I still remember the day you drove me across the Causeway with our dog and all of my life’s belongings in your little car. We made that journey many times, usually in the other direction. Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. Happiness, not desperate anger. We were even talking back then.
I held Cookie’s paw in my hand while you silently, angrily, stepped on the accelerator and brought me home — to my other life, the one I hadn’t known for five years — in record time. Bangsar to Johor in an hour and a half. I used to wait up as you drove your little car to see me, at the start.
In the end, Cookie slept. My laundry basket swayed. Your little car rattled. I wrapped her in our blanket and told her it would be okay. Some day.
If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere; everyone should live in New York at least once in their lives. This city is a city of clichés, but it deserves every single one of them. I rented a crazy/beautiful place where nothing was as it seemed. I was in San Francisco just before, where everyone said I would find the life I wanted, the work I loved, the woman I would fall in love with. But I felt nothing for San Francisco and it felt nothing for me. The moment I walked out of the bus into Manhattan, I knew I had fallen hard: there was poetry in its streets, birdsong in its buildings. Possibilities. New York was a dream, and not a permanent one, not even a very long one I could savour. And yet but she taught me everything I needed to know about being fearless.
From the world’s wettest place I called you, wanting a glimpse into your life from over there. Over there and up there in the mountains, everywhere but here. You could not let me in but you could not tell me why.
In my younger days I did not know how to straddle my worlds. By day and for most of the year we were just college girls, in love with each other. We went to class. Wrote essays. Went home to our suburban apartments with our families and worried about our GPA. Then I stumbled into a world of an accidental nomadism that pulled me away completely.
In the years to come I would get better at leading multiple existences across different cities around the world. I would have a different life in Dubai, Delhi, Singapore and Bangkok. My life in Bangalore would not be discernible to someone who claimed to love me in Singapore, and eventually I would learn to be okay with that. What I would also get better at: discerning the silent pauses on the phone and the “I’m seeing someone else” crack in your voices, miles away from home. I would get better at not having a home.
But not before I learned the sound of a heart breaking in a monsoon in the world’s wettest place could be soothed by the warmth of a real fireplace roasting my fish from the marketplace.
A fortune teller told me I would meet you, and that you would love me, and that you would — and could — but can’t — be one of the great loves of my life. Maybe this person is married. Maybe he’s a man?
When I tried to call this desert my home, briefly, you drove me down Sheikh Zayed Road into the old city and it seemed we both knew we had known each other for a long time, even if we had only just met. You and your bald head and your Russian grin and your checkered shirt and the life we would never have. You were my phenomenon of unknown quantities, and I will never know you. Nor you me.
I came in the cold to a country I do not like, to see you in a city I do not love, because you had become important to me — unexpectedly. You wanted to know when we first met if I wanted a relationship with you at all, if I wanted to explore alternative arrangements, but if I wasn’t ready that was okay too. That’s why it worked when it did — even if just for a blip of time on the rest of our lives, we shared moments of brutal honesty and open love. You were, and we were, what we both needed at the time, and yet I could not scale the wall of hurt which had existed before us, one I had no stomach or place to attempt to cross. But for that moment in the French Quarter, when we were eating dumplings, when I was shivering in the cold, none of that mattered except that I was right there with you.
6. Haji Lane
When I was 20, I was a different kid then. I was the sort of kid who wrote things like: “When people kiss in dark alleyways they are usually making promises. When we do, we break a thousand of them, including the ones we have been hanging on to for any semblance of survival.” (from “Art & Lies, And“)
In hindsight they were not broken promises, they weren’t promises at all, and we weren’t dying. But at that moment, and for many years before and after, you were all I ever wanted. My kryptonite. We wrote — and we wrote. We rewrote our story repeatedly until it became a myth, but we never found a happy ending, nor in fact any kind of an ending at all. Years later I would sit at that exact spot as an outsider to someone I tried to love with her kryptonite beside her, just marvelling at how life and love comes full circle and the best I can do is walk away from anyone who doesn’t want this right now or ever. Or can’t.
A week ago you said, “I want to build a nest with you.” A week later you wanted to flee it. A lot happened in Melbourne, it’s true, but I wanted you to be my greatest adventure and you just did not believe me.
You fell in love with the woman who brought you flowers, who made you the centre of my universe. I brought you flowers until the end. At some point you stopped noticing. Love on its own was never going to be enough, but I didn’t believe it was all we had to keep going.
You and me will probably move on quickly enough to never get a chance to think about what really happened there, but as for me I will let my last memory of you be the moment you stepped off the plane, when for a minute you let yourself be there. That was the last glimpse of you I recognised, and the last time you noticed. I wish I never went to Melbourne. There is nothing I like at all about it except the coffee.