What could have been

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People say 3 am is highly romanticized. You’re in your bed, staring blankly in the ceiling, darkness and quiet all around you it almost feels like you’re being consumed. You feel nothing, you say to yourself, but your eyes blur with tears and you stifle the sobs that are slowly coming up your throat. You’re the only one awake and yet you don’t find peace in the stillness. If nothing, it makes your thoughts louder and harder to ignore. You think about all the things you regret, all the words you should have said when you had the chance and all the opportunities you let pass you by. Your heart starts pounding and you bury your fist in your eyes. You don’t want to remember, you don’t want to open it up. And of course as soon as you said that, everything comes rushing back. There was no stopping the avalanche of emotion now. You are crushed with its intensity. Soon it’s 6 am and you’re gasping for air, throat dry, eyes tired of crying. You crave numbness, only to be forced into function by the bright morning ahead.

Yes, 3 am is powerful. But as I grow older, I realize 3 am does not have the monopoly on catching you off-guard. As a matter of fact, what’s harder than lying on your bed shouting at the void voicelessly is being in the grocery store, finding that one brand of cereal you used to love and being hit with an overwhelming rush of emotion and nostalgia so strong everything seems to slow down. What’s hard is keeping a straight face because breaking down in the cereal aisle isn’t something you want to be caught doing. What’s difficult is trying to breathe normally when you feel like your chest is about to explode anytime. It’s 2 pm, you’re picking up some fruit and you miss someone so bad you have to rely on the cart to steady yourself.

Is it an age thing? I thought we were supposed to be hormonal at 15, crying about the person who broke our hearts for the first time. Not at 20, when there are so many things ahead of you. I remember writing at 15, saying ‘this might sound silly in the future but it doesn’t feel silly now’. And it’s funny because that’s still how it is right now. It might sound silly later but right now the pain feels very real. I know better than to generalize or worse, trivialize other people’s pain, that’s why whenever I talk about my experiences, I refrain from trying to make it sound like my pain is worse than other people’s. It is what it is.

What it is right now is a massive memory lane attack with a side of regret and general wondering. I thought I buried most of these emotions thoroughly, not to be tampered with for another 20 years or so, but here we are, tampering away. It is of course triggered by something. I have unfortunately uncovered an old playlist (music really is dangerous), and a journal filled with raw, unfiltered emotions that was written more articulately than I expected. It hit me like a blimp.

Have you ever wondered what could have happened if you just spoke your mind? If you had the courage to ask the questions? If you fought really hard for what you wanted? Because maybe if you did, you wouldn’t be writing about it right now. You wouldn’t be blaming being too emotional and vulnerable, wouldn’t be worrying that you sound too depressing , wouldn’t be scolding yourself of acting like a hormonal teenager.

Even now I’m too scared to talk about it so openly. I cannot write about every specific detail because as much as I ask why and what if, I couldn’t bring anything back. I dreamed last night that I became somehow a ghost, able to do everything normally but isn’t completely normal. I remember weeping how I couldn’t go back anymore, pleading to turn back time, hurting all over, and then I woke up. The relief washed over me so powerfully, I couldn’t move for a few minutes. Everything felt so real. Just like right now. Except what is happening right now wouldn’t be over the next morning.

I miss someone so terribly. I miss talking to this person, pouring out my heart and not worrying of sounding awkward and weird. I miss having someone smile over my stupid stories. I miss laughing so hard my face hurts. I miss having someone to text when I see something funny or interesting. I miss all the little things. I kept replaying in my head what I could have done that would have kept everything the way it was. I keep regretting what I’ve done and what I didn’t say. I should have done things differently, I should have not given up so easily. I blame myself. I couldn’t let it go.

When does regret ever stop? Do you eventually get into point in life where you feel complete and without remorse? How do you get there? Because right now, I feel as far away from that place as I could possibly be. I just hope I could see what part of this timeline I am in right now. Am I closer to forgetting than I am to the past? Will it be over soon?

Oh how many people have asked for a do-over. How many people wished to turn back time to make it right. And it’s futile. There are no do-overs. There is no possible way to find out what could have happened. No way to know if it would have turned out better or worse. There’s no going back.

So I guess there’s no point in writing about it too. The present contains us, and we are unable to change anything but what is in front of us. Every second that passes, we give up something that ‘could have been’. Every second, we gamble, hoping that our choices will later be proven right. We hope that we chose the path that was for the best. And when we seem to be wrong, we convince ourselves that this was the only possible outcome. We try to make ourselves feel better with what we have become, and someday, we might actually believe that we were right.

Someday I hope to wake up with relief, and not regret.

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Secrets

Drone view of people eating at white circular tables with the window casting shadows

Sometimes I wonder if anybody has ever lived a life without secrets. And if there is someone, what does that say about their life? Does that mean that they never experience shame? Or having friends for that matter?

I couldn’t even remember a time when I had no secrets. As a kid I already knew that some things should not be shared with everyone, only with those you can trust. Of course my grounds on whom to trust were flimsy back then. I knew that it won’t be beneficial for me to tell my kindergarten teacher how my classmates went to climb the locked gate just so they could play on the swings. I was ready to go run screaming for help if anybody gets hurt though. I only joined them when someone opened it from the other side.

But yeah, the point is, I knew how to keep my mouth shut. Growing up with an older sister isn’t that bad when you get to secretly melt crayons with a candle, or secretly use our Christmas money to buy some ice cream. However, when the hair pulling and arguments start, oh the secrets come out to place blame. It’s like a double-edged sword.

Maybe that’s exactly what secrets are: double-edged swords. I know many friendships built on sharing secrets, no matter how trivial they are. It just…binds people for some reason. When you’re in a secret, it feels like being a part of an exclusive club where you gain perks like inside jokes, unnecessary giggling, and passing notes in class. People like to feel included, and secrets ensure that you are.

Once in fifth grade, one of the most popular girls in class (let’s call her Mary) invited me to her table during lunch. There wasn’t really any hierarchy in lunch tables, you can either eat inside the classroom or in the cafeteria with anyone you want. It wasn’t like a clich√© school drama where popular kids had their own table. As a matter of fact, this girl only ate with one other girl in our class. She was famous for a reason. She was pretty, kind and smart–that’s why so many people liked her. And even though we weren’t exactly friends at the time, I didn’t have any reason to hate her. Mary seemed normal enough.

However, it still felt like an honor of course. No one ever sat with them without being invited, though I doubt that she’d kick out anyone who tries. I tried to be nonchalant about it thinking that maybe she just wanted to know everyone personally and I just happened to be the first one for the quest.

I didn’t even buy food from the cafeteria. I had my lunch packed, courtesy of my mother who thinks cafeteria food is expensive. I didn’t argue with that since cafeteria food is disgusting. Anyway, I sat with these two girls and it was surprisingly easy to talk to them. I didn’t ask why they specifically invited me but I found out why soon enough.

“I heard someone in our class likes you.”

OH. It clicked. Even then, when the term “ship” isn’t even used, people liked forcing two people into each other. Well, maybe ‘forcing’ is a little too intense. People would just tease you relentlessly and create names that are a combination of your names, and badger you with questions. It was mostly harmless, after all, what’s the worst that could happen? We were children. Still, it wasn’t exactly pleasant though. It was still gossip, and when the gossip is about me, I feel quite annoyed.

I was surprised that she went so far as to trying to befriend me just to feed on this piece of rumor, but I guess our lives were boring enough that anything that is remotely exciting will do. I didn’t know what to say. I could already guess who she was talking about–that wasn’t the secret. Instead, I knew she wanted to know what I thought.

“Oh, that’s just a rumor.” I said, trying not to sound smug or anything.
“Well, that’s not what I heard.” She smiled this mischievous smile. Like she knew something I didn’t, and it had the effect she wanted: I was wildly curious.

She was convinced for some reason that this boy, Andrew (not his real name) liked me. To be honest, that was a little hard for me to believe since Andrew was mean to me in a very passive-aggressive way. And nobody was ever certain of his, or my, feelings because we never talked about it ourselves. Mary was the first one to actually believe in it, and of course I wanted to know why. She didn’t tell me though, because she wanted to know what I thought of him first, and I told her the truth–that I wasn’t sure. These stuff really seemed important at the time.

It led to many lunches for updates and reactions and I wasn’t exactly sure why I kept humoring her, but I guess it was because she acted like we were on this big secret together. It didn’t take long though for her to share a secret crush of her own, and that just bound us together more closely. I didn’t exactly encourage her but she gives me these looks whenever something happens and I couldn’t help but giggle with her enthusiasm. I am included in hushed conversations about her crush, which I’m pretty sure had mutual feelings for her, and she considered me worthy enough of her secret because she believed she had one of mine. What a weird thing.

Secrets has its other side though. The other edge of the sword. As powerful as it is in building relationships, it is also as powerful in ruining them. After all, secrets can also be borne out of shame, guilt, and pain. The most protected secrets are those that have the most power to ruin something. These secrets are never spoken, tightly hidden in the darkest pits of our minds, hoping they will never have to be out in the light. But the thing with secrets is that they never go away. They can only be buried so deep, with the weight never decreasing, until one moment, one second of vulnerability, it finally slips it out. And all hell breaks loose.

Sometimes, not even being able to share the secret destroys relationships. One of my friends in high school held a grudge over me not being able to tell her a secret. First, I couldn’t tell her because it wasn’t only about me, and second, I knew she would be so upset when she hears it that whatever friendship we already have is doomed to fail. It was a lose-lose situation. It appeared that I didn’t trust her enough, and apparently being friends means being pressured to share every bit of your life and making your “friends” as involved as possible. We eventually got passed it, although it wasn’t exactly the same anymore. We just understood that this secret permanently dented our friendship. It will never be the same way again. That’s the other edge of the sword right there.

I guess secrets on their own are not inherently evil. It is our reaction to them, and the knots and webs we build around them that make or break relationships. When we let it consume us, when we let it become our truth, we become almost powerless to its commands. Secrets can both empower and incapacitate you, and sometimes, those are the only two choices.

The thing with secrets though is that they never remain as secrets forever. They have their own way of revealing themselves, which is either reassuring or horrifying depending on how you look at it. So it’s just actually a matter of time. You bury that in the deepest part of the earth and eventually it’ll come out in some other form. Because that’s what they do.

Does that mean we should stop having secrets altogether, like our government? *wheezing*
Is this the recipe for peace? Or is it too unrealistic?

The very premise of having our own minds leads us to believe that we can have thoughts of our own. It is a good thing we aren’t advanced enough to read each other’s thoughts, otherwise it would be absolute chaos. We just have to wrap our minds to the fact that secrets can both be an instrument of creation or destruction. We just have to pick which it will be.

Let’s just all agree to be careful and responsible. Maybe it is possible to live a life without secrets. Or at least no bad ones. You cannot regret a bad decision you haven’t made. So just don’t do anything you’ll have to hide. Which I realize is the dumbest possible advice. We are, after all, still human. Truth isn’t always the most exciting, or helpful choice. So we rely on secrets from time to time, not realizing it’s just delaying the possibly destructive, bittersweet truth we fear.

Hold on to that secret and fervently hope that it never becomes a power that destroys. Or let it go now and face whatever comes after.

Kindness

chair, class, college

There are people who always know what to say in times of distress or grief. They have a way of expressing their opinions that do not come across as offensive or ignorant, and people respond to their advice. Yes, they might not be always right about some things, but at the moment, their words can calm the storm down. And while even “just being there” for a friend or listening is an integral part of a relationship, it would still be magical if every time there was a crisis, you’d know what to say.

“Oh wait for a few days until both of you have calmed down.”
“No, you don’t have to keep blaming yourself for running over his dog.”
“Yes it is absolutely rational to burn everything he touched in this house.”

In high school, I pride myself to be the ate (big sister) of the group whom people came to to seek advice. Since I always sat at the back, right next to the last chair in the corner, people come and sit with me and talk about their problems. It was like being an unpaid therapist. And while they often tell me how I have helped them get over their problems by giving great advice, I must admit that this has not always been the case.

Once in sixth grade on my way home, I saw one of my classmates lingering outside of the supermarket. I knew that he lived around our neighborhood and was curious why he was just walking around outside seemingly aimlessly. Now, because we had a few classes together a few years back, I already knew him and was already convinced that I am more annoyed at him than amused or comfortable. He used to pull my chair back, pick on my lunch and just generally cause trouble. But because my mom knew his mom and we used to go home together, I felt like I needed to be nice to him.

So I approached him reluctantly, kind of hoping he would just smile and wave and I can proceed on getting home. But the moment I talked to him, I knew something was off. Though he was smiling, he wasn’t his usual cheery self. I asked why he was there, already ready to offer to go home together but he simply said,
“I’m running away.”

It was an absurd statement seeing as he was still in his uniform, with a bag full of books and a lunchbox. And I kept thinking how much food can he possibly fit in there to last him. My conclusion was that he must be joking.

“Are you joking?”
“No.”
“No? Okay, where would you go?” I asked sarcastically.
“Anywhere, just not here.”

I don’t know exactly why he was doing it, and since I was convinced he was bluffing, I didn’t even bother asking why. I think I left after saying that he should just go home and that I would see him tomorrow. I didn’t even think of it during the ride home.

But I didn’t see him the next day. And the day after that. And there were rumors that his mother was looking for him and that he hasn’t come home. It suddenly occurred to me that I might have been the last person to talk to him and now nobody knows where he is. I was eleven and I got scared real fast. Children get kidnapped all the time. What if I was the only person that could have stopped him from leaving and I thought he was joking?

It was terrible and I felt so much guilt. But I decided not to say anything to anyone until I certainly knew that he wasn’t just sick or just in vacation. I think it went by two weeks until I found out that he was transferred to a different section. I was absolutely relieved to see him in the hallways and was really eager to talk and ask him what happened. But one teacher saw us overcrowding him and told us to get back to our respective rooms. I tugged at his sleeve to walk with him but he just shook his head and went the other way.

I eventually heard from someone that he did run away for a few days and that his mother made the school transfer him to another section because he was getting bullied in ours. I was surprised and then I felt guilt for a different reason. He felt that he was being bullied? I sure thought he was annoying at the most and that the other children weren’t also very fond of him but I didn’t know that he felt much worse. He had cases before where he hurt other children physically and that resulted to people avoiding him and casting him in isolation, but he always still had an overeager, almost cheerful attitude. If someone asked, it might even look like HE was the bully. There were people in our classroom that looked positively relieved.

But the point is, there was that one moment with him that might have been really genuine. Had I taken him seriously and said the right words, maybe he just went home that night and realized he had to treat people nicer. Maybe I could have made him feel better about his relationships with our classmates and told him that it will get better. Maybe I could have just been his friend.

I know I couldn’t turn back time and tell him all the nice things I should have said. But I know the words now. I know that sometimes hurt people feel like they have no other option but to hurt others as well. I know that children our age would grow out our bullies and can be stronger than anyone of them. I know now that running away is not an option. I know that no kind of pain should be trivialized. And I know now that a few kind words could go a long way.

After that moment, I was much more sensitive to listening to other people. It was fortunate that nothing too bad really happened. Sometimes people tell me that I take things way too seriously but I don’t care. Anyone who hints, even while jokingly, about a serious matter, I try and talk to them. It doesn’t even matter that I don’t always know the right words to say. Sometimes, the people just want someone to understand, and know that somebody genuinely cares.