When we were young, we could have any dream we wanted. Reality never impinged. Not yet, at least.
I wanted to be a lawyer. English was my favourite class. I’d write extra essays for fun and hand it up. Yes, I was that kid. But to my defence, the teacher had volunteered to look through my essays. She had been the one to tell my mother I could be a lawyer if I put myself to it.
Somewhere along the way, I mixed up and got sucked into Chemistry. The funny thing is, I never thought myself capable of it. I only surrendered to the triple science stream because I thought what the heck, why give up my place, and because for some strange reason, Literature wasn’t my thing. I used to get E8 for it. At that point, I think, I was the furthest from writing. Just gave it up, don’t know why.
Secondary 3 was beautiful, in a rough sort of way. The most awkward year, I think, childish exuberance interspersed with adolescent insecurities. I was teetering on the brink of maturity. This is the dangerous stage where you know just enough to think, to try to understand things you don’t yet have the capacity to understand. Where you know you don’t know enough but you think you can handle it and pride keeps you from asking. The big issues. It was the time I fell into the habit of watching the night sky in its vastness and questioned, with awe and impatience. It was also the time I started writing poems—childish, embarrassing poems that struggled with themselves.
I remember Secondary 3. That innocence. I didn’t understand then. But then, I never stopped to contemplate it. And it was over too quickly for me.
I won’t spell his name, it’s almost a different lifetime now, but I remember it, nothing like any I’ve seen since. He came out of nowhere; transferred here from somewhere so far away it didn’t even mean anything to me then. I remember he never used to study. Heck, he never even paid attention in class. How on earth did I manage my grades?
Anyway, I need to write this down. It may not be the love I know now but with it, lies my childish ambitions and immature struggles. I don’t know how I got thinking about this playing some shoot the bubble game but this was an important part of growing up that had escaped documentation.
There are times, many times, I would think of him and of what we were and who I was. And think how it would all have been different. But of course, it ended in such a baffling way that nothing could have came out of it. It was one of those memories that had evolved posthumously, into a sort of defining aspect of my adolescent years. Such that when I think of him, a kaleidoscope of all the emotions I had felt as a teenager overwhelms me.
He used to sit beside me in class. And that’s how we started talking. He was new, and it’s strange, but somehow his foreignness didn’t make him different to me. I don’t think I understood him very well though. I don’t think anyone did, with his accent and peculiar way of laughing and speaking at the same time. But he did make me laugh a lot. Maybe I was happier then. And he was definitely bizarre.
He laughed at everything, from German comics, which I didn’t understand and he’d had to narrate everything in each window, to my classmate’s handwriting (most notably his sketch of the boiling chips, in a chemical set-up, that were too huge for the beaker). I think I mostly laughed at him laughing. He had this way of laughing that made everyone else laugh with him.
I don’t know how it came to be but we started spending a lot of time together, outside class. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t remember those times in almost painful detail. Most of them, anyway.
I remember recesses in the library. I can’t remember the name of the old Indian librarian who smiled upon us like a grandfather, but I remember he used to let us sneak into the librarian’s office, sit behind the counter stamping books for loan and shushed us for laughing too loudly. I remember watching Liar Liar in the library, seven times! Because he loved Jim Carrey and we’d laugh over the same scenes, falling off our chairs.
I remember him walking me home. We’d stop at the ixora bushes by the gates. He taught me to pluck out the stalks to find a drop of nectar I could drink. I didn’t believe it the first time he told me. He’d had to drink from a whole bunch of them before I agreed to try one stalk. I never drank nectar from an ixora after that. But I still think about that whenever I see an ixora bush.
I remember talking for hours over the phone until I had to hang up because my ears were hurting. He’d call the moment he reached home and I can’t even remember what we used to talk about. I can’t imagine talking for hours over the phone these days.
I remember the time I missed school for 4 days, rehearsing for NDP Combined Schools Choir. He’d tell me about school over the phone and on the third day, he said he’s had enough. He was going to see me the next day where I had the rehearsals. But we didn’t manage to find each other. He didn’t have a cellphone.
I remember watching Star Wars with all our classmates. Halfway through, I turned to my side and nearly jumped out of my skin realizing how much he looked like Anakin Skywalker. He told me afterwards I’d have to be Amidala and though my heart tingled, I said I’d rather be R2. I remember he used to make little lightsabres with plastic from the skeleton pieces holding miniature toy car parts, after I had to hang up the phone to study.
And then things got a little confusing. More specifically, I got confused. Spending time with him started making me testy. Until I stopped talking to him altogether and avoided him whenever I could. In class, I ignored him. I returned everything he made for me, every single one of his little lightsabres and others. When he had to leave for Netherlands some time after, he told me maybe it was better this way; if things had been normal, he’d have been sick in bed for a week after his dad told him about leaving. Before he left, he wrote a long letter and left it on my desk. I tore it up without reading. In retrospect, it still baffles me how I did that and I do regret my actions. But I know because of that, it was never meant to be.
Maybe it happened to teach me something about myself. Maybe I was the lesson he had been taught. But what we had was so simple just to remember, if we forgot the awful end. Regardless, we are not who we were and these things, I believe, they happen for a reason. Besides, we all have this one memory of someone we’ll always keep in our minds, who once made our hearts skip, our innocence personified, don’t we?
And I always used to believe one day, I’d be punished for what I did to him. Maybe I did get my punishment, years later. But now, that’s all in the past. Now, we have different dreams that reality rudely interferes with, different struggles, and different notions of love. Different things make us happy and though we understand things differently now, it doesn’t necessarily mean we understand more or better than before. It just means we’ve changed.