I met him on my 18th birthday. I had dressed up to the nines to have my birthday dinner with my girlfriends.
We went to Boat Quay, had dinner and walked along the river after. I saw him with his friends outside a pub and was secretly happy when he started following me to the train station. We chatted and exchanged numbers.
Back then there were no mobile phones and we only had pagers. You could ‘page’ someone and she would return your call. He paged me about 2 hours later and I returned his call after my shower. We arranged to meet the following Saturday for dinner.
He was entirely different from me – he had tattoos and piercings and I had none. He quit school at 16 and I was still studying in junior college. He worked at a retail store at Far East Plaza when he wanted to.
At first everything was rosy. He came to find me after school everyday and we had lunch and he would walk me home after. We would have dinner on weekends and a movie after. I always paid. I teach tuition on weekday nights so I would have extra pocket money to spend at the end of the month. He had none left. We would talk on the phone for hours at a time. I would go to his house to wait for him on Sunday mornings and we would go to town to shop. He would wait for me at his shop and we would have supper after.
Then things changed.
I remembered changing trains twice every Sunday morning, in order to reach his house and he would still be sleeping even though we agreed to go out at 12pm. I remembered eating lunch with his dysfunctional family and they ate the same curry chicken rice every Sunday without fail. I remembered how his whole family does not work and thinking that the house is in a huge mess every time.
I remembered thinking – is this going to be my life next time? And shuddering.
I finally ‘woke up’ gradually after all the signs became clearer. He started yelling at me every time I went to the shop to wait for him. I started getting funny looks from the girls in his shop as if they were in on a secret with him. I started going out more with my girlfriends on weekends and realising that I am happier when I came home. I started getting resentful of paying all the time for dinner and movies. I started getting angry when I went over on Sundays and he was not ready yet. I started leaving his house after waiting for 30 minutes in the living room. I started finding so many names and numbers of different girls in a tiny phone book that he hides inside his bag. And how he screamed at me for infringing his privacy after. I remembered bringing him along to a family bbq and he kept to himself in the room. My mum and grandma looked at me but did not comment. I knew what that look meant. And I remembered being embarrassed that I brought him.
I started thinking that I don’t belong there. And that sort of life was not what I wanted for myself.
I started fast forwarding my future with him 20 years later and feeling fear and hopelessness.
I started thinking that my parents did not raise me this way – to be this helpless and to feel so bad about myself.
And that was when I knew.
And there was very little drama at the end of it. I started meeting my friends more, reading more, cherishing sleeping in on Sundays, coming home from school instead of rushing to the mall to wait endlessly and I started picking myself up.
I told myself that I will never feel that low and that forgotten anymore. I will never get the short end of the stick in a relationship. I will not be made to feel that I am not good enough.
I remembered having lunch with a good friend of mine a few years ago and he was just sitting at the opposite table. He had even more tattoos than I recalled. And my friend commented that he looked very ‘different’ from us. I kept quiet and she suddenly remembered and exclaimed – isn’t that your ex-boyfriend? I nodded while trying not to look in his direction.
I was actually ashamed that he was ever a part of my life. And I remembered thinking – is your friend paying for your lunch like how I did previously?
And you know what? I should not have worried – he turned, looked straight at me and not a single shred of recognition registered. At that moment, I don’t know what would have been worse. He remembering and me having to make awkward conversation with him or him not remembering me at all. Yes it had been more than 8 years ago but to completely forget ?? That really showed how little I meant to him. And how much he had meant to me.
And I smile and try not to think of how much time I have wasted with him but how much time I have ahead of me. And I continued my lunch with my friend.
After that, there were more relationships but I never discounted myself ever again.
My husband, KW, is the kindest man you can meet. Just like my father. And I am proud of him wherever we go. I am proud to bring him to my families bbq’s, birthday parties and they are happier to see him than me. They ask where he is when he is not there yet. My grandma holds his hand when she crosses the street. My father trusts him to drive him around for our dinners. He goes out of his way to fetch my sister home when the haze in Singapore turns hazardous.
He lets me sleep on the cold side of the bed because my body temperature is higher. He waits for me to finish work. He joins the gym with me and actually enjoys the classes as well. He always has a friendly smile for everyone, from the janitor and upwards. When new joiners come in to classes late and crams his space, he pulls his mat nearer the wall to give them space.
And I think how far I have come and how happy I am because of him.