Under the auspicious, round moon

The moon is at its roundest tonight. A full circle, a symbol of wholeness, completion, and the coming together of family.

It is the Moon Festival, and as always, whenever there’s a festival, I go over to my grandparents’ for dinner. They’ll be making dumplings, noodles, pork ribs, and chicken drumsticks – the usual feast. My tummy rumbles just thinking about it.

I try to get off work as soon as possible, but I am held back by a coworker who wants a sympathetic ear. I hear my parents chiding me, “I told you to get off work early today.”

Chinese festivals are always like this. No matter how much work you have, if it’s time to celebrate, you’ve got to put everything down and rush back home. No overtime.

When I finally arrive at my grandparents’, the food is cold, and, to my dismay, there are no noodles. But despite that, the energy is still at its infancy. My cousin’s 1 year old daughter claps as I sit down at the table, starting a competition amongst the adults to see who can clap the loudest.

I happily munch away at my food, keeping one ear open to the conversations around me. There is talk of my sister’s new job, her salary, and her declining weight. She begs to differ. There is nothing wrong with her weight.

I stuff a mouthful of dumplings in my mouth. The skin is so soft and the mixture melts in my tongue.

Dumplings can be eaten with tomato sauce, or vinegar. I’m usually not a big fan of vinegar, but tonight, I ask for it specifically. In fact, I have been waiting all week to eat vinegar. Why? Because of the old wive’s tale that eating vinegar delays your period. I know it’s a bit hocus pocus, but it seems to work everytime for me. I whisper to my sister that the reason I want to delay my period is so that it won’t come during our trip to Japan. My sister winks in reply. She already knows.

I look around the table. Not everyone has stayed till the end. My other cousin slipped out of the night to attend church. He always attends church, despite looking the complete opposite of a church goer. He used to get into fights at school, and my dad would drag my sister and I to talk to his teacher, because our English was better than his. Those were the days. We used to hate him. Now we are planning a trip together to South East Asia.

On the other end of the table, my grandpa is putting food on my grandma’s plate. Ever since her stroke 3 years ago, she’s been unable to do simple things by herself. Her face has swollen from not bring able to move around too much, but despite that, she’s still loud and vocal. Grandpa chuckles everytime he gets told off.

There’s mum, dad, my sister, my cousin, my neice, my Aunties and Uncles, my grandpa and my grandma. Twelve of us on Friday 13th, minus my church goer cousin.

Looking around the table tonight, I realise each of us has our own little stories, our history and future. No matter what happens, or where we drift off to, we will always come together, on a night like tonight. This is the beauty of the Moon festival.

Undefined sadness

There are different kinds of sadness. Sadness from losing a spouse, breaking up with a boyfriend, or saying goodbye to a friend. There are people who know from experience what you should do, articles telling you the stages that you will go though. But what happens when your sadness doesn’t belong to any group? What happens if it’s undefined? How are you supposed to feel? And are you even allowed to be sad?

“Was there even anything between us?” I had asked him.

I was not sure how to define this relationship. We were never together, but we had spent a good amount of time together. We hiked one time around Piha, I often went over to his place and we went grocery shopping.

He told me that he wanted to be with me. For 6 months, he continuously told me that I was “the one.” But we were never “together.” He was never my boyfriend. Just someone I opened my heart to.

So how are you supposed to feel when somebody you’d spent so much time with suddenly leaves? Somebody who was not your boyfriend? It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be sad because our relationship was not defined. Maybe he wanted it that way so that it would be easy for him to leave, so that he wouldn’t be doing anything bad.

Somewhere along the 6 month mark, he changed his mind, but never told me.

I called him up one night and asked him in a faint whisper, “Do you still like me?”

He wasn’t sure. He said something like, “I don’t want to be with you, but I still like you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that you had stopped liking me?”

“I didn’t think it was that serious.”

And so I told him that we could remain friends if he could keep it neutral between us. I thought, better to be direct and set boundaries now, than not and regret it later.

But he never kept to that agreement.

And so after the 1 year mark I told him I didn’t want to be friends with him, and stopped all contact. Two weeks later, he texted me saying “I miss you.”

He did this a couple of times and at this point, I turned into a crazy, uncontrollable person, the details of which are too embarassing to share. I became the crazy person, the one people always say you should stay away from. And that made me feel so isolated in the process of my anger and sadness.

The hardest part has been replaying my part in this. Was I being too pushy? Or emotional? There are moments throughout the day where I have hated my actions, and as an extension, hated myself.

I don’t want to define the road forward. All I know is that I need to continue writing to make sense of the things that don’t make sense.

In the beginning, it was too hard for me to write about what happened, I was too caught up in the emotions so I was afraid I wouldn’t be honest with myself. I have been writing in bits and pieces, letting the truth come out slowly. I feel like I did everything right in the beginning, but even then everything turned wrong, and I am the one left reeling with this.

Emotions are something I need to balance. From time to time I feel guilty for letting my emotions ruin this thing between us. But then I think, what is a relationship without emotions?

What I am guilty of

What I didn’t say was that I was the one who decided to let him go. Then I went back and retracted it because I felt bad. I should have kept to my decision rather than feel sorry for him. Because in the end, he stopped caring and I was the one left with a broken heart.

For the past few weeks, I have been letting my heartbreak sink in, feeling its ebb and flow. But there is something that I keep going back to, something that I constantly feel guilty about. That something is self-sabotage.

From the beginning, he would tell me that “I was the one”. My internal response told me that this wasn’t true. He couldn’t possibly like me without knowing me fully, my flaws and all. But still, I was flattered. So I chose to believe even though I knew the truth.

The truth is, I am shy when I first meet people, then when I get to know them, I am direct and honest. The truth is, I knew that what he liked about me was just the surface-shy girl.

Then after getting to know me, he told me that I was not the kind of person who would go out and travel, that I was sensitive and fragile, even though deep down inside I knew that I was strong in my own way.

So I started acting out. I got angry. I got defensive. I sabotaged all my chances of ever being with him. And what I believed in the beginning became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The truth is, it wasn’t him who broke my heart. It was me. And I blamed him because it was easier to blame someone else, when really, honestly, I was angry at myself.

I am the one who hurt myself. And I feel guilty about it. That’s a thought that takes a very long time to get over.

So I’ve been thinking of doing something to help myself heal. I’ve been thinking of beginning Shaolin training. I’ve always admired the discipline and craft of Chinese martial arts and I feel not only would it be good for my body, but also for my mind.

How am I doing? There are days when I feel angry, and then days when I feel sad. But the pain is not as strong or as intensifying. There are moments when I feel a strong urge to start a new life, and moments where I feel an overwhelming need to stand up for me and defend myself again.

But I know that after all that has happened, this is the moment I will stop practising self-sabotage.

There is no war in love

I’ve been thinking of home lately. Not my parent’s home here in New Zealand, but the old one, my first home back in China, and even the one before then; the home my grandparents first lived in.

Taking me back to their home gives me a sense of pride in the midst of all my failures.

Lately, my senses have been dulled and worn down by the pain of heartbreak, by the shame of self-pity, and the doom of seeing no way out.

But when I think back to where we came from, I am reminded of the strength that existed before my time and which will always be a part of me.

My grandfather saw his neighbour gunned down next to him.

Waking up in a world full of uncertain tomorrows made life more sweet and precious. There on the sidewalk, with the blood of his neighbour’s son, uncertainty crafted his strength.

As the oldest, he raised his sisters from the poor to the strong. He was a strict man, a gentle man, and a practical man. He wouldn’t have spent his waking hours wallowing in self-pity. One hour of pity meant one less day of food.

He knew the difference between love and war.

War was hunger, getting shot at and families parting.

Love was in my grandmother. Taking care of her, looking after her, giving her a better life.

He did not see war in love, even after my grandmother had a stroke that forced him to give up his love of travel.

He cried when he had to give it up. But he cried harder when he almost lost my grandmother.

He was strong in this kind of way. Strong enough to know what was truly important.

Yes, he is still alive. Still, after all these years, there is a twinkle in the corner of his eyes, a gift from the universe for his unwavering optimism. That is the only thing I have inherited, his twinkle.

A few months ago, my mum told me that the twinkle in my eye had gone. How sad that made me feel, to have lost the one thing that connects me to my grandfather’s strength.

But what existed before will always be there. Although faded, weary and momentarily hidden from sight, a little spark, a little patience, will ignite it once again.

There is no straight path out of a broken heart

I thought that sadness was something linear, like the passage of time. That it would decrease as the weeks went by and I would feel better each day.

I thought sadness looked something like this:

Sadness graph - A linear line showing how sadness decreases over time

But the more I got to know sadness, the more it looked like this:

Sadness graph - a spiky graph that shows sadness zigzags up and down

A zigzaggy shape, with spikes that go up and down.

Sometimes the sadness builds up to extreme anger, then dies down again. Like a broken heartbeat.

It’s strange to think that time heals everything when time and sadness don’t move in the same direction.

Time moves forward. Sadness moves up and down.

Time wants me to get up, go to work, eat lunch, catch the bus.

Sadness wants me to stop.

Time says it won’t wait for me.

Sadness wants me to go to his house, knock on his door and beg for an apology.

Time says I don’t have time for that.

Sadness wants to go back in time.

Time knows it can’t go back.

Sadness argues that he still cares.

Time proves that he doesn’t.

Sadness lives in fantasy.

Time lives in reality.

Time forces me to do the things I don’t want to do.

Perhaps that’s why they say time heals everything.

It’s a force against my bad judgment. It’s the pull of linear events that interrupts this rumination.

It’s the moon to my tide.

Before today, it terrified me to find that there was no straight path out of a broken heart. The way out was fraught with thorns and fallen branches. One step forward opened fresh wounds. One misstep took me to a dark place. In the midst of all the pain, the path left behind, became deceitfully safer than the path forward.

As I was contemplating which path to take, time showed up and whispered to me:

Hope is in the future, pain is in the past.

So fixing on the road ahead, I took one step forward and saw a faint light.

It is not much, but it is where I am, in my journey out of heartbreak.

The friendship pact

The friendship pact is one of those promises that you make with your friends about the future. That wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, you pick up your bags and meet at a designated place for that year.

My Dad has a friendship pact with his University classmates, and every year for 40 years, those who can make it, and those who are still alive, come together, from wherever they are in the world, some in America, some in New Zealand, to honour this pact.

Only one classmate out of the 20 or so classmates will never be able to make it to a reunion. He was shot dead in the head for poisoning his neighbour.

Last year, my entire family got a chance to attend this reunion in China. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I was more excited to see Shanghai and Hong Kong, the big, modern cities, rather than the local destinations that we would be meeting at.

But as always, low expectations turned into pleasant surprises, and this local destination became the highlight of my trip.

As soon as we arrived in Sanming, China, and my Dad spotted one of his classmates waiting by a post, he transformed from “an ordinary Dad” to an animated, loud schoolboy, exuding life and vibrancy. One by one, as more of his classmates found each other in the crowd, and embraced, there was an excitement in the air that brought this little town to life.

They talked in furious frenzy, from the platform all the way to the train ride to our hotel, until the train staff had to tell them to keep it down.

The intangible happiness that their friendship brought, was something that could not be mirrored on our solo trip to Shanghai or Hong Kong. Bustling and crowded as these modern cities were, there was only a surface-level of enjoyment that washed away after a few nights spent there.

The places that we went to at this local destination was truly magical. For one of our activities, we bamboo rafted across the lake. We were surrounded by boulders taller and bigger than skyscrapers so we had to crane our necks to take in the whole view. One of my Dad’s classmates burst into song, and the melody traveled across the boulders and echoed around to the back and the front of our pack.

Another of my Dad’s classmates caught a fish in his hands and he stared at it in wide-eyed wonder, like a schoolboy who had caught his first catch of the day.

Left and right I caught glimpses of these rare expressions that brought warmth to my heart. Whether bamboo rafting, or squeezing through narrow caves, there was an energy all around that was so special that I wish I could’ve put it inside a treasure box and carried it back home.

Our last night ended with a performance. The room was booked and the stage was set. As the youngest member there, my task was to play the drum roll while everybody else passed a bag around. Whoever it landed it on when the drum roll stopped, would have to go up on stage and perform. This was a case of anxiety for everyone who was nervous about performing, so the bag got thrown around like hot potatoes.

But when the “unlucky ones” got on stage, they performed beautifully. There was Chinese folk dancing, ballroom dancing and singing. Someone else had a go at playing the drum and somehow the bag landed between my sister and me, so we had to go up on stage and perform. Unlike the others, we had not prepared for our act, so we chose to sing Avril Lavigne’s Complicated, a horrible choice because our voices shook while we tried to sing the fast-paced chorus. I was also wearing large bathroom slippers, so they were protruding out from the velvet stage.

Since that day, I have brought back with me the memory of that trip. Those memories were locked in my mind, but now I’ve opened the lock and let them out. Instead of wishing to belong, I have made plans with friends to share experiences together. Instead of planning in my head, we have been planning together. Instead of talking, we have been doing.

My friends and I are going to Japan in November, and then South East Asia next year. And then mid next year, we are hoping that we can all make a permanent move to a new country. We are helping each other save money for these trips, by introducing each other to part-time jobs that we can do outside of our day jobs. We are sharing a common goal and most importantly, we are doing it together.

Our friendship pact is just beginning. But I hope that it will grow old with us, just as my Dad’s did.

Speaking from the heart takes time

Last week was the first time I had told the man who broke my heart how his actions had affected me in silent ways.

Everyday, I would get up fearing the world and the perfectly beautiful strangers around me. Everyone seemed to be loved by somebody, and I hated seeing it for fear that it would cast a shadow over my own unlovable self.

Until the past week, I had kept silent, letting my emotions fester in their own pit of agony, with the occasional outbursts of anger. At work, I made multiple mistakes, was distracted and always zoning out. I carried myself around with as little energy as I possibly could, retiring to bed early and waking up late.

Truthfully, I was ashamed of being sad over something that wasn’t real. I questioned why I was angry, even told myself that I shouldn’t feel this way. I never told my friends or family how deeply it cut. Only downplayed my sadness.

Whenever I spoke to him, it was always in a friendly manner, as if I had to appease him for some wrongdoing I had inflicted.

Sometimes, my anger would come out, for small, petty things, like when he cut our meeting short, or if he seemed bored or inattentive.

This gave him the impression that I was always a temperamental person and only confirmed his decision about me.

I was afraid that confronting him would only make things worse, that I would lose him forever. So I always apologised for my short outbursts.

In truth, I was deeply hurt. Just kept pretending. Not knowing where or who to turn to.

But last week, the fear of losing myself to anger and sadness became far greater than the fear of losing him.

So I spoke out.

It took me many tries, a few angry starts, but I got to the truth in the end.

I told him that I had suffered mentally in the past few months by pretending that I was ok. I told him that time doesn’t heal wounds, only covers them. I told him all the above I have just mentioned here.

And then an unexpected thing happened.

By giving a voice to the shame I had felt for being in love, my anger and sadness melted away. Like watered-down glue, they peeled away from me and stopped lingering in the open wounds of my heart.

I started emerging from the brain fog I had been feeling for the last few months. I started caring about my work, my dreams, my goals, my life.

I am still tinged with sadness, but it is not the anxious kind that needs to be tended to straight away. It is more a calming sadness. A sadness that knows it needs not do anything. A sadness that knows that in time, it will heal. But this kind of healthy sadness only comes after speaking truthfully.

I have realised that speaking from the heart is necessary and always takes time. It pays off if the person on the other end is willing to sit there and listen to you patiently, without rushing you in any way.

But he is not that kind of person.

Even though I would still like to talk things through, I am not holding my breath.

I am excited for the future, humbled, and most importantly still not cynical of love.