Flashbacks

Dear Brain,

For the one that has been with me every day and night of my existence, here is a letter to you.

We haven’t had it easy since we hit 15.

Maybe 13, if we were being completely honest about secondary school.

12, if we count the days of running away from home and playing truancy because the pain of loneliness was too much to bear. Days when we haven’t learnt that we are allowed to lend new meaning to “family” through friends and partners. Days when we were still shredding ourselves, trying to peel away pieces of guilt and shame from being unfilial.

Yes, there was dinner at home. But we didn’t want to have it alone.

9 or 10, as the time we realized we were always coming home to an empty house. “Where’s Mum?” I would ask the domestic helper.

At work, she would say.

“And Sheryl? Shawna?”

At school. Of course.

Seems like everyone had some place to go except us.

I can’t remember the exact day we started tasting betrayal like a mouthful of iron-laced blood. But I recall spitting it in their faces when they chipped away at our resolve and sense of worth.

“There’s something wrong with her. When we go back, ask her go see doctor,” Dad shouted at Mum when I ran out of the restaurant into the streets at Cambodia.

“You’re so weird.” Furrowed eyebrows from Sheryl. Her voice intertwined with Mum’s, transforming into the latter. Vernier caliper fingers on my waist, playful pinching of bottoms and laughter. “Fat already.”

And finally, from the one person in the family that we thought had our back,”It’s not like Mum doesn’t allow you to go out. Where are your friends? Go find them.”

We cried three hours over this in the Cambodia hotel room. They thought it was because we were still sad that we had to say everything twice, thrice before someone gave us a non-committal, one-word reply.

But really, it was because we were essentially told to find a new home. Our choice was them, but our choice didn’t matter. They had bigger lives, their own lives, and friends, and work and school and we —

.

— we were on our own.


I remember we swore never to let them in again. We bitterly waited for the day they might come back to us, telling us to please come down and join them for dinner. There are days like that now. Mum would tell us that a certain sister “hasn’t seen you in a long time. Come down. Talk to us.”

No. It’s too late.


We are judged so often, Brain.

Even I judge us sometimes. Even when I’m writing all this, I pause to see whether I sound too bitter, too pubescent, too immature, too unfair.

But these days when we keep our distance, it isn’t for revenge anymore. It’s to buttress ourselves with a girth of space because who knows when they’ll change their minds? Who knows when I’ll be too troublesome and demanding –no, who knows when they will try to make me feel that way?

I do not wish to give myself to people who will only be genuine when it doesn’t cost them. And I’m doing this to protect you too, Brain. Protect us.

When Bryan came into the picture, he said we were being too harsh with our family. Ignore him. He hasn’t experienced the flurried thumping of a heart in a ribcage too small, the endless back-and-forth, back-and-forth, back-and-forth from days long before him:

Is this really what I want?

Am I being unfilial?

Am I being unfair?

Is there really no other way?

I wonder why opposing views now sound like gaslighting?


But this is the choice we made for ourselves. And so, we took off into the world trying to find shoulders that we could build our nest upon.

Unfortunately, a myriad of friendships soon taught us that the world, too, found us weird.

We laughed too loud, apparently.

Didn’t enjoy shopping, or painting nails — enough to alienate us from the secondary school clique.

And right about then, or so says our psychiatrist, you started brewing your own neurochemical soup. Been so busy finding more things to stew that you hardly cared about Syrian bombings, the advent of the iPad or the closure of Megaupload. You left me to do all these readings, for newspaper cutting assignments or General Paper. To function.

But how could I, when you were pulling snapshots of unkind remarks, raised eyebrows and snickers into your giant patchwork of reasons to kill ourselves, all through night and day?

Tirelessly, relentlessly, you told me that I really was unworthy and unloved. You told me that I was fat, ugly, weird, stupid and slow. And I believed you. Backed up with a thousand testimonies from family and friends, I believed you.

I’m not trying to pick a fight with you again, Brain, but please understand that you’re not the easiest one to have. I never could get used to your endless sewing and how you’d proudly lay your patchwork out for me to see at night, behind closed eyes. It’s scary because every patch in the quilt is an animated film, and you’re in charge of the reels. So even when I didn’t want to remember, didn’t want to see, you showed me anyway.

Being chased down corridors by someone or something;

Walking endlessly, seeing new faces, new places, but realising that I wasn’t actually going anywhere;

Being stabbed in the stomach or shot in the chest by people I didn’t even know but seemed to have every reason to resent me;

Turning up late for examinations, sitting down to write and finding that I’d forgotten everything;

Being lost among the sprawl of concrete buildings and calling for help, but everyone looking on…

On top of that, you seem very much like a computer. You can only compute what I’ve laid out instructions for – anything that I haven’t thought of in advance, you wouldn’t take into consideration in your decision-making at all. The psychiatrist said you displayed traits of “Borderline Personality Disorder” because you split: black-and-white, things are either good or bad, there is no in-between.

1’s and 0’s, just like a computer.

The psychiatrist said he wasn’t diagnosing us with the disorder because we didn’t have a slew “unstable relationships”.

Hah. He doesn’t know that we don’t split on people, we split on their actions. So, if Jane lies to us, that action is bad. But Jane also gave us free food, that action is good.

Jane’s Bad: 7.

Jane’s Good: 10.

Conclusion: Jane is good.

I’ve since fine-tuned your logic gates to allow for a change in whatever conclusions you’ve drawn about people. Recently, I’ve also programmed you to update and re-evaluate our relationships with others every 3 months or so.

I hope this helps you make sense of this place where people don’t seem to operate the same way, Brain.

I don’t find you tedious anymore. I figured that as much as I withdraw us from our family, the sharp knife of a short life will still slice them to pieces. Besides, there are other people in this world whose loneliness I want to ease.

So, after deciding that we can’t kill ourselves, this is the gameplan:

  • Write. Do theatre. Read — try to read. Get more views on how other people live their lives or deal with their brains. Try to get inspired and inspire others to do the same.
  • Rubber band around right wrist at all times. In event of extreme distress, snap against skin. Snap out of it, Brain. I know you can.
  • Get a cuddly pet. In this case, Caleb. Convince ourselves that at least one little being in this world needs our care and companionship and doesn’t find us weird. Or ugly. Or fat. Or —
  • Keep breathing.

There are other options, Brain. Do you see this?

We’re going to be here a pretty long time, I think, so long as some car doesn’t miraculously come and whisk us away to slumberland.


I don’t think anyone is ever going to tell you this, since they don’t understand you the way I do. So, here you go. At the risk of sounding whiny and needy and

— is that you showing me another patch in your quilt? Don’t interrupt me, silly.

\

I’m sorry, Brain.

I’m sorry that I joined the world in picking on you for so long.

I’m sorry that you don’t fit in and that it seems like we were born on the wrong planet,

or that we shouldn’t have been born at all,

or that our existence is a fait accompli where neither of our wants matter.

I’m sorry that you’ve been rejected so many times when all you wanted was to love and be loved.

And I think I do love you now, Brain.

It’s remarkable how, after all these years, you still want to love fiercely. You still want to be open and honest — or should I say, you were made to be open and honest?

I think you’re brave.

I think you’re creative.

I think you’re compassionate, kind and caring.

There’s so much to see. So much to read and learn.

I know people still scoff at us for not knowing things – like how autopilot electric cars are real, now – but we’ll get there eventually. Don’t be disheartened. Meanwhile, we’ll write our own stories – stories only we can write, on things the world couldn’t possibly have known about.

It’ll be like information barter trade. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you are too.

We should go to bed. We’ve only had… 5.5 hours of sleep. And we have a play to catch in the afternoon, and a migrant poetry reading in the evening…

There is so much that we’re starting to do, Brain. We’re finally taking interest in things. Can you see that?

.

Oh, and also —

Um, you can show me more of your patchwork.

I think your films are vivid and beautiful.

\

Regards,

Shermin Ong

.

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