Seven years ago yesterday, I fell in love for the first time.
Well I did have that crush in primary school, which admittedly lasted longer than any of my relationships have - over three years - I even wanted to follow him to secondary school but my dad promised me a phone if I went to a girls' school. But just a crush is just a crush, an entirely different experience.
Yesterday when I woke up I was reminded of the date, and made a mental note that it'd be nice to do a post about it, but it slipped my mind, and now it's 2.33am; the day has passed so it shall be seven years ago yesterday.
Seven years ago yesterday, I was at a concert with a friend. We held hands playfully; nothing there. But something. Something. No one ever confessed or asked the other, but not too long after, we both simultaneously fell into deeper water, in tentative reciprocal "i miss you" texts and wide grins at phone screens.
Seven years ago minus two months, I lost my first kiss. We were in an elevator, the top floor of a building, the lift buttons unpressed. Suddenly the door opened without warning and a woman in heels walked in. We quickly pulled away. She pressed for the ground floor. That was the longest, most awkward elevator ride in my life. It was hard not to laugh.
Six years ago, I started to sleep with my phone under my pillow. Six years ago, I would often spend my time after school taking the bus to a house in Bishan and we would play with the dogs or play Runescape or just be with each other. It wasn't always pleasant. You see, the teenage phase is often wrecked by hormones; it's hard to leave unscathed. I was often dealing with a perpetually worried, perpetually insecure, binge-drinking self-harming victim of school bully, who would often spend our hours together just crying. Just crying. Why? Dunno. Worried about losing me. I said "stop drinking. Stop harming yourself. For me. Stop it because you love me." And it worked. And till this day I am thankful that this good thing came out of it.
Six years ago, I think, I folded 1314 straw hearts. Our birthdays almost coincided, but my present was very late, because 1314 straw hearts aren't easy. I counted them three times. Accompanied them with a glass bottle of M&Ms labelled 'happy pills', because the crying really needed to stop. (Yesterday I finally got around to buying loom bands at the market, and I made 8 bracelets. I've gotten hooked. It reminded me of all the other useless therapeutic obsessions I had, like friendship bracelets and small straw hearts. On our first year anniversary, I folded 93 paper stars with Chinese song quotes inside each one.)
Six years ago I accidentally sent a "goodnight babe" text to my mum. After that I deleted my mum's number from my phone in fear. Also, six years ago, my parents found out. They were furious. They said no. I had to let go. I tried very hard to keep from crying, but I said "I can't." And why? So much to say in response, so much to prove, and I blurted out "because I'd just die."
I hated how it came out, so childish and stupid. But what did I know, a fifteen-year-old; what did I know about keeping it cool and rationalising it out. We continued to spend every waking hour together anyway; there was never a train ride unaccompanied, a sick day without panadol at my bedside; there was never a text I had to wait for.
Six years ago, around this time, I came to church. I had gone to Sunday school as a child, but I stopped when I entered secondary school, and I prayed to the walls; never read the Bible; never let God be a part of my life; never thought about what it meant to believe. Six years ago, around this time, I first stepped into the building that is now my spiritual home. I was taken aback by how engrossed people were in worship. There was a God they knew and loved, a God whom I realised was a complete stranger to me. That night at the altar call I cried hard, out of a desire to know Him, and gave my heart to Christ.
It was very tough at the start. I was full of cynicism, questioned everything; it even got to a point where I prayed to just blindly believe. (Thank goodness God doesn't grant blindness to those who have received sight.) But as I grappled with frustrating doubts, God was also ever-present. There came the days of enthralling first love all over again. I cried at every cell group meeting, so moved by the tangibility of God. Answered every altar call, even the salvation ones. I read the Bible on the train to school and in the classroom during recess break. He gave me delight even as I questioned His word, and my own worth in Him. (Even up till last year, I didn't understand God's love. I still don't know if I do.)
And I guess as we run closer and closer to God, the things of our past selves just fall away. Or maybe the relationship just started to run dry, as so many do after a year or so. Five years ago, we began to argue every single day. No loud shouting fights, just cold exchanges. An hour later I'd be fine. But at the other end of the receiver would be endless crying, bottomless fear - it had started again. It frankly only annoyed me, and after a while, I couldn't be bothered anymore.
Five years ago, we broke up. I said "you need to learn to love yourself before you can love others."
Funny, because we seem to have switched places since. You have become a person so full of self-confidence and generous love. When I held that birthday fundraiser last year you donated $200 even though we hadn't spoken all these years. You have really learnt to love yourself. I, on the other hand, shrivelled up. You see, in that crucial teenage stage when you didn't know how to love yourself, you poured all your love on me; I never needed to love myself because you fed me with all a person needed. All that was meant to be reserved for yourself and more. When that was gone, I realised I was empty. And I have been empty ever since. In 2011 I wrecked myself over a boy, and it was my fault - I needed him in order to stand, and when he couldn't be my crutch I crumpled to the floor. Last year I clung on to a friend like my life depended on it, because it practically did. One day he said "I'm not going to support you until you learn to support yourself."
This year, I am a lot better. I have learnt to be okay with spending time alone, at least for now. I am learning to be independent; travelling and living alone have really helped. And I am treasuring the freedom of not being shackled to any person. I still don't know what it means to love myself, and I don't think I do, and I don't know if anyone can define self-love. But I'm learning to let me be enough for myself, and that's a start.
P.S. I still remember your phone number. I don't know if you've changed it. But somehow I feel like when you change it it'll be like a whole identity has been washed over; something tangible has disappeared; evidence cleared.