Videos of your father seen laughing.
A laughter you’ve never heard before.
He says, almost nonchalantly, he’s happy watching his grandkids grow up… something he couldn’t do with his own kids.
So you let the cold winter breeze dry the tears caught in your eyes.
The first time I ever took notice of your presence, you stood up in the middle of class to answer a question. I remember thinking how deep and gentle that voice of yours sound. I remember thinking to myself that you must be a really smooth talker and went on to other more important things that day.
The first time I spoke to you, you came to a party I had set up uninvited. I was a little peeved – who goes to parties uninvited anyways? I thought to myself. I remember thinking the reason why you came was because you wanted to meet girls. You talked to me that night, and kept talking to me after that. If I did not know better, I would have thought you were interested in me.
The first time you asked me out on a date, I was absolutely certain you were fooling around with a lonely girl in a new town. So I thought to myself: Two can play at that game. So let us see who falls first because I know it will not be me.
I knew it how it will start and how it will all end. I replayed it over and over in my head. You will leave when you get bored. You will end this before it will even start. I was sure of it.
Still, it started before I even knew what was going on.
The first time you held my hand, I recalled thinking how warm it felt, and that this felt natural and surprisingly easy to do. I told myself it was time to stop but then, you talked about the trips we were going to take together sometime next year, and the subsequent years after. I listened to you describe in detail like an excited little boy of all the places you intend to take me to, of all the things you want us to see and experience together.
I smiled, and I remembered thinking if it was okay to believe those words, if it was okay to believe that you were thinking of a future with me in it. Will you still be here next year? At that time, with all these questions running through my head, I listened to you and I smiled again. I’d admit, you were a smooth talker. It was easy to imagine a future with you in it.
The first time I woke up with you beside me, I found myself enjoying watching you sleep. We were on that trip you said we would go on. I was soaking in the fact that I was in a new place with someone who now feels so familiar. I was careful not to wake you – afraid you would yell just like my family would if I woke you up. You stirred from your sleep, registered that I was awake, and just when I was about to recoil and say I was sorry, you wrapped those warm arms around me and pulled me in closer while you fall back asleep. I will not tell you how my heart felt like it was about to burst at that moment. It was then I knew I have long already lost this game.
The first time we fought, and there were many times we did after, I was the one who always gave you the easy way out. I was afraid to get in any deeper than I already am. I wanted to end this first. I was so focused on protecting myself first that I did not understand why you would look so hurt each time I gave you that option. Why wouldn’t you pick the easy way out? I am a difficult person to love after all.
Instead, each time you simply told me giving up has never crossed your mind and you will not choose that option. You said that you hoped I would try – that I would try to stay in this and work things out together even if it is tough. And so, I found myself trying and trying, until it was easier to try than to give up.
Months later, I found myself moving in together with you. It was a small apartment filled with things we chose together. It still amazes me to know how much someone I barely know can become such a huge part of my life now.
Who knows what path lies ahead for the both of us?
Am I still worried and anxious and insecure and nervous? Yes.
But be patient with me, as you have always been, as I learn how to be my best for myself and for the both of us.
Stranger No More
This year, I’m turning 28.
I no longer log into Facebook to see updates on my friends’ lives anymore. They don’t surprise me anymore. Someone’s either getting attached, engaged, married or pregnant. Instead, I read news updates on my feed. I share interesting stories with people I thought of that day. I miss a lot of people nowadays.
I cry a lot. And I cry easily these days. I think of my dad, and I cry. I think of my sis, and I cry. I think of the nephews and niece who are growing up too fast, and I cry. I think about lost moments, about old friends and the what-ifs, and I cry. I think a lot these days.
I get sentimental. It’s funny. But when I was much younger, I was always chasing a better future. A brighter, happier, more peaceful future, which I hold now. But now that I am in it, I reminisce the past a lot now.
I have those conversations with old friends. Do you remember those days we were…? Those were good times indeed, huh? It is difficult to recall much of what used to be, there’s very little I can remember without asking someone from my past – maybe it is because I had been too busy back then chasing the future, and now that I have reached the destination, I think to myself in a soft timid whisper:
Three years ago, when I was asked the question, “Why do you want to go to Japan?”
I would answer: “For personal growth and development; for a once-in-a-life experience to prove my family and most importantly, myself wrong that I am not just a overprotected spoilt brat.”
I guess I achieved it. I proved myself wrong – in more ways than another. Well, I’ve learned many things in the process.
I learned to say yes to anything and everything – you’re in a new environment, I would tell myself, take the time to appreciate the culture and learn the history of this place. Absorb everything like a sponge. Before you start judging with the frames you grew up with, stop to listen to their stories and understand from their perspective first.
I learned that it is okay to slow down in a world that is always pressing you to move big strides forward without letting you catch a breath. It is possible to grow and get better as long as you take those tiny steps forward – if I could use a word I’ve learned earlier in the day in a sentence later, that’s a big win for me.
I learned that maybe absorbing everything like a sponge may not be a good idea after all – that while I can respect the other’s views and opinions, I don’t always have to agree with everything. I can always say no to things that do not match with my core values and principles. I will always have a choice. I learned to reconstruct myself to try to absorb the good and filter out the bad.
I was right in coming here – these three years have taught me several things about growing up and slowing down.
Now if you ask me again, “Why do you want to come to Japan?”
I can say that I came here to start a new life here, one where I can independently and solely take charge of my life and make my own decisions, one where I can be responsible for my own development and growth at a pace I am comfortable with. I came here to take control of my life and be free from any kind of unwarranted expectations other than my own.
And when I start understanding my own limitations and the potential for growth I have within me, it can feel as terrifying as it is liberating.