“We’re better than alright.”
– Between the Raindrops, Lifehouse ft. Natasha Bedingfield
March 2009: Monday, on a most ordinary afternoon. I came home from uni one day to news so devastating, that news of a death would have sounded more comforting. I took off my headscarf and dropped it in shock on the glass coffee table in the living room. The abrupt force broke off the plastic ruby from the ring I used to hold my scarf together. I never bothered to glue the two back together.
I don’t know how I lived the days following this particular one on my calendar. How was I still able to think? To move? To breathe? To function? And most importantly, to study, which my parents had invested so much for me to do? So much was at stake, but my studies was one of the most important things worth salvaging, more than anything. This was to be, quite literally, a bridge to my future that I had to start building then. And so I built. Brick by brick.
Two things kept me going: distance, and secrecy. Distance, because I was oceans away from what was happening, enough to keep my head on track and to get serious. And secrecy, because knowing that other people don’t know about the skeletons in my closet somewhat gave me an odd sense of normalcy: it was like everything was alright. But this knowledge that I kept to myself was still heavy, and the skeletons don’t always sit still; at night, when I’m seconds away from sleep, they come knocking on my consciousness, and I am forced to entertain them into the wee hours of the morning.
It took me three, some nearly four years to introduce these skeletons to some of my really good friends. I don’t know why it took me so long; perhaps I feared that it was going to get too crowded in that closet if I let too many people in. And besides, there are those who like to observe from a distance and clap their hands when they see misfortune befall upon you. But I have been most fortunate to be blessed with truly understanding companions, those who have been able to offer endless encouragement that has kept me standing on these two feet, even if they don’t know it.
Although I felt like I was prepared to declare my new changed status to the world, the rest of my family, in particular my mother, might still not. Guarding this secret, as with every other major projects I have undertaken in my life, was therefore somewhat an experiment; I wanted to see how long I could hold out for until I reached my breaking point. But while some of my closest companions could detect cracks and inconsistencies in me over the months and years we have gotten to know one another, I never quite reached a ‘breaking point’. The skeletons and I have grown so accustomed to each other’s presence that they have become an almost permanent part of me. I have accepted them, and the fact that they weren’t going away anytime soon. In other words, we have reached a suitable state of agreement. So when I finally opened the door to let other people into that dark closet, it was almost like I was introducing a sibling that they never knew about. Simple as that. And it always began with a resigned, “Actually…”, and a sigh.
I think coming to terms with it was somewhat a gradual process, one that wasn’t marked by a particular lightbulb moment of clarity. I didn’t wake up one morning feeling good about my situation all of a sudden; it felt more like sitting out on the front porch, waiting for the storm to pass and for the black clouds to clear out. Indeed, the thing about life problems like this is that they could never be solved overnight; and even if they could, it would have lasted such a deep impression you that you would never be the same again. But I have had much time to reflect on what we have been through, and to be grateful for the fact that at the end of it all, our ship remains floating. What more could one ask for than a second chance — to restart, rebuild, and to rewrite this story?