Sometimes, on special days, I miss the times when the only thoughts in my mind were about crossing that ancient space, the limitless field between the green anchors shielding us from bullets and worser things, and when the circular systems of my mind would drain my clogged stems of such parasitic entities as “What do I eat today?” and “What do I wear today?” without prompt. Sometimes, I long for the time when all we saw, all we wore, and all we consumed was green: the colour of Neo’s office before he took his pills, the colour which prevents sinister things from seeing us clearly (or the other way round), and the colour of the dancing angsana trees miming in the wind, rooted but free.
Disclaimer: please don’t drift in camp.
“Cheebye, fucking typhoon ah?” said my driver, shifting his heel from accelerator to brake as an endless volley of rain shelled the roof of our Safety OUV, drowning my thoughts in the cacophony of water against metal. Slowing down, the yellow, circular light from my headlights made contact with the blinding light of a torchlight, SAF issue. My driver shielded his eyes with his hand; I didn’t.
As we came closer, our sight reluctantly introducing the yellow of traffic marshal vests, the forms of around a dozen military vehicles—jeeps, trucks and OUVs—previously hidden in the darkness began to take shape. In the distance, about thirty metres or so, a soft blanket of orange light emerged from the thick foliage.
The marshal, a thick raincoat underneath his vest, raised his palm high, a clear signal for my driver who stopped and wound down his window, the barrage of rain immediately penetrating the car as he did.
“Hey, sir, welcome,” said the marshal as he stuck his dripping head inside the car, the rain bouncing off of his back noisily.
“Everything is prepared already. Just park over here.” He pointed to a slot in the carpark, demarcated with red light sticks and traffic cones which were hastily removed by another guard. I nodded, and the driver closed the screen. The marshal raised his walkie-talkie and whispered something, probably about me.
“You just take off here first—he’ll help me reverse.” The driver glanced at the marshal.
I stuck my umbrella out my door and opened it. “Alright. Thanks ah.”
“Oh, and, good luck ah sir!” He shouted, the storm almost smothering his voice.
It always felt weird to be driven by a Third Sergeant, especially when I was a Corporal. But he was proud of his job, and that’s all that matters.
Still under the merciless indirect fire of God, I skipped over quickly to the “FOB’: a large army tent built painstakingly by hand whose ends flapped about restlessly in the rain, my combat boots belching every time they grinded against the cold, soggy mud. There, a section of multi-coloured hanging light sticks gave me entrance, to which I was welcomed by the warmth of the orange light— the product of a formation of hurricane lamps lining both sides of the tent.
Inside was a flurry of activity: tables with maps and large radios occupying great portions of space forced those working on them to squeeze towards the sides, creating the smallest of bottlenecks just big enough to squeeze through; radio chatter and manual yelling intermingled to produce a strange but comforting human orchestra; and about fifty metres on people were busily working on a long line of familiar-looking cars. Directly in front of me, a young Malay man in a raincoat, green beret fit snugly atop his head, spoke excitedly yet professionally to a group of sitting men. Closer inspection revealed that the rank of the speaking man showed two Chevrons—a Corporal—whilst those with butts on the ground were Sergeants and Lieutenants.
(No one higher than that was allowed.)
Upon seeing me, the Malay man produced a great, big smile and rushed to arrest my hand, a red Security Trooper armband wrapped tightly around his arm.
“Hey, sup man!” He said, almost shouting into my face, his eyes roaring with glee.
“Ey!” I let out my trademark greeting. Still tightly clutching me, he introduced me to his audience, his other arm outstretched:
“Hey guys! This is the fucking star of today’s show. He’s one of the founders and also one of the first few racers. This guy ah,”—he clicked his mouth—“is a fucking bigshot sia!” The group of commanders laughed heartily, uniformly. The orange light hid the slight blush on my cheeks.
One by one, they rose to shake hands with me, forming an impromptu queue on the spot.
One of the officers playfully put the side of his palm 45 against his forehead, and stood there for a few moments.
“Return the salute la, no need to be shy boss.” He said.
I reciprocated, admittedly half-assedly, and he promptly cut down, chuckled, and went off.
“Hey man, can give me autograph anot ah?” The Sergeant next in line innocently asked, armed with a laminated map and a marker.
“Sure bro!” I said and, without thinking, grasped the end of his marker, to which I was quickly stopped by my Malay friend.
“No man, no autographs. Later MP see how?” He said and promptly laughed.
“Oh ya hor!” The sergeant laughed with him, and went off.
He looked at me, then I looked at him, with a smile. Within the confines of his pupils, I saw it—a spark.
(I recognised that shit in his eyes.
Those eyes spent close to a year staring at the same scene, unchanging: the same pillars, the same crack on the wall, the same boots through the gate, the same grass which inched out shyly over a fraction of a millennia, the way the trees dodged and danced in the rain, rooted but free; tomorrow his eyes will meet the same slideshow, but for now they were directed at the smooth running of today’s op—only the right people go in, and the wrong people stay far, far away, ignorant.
He was a bad ST, actually—even standing still (for hours) was hard for him.
But for now, no more useless thoughts about life in the box. Just give a boy a job he cares about, and see what comes out of the engines.)
His ST armband reflected nobly in the orange light. His walkie-talkie rumbled.
“Eh, I’ll be going off now.” I said.
“Sure, thanks man, good luck ah.” He replied, slapping my shoulder.
I kept on walking.
From the cracks between the sections of the tent, the branches and leaves of the encircling foliage, on most days a dull green, mimed and tangoed in the orange light.
Walking past more tables with trash bags full of light sticks new and used, I eventually made contact with the row of cars I saw previously. The entire column spanned about twenty cars in total, composed of one section of jeeps, OUVs and GP cars each, forming an impressive wall of cars which surely would have intimidated the unacquainted. Each car had their own personal embellishments: “tattoos” on the hood and sides of the car—animals, gods and the favourite song lyrics of the driver, illuminated wheels spanning every colour of the rainbow and customised license plates on the back. One jeep, doused with crimson paint and engraved with scales, looked like the bastard child of a dragon, and another GP car in hot pink mounted a license plate which proudly proclaimed: “MID S3X C4R”, among others.
I was a far simpler man. I walked to my own jeep, completely vanilla but with one exception: on my license plate there laid the words “MID TKNG DRFT”. That was enough.
There, a mechanic was busy making the final adjustments to the insides of the car. I tapped him on his shoulder.
“Hey sir! Just on time, everything done liao. You mind if you adjust the driver’s seat?” He said with refined Singlish, if that makes any sense.
“Not a problem.”
Getting on, I did the necessary adjustments, in the process catching a glimpse of myself, unthinking, in the side mirror as thick raindrops moseyed down the lens, obscuring and magnifying the structures on my face.
So, so blur…
(It’s been a long time, you cunt. Are you proud of yourself?
You should be. See yourself now like someone in a movie. A driver, you drive. When someone asks you what you do in NS, what you reply?
“I’m a driver, I drive.”
That’s great. You know, not everyone can make a movie out of their life. First you gotta have a good, colourful reel of content. This is where most people falter, because most of their scenes are exactly the fucking same, just repeating. Or maybe they’re just green.
Secondly, and more importantly, you must know when to make a cut.
You know what to do. In fact, you already did it.)
On the dashboard, a light green vehicle logbook rested peacefully, unmoving. I didn’t need to check it.
(In the army, all vehicle movements must be updated in the logbook—you drivers should know. And with it, the destination, purpose, date and time, the mileage, the driver’s particulars and signature, the authorising officer’s particulars and signature—which has been taken care of, obviously—and,
What else am I missing? Oh.
The SVD. A five digit number showing the times the vehicle went over the speed limit: an anti-speeding measure, of course. Whichever driver added to it, you knew he was fucked.
I was this driver, just a few months ago. 0023. (I don’t remember what I did; it was in a forest.) Panicking, thinking so fucking much, about failing, about going to Hell, about going to fucking Detention Barracks, until, in a moment of clarity, I did what all the words told me specifically not to do: fiddle with the fucking thing under the hood.
You cannot imagine the look on my face when I saw the last digit roll back up. 3 to 2. 0022.
And so, armed with this piece of knowledge, I started to experiment at an abandoned piece of Tekong road. First, the maximum speeds of the different vehicles. Second, how to drift:
at gear 2 (just enough power to control the throttle), whilst approaching a left turn, clutch down, steer left, simultaneously pulling up the handbrake, then do the reverse: steer right in the direction of the slide, handbrake down, clutch off, accelerate—all done at the same time. Practice with all vehicles.
And when the ST saw me coming more on weekends…
Soon, the whole of Tekong was my bitch. (Well, the parts without CCTV, anyway.) The drivers, whom I shared my ways with, saw an economic opportunity and, together with the STs, organised the syndicate you see now through your screen. First it was informal, like mah-jong, just a few STs and drivers with death wishes on a dirt road. Then we let the Sergeants know, then the Officers…
(We’re all the same, cruising on the same road with camo-ed signs telling us to go somewhere, except we went straight into the green…)
No, I didn’t think anymore, about the possible punishments, the mighty green arm of the Army coming down on my stupid head, about the possibility of death: all possibilities more interesting than the road I was on then—
the same jungle every day, the same dirt, the same skid marks on the road, different people, but the same old avenue—
Hmm. Time passes faster around bends than on a straightaway. And also at 120km/h, compared to 40.)
I got out, thanked the mechanic, and kept on walking.
Past the wall of cars, the orange light got dimmer and dimmer, the intervals between hurricane lamps widening with distance. The commotion, too, trailed off as the deafening crackle of water bombarding the walls of the tent, before this a mere background effect, overtook the noise of humanity. In the distance, at the edge of the tent, a group of black silhouettes, about ten or so, stood unmoving, their backs towards the cars.
As I came closer, the familiar stench of cigarettes, that of smoke filtered through tiny, meaty holes in the lungs—an acquired smell, indeed—shot up through my nose. It’s not like it wasn’t there before, but the visual and aural overload that preceded this sort of drowned it out.
Alone. Smoking. Completely still.
This was the drivers’ cage.
It’s always been the same: an unofficial smoking point which was against circuit rules, but nobody dared to bother the drivers who were busy turning their brains into condensed versions of Silent Hill. The smell always made me feel at home, and my lungs were so hooked on second-hand smoke that I might as well have been addicted. I always maintained that each of them only smoked one stick; I took smoke from everybody.
(Smoke was always a good occupier of space.)
They had seen me coming from a mile away, I’m sure, but neglected to greet me. Instead, they kept staring outside, at the rain, at the floor, at everything except each other and least of all at me. When observed from afar, you couldn’t differentiate between them and the age-old flora they were looking at.
Without notice, one by one, they flung their cigarettes at the earth, snubbed it out, and walked away.
I sunk, to say the least.
(But only for a moment.)
Out in the rain, underneath a dancing angsana tree, two sentries, one proning, one kneeling, kept watch over the road I took to get here. The rain must have lifted slightly, for I could make out a binoculars and walkie-talkie in their respective hands. Believe me, if I had a camera, I would have taken their pictures and posted them on the SAF website: “Soldiers: Proud, Willing, True.”
I did a ke-belakang puseng just in time before stepping into No Man’s Land, a place where the ground had long turned to mush by an eternity’s worth of rain. My boots had already fused with the earth below me.
(Was this what it’s like to be a soldier?)
Soon, the ruthless assault of nature on our humble tent had weakened, and everyone gathered, instinctively, around the cars. (In the distance, iron boats struck the shore for the first time…) The rain had not cleared completely, yet everyone besides the drivers started streaming down from the tent, in their hands bundles of lightsticks—all red—which they stabbed into the ground as if to sow a forest. Beyond the cars was a clearing, no trees, just a fine, straight patch of dirt.
After some time, a loudspeaker boomed like a siren:
“All jeep drivers, please head to your respective vehicles. Our guys will guide you down to the start line.”
This one instruction I did follow. One by one, marshals led us down the clearing, guided by the bright red lightsticks which set the limbs of the forest alight in a soft, lively ember. We turned the corner, and before us was an entire road completely planted on both sides with spectators and with these unwavering neon sparks.
My feet, still soiled, were trembling.
We lined up—I was first on the left (most exposed)—and there was an ST, blood-red, in front of us, in his hand a pistol—P226 loaded with blanks—that he would shoot in a few moments, and I would go, unthinkingly,
(for the last time,)
but for now gear 2,
“2”, (make these green years a second,)
“1”, (make something out of nothing,):
and then it was all a blur.
When I invade Malaysia
please don’t be angry at me
whoever you are–
when i send flocks of artillery
down on low industry
and the tender pavilions
fit for fire
when i loot the stores in Penang
and fuse their condensed milk
with water from my canteen
to wash down my rations
when i paint a beautiful thing
and a malay voice answers me back
through his solid screen
when all i see are green shirts with yellow fruits
who backstab insurgencies in their bedrooms
sending bombs over the black hill
I can’t see through the smoke on Melaka
and leaves the coastward side
white with glee
when I land on Johor
through a Hail of GPMG fire
jogging from cover to cover
across the Causeway–
I will fight my way back to Singapore
and I will see you again
in my tank, or in coffins.
“One bad thing leads to another. I just know it’s going to be a couple of long weeks.” I remember telling myself after China Studies.
There’s a block in my history that I feel has lost its impact on me after several years of mental sedimentation and the accretion of more recent memory such that, hidden under a kilometre-thick layer of time, I thought it had disappeared from the network entirely. But under the soil, the seemingly harmless boxes (what’s the worst that could happen?) that your brain hides painful neurons in will always be there, waiting for all the dirt and earth to be washed away one day.
I dug this one out on purpose though.
Surprisingly, I remembered its location pretty well, and the explosion wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be: it felt more like an old, faded film capturing the immense stature of a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud.
Wanting to clear my backlog of history, I scrolled through all the significant poems that I had yet to post on this blog, and the uncut gem you see below immediately came to mind. At first, I merely wanted to jot down a short paragraph or two about the context of the poem, but, reading it again, I felt that it wouldn’t have done justice at all to one of the most painful periods of my life.
Without further ado (I’ll tell you about what happened later), here’s a poem about fucking up your ‘A’s:
Whilst longing for the sky,
my weary feet dug too deep
and scoured an inconvenience
that required my immediate attention—
On the 18th floor, a staircase breakdown
in a broken school—
a massive hole in the ground
(with an ugly label)
that suctioned my eyes, fogged it up, and rendered my senses
inoperable. I can see all the way down to the ground floor.
This one’s not abyssal—
only those born excluded
dare to stare at a bottomless pit.
This one’s magnetic. It’s a simple hole
categorised simply, a banal hole
simply called “Failure”.
How can I resist?
“What am I scared of?”
I’m scared of falling and being
torn from the path people usually go to.
That’s all there is to it; I wish it was something grander,
unspeakable, unwriteable, elusive,
but only simple words can capture this truth.
I’ll live. I always do, with the rest of them
staring up, falling down a hole
(but mine’s carved with my own two feet)
and I’ve certainly adjusted
let’s hope my tears turn the concrete ceiling
a colour like sky blue.
I don’t know if you could tell, but this is a poem by a desperate man. Or boy, considering the way things panned out.
The colossal screw-up that was my ‘A’s was a culmination of two years of constantly being slow-roasted by an intense feeling of “I know that there’s something terribly wrong but I really don’t know what the fuck it is”, with “it” only revealing itself to the long lens of hindsight after everything has ended. In this case, only after JC had ended and I got my results back did I have any clue of what went wrong.
Here’s a (painful) description of the entire fable, plucked ripe from the best of my memory:
It all started with H1 General Paper. From the start, it really didn’t go so well: on the very first essay paper, I knew that I didn’t make the best choice of question. Indeed, as I tug on the chains of memory, I realise that the ordeal was actually sown the day before: as I looked through my past essays and saw that I did pretty well on the topics of Religion and Politics, I began researching (desperately, on the day before the exam no less) for in-depth examples on these two topics, which, indeed, I came up with a few.
But I remember sleeping little that night. On the actual day, burdened by the tank that was my research, I chose the harder, vaguer question on Religion rather than the one on History that I knew examples by heart, and that could actually fit into my tiny little brain. (Why? You little fuck, why? Because you didn’t want it all to go to waste? See where that got you now, you dumb cunt.) And so, tearing off more than I could chew, I began overthinking the moment I forced my pen tip onto the lined paper, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have time to pour out everything I had to say as well. At the time, my skills in purging harmful thoughts which I knew were harmful for me had not been conceived yet, and the clouds in my brain—“Did I choose the right question?”, “What should I have done?”—bled onto the Comprehension Paper the next day, and then the Math Paper after that, then Literature, so on, so forth.
No matter how many times I answered these questions in my head, they just kept growing higher, higher and higher, plunging back up whenever I tried to shove them back down into the earth. And even during the empty days where I was supposed to fill my mind with books, the castles in the sky kept tumbling one after the other…
But that’s just the tippy top of the iceberg. The rest of it just seems unreal, almost like a movie.
The demented feelings of inacceptance (yes, it’s this word I’ve been searching for), I like to think, also led me to suffer from this cruel habit: that of writing past the time limit. The sequence would look like this: “Pens down”, to which I would comply for a second (with a pen firmly between my fingers), look around, the examiner’s passed me—continue writing. I did this a lot in previous exams, but swore to myself that I wouldn’t do it during ‘A’s (did I?), and as soon as the lane invigilator showed me his back, I would be writing paragraphs, cancelling, and making my rushed words look palatable on paper.
God, just writing about this puts me back in the hall. Most of the time, I would be at the extreme right hand side of the hall, somewhere in the middle—conditions encouraging me to play Russian Roulette with my grades.
And then I got caught during China Studies. (What a shame.) I don’t (want to) remember the circumstances leading up to it, but I remember, as I was leaving the hall, the chief examiner signalling to me to come over—“You.” The back of my head suddenly felt very heavy, and we went outside the hall to talk.
As I’m writing this, I’m wandering around in a thick fog, and this is all that I can find:
“…do you know what you’re doing…”
“…if you do this one more time…”
He was a large, burly man, longer and wider than me, and the camera was at my ankles, pointing up.
At this point, I should have known that if I didn’t stop the more primal instincts of my brain, things would escalate to an even more catastrophic state. And trust me when I say that even this measly excuse for a description was a pain to come up with, because what came next overshadowed it completely.
The surrounding links are pretty rusted, but I remember strolling with a dear friend, both of us preoccupied with clearing and counting the bodies, but we still had enough energy to share about the battle we had just fought:
“…wait wait wait, you mean you did questions 3 and 5, right?”
“No, I did 2 and 3.
“You’d better go and ask the teacher now.”
I’d just uncovered a nuke amongst the bodies.
In China Studies, there were a total of 5 essay questions to be done. The instructions were to attempt questions number 1, which was compulsory, either 2 or 3, and either 4 or 5.
I did 1, 2 and (and and and and and and…) 3.
I ran straight to the teacher, who was busy talking to some of the other students, and, lacking the presence of mind and normality to care about the others’ opinions of me, told her my discovery. There was a feeling stirring in my mind while all of this was happening, but it was…premature. Like a devil-like form hatching from an egg.
She paused and stirred.
“The best case scenario, what I think will happen, is that they’ll mark both of your essays (Thank God), and (and and and and…) they’ll choose the higher one (what happens to the other one?) and they’ll void the other one.”
Void. Still trying to wrap my head around it. That’s one essay completely gone, annihilated, and considering the essay section was the component of China Studies which held the most marks, there went one of my H2 subjects in smoke. Fucked up.
The devil was beginning to take form now, and it had begun to take the visage of pure pain: it’s your fault, baby, it’s yours. There’s nobody else to blame except myself. It just so happened that in all the previous exams, which wrote the exact same instructions on the first page in the column at the bottom, I did questions which were either 2 or 3, and either 4 or 5, and only during the actual ‘A’ Levels did my luck fuck me in the ass: 2 and 3 were the easiest questions out of 2, 3, 4 and 5. And the thing is, 3 was a little bit contentious. I had half a mind to do 5 instead of 3.
If only I had a full mind.
There was another teacher beside us who had heard our conversation. She was an absolute angel to me, and saw the future in ways that I could not yet, or didn’t want yet to comprehend. She understood the pain that was coming for me far better than I did at the time.
“Don’t think about it. It’s over. I know that you’re still thinking about it but focus on your papers now, okay?”
Or something to that effect. I don’t remember what exactly she said, but I do remember her tone, like a mother consoling a sick child: it’s over, don’t think about it. In the stuttering, still stuck in disbelief way I explained it to her, I realised I was searching for it–some sense of consolation just to prop me up for that day, and she knew, and she gave it to me.
I remember, clearly, like full colour clearly, the cab back with my friends to Bishan. I sat in front, sort of forgot to wear my seatbelt. I was silent all the way, with my ass merging with the rubbery, artificial seat from all the getting fucked it had done. I remember wanting to make a film, a short film about this cab ride back. I knew nothing about film back then, but if the me today had to guess, there would be shots of my back with road and cars in the background, shots from the bonnet of the car with my friends discussing the paper in the back, and many close-ups on my empty eyes. Ugh.
There was no way to avoid it. Just another one of those things life throws at you to fuck you over, which, if you couldn’t dodge in time, you were fucked. It’s one of my mottos now, actually: I point to my mistakes and say “just another one of those things life throws at you to fuck you over.” I remember seeing snippets of the instructions branded all over the essay sections of other schools’ exam questions, which, now that I think about it, were probably signs that other students from other schools had fallen into the same trap as me. “Do Either Questions 2 or 3” were directly above questions 2 and 3, and ditto for 4 and 5. I legitly said to myself, “What a strangely strict rule.” Certainly didn’t occur to me that it was the real rule.
Still, at this point in time, there were no tears to be had. I was still shell-shocked and my mind wandered into the desert whenever it could, but if I remember correctly there was another paper the day after which required my full attention, or whatever was left of it. So, clinging on to the advice of my teacher, I started preparing again albeit with a less than full mind.
Sometime in between this and the next incident, I met my Civics Tutor to discuss the extent of my screw up, and how to cope with it. She was the sharp type, and although she really wanted to help me, I could tell she wasn’t all that excited to dull her edges with me. She still did, though.
It’s still a blur, of course, but I remember the key takeaway from the session (which had less chastising than I expected):
“It’s really not that bad.”
(Which is true. But hindsight should be left for nearing the end of the essay.)
Her words reaffirmed my connection to reality, which was slowly recovering the ground it had lost in my mind.
And then, poof, guess what, it all flew away again. Like a cascade of rootless earth, my grip on reality all but disappeared following another incident during Geography. (Physical Geography, coincidentally. I swear the earth-related simile came to me before I thought of the subject.) This one was world-ending.
My incident with China Studies, unfortunately, eclipsed the stern warning that the examiner had given me that day, and truth be told his warning fell on shell-shocked, disabled ears. I still felt that I could get away with things, or more specifically, two words: “wind speed.” At the end of the three hour paper, when his booming voice echoed all around the room like an air raid signal, my last paragraph was missing it’s last sentence which was due to be completed with the addition of these two words.
Look left, look right. No one. Pen it down.
I felt a hand on my back when I finished writing “wind”.
Turning back, I saw a pallid, slightly familiar face: that of one of the math tutors in my school. I was numb at this point.
“Stop writing.” He told me.
I didn’t even finish my sentence.
Upon collection of the papers, the students in the hall were released column by column, starting with the columns at the extreme left and right and working its way down the middle. I happened to be sitting in the middle column, and so was among the last to leave. Just another thick stroke of bad luck, and the same tutor who caught me signalled me to talk to him at the front of the stage, not with words, but with a moving finger and a smile. The chief examiner lurked around the back.
It was just me and him in the big hall, and I could hear his words dreadfully clearly; I remember none of mine:
“You shouldn’t endanger your grades like this. What’s the maximum you can write like this?
Maybe one or two words, maybe one sentence. It’s not worth it la.
(After all this, I can only agree.)” He lamented.
“Go.” He said. And off I went, mind’s a blank.
“What is this all about ah?” The chief examiner noticed our conversation, and spoke.
“Oh. It’s nothing, it’s just…” The tutor said in response. He looked surprised, as if he didn’t expect, or want, this to go elsewhere.
At that point, I had stepped on somebody’s Identification Card, the one we used to make sure that we were the ones taking the exam and not anybody else, and picked it up.
“Do you want me to pass it to the person?” I said to both of the adults.
(Vain attempt to make yourself look better in the mirror, friend.)
“No. Just give it to us, don’t concern yourself with all these unnecessary things.” The chief examiner said, and turned to speak with the tutor.
I can only imagine their conversation:
CE: What was the conversation about ah?
MT: Not anything important.
CE: Did that boy write past the time limit?
MT: [in surprise, blurting out unintentionally] How did you know?
And so my fate was sealed.
CE: That boy did that before. Did you know that anot? Did he tell you that? Now I’m going to have to bring it up leh. He took whatever I said lightly, so now I can’t take it lightly.
And MT just remains silent. Perhaps in guilt, but that would be too much for me.
As for the me then, I skipped over to the stone tables where I sat and ate lunch with my friends. I had already been pregnant with the feeling that something had been ‘off’, an odd feeling, like the ones pandas get when they know that an earthquake is coming. (Not the poachers, though.)
From around the corner came my CT, who looked like she had something urgent to get off her tongue, but tried to play it down. She saw me, who happened to still be in school after the paper ended (a fortunate thing, really, because I could leave some of my feelings there), and spoke with the urgency of a klaxon siren:
“I need to speak to you.”
She brought me around the corner, where there was enough cover.
“Why did you write past the time again?”
I wanted to tell her how about ‘wind speed’, about the examiner and the tutor, and how I just wanted to complete the sentence although I shouldn’t have and if I went back in time I would…
But that’s not what came out. I don’t remember what I said, and I don’t think anything did.
“This is serious leh. They’re gonna bring it up to SEAB. You could get a T grade, you know.”
This was the moment where the surrealism truly peaked. Have you ever changed to a dead channel on a TV? They show this interesting moving picture of infinite, coloured maggots writhing around, appearing and disappearing as if burying themselves within countless other maggots and re-emerging at seemingly random intervals. That’s what my vision became when I heard this news, as if a visual effect was applied to my lens as the blood in my body rushed in directions which were completely haywire. Looking at my CT, her face suddenly became infested with microscopic, rainbow slugs. I completely expected static fault lines to crack open in my sight, the final nail which bolted down the central question of my life at that time:
“Is this real?”
Am I living in a movie?
(Because when this sort of shit happens, emergencies, crises, events which distract you from the normal flow of your life, you think that you’re living a work of fiction, art, even. Because reality is, in intense contrast, uneventful, and most of us are drowning in this buoyant, slow, swamp that’s teeming with life. That’s why they don’t make a movie about it. That’s why they invented the cut.
(Then, wouldn’t we like the movie of our lives to be as short as possible? But that’s not up to us, it’s up to our mistakes.))
But my life carried on. No cuts.
“I need to sit down.” Else I would’ve fainted, and I knew I would if I kept on standing.
I and she took a short walk to the cafe, where we sat on chairs made of thin, metal grilles. The sun was still going strong, after so long.
A T grade would have meant that all the effort I had put in for my A’s, no, my entire time spent in school, would have been for nothing. No more university for me. Or anything, actually. To put things into perspective, a T grade would also have been given to another who had cheated, took a phone into the exam or whatever. ‘T’ for ‘Terminated’, a fate which was entirely possible given that I was warned beforehand. The fact that the warning was overshadowed by the ICBM that was China Studies was, in the end, my problem, and my problem only.
“And a T grade means that you can’t take ‘A’ Levels again for three years, you know?” My CT continued.
When the emotions are a mess, the tears come out as a natural, unlearned response, and that’s what happened. It was the first time I had cried in school since primary school, and the words from my mouth came out like soggy diarrhoea from a clogged asshole. I don’t remember exactly what I said, only the intent: to tell my tutor that I just wanted to complete the sentence, that I knew something was going to happen, how not worth it it was, how not worth it it was, and the regret that I was feeling at the time. Disjointed, unspeakable, wet regret.
It’s yours, baby.
It’s that bad.
It’s funny how the pinnacle of reality, failure, can be presented to us in such…cinematic ways. The tears were too heavy for my CT to handle, and she soon resorted to comforting me rather than reinforcing the truth. As is the usual theme, the truth is a drawer full of knives, a piece of furniture which was permanently bolted in my mind.
“Do you want me to call him over?” She referred to my friend, the one who alerted me to my fuck-up in China Studies. Perhaps it was more of a call for help from her, rather than me.
He came over, and she told him the truth. And then we swam in the pool of my tears together.
I kept on pestering my CT for knowledge of the future, asking such questions as, “What are the chances of getting a T grade?” and “Do you know of any cases like mine?”, to which she defended herself with the sharp truth: she did not know. No false hope, sadly.
I’ve gotta give it to both of them, actually. One was a busy woman whose element wasn’t consolation, and the other still had some battles left in his theatre he had yet to conclude, and there they were entertaining this boy who had lost his war.
I was distraught, and I knew it, and for the moment I surrendered to irrationalities, the greatest of which was the misplaced idea that people actually cared about my fate. Legit, I’m not being edgy or anything; what I mean was that one of the primary worries that I confessed to the two before me was that I was afraid of what people would think of me. Friends, teachers, principals, they would either see me in a different, darker light, or worry about me–a weight I’d rather not have burdened anyone else with.
And then those two would shut me down, tell me that I was being a shit. If I had to return to those (drenched) shoes again, I would actually tell them this:
“I know I’m being distraught now, so just hear me out. I need to get it out of my system.”
Sadly, I didn’t, and I wrestled with this shitty thought for the days to come.
In between my persistent hogging, we all shared in a silence during which I tried to combat the truth. Soon, the silence became unbearable, a sign clear as the sky that day that it was time for us to leave. I had built up enough of a makeshift wall that I felt I could resist future barrages, and I had taken enough of their time already.
My friend called a cab for me.
“Do you want him to accompany you to the cab anot? You can make it there by yourself, right?” She asked in a concerned manner.
“Oh no, I’ll be fine.”
My teacher was literally worried that I would commit suicide on the way home. Or die in general.
But I wasn’t, and by inserting that piece of knowledge into my perspective did I realise that not everything was over. I had screwed up big, big time, but I wasn’t prepared to die yet.
Yet the main thing which kept me going, I realised, was not, once again, knowledge, but a sort of mental rejection by my subconscious of knowledge that it knew could have been fatal to my sanity. In short, I didn’t register the extent of the hole I was in–the fact that getting the ‘T’ grade was even a possibility, a truth made known to me by the illuminating scope that was hindsight. Had I accepted, or thought about the ‘T’ grade even more, I would certainly have hollowed out. I just kept on going, unthinkingly, if not for one simple fact:
“You’re a stupid boy who makes the same mistake twice.”
At some point after that, I went to the teacher that first broadcasted my fate to me after China Studies, you know, the one who told me that they’d void my essay. (Void, huh. Looks like I was coming to terms with it.) She was the HOD, and happened to have prior experience with people as fucked up as me. It was… unlikely for me to get a ‘T’ grade, according to her.
And at another jagged point after that, I scheduled an appointment with the school counsellor (which, honestly, at the time of writing, I almost forgot had even happened; such is the nature of solace) in her soft, soft office with soft, soft walls. She was the most eloquent and gentle woman who enjoyed helping teenagers with their problems, capturing the dead noise of their abandoned channels within the reverberating walls of her room. And so she listened to mine–if you asked her, she probably remembered more of my words than I did.
I remember her room feeling like one of those playrooms for children in a hospital, but for teenagers: an even more problematic group, considering that the pretences of maturity that their infantile minds conjure up are frequently crushed by the heavy sky of responsibility and which only add to the debris. The room itself was soft, stable and felt like…a comma, for some reason, like uncovering a forsaken, peaceful memory made during one’s infancy but only staying for a while. An experienced director would probably have inserted into the scene the rustling of kids’ instruments and the clicks of toy blocks being brought together.
And in that room we did breathing exercises, and she listened and talked about my problems.
The effect of that session on me was not (conventionally) restorative, but rather, silencing–a measured, surgical quieting of the virulent noises and questions in my mind. Mental anaesthesia, I would compare it to, so much so that I can’t even remember that part of the era and its surrounding links: that calm within the storm. It’s like it never even happened.
(Thank you so, so much.)
And so the rest of my ‘A’s went off without a hitch. I was informed, I like to think, by a strange man in a suit that I was to undergo an interview with SEAB on the 29th of December because of my writing past the time limit shenanigans. In truth, it was the vice principal who messaged me about it, another one of the adults who reached his hand out to me (through the hole) in my time of need. In any case, the interview was to decide the fate of my Geography result, and the overall fate of my ‘A’s.
The night before the interview, I armed myself with what I thought to be the best answers to the hardest questions in my life. This was done on my bed, eyes on the ceiling at 2am, a time when all progress made during the day keeping the mind on a leash rolls back and unleashes a wandering, destroying monster. This monster also happens to craft poetry, because it was during this time that I wrote “Grand Mistake”– the armada of words you saw a few thousand characters ago–because when the monster tramples on everything, slices age-old trees and skyscrapers with the flick of a finger, what’s left is pure clarity–it may be dark, but is most certainly is clear.
The next day, I found that I had steeled myself too hard for what I thought to be the final battle, and instead saw something equivalent to what those few Soviet soldiers saw when they kicked down the door to Hitler’s bunker: fear, long taken by the equalising hand of death.
I remember the SEAB building being so remote and distant that my taxi driver got sort of lost reaching that stupid place, reactivating, too, the debilitating motion sickness I thought I had outgrown ever since I was a child. Every time I recreate the place, my mind adds fog to the area without additional input. A few normal-looking security officers guarded the gate (how unlucky they were to get this shift!) and ushered me into the building, which was literally an abandoned school. Not the scary Japanese hospital kind of abandoned, but the pitiful, weeds-on-the-wall kind of abandoned. It consisted of a central, square foyer with an overgrown garden overlooked by two floors of classrooms encircling and giving stern looks towards the lush vegetation in the middle.
(How I remember the structure of the building, but not that of my own words, remains a mystery I’m trying to solve even till today.)
A few other kids were there too, and together we sat on those plastic chairs with metal legs that populate most schools in Singapore. They were all younger than me, surprisingly, one secondary school kid still stuck in his uniform and a few primary Schoolers who had come with their parents, still unknowing of their own fate. This was when I realised that my syndrome wasn’t all that uncommon, but it did worry me a bit that I was the only JC kid there. Maybe the rest of my batch outgrew it.
Nevertheless, the fact that I had others on my twisted, ignorant side gave me a little bit of hope that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. And they weren’t, sort of. Jolly-looking teachers from the Board joked and teased with each other, and in the midst of their jests, handed me a piece of paper with such questions as “What question did you write past the time limit on? (You already knew that.)” and “Did you read the instructions before attempting the paper? (By instructions, they meant the book of rules that the school gave us to read some months before the ‘A’s that we hastily packed into our bags and forgot about. No one did.)”
The kind, cheery atmosphere of understanding, fuelled by apathy towards years of stupid students doing the same thing was successful in disarming me of my swords and rifles: honest, pleading but calculated admittances of guilt meant to negotiate terms of surrender rather than fight to the very end. This was my Versailles, and it was just a piece of paper. One that, admittedly, I have no idea what I wrote on it, but I’ll take that over interrogating adults any day.
I do remember, however, not being sure about the question which I wrote extra on. Was it 2b, or 2c? I would have never known. To be safe, I wrote that it was “the last part of question 2”, and was so anxious about it I told the vice principal to change it after digging through the trench that was my Geography paper. Shouldn’t have cared.
And I didn’t have to, because not long after I finished my ‘A’s, about a month or so, I was called upon to don the green of the country, the green that supposedly makes you hidden amongst trees, the green of Neo’s office before he took the red pill, the green of mundanity but in which your failures are amplified a hundred times when it’s made known to the whole world through a sergeants shrill shout. It’s another story, for sure, but I am very certain that life wanted to tell me all about failure during that point in time. The result was a little boy who was unsure both of his place in the two binaries of the academic and martial world, though he certainly would have preferred the former–at least his failures were his own in that world.
The finale came soon enough. It was but a comma in the midst of my BMT, one which I simultaneously looked forward to as a return to a lower, familiar gear but also one which I feared, having to confront the looming sky which I was temporarily distracted from by the sergeants on the ground asking me to push it.
Upon my return to school, the friendly security auntie whom I had known for two years greeted me kindly, and asked me to sign a paper confirming my identity as a homecoming alumni and not someone else. Still me. I conveniently remember one of my friends complimenting me on my improvement in physical stature. Apart from that, it was rowdy, and noisy (nothing changed with my absence), and I saw a lot of people who knew me, and… not much else.
We were shepherded into the hall in which I took those terrible exams, and we waited for our turn to get our results. Fast forward past the necessary niceties, congratulations by the principal, free goodie bags (during which our anxious hearts beated together in unison), to the announcement of high-achievers. I saw familiar faces on the screen, people on my left, right, two spaces in front of me, the one sitting outside the row busy talking to her friend, but just that their faces were a little bit more smiley than the ones shown on screen. Some tried to suppress their smiles because they knew that there were people like me who existed amongst the crowd.
One thing I have neglected to mention, or rather, I had forgotten to (because it really didn’t matter) was the fact that I had scored a perfect score during my ‘O’ Levels, an L1R5 of 2 which opened all possible doors at that time. Of which, I entered the one to this school, Arts Stream, which in the end led me by the nose to this shitty conclusion. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have some iotas of hope lying around in my brain that my face would be on that screen.
But my face didn’t appear on that screen. All’s well, and then came the time where they personally gave the results slip to us kids. The line in front of me vanished faster than I would have liked, and in no time I was face to face with my CT, the one who told me that it wasn’t that bad but was giving the sort of eyes that you’d give to a hungry puppy when you didn’t have any food on you.
“Ron, I’ve seen your results, and they really aren’t that bad.”
Not that bad. Not that bad, not that bad, not that bad, not that bad. What could it have meant? I certainly didn’t have any clue.
I laid off on opening the letter for awhile, whilst the rest beside me who did were either laughing softly with their friends or leaning out over the balconies, alone, flooding the earth below with their tears. In that time, I was met by the Vice Principal who personally came to see me, and whose intent was to whisk me away to his office: a thoughtful move, considering that I would have implanted my negative feelings in my mind had I stayed in that place for longer.
“Have you seen your results yet?” He asked, as I followed behind his back.
No, not really.
“You want to take a look at it?” He nudged.
Upon his order, I did:
B for General Paper, (Damn.)
B for Math, (Shit.)
B for Literature, (Come on.)
A for Geography,
Distinction for H3 Geography,
D for China Studies in English (Mm hmm.)
80 Rank Points, out of a possible 90. Considering that my school average was 84, I was well below the mean score in my school, but I could definitely get into a local university with an alright course. It was certainly higher than many other students, both around me then and in other parts of Singapore.
It isn’t that bad, huh? Seeing my score got me a bit disappointed, actually. Something in me expected to get around 84, maybe 86 if that slut called ‘Luck’ decided to pay an opportune visit. That was when I realised that I didn’t actually register the extent of the shithole I was in thanks to the efforts of all the adults who were supporting me. That stem of disappointment I felt when I saw my results was nothing compared to the depth of crap I was in before the ‘A’s ended, and even then I couldn’t even see the extent of the hole: bottomless, on the 18th floor, a staircase breakdown.
Geography was the only subject I got an A for.
I talked to the Vice Principal in his office for awhile, and he gave me this paper, I remember, sides trimmed with gold, a warning from SEAB that should I pull off any sort of bullshit like this in any other exam conducted by SEAB, in a word, they would put me in the fucking blender. But considering that I would never take any SEAB exam again in my life, I got off really, really easily.
(But rest assured, you’re not going to see any pen action from me in any sort of exam in the future. If you do…tell me.)
I talked with the Vice Principal for awhile more, about NS and how shit it was, and about other cases of students fucking up, which they, too, had gotten off with but a strong tap on the wrist.
“This really isn’t my best,” I said, suddenly.
“Of course, of course.” He responded. (He knew…)
And so endeth this biblical scare, one of the greatest in my brief life so far. (The credits are going to roll pretty soon.) I know I’m going to have more, because, as established before, I am a Cock so Blur that I will walk into walls of my own accord. I do wonder what would have happened had I gotten that T, though. Maybe, pushed off the edge, I would’ve been forced to invent a parachute out of thin air, or an airplane running on clouds–pretty sellable ideas.
Most probably, however, I would’ve had to consider working at that tender age, or going through Polytechnic, wasting three more years of my short life, or something else–
I’d rather not think about it, if I can. I’ve realised that, after a while, the sands of time form a level plain over the fields of both good and bad memories, and sooner or later we all go to work on building castles to replace those that have collapsed in the past.
I’ve always maintained that, out of all the truths that life inevitably has you face, failure is the one that I’m most intimate with, more so than a friend or even a lover–it grabs your face and forces you to look it in its eyes, forces you to love it. And during that time, when I was in its clutches, I saw in its eyes a vision of Eden: a particular tree, entwined by life and all its related burdens. And then I closed my eyes, with the help of others who have similarly been scarred by the sight.
I was once a dreamy boy, and I like to think that I still am. But when you fail, you start to think, and thinking plus dreaming equals nightmares, a dead channel I turned off with the help of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nihilism–nothing really matters, and all knowledge, especially of good and evil, and especially of the future, is meaningless–has been a pretty effective lotion for my marks, though it paradoxically makes me forget about thinking by making me think even more.
(Thanks for introducing me to him.)
To think, I still remembered all of it. I still knew, and I will always have known, and forever will it wait in the horizon for me.
I owe you for the assassins creed style and the rest of the day and then I see you and I will be the next Royston tan and the other one is a bit hard to suddenly change leh and then go to the church and get a new one and then I’ll be there in a few minutes and then I’ll be back in a few weeks ago and I was in love with you out of pity man and all the other shit later at least once a week and a half hour and a half hour walk in the Shell and get a new one and then I’ll be there in a few minutes and then I’ll be back in a few weeks ago and I was in love with you out of pity man and all the other shit later at least once a week and a half hour and a half hour walk in the Shell and get a new one and then I’ll be there in a few minutes and then I’ll be back in a few weeks ago and I was in love with you out of pity man and
Read it here on my blog in the Shell of a marbled oyster card and I don’t exactly agree 100% I think I am living in the past and in the logbook or something like that I also don’t know when bdo come back to me and many other young men have this fascination going on with guns and stuff and stuff like that is our national dialect and Malaysia that is our national dialect and Malaysia that is our national dialect and Malaysia that is our national dialect and Malaysia that is our national dialect and Malaysia that is our national dialect and Malaysia that is our national dialect and
We were lost for awhile before we found it out and we were talking about the same thing every time and for different targets and the rest of the day and then I see you and I will be the next Royston tan and the other one is a bit hard to suddenly change leh and then go to the church and get a new one and then I’ll be there in a few minutes and then I’ll be back in a few weeks ago and I was in love with you out of pity man and all the other shit later at least once a week and a half hour and a half hour walk in the Shell and get a new one and then I’ll be there in a few minutes and
Have you ever ran into a wall so hard you cried blood? I have, and I think I’m going to run into plenty more for the rest of my life.
I remember smiling to myself like some cunt, maybe at some stupid joke I said or dumb thing I did some years ago. Perhaps the sun was too bright, it was too good a day, or my brain decided for me that I needed to know life just a little better, and drove me straight into an innocent wall. It was green, as is typical of army-style walls, and I like to think the excellent camouflage provided by that specific shade of green perhaps influenced the outcome somewhat. It was also thick and bulky, like a tree trunk. The fact that it had no mind of its own, also like a tree, was a major factor lending stock to my description of the wall as ‘innocent’—the accident was purely and simply my fault. In a world where the law treated humans and walls equally, I would perhaps be charged for causing harm to another via negligence, and in that case even the best criminal defence lawyer would hesitate to take my case.
It’s good to have a nice knock on your head once in a while to shake up old and possibly outdated value systems, and so I took the event in my stride at first. I had dropped a plastic file which completely broke apart upon impact like a sandwich on your kitchen floor, and so I bent down to pick it up, an attempt, I now realise, to negate the pain through the technique of refocusing one’s priorities. With my head parallel to the force of gravity, however, I felt a certain wetness on my left eyebrow, the epicentre of the impact, in retrospect a sure sign of fresh blood exposed to air, but in the moment that wasn’t registering pretty well until I wiped the focal point with my index finger and was rather surprised at the fluidity of my blood, like water.
(I expected it to be like, viscous, I guess.)
Not wanting to stain my clothes with blood, I stuffed my index finger in my mouth to clean it. At least the iron doesn’t go wasted, I thought, and then promptly went to seek help. I almost wanted to go about doing my work, but wanted to see my friends’ reactions to my unfortunate incident. The first person I spotted was my sergeant, who, when questioned, said that he did not see any trace of blood on my eyebrow. It was too thick. So I grazed it again with my finger and showed him the evidence, to which he replied, “Oh, I see,” and went off to loot some drawers for meds to stop the bleeding. He then proceeded to jerry-rig some cloth and masking tape to craft some makeshift bandage to ease my war injury, which, I admit, looked pretty rad in the mirror which I admired with my right eye for a good minute or two.
To be clear, my left eye was left untouched by the wall but was effectively put out of action due to the bandage which covered basically all of it. So, halfway on the road to blindness (in a sense), I was escorted by an officer to the Medical Centre which was, thank goodness, pretty far away, giving me ample time to decide whether or not to tell the truth to the medic or engineer a story to hide it, but given the fact that I had already told everybody I met that “I RAN INTO A WALL! ” anyway and subsequently laughed, I decided that the doctor on duty could know as well.
Okay, perhaps “crying blood” was an overstatement because while there certainly was blood, it never got into my eye, and I swear to God I did not cry, not on the outside but maybe a little inside. The staff at the Medical Centre was surprisingly understanding about me wasting their time, and gave me treatment which I felt to be suspiciously light at the time but in hindsight was much more than enough, taking my blood pressure, assessing the damage of the cut and applying antibiotic cream on my eyebrow, which I assume was more than usual given its remarkable thickness. My guess was that the doctor, too, was once a victim of walls himself, seemingly innocuous creatures but possessing intimate knowledge of how to game the system by acting innocent. After dressing my wound, he then gave me 3 long strips of plasters, a volume which could last a normal family for about a year, maybe two if they were a careful bunch, presumably because there are many walls not just in my camp but in the outside world.
The road back felt longer than usual. With the thick, opaque makeshift bandage obscuring half my worldview gone, I could see precisely how many walls there were in the camp: a terrifying number. I left my mind to wander, as minds tend to do, and it, too, ran straight into a wall, a psychological roadblock which impeded all forms of progress forward. At least with real walls, you could find alternative routes around them, but this sort of wall was the mental equivalent of the Himalayan mountain range, impenetrable, impregnable, and the only way forward was to take it on directly:
I’m a blur fuck, aren’t I?
And the worst thing was, according to the reactions of my sergeant and others, they weren’t too surprised, because it was such a ‘me’ thing to do, running into a wall. Being blur was part of my identity.
It’s something I’ve tried to hide away, legitimise, for the longest time. There were clues, I’m sure, which, in retrospect, pointed to this terrible, terrible fact very clearly, but for the longest time I told myself that I chose to be this way, that I chose to appear clumsy, in my own world, blur, but even that too was a lie—it wasn’t my choice, it was my shell. When people expect you to do things like this, for a while you think it’s okay, until you do something unforgivable, then it’s not okay. Then it’s not a defence mechanism, but a debilitation.
The thing about running into walls is that you harm nobody else. (Well, except for the wall that I’ve personified for the entire damn essay, but that was more for comedic purposes anyway. It’s not like walls really have feelings (I think).) But running into walls and bleeding is one of the more benign consequences of being blur. The real hurt comes when you are the wrench in other people’s plans, when you become (oh, I shudder to think) a —liability— not because you want to, but because you can’t help it, when other people pelt you with their expectations, and their –words— which you tell yourself that your thick skin which you’ve built up your entire life can shield you against but fail to do so because you’re too much of an anti-psychopath, caring too much about others and others’ opinions because you are, well, too human.
And the worst part is that if you tell people about it, you seem overly dramatic. It’s just being blur, after all. You’re not ill, or evil, or anything. You just make mistakes like everyone else. Yeah, but more so than others. Much more so.
That’s why I haven’t really told anyone about it. When you’re in a room and there’s someone opposite you, and he asks, “What are your flaws?” You don’t go, “Number one on my list of flaws is that I’m blur.” No, you stammer and stutter, and say “Well, I’m b-blur.” B-blur. You’re ashamed about it, baby. Breathe.
There’s good, evil, chaotic evil, and then there’s blur. The word itself indicates a sort of incapability, that you’re inherently worse than other people because you can’t see as clearly, and you can’t be trusted with responsibility even if you have a heart of gold. Because kindness is not enough for a hero, a main character, whom you and I expect to be able to handle all the impossible challenges, obstacles and low walls t hat life throws at him. And in that, I realise the source of my own pain: that I still see myself as the hero of my story, that there’s still an iota of confidence left in me that’s under siege from the incoming phalanx of words and walls.
Do you know how ridiculous you sound? You’re trying to rationalise your blurness, you dumb cunt. I thought you were a nihilist?
When incidents like these happen, you can’t help but hold up the entire stock of film in your hands in an attempt, however fruitless, to entangle it. Then you realise how long the entire strip is. In my hands, facing outwards, is a brief history of my own blurness to the best of my memory, for you:
At the start, it’s still black and white. No sound yet, no words, no saturation, hue, and value. I remember when I was young, breaking a lot of stuff and getting the nickname ‘Destroyer’ from my relatives. I remember my sense of direction being so horrendous that people thought I was almost blind. It still is.
Then we get into the negatives. There was still a time when people saw me as discreetly smart, capable, though I lived in my own world. Then gradually I remember not being able to operate mechanical equipment. I lost my ability to think on the spot. But they still trusted me, threw me stuff to deal with, and I was proud of myself, my little, chubby, dreamy self.
Then the army came, and the whole world was asking me to be a man. I lived in the shadows of taller boys, who, although they were the same age, shouted at me, “Can you stop screwing up anot?” Clear as day, I remember sitting on a made bed during stand by area, wrinkling it, and even though I made it again my reputation was forever sullied.
But more sinister was the time a friend, peer, section mate, whatever he was, came and told my buddy that, “You really have to help Ron…” and my heart sank, “be neat and tidy.” Yeah, buddy, whatever sort of cushion you threw at me, it didn’t work. My buddy replied, “I’m used to it already,” with an expression I can’t describe. Oh my god, it fucking hurts just thinking about it. I’m fucking useless.
In BMT, the bunk was a miniature martial society that pensioned legitimacy based on how good of a soldier you were. I was at the bottom of the ladder of men, a blur cock. After all, you’d expect a man to be capable, quick-thinking, the antithesis of what I was. And, maybe, I…
And don’t even get me started on Army Driving Course.
Then came unit life, where I was treated like a human being. With the progression of the plot and the triangle, I even got the chance to take care of some of my juniors, instruct them, even. Life was good.
But even in my proudest, stablest era, from over the sunset came shots of doubt and worry, as a comrade told me one day whilst leaning against a car, “I got complaints from the other shift that you’re quite blur ah…” and then my heart drooped down to my feet, “…if it wasn’t for the audit I’m sure they wouldn’t care.” Yeah, friend, that didn’t come fast enough to save my heart from hitting the floor.
And in another trainwreck, one of my juniors told me that a senior had spoken to them about me whilst I wasn’t there, saying,
“Ron? Just skip him la.”
Just skip him la, ha?
Now I worry about a coup every single day.
When Dr Watson explained to Sherlock Holmes that the world was, in fact, not flat but round, the great detective immediately tried to forget this broken piece of knowledge, for he rightly believed that real estate in the brain was limited. If only I had such an impressive inner strength to reject the knowledge that I knew hurt me, that people were sticking knives into my back when I wasn’t there, even though I already knew in my heart (still beating in a pothole in the ground) that it was happening regardless of my knowledge.
Because if there’s an overarching theme to this B-Movie so far, it’s that knowledge hurts like a broken window. It’s inevitable, like men falling from the sky, but the phantom weight on top of all the pain is my own self-awareness. I know I’m blur, and that’s the worst part. When people tell me to step up my game, I stammer, pause and reverse, because I know that I can’t just choose not to be blur, I’ve tried everything, and if I could solve it, I could.
And now I see and hear the world more clearly. Full technicolour, stereo, Blu-ray on repeat. My lens are defrosted, as they’re meant to be.
I’m a man of my own world. I’ve spent the better half of my life in my own dreams, and half my body is permanently in the clouds—a choice I’m glad to make. And if I can’t see a mountain in the ground and trip over it, so be it. I’ll get up again, using the clouds as my handlebars.
In the words of the people on the ground, I know that I’m blur, and my blurness will pop its stinking head out my ass to fuck with me every now and then, remind me of the profound meanings of life, and I will just have to accept it. To flush out my blurness is to fundamentally change who I am, and I’ll pass on that, thank you. I will forever be afraid of bringing a bottle of Pepsi to a meeting with Coca-Cola executives, and of shooting my mate in the face during war, but for now, there are better battles to be fought: in the sky, and on the ground.
It’s too easy to lose your footing in this maze of clouds. One pothole, one depression, one errant heavy cloud, and down you go.
They’re difficult to spot when you’re hiking through the Grand Range. Terraced stratus clouds are easy enough–each steppe is relatively uniform, and it’s easier to differentiate good cloud from bad cloud. I find cumulonimbi a joy to travel on–it’s almost like rock climbing. Good thing that they’re relatively stable. The bad ones are the ones you can’t see down from. Fields and fields of rolling clouds, mobile, limbs flapping, dissolving in the wind, stretching farther than the eye can see–the whole world, even.
Most of the time, you can see the holes. But when there’s layers and layers of clouds you can’t see, when you’re treading through the shield between sky and land, that’s when you need to watch your step.
I was too careless once. Never again.
I believed, mistakenly, that the lights of the streets and clubs were more dazzling than the sun. So, I let myself fall down the hole I stepped in, never even tried to claw myself up. What a joke.
I’ve never even went to a club before.
Closest I’ve been was when they turned off the lights at my office. In front of me were dozens of painfully reflective screens which hinder your sleep, almost like a UFO, actually. And as I did my work in silence, two of my more adult friends discussed their experiences in heaven.
All I remember, is that:
the alcohol–is–cheaper–here, then there, the–girls–are looser–here, they–like–army—boys–there, then here, the–girls–just–fall-over–after–awhile–
There was a friend beside me, who, like me, had never been to heaven before. But he had filmed sex scenes before. The real ones, with rubber.
“I should go there for the experience. For inspiration.” That’s what he said.
And as I up and went, I passed him, who mumbled something to me I don’t remember and I replied, “Everybody has different highs.”
Hah. Shit attempt at being profound.
And so ended my excursion below. There’s a few K2’s in my way going back up, but if need be, I will dedicate my life to returning. You can’t just take a plane up, this one.
And though I know it’s lonely up there, at least there’s only me.