Through my days I have always found the greatest mercy comes from the relentlessly patient and trudging men and women who drive the cars I sit in to get from place to place. I cry and shed fragments of my heart all over their backseats and in return they give a complete stranger all of their kindness just by being there. For a brief sliver of time there is a person who is devoted entirely to me and is a hundred percent present in the same space as me. I appreciate this so deeply and I wish there was a way to let them know how on so many days they are a lifeline to me.

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August 19

My father would have turned 55 years old on this day. It would have been an important milestone for him, a year when society’s expectations and his own would allow him to finally start letting go of a lifetime of hard work and begin enjoying the rewards of eveything he had laboured so hard to build.

He used to talk about retirement all the time, wondering what he would do, which kopitiams he would go to with Doggie, and what kind of small car he should buy so that he could move easily in and out of traffic. Several years ago I considered briefly what kind of party we would throw him on his 55th birthday to celebrate. Would we go to Ozeki, his favourite Japanese restaurant where he would order “sashumi” and his favourite grilled salmon fish head? Or would we do a house party in our garden that he loved so much, filled with his friends and cold Carlsberg beer, two other things he also loved very much? It did not occur to me then that we would not ever have to plan for his birthday, even as I used to check in on him late at night to see if he was sleeping well and still breathing.

I don’t really like to talk about what happened to my dad. But I figure today is a good day to start being open about it. He died of a heart attack in March 2015, in our home, on his favourite couch which he had been resting on all day from nausea and back pains. It was late in the evening, and minutes ago he had just told us he was going to skip dinner because he wasn’t feeling well. I had sat down next to him and put my hand on his and said, “Not feeling well ah? You rest more lah. We tapau for you.” He muttered, “Ok.”

I was in my room when my mom came running up the stairs screaming that my dad could not breathe. Everything after that was like a whirlwind, the details of which I still remember with piercing granularity. The dog was barking and running in circles. My dad’s favourite MAS in-flight blanket was at his feet and the tempur pillow I bought him at his head. I remember his clothes. I remember my brother arriving home from futsal and shouting at my dad to wake up. I remember the CPR, the effort of which to this day I feel eternal gratitude for even though it not work. I remember all the words I used while screaming at the person on the other end of the emergency hotline to please hurry and running to the guardhouse to wait for the ambulance. Above all of that I remember how I knew the entire time that my father was merely unconscious, and as long as the ambulance came to bring some oxygen he would be fine. Of course it was true, I just knew it was.

But there is nothing quite like having extreme optimism and finding out later how very wrong you were. There have been many difficult things to confront about my dad’s passing, like the regret that he didn’t live long enough to retire and enjoy all of his savings and buy his small car, or how the most inhumane thing that you could make anyone do is identify the body of a loved one. And yet beyond all of that, the hardest thing of all is to think about how lonely and scared he must have been when the heart attack hit. Did he feel pain? Was he frightened? Why didn’t I stay downstairs just a few minutes more so that he wouldn’t have been alone?

Which leads into questions like, why didn’t I recognise the signs of an impending heart attack that he had been exhibiting for days? Why did school make me commit to memory stupid things like useless nilai-nilai moral instead of the visible symptoms of fatal afflictions like heart attacks? Why didn’t I force him to see a doctor? Why did he go to that stupid physiotherapist who did not recognise that his pain was not a muscular problem but a cardiac one? And so on and so forth.

Since my dad’s passing I’ve wanted to learn emergency resuscitation because of how much it meant to me that he was getting help in his final moments. And so when the office recently organised a CPR course for all of the team, I was grateful. Up until then I hadn’t felt truly ready to go through the motions of March ’15 again, and on the morning of the course I was dizzy with anxiety. But the course went very well after I got over myself. I now know CPR and I’m glad I do, because even if it doesn’t bring my father back, it might for someone else. So if you find yourself with the opportunity to learn, do it. Perhaps another day I’ll share the CPR story and why it meant the world to me.

Life for the past two and a half years hasn’t been easy. There have been many low periods as my family and I continue to pick up the pieces of something that broke very unexpectedly. I still cry at every film or book where there is a heart attack or morgue scene, and my friends still have to check all escape rooms we play for props of graveyards or dead bodies. Fathers Days continue to be awful. People say this all gets better with time. I have not found that to be true. People also say that he would have wanted us all to be happy. I suppose that is true but I wish I could ask him myself.

In remembrance of my dad, my family and I went to Ozeki on his birthday. We ordered a lot of ‘sashumi’ and had a really nice time just being with each other. Happy birthday, Pa. Wish you were here and miss you lots. Brain also really likes Ozeki but he’s not old enough to eat all the “leng yeh” yet. You would have liked taking him out in a small car.

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How Do You Know?

how do you know when you love someone? the answer to this question has taken different shapes for me, casting long and short shadows over time, like all my love and all my years have been compressed between a sunrise and a sunset. each time, however, one thing remains the same – which is that i feel more love than my heart can carry. the only way i can describe the sensation is that i am bursting with joy. i feel it through every inch of my body. my mind feels like it is on fire. my soul becomes lit with freedom, curiosity, and clamour. everything is messy and chaotic, but perfectly wonderful. and by the time that love is gone, my heart is bigger. it has expanded just that much more, aching to be filled and coloured in with the next love that will save me. but do i know, or do i fear that it isn’t quite love if it is not more than my heart can carry?

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In Open Fields of Wild Flowers

i am in a place now where the sea envelopes the horizon, and monkeys are darting from one thatched roof to another. the sounds of The Shins are filling my ears. there is a light wispy breeze in the air. and suddenly it feels like i am 15 again – that big year, that wonderful year – when i inhabited a whole world that wasn’t mine, was new, and yet all mine to have for as long as i could pour myself into it. a lot has changed since then, giving me more reason to truly appreciate this rare morning.

it has struck me often how much i ache to revive, or relive, a part of myself that in pensive moments i am unsure will ever come back. i wonder if it is part of aging and somehow i’ve realised this loss without intending to, sort of like waking up from anaesthesia during surgery. or is this what life is always going to be like – losing things and always forced to be acutely aware of the gaping tear where something once was? and so, time travel is a reprieve from this dull ache. music helps. when the opening chords crash into me in the least expected of times and places – it is a small rift in time that allows me to disappear into the cracks of the earth, deep down into what matters, to look at the me and the things that i know inside out. the eventual experience feels like it lasts a long time. but in reality, on the surface of the earth, it only lasts about a minute.

and then it’s back to this art and science. until the next strains of Jars of Clay as i walk past a shop…

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sometimes i can’t tell if i have been dismembered or if i am paralysed. my heart feels like it is beating far and away in a glass jar, shriveling smaller with each passing day. big events become meaningless, and good friends feel shadowy and phantomlike, as if i had only observed a motion picture about them from another plane. if i had to choose one moment to live eternally in the after life, which would it be? the stairs, at IAB, the purest bliss i had ever experienced.

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