Liyana Dizzy probably doesn’t remember this, but she wrote me a poem once. There’s an embarrassing story attached to it. Just like how 8-year-old me started writing in the first place, this little anecdote starts with trying to impress a girl I thought was far above me, in the dimly-lit hipster haven of the Central Market Annexe Gallery.
From behind one of the dozen or more makeshift stalls in the gallery, she asked me for three words. The problem is, how do you choose three words that aren’t pretentious or cheesy but still mean something to you? How do you choose three words so that Liyana Dizzy doesn’t think you’re a hack?
The words that ended up making the leap onto her stall of witty, poetic chapbooks were “Good, luck, and strength”. I could almost see those words squirming around like worms, like adding hashtags to what might have been the greatest poem ever written. In retrospect, it might have been a little wiser to have just given her the actual line that he had whispered to me half a lifetime ago than trying to cover it up with a dumb word like “strength”.
“Be creative!” she said. “Don’t write the poem for me. Choose words as far apart as possible! Cockroach! Anything!”
All I could do was turn to my friend with a desperate plea for help.
“Sex?” She shrugged.
It wasn’t the best way someone has said the word to me but it was all I got. Half an hour later, I received a poem with “Good, luck, and sex” in it. With a charming smile playing at her lips, she told me it was nonsense she had written. I told her that it was brilliant and it is.
I’d have loved to say that this was my cake. That this was my epiphany, the moment I realised he was a dick. As if closure was like losing my luggage at an airport. But closure doesn’t work that way. It’s not falling into the arms of another or meeting someone new that makes you move on. It isn’t an instant poem.
It’s when you can remember one line of that night he left you heartbroken, while the rest is a blur. It’s slowly dissociating all memory of him from every song you hear. It’s being able to buy a Beatles shirt without feeling as if you bought it to replace him. You live day by day till you realize you haven’t thought of him in months. Now, you remember being with him in a packed car and his lips are moving, but you can’t seem to remember a thing he said, no matter how hard you try. I guess the subtitles to my memories are out of sync and I just can’t get them back.
When I accidentally elbowed him in the chest on New Year’s Eve, he said, “Ouch! I think you broke my heart!” In a snap of bad judgement, I said, “Well, I’m just returning the favour.”
For a few seconds, we just stared at each other, going down the escalator. Going home. Minutes from departure. Minutes from saying goodbye again.
My lips parted into a smile and we both laughed.
That was the only real moment we acknowledged what had happened between us. Thinking of it now, it kind of aches.
I read in a book once that ” You can never step in the same river twice”. Every second, you are a new incarnation of you. I’d like to bake a cake for every ‘me’ that has ever been, but those versions of ‘me’ are already dissipated ripples.
When I met the next boy that life threw into my path, I thought to myself, “This guy’s hair is shit. Tak yah layanlah.”
Together with a bunch of my classmates, he and I were set to go to a small Kelabit town in Sarawak for two weeks of volunteer work. We were going to help out the locals by teaching and doing community service. I was so sure I wouldn’t be getting into anything more than that. After all the time it took to get over the first one, I was finally comfortable with the inertia of being alone. Even when he had cut his hair and we were set to fly off, I was still pretty guarded. His Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks may have charmed me out of mine, but I was sure nothing would happen.
The universe has a way of giving me exactly the opposite of what I expect.
This was a place where there’s always wind to push you forward on the long walks you had to take. The time was so warped in that mountainous valley that you never realized how fast things were going. Maybe it was this that made the Kelabits that lived there so oriented around the present. We fell into their rhythm of being so attuned to where we were, that maybe we ended up forgetting what would inevitably come after.
The night I realised he had the world in his laugh and eyes that were always alive, we were by the longhouse fireplace, taking in the wafting smell of popcorn and wood smoke. He told me, “Songs always remind you of something. The problem is, usually it’s not something — it’s someone.” Funny thing to say, considering that’s what we would soon be. Just a song. Or maybe the smell of roll-on deodorant. Or overused inside jokes. It made me realise how temporary things were.
On the night before we had to part ways, I told him it sucked how we both knew this wouldn’t last. That our lives after that would take completely different paths and I couldn’t trust him to stay. He told me things weren’t always as bad as they seem.
I guess we were both right.
The next time I saw him, despite how bittersweet things were, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Change had already begun to take place and I found there was nothing to be afraid of. There’s only so much I can promise but I do believe that once you start loving someone, you never really stop. It may not have been that epic, romantic love that could bond us together forever, but it’s a small love that’s still out there in the universe and I think that’s important.
A long time ago, I wrote an article called Four Parts Trouble and One Part Smiles for this magazine. I’m laughing to myself now, thinking about the leaps and bounds that I have gone through since then. It was a “me” on troubled waters, and I wonder if I’ll ever be on still waters. Or if I ever want to be on still waters.
Each piece I wrote was a part of my life I left behind. A “me” laid to rest. From the girl so addicted to misery, to the “me” that I am now. The Kelabits that I met told me that they don’t stick to the names they were born with. For each phase in life, they shed their names to pick up ones that may represent them better. When I first started out here, I was questioning the difference between the Olivia I was meant to be and the Felice I already was. Slowly, I grew comfortable in the name that meant happiness. It took four pieces to begin to love who I am.
Now, I’ve been given a new name to call myself: Mujan. It doesn’t mean I have to discard all that I was. I am every “me” that ever was, and yet I am none of those people at all. ISSUE was a place I could write those parts of my life away without erasing them completely. It was a place where the writers that contributed to it were so human and yet so awe-inspiring in how they wrote and the honesty with which they wrote. In turn, that honesty translated through me and influenced the way I wrote for them. I’ll always feel gratitude and admiration for the team that shaped this reflective and creative environment.
It’s almost the end now, but I won’t mourn. It was fun while it lasted and here we are, ready for the next big thing. Everyone makes endings so tragic and, for a while, I made it pretty tragic too. It really doesn’t have to be. When you’re so afraid of endings, you end up never starting at all, and that’s not how it’s going to be with me. I’m going to travel certainly and love bravely.
A few weeks ago, I was asleep on his shoulder, riding a train that would put a lifetime between us. A year ago, a boy left me with “Good luck, Felice,” whispered into my ear. Three years ago, I sent out a question to the universe and got the chance to write the answers in ISSUE Magazine. In those moments, I did want them to last. Now, I think I have all the time in the world to make good things. I’ve already made so many but maybe this time, I’ll make them with new friends.
Feature image by Melissa Toh.
Felice is a girl who’s collected too many names (Fel, Felily, Felicia etc), none of which she’s particularly satisfied with besides the one given to her by her Kelabit grandmother.