It all started with a burnt kettle, a whistling kettle that, oddly, never whistled at all. I didn’t burn that one. It was the little white sauce pan I was boiling water in for my green tea later in the week, making the kitchen reek of burnt copper for several days.
My torched sauce pan was enough to jolt me out of a malingering state I was floundering in, and trying to get out of but without success. I shouldn’t be burning things! The last time I burnt a pot – a huge one – was when I was about to sit for my high school national exam. The heebie-jeebies were really wreaking havoc on my mental state. I’d burnt the dinner that I was heating and, needless to say, no one was a happy camper at the table that night. I had to snap out of my zombie moments when time stood still and I staggered forward without moving at all except for the events around me. It wasn’t healthy and dangerous too. The time I burnt the kettle in my flat in Singapore doesn’t count as a zombie moment; I was suffering from jetlag then, having returned to Asia from Los Angeles.
The high school zombie moments were easier to overcome because the world outside beckoned to be taken. It was that “the oyster is your world” kind of situation where I brimmed with more than enough vim to take on anything and anyone. Jadedness was not in my vocabulary because I was, well, young and ready to take on the world. Any obstacle was not an obstacle but a minor disruption to be dealt with quickly. After hurdling the national exam, I was geared up to make my mark, let my voice be heard, lock horns with anyone in the name of truth and justice, become a member of the work force and fall in love.
I should not, on hindsight, have ignored the line I overheard from a conversation: “The folly of the young”. What else could it be but foolish thinking when I smugly believed I was not subject to the world’s vicissitudes? Believing I was invincible like Superman, I wrestled with the world hard until I felt a very sharp pain cut through my heart. I also idiotically believed I could easily jump back into the thick of things after my life collapsed and my heart broke into a million pieces. Putting them back together wasn’t as easy as gluing the pieces of a vase, as I shockingly discovered. The zombie moments in the real world were also longer, which I hadn’t counted on, and more gut-wrenching. I wished I’d snapped back to my old self as quickly as the others but, as a friend casually pointed out, I didn’t recover that fast unlike our other friends.
Foolishly again, I thought I was impervious to zombie moments but they were back, flowing like a raging river. This time it’s not about a national exam but a life I once lived. Triggered by a loose memory-gun, his face comes to haunt me alongside those of former friends and colleagues who traipsed into my life only to leave when the sun was up in their world. I was wallowing in self-pity. The effect, in fact, was the opposite. I was like a tightly wound up spring ready to let loose. I was belligerent to some and cantankerous to others who knew better than to question my meshuga behaviour. I didn’t purposely set out to be a termagant except no one knew and saw how broken my heart was. Then I awoke one December morning, from what sounded like a whisper from an angel, without that familiar heavy feeling in my heart and a faint recollection of just letting go. I was anxious though because I didn’t know when the zombie flashes would come again so I met each day with trepidation until I stumbled upon a dragon-bear at Metropolitan Mall in Bekasi.
The dragon-bear is a Starbucks barista bear dressed up as a dragon. There were only two bears left on the display stand. Without hesitation I picked up the one with the best smile after a comparison test (there is such a bear-smile test), and went to cashier to pay for it along with my earlier-ordered green tea and tiramisu. You’re probably wondering what kind of person would find the meaning of life in a bear. I’m not that kind of person. The meaning of a good life can’t, obviously, be found in an adorable Starbucks dragon-bear, but it could serve as a reminder, a gentle nudge to make the most out of it despite a trying past. Call it serendipity or epiphany, but it was my way out of the doldrums. The year of the dragon is my year to start anew and really leave the past behind. Let’s rephrase: the year of the dragon is the year to start anew and to let those zombie moments slide off my back easily when they come tap dancing their way often into my thoughts. I’d decided to put an end to replaying the past, thinking of new scenarios that would have made the outcome better. There’s no point too in berating myself for the decisions I made at that point and time. They were already made. And, daring to sound narcissistic, this year is the year I put myself first without feeling so guilty about doing so. My past isn’t an excuse to be inconsiderate and insensitive but, this time, I’ll be kinder to myself and see how things will affect me first before anyone else’s. This time I won’t always be the first one to give in and compromise in the hope of solving a problem. I know when to put myself in someone else’s shoes, to compromise and to respect another person’s dreams. This time I want to see if others will do the same and go the extra mile like I’m willing to.
It’s a painful lesson learnt from the people in the life I used to live: they put themselves ahead of me, sacrificing me even in the name of their happiness, convenience and reputation. That’s a lesson never to be forgotten. It took another burnt pot and, fortunately, a smiley bear to hammer in some of the bittersweet realities of life. I’m not about to go through my meagre lot of pots and pans to unlock the answers to life’s conundrum and rid myself of my foolish thoughts. The bear? It can only dress up as a dragon once in 12 years.