I started writing this blogpost eons ago, but stopped not because I was choking with memories. Life got in the way, primarily work; there were voluminous essays and other papers to mark. Now, it is a few days before the end of another year, and it is high time to close the narrative that started more than a decade ago. It is the narrative of C. 

C is Charles who used to make my tummy do flip-flops and leave me breathless every time we’d meet. But that is all in the distant past now. I have blocked him from my mind and unfriended him. The late epiphany that our lives shouldn’t have, in the first place, intertwined finally hit me like an anvil dropping to the ground. But he “sauntered” again into my life close at the heels of the memories of my paternal grandparents who left all too soon. His visitation, however, was met with a lot less felicity. He broke my heart. No, let me rephrase that, he blew it to smithereens, and putting it back together took longer than I expected.

How do I describe Charles? As a younger me looking at the world with rose-colored spectacles? Or a maturer me sans the filters? I first met Charles when he was 18. Tall and a bit on the lanky side, he was pulchritudinous with his Chinese-Indian features that had heads turning and hearts throbbing. My head turned and throbbed for more than a decade. He was a young man finding his place under the sun while combatting prejudiced notions about his mixed lineage and life-altering family issues. But he seemed to have handled everything with aplomb or so my younger self thought so.

“Damaged Heart on Old paper” image courtesy of fotographic1980 at

He was certainly above timidity when he sat down at my table in Starbucks and, in a nonchalant manner, asked how I was. I loved the confidence that exuded cockiness, which others completely abhorred earning him the label of blowhard. His face taunted me, silently telling goading me, “So, what are you going to do about it?” Picking up the gauntlet thrown at my table, I offered to buy him a drink, but he declined cocking his head to the left – in the direction of his group of friends – saying that he’s already got a drink. Idle banter ensued. The drink offered did not go unclaimed. It was followed by more coffee dates at Starbucks or Coffeebean, dinners, and movie outings. Younger me loved his company and I thought he did mine too. I was tickled pink when he actually sat through two shows, fighting the urge to walk out and just wait for me at the lobby. The first was a Scooby Doo movie, which seemed tenable for him judging from how he looked – a tiny smirk and mien that said he’d get through the film without keeling over. Naturally, it was payback time when I had to sit through this Hong Kong film starring Stephen Chow that he raved about. He was having a whale of a time and, like him at the Scooby Doo outing, I sat through the flick and survived it. The second show was a ballet, which I am truly into and he wasn’t.

These were some of the happier memories. Some are the heart-breaking ones that make you question yourself, your sanity. Becoming a couple should be a happy memory but it isn’t. Our relationship was short lived and certainly not to be bandied about. I ended it because it was lopsided and my inner voice was telling me he wasn’t into it. We lost touch – why bother to communicate? But the universe has a warped sense of humor making him land in my world again via a text message. He asked me how I was doing. I didn’t give it much thought when I cursorily read it, distracted by the members of Singapore’s water polo team practicing at the pool area, as I waited for my yoga class to begin. Looking at the message again a few minutes later, I felt that tug in my heart. I had deleted his number from my phone but I still knew it by heart. I answered and, as they say, all is history. I found myself on the nerve-wracking roller coaster ride again which I vowed never again to be on. Foolish me, stupid me, vacuous me.

I went through this rigmarole a couple of more times until I entered into a new relationship and had to cut ties with Charles. To his credit, he did pull through a couple of times when I needed a shoulder to cry on and when I needed to rebuild my life after the relationship collapsed. He seemed to have matured or so I thought. I was determined to prove to people – to society even – that people can be friends with their ex, so I rallied on being the best ever best friend. I deluded myself into thinking he saw me as a best friend too.

The warning signs were there but I berated myself for being negative and not giving him a chance despite the fact that it was getting difficult reading the signs. And the statements he would drop during our phone conversations were mind boggling. He actually would call me from overseas – I had relocated to Indonesia from Singapore by then. Statements like “It would be good to feel loved again”, “It would be good to see you” and the like had my mind roiling. I wouldn’t dare drop such statements knowing our past but I brushed them aside, telling myself everything is platonic now. I should have walked away yet I didn’t although I nearly did. It was when he openly blurted out our past to his friend that I had just met when I went to Singapore to visit him then later on blamed me for it. He said I set him up. I was dumbstruck at the accusation, but foolish me, stupid me, vacuous me decided to sweep the incident under the rug. 
Two more incidents had to happen in order for me to decisively put an end to the song and dance. The first one had to do with a request I made to all my friends to send me a birthday card to mark the start of a new decade age wise. He had forgotten: he couldn’t look me in the eye when I jokingly asked him about my birthday card. So much for being my best friend yet I remained hopeful and let it go at that. The second one was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was scheduled to visit me which I was excited about; we talked endlessly about it over the phone. Then he cancelled it saying he had to report to a training seminar as a new recruit of his country’s national air carrier. I was disappointed and proud at the same time. I certainly didn’t want to be a hindrance to his new career, so I said we could always reschedule. He agreed. All was copacetic until the universe revealed the lie via Facebook. Call it providential, I was able to read an exchange of replies on a Facebook upload that detailed the opposite of what he told me. His training seminar wasn’t on the week I expected him in Indonesia- it was after. He was enjoying his video game that time he was to have caught a plane to Indonesia. Right then and there I closed the chapter on the narrative of C. I finally opened my eyes to the truth that he wasn’t to be counted on, lover or bestie. 

Image courtesy of Geerati at

It is truly cathartic – that I am able to write about him after all those years tells me that this is the closure I have been wanting for in a chapter of my life. I drew courage and inspiration from two women who had taken to writing about their tumultuous relationships. They are author Elizabeth Gilbert who outlined her struggles in her best seller book “Eat, Pray and Love”, and Taylor Swift who turns her experiences into hit songs. It is not meant to be recriminatory although others might think so. I see it as getting something off my chest so I can breathe easier and, pardon the triteness, as a way of finally letting him go. It is also for me to turn a new page in my life. After all, to move on is imperative for a happier life.

Poetics of Language



For a time

I was a canvas of pallidness;

eyes dark abysses of nothingness

when they used to dance, glitter like stars above.

Lips curled down,

the blissful sentiments eclipsed by

pitch-black, morbid thoughts;

breathing raked though the chest

where pain sat comfortably.

My heart?

I wondered if I still had one – could I have?

It stopped beating the day

your well-kept secret of eternal love given previously 

walked into my rose-color reality,

shattering it into smithereens.
People cast me friendly smiles,

unsure of what to say,

wary of probing but ultimately 

annoyed at the dark cloud in their midst.

For a time

the world revolved around you – 

you with your grin that catapulted me to the stars

you with your saunter that sent shivers up my spine

you with your endearing awkwardness 

you with your stubbornness that piqued me

you with your own obsessions that niggled me and

you with your cockiness that put me on edge.
Blind to your cavalier ways,

You emptied me – you cast my heart into a void and frayed my soul into nothingness.

Prayers to heaven to open your heart were

met with silence while copious tears were shed

in my room.

I sat in a corner for a time, a mere shadow

of my former self, not daring to stir.

For a time

I grieved when you vanish for no rhyme or reason and

wallowed in self-doubt.

Absentmindedly, I caressed the silky texture of pain reposing on my empty shell;

I hurled recriminations at my ghost, cursing and shouting until I was hoarse.

I was a wreck and alone with my withered self.

I viewed Time with enmity – it was my foe.

Or was it? Was my judgment clouded?

Had I dwelled in sorrow for far too long that

I couldn’t see right from wrong, good from bad,

positive from negative?

Like a magician with another trick up its sleeve,

Time dealt me another blow,

revealing its impartiality in Eros’ petulant games –

He is his mother’s son after all.

Bad as a cliché might be,

Time did heal all wounds- gone were the dark clouds,

tears, recriminations, and searing pain.

Your ghosts still traipse through my thoughts,

beguiling me, 

taunting me

but now, unlike before, I watch with stoic detachment,

at the two hazy figures in my past.

This time is different, as Time is on my side,

a steady guide and mentor in Venus’s senescent 

game of hearts.

Shall I fail? Shall I succeed? 

Que sera sera.

I will let Time steer the course – for this time.



He was a cave dweller near the banks of Lake Limboto, the largest lake of Gorontalo in Indonesia. Aba Una called it his home until a severe leg injury pushed him out of it. A limestone, said The Jakarta Post, fell on his right thigh, rendering him unable to walk for days. His half-sister, Salma Sune, and other relatives intervened and moved him out of the cave on a stretcher. Right now, Aba Una and other homeless denizens in the area have settled in a former primary school complex.

Aba Una’s story resonated with me and the life that I had in another country that came undone. Before that sliver of memory lodged itself in my heart (again – it does that every now and then), I was struck by his sheer determination of leaving behind his old life that was overwhelmed by pain – his marriage collapsed and became a cave dweller after the divorce. The aphorism “no man is an island” came to mind after I read the first few sentences of the feature story. But Aba Una bucked that bandied about saying. He was an island to himself and, if not for that leg injury, would have continued to live among the starving rats and the snakes that crawled and slithered quietly into his humble abode. Two of the snakes got caught in the protective netting he put up at the entrance, which saddened him. He has a soft spot for animals – he would have released the two captives had he had known earlier he was quoted in the article. It was mind-blowing when I read the part when a cobra emerged near his head and, amazingly, glided away after he finished his prayers. He tried looking for it but it was in vain.

The memory then, like a rolled up curtain, unfurled itself. I was living in a cave albeit sans the creepy crawly creatures, mosquitoes (Aba Una solved that with mosquito repellent), darkness and damp walls. The thought never occurred to me until after I had read the tale. I had retreated into my little cave, in my flat in Cavenagh Gardens. I dropped out of the Net, abandoned my hand phone and, well, I simply backed away from the world. Propelled by pain, my life became a monotonous routine of waking up, trying to eat, combating the grief and heading back to bed. I unrolled my yoga mat frequently to keep the demons of pain from howling in my head and, thankfully, a session brought me a few hours of silence and blankness. I felt empty and cold but I preferred it that way. I didn’t want to feel anything at all. What was the point of feeling when all I felt were stabs of misery, hopelessness and betrayal? Joy completely vanished and I had no intention of going after it.  At one point I had an intimation of everything coming to an end when a very sharp pain suddenly impaled my left side when I was alone in the flat. This couldn’t be the end, I thought to myself.  My mother once mentioned of how my maternal grandfather passed because of a broken heart – the love of his life left him too early. My heart went out to the grandfather I never knew and would have wanted to gotten to know more at that moment. Quelling the panic welling up inside me I dropped to the nearby sofa and sat still, breathing slowly as my inner voice rallied me to calmness. Tears rolled down steadily and then my academic self surface. First epiphany: a heart does get broken and the pain does cut up anyone inside badly. Second epiphany: others survive while others don’t. Third epiphany: a former friend could be right about C after our acrimonious break up: “He’s in pain. He’s hurting inside – believe me.”

I would have stayed in my cave forever if not for a friend who came for a visit and uprooted me.  Forced out of the flat by hunger and throbbing headaches to walk to the nearby Cold Storage to get food wasn’t leaving my cave and going back to the world of the living, was, as she put it, not undoing the cave dweller syndrome. I was resistant at first but she wouldn’t have any of that and made sure that sunlight filtered through the flat and my mind. She was as disciplined as a staff sergeant on 24-7 duty, checking that I stuck to my new routine of living that she drew up.

Unlike Aba Una who is barred from going back to his old cave, I decided to leave my cave in Cavenagh Gardens forever.  Having his ghost as my flatmate wasn’t going to do me any good and would just push me off the edge of sanity so I gathered the shattered pieces of my heart and placed them in a box. I’d piece them back together slowly I thought to myself.  That was my frame of mind three years ago. I haven’t been back to that cave but the recluse in me is still with because it’s something I took with me after I left the cave. I like being a recluse every now and then, but not because the pain demons are back. I go back into my little cave to rejuvenate from exhaustion, to collect my thoughts and simply to be by myself for a few hours.



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.

Welcome the year of the dragon!

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.

Marching with the bear in the year of the dragon

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.

Poetics of Language


A broken heart is simply a heart that has a
chance to become stronger.
It’s a heart that is more self-sufficient,
more open to the truth, and more capable of
lasting love.
– Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star &
Expecting Adam

Lover, friend or stranger?
You talked for hours on and off in a week
of trips together
of meeting up when work time allowed
of visits solely for you
of elation running through your heart on seeing her
of how good to hear her voice that
erased the heaviness of your heart

Then an abrupt 180-degree turn &
the connection was severed.

You of the fickle mind & heart!
Feelings are platonic you say,
that lust wouldn’t cut it at all – but your mien betrayed something else

What was she to think ?

What was she to do?

Leave-taking was her option yet you asked for reassurance of her
not leaving you again – – your eyes pleading as you held her arm in a vice grip.

Then another arrow to her heart:
“You can’t escape watching Sex & the City with
your girl if she wants to watch it  together” was your latest Facebook status.