapults your world to a jarring halt and that feather that falls with such obscene grace that you look away just to have it slip your mind just as seamlessly as it falls. I am that person you see with a book at a party and only dancing because she wants to get away from it all. I am that girl.
Last year, in the barren landscape of the non-event-that-is-my life, of all the insanity of reckless abandon that could have occurred, I guess the icing on the cake was this: I had fallen, and fallen hard, for a boy. I am not a stranger to fleeting crushes; many a good looking boy had caught my eye in the past — albeit it being sole admiration on my behalf and my behalf only. All of that however was eclipsed by what I felt for this boy, if not only for the reason that he was my friend. This year, in an attempt to live up to my motto, I took a dive.
I asked him out.
In the stretch of time in between me asking and him answering, the director in me was working on overdrive. I saw that scene from various points of views: the blushing girl shyly looking him in the eye as if she hadn’t rehearsed the question countless times before, the dawning comprehension when ‘Oh she’s asking me out to watch a movie with her’ morphed into ‘Holy shit did she just ask me out?’ and the look of elation on the girl’s face when he said yes. When he called it a date. When she could look him in the eye without wanting to crawl away into a hole and never come out because for the love of God he said yes.
And of course, that part of me, the one that was so obsessed with making this into a movie, reared up and hooted in victory at this newfound material. That part of me began to morph into this grotesque thing that lived solely to prod at my raw nerves from the inside out. That part began planting seeds and visions into my head, of interlocking fingers and gentle touches and slow dances. I became so infatuated with the idea of it becoming a reality that it had actually left me breathless. I realised that I wanted that. I wanted my movie. I wanted my happy ending and that for all it was worth, I needed to complete my movie before I ran out of time.
I was in love, I realise that now. I was in love with the idea of being in love.
The masochist in me practically crowed at that realisation.
And I realised that I couldn’t do that. Not to him. Because even if I wasn’t sure if I was in love with him, I loved him enough to know that I could not let myself make him into this being that exists solely to fill my need for a leading man. I loved him too much to let him be the one to break me. I couldn’t let him do that because I couldn’t bear tainting the kaleidoscope memory of our friendship that way. I couldn’t let myself do that to him.
In that moment I realised that I truly, genuinely love him — present tense. I hated myself for it. I hated myself for caring so much; I hated myself because no matter how hard I tried (not that I really did) I could not un-love him. And that was what made all the difference.
I consulted my friend Felice about in the end and she is the reason I’m writing all this down right now. She said that right now I am balanced on a precipice and that if I want to go through with whatever it is I’m planning to do (it would probably help if I had any clue of just what I want to do), I should have a say in making it a complete and utter train wreck, something that scorches the ground with its intensity.
Then I realised that I cannot be that person, simply because I’m not brave enough to do so. That I am not willing to look back at the rolling credits of my life, feeling bitter resentment towards another being whom I am more willing to remember with fondness in the future. I guess it’s another bout of cruel irony, really; while the past is engraved in stone, the future is a rushing wave coming in to greet us. And in the end everyone who braves the foamy edges of the tide gets swept out with the undertow.
Of course, I still craved my movie ending, but this whole experience, this whole conflict of poisonous emotions taught me to see things in a different light: that every movie, every good film, needs conflict.
Every movie needs a moment of failure, a moment where everything falls apart before it comes together. Because I now know that failure always leads up to the climax, that all things come to an end and, as tragic as it is, sometimes it will end before it even gets the chance to properly begin. But that’s what the sequel is for. And then there’s the trilogy. Because you can begin again and again and still be the hero. Or you can make yourself a hero. Or that someone you thought was a hero might actually be the villain because life is meant to have a villain or two or 10. Movies call these plot twists; I call them life.
So no, my life isn’t a movie narrated by Morgan Freeman, with a soundtrack composed by the likes of Howard Shore or Hans Zimmer. Maybe one day I’ll stop hoping — maybe one day I’ll give in to the monotonous demands of growing up and growing old and stop wishing for my life to be something more than just a life.
But then again, a life without hopes and dreams and expectations… that isn’t really a life though, is it?
Image by Rafika Ismail for ISSUE Magazine.
Syaz is a girl who believes that while not all who wander are lost, some are just too stubborn to admit it.