There is a saying back home, which is on a land thousands of miles and two oceans away from where I am sitting tonight. There is a saying there, that sometimes you have to carry a viper around your waist (inside the waistband of the wrap-around skirt to be precise). It means you know who your enemy is, but you are keeping him close to you, because of lack of choice, knowing he will strike you dead any time.
I often feel like that when I am at a place where one is made to compete or expected to compete against another, or else one does not “go places”, or one is deemed weak and ineffectual. I don’t do well in cut-throat situations like that, because although I claim to be “a rebel”, I am a consensus seeker by nature, probably due to my insecure self. I wonder if that nature is also the viper that I have been carrying almost all my life.
My mind is fractured these years; and I am here and there at the same time, split beyond control, beyond reason. Sometimes I read and not see the words. These words, regardless of what language they are written in, are so foreign, their meanings fly out of my eyes before I could send them to my brain. This would make me sound stupid but they hurt my brain. And you want to be a writer? How ironic.
I want to live a simple life, with all clutter removed from the house, from my mind, from my conscience. Yet, the simplicity of being alone frightens me at times. Silence in the car in the long commute would sometime shake me. I need the noise to full blast. The messiness. The stress that comes with it. The joy that accompanies of not being alone.
The idea of abandonment would unnerve me. God, please God, don’t let me be left alone, I’d pray sometimes. Don’t let me be the last one here. This fear has been with me ever since I moved to this country, alone. I say that as if there were no one here who knew me. I did have a boyfriend and a couple of friends when I moved here. So technically I wasn’t alone. But I felt I was alone because they did not possess the same deep profound love for me (nor I for them) like my family does for me. I went from having fifty plus people (that’s just counting the extended family who breezed in and out of my parent’s house) to having three on a good day which was a harsh adjustment. Besides, I broke up with the boyfriend within a year of my moving here. Then, I was truly alone.
The months were especially long during the summer, where the town was emptied out of the college students and most faces, I was familiar with, disappeared. The apartment building was eerily quiet. The streets of this small University town became devoid of the usual hum of music from the cars. I was alone in the one bedroom apartment, too conscious of how I should not spend the money on unnecessary things, which meant I could not buy a TV to pass the time, or go out for a burger at Hardees’.
Fridays, on the other hand, were something to look forward to. Because my family would make their weekly phone call on Friday night from Burma. However, the country was very much closed off then. No international phone calls were allowed directly. My family had to call the operator, and gave the number to call. Then they had to wait for hours until the operator connected them to me. Sometimes, the call never came because the operator never tried. Meanwhile somewhere in Illinois, I sat in the room, staring at the black and white TV that the previous renter left in the apartment, and turned the dial to watch The Golden Girls. I was trapped in this place, as they were grounded at their home. There we were across the thousands of miles and two oceans a part, on two separate days, (I on Friday nights and them on Saturday mornings), we waited for the only connection to come on. Then the call would come. We raced to pick up the phone. Always, we were given three minutes.
Are you well? They asked me, hollering into the receiver.
Yes! Are you well? I asked them, yelling over the static.
Do you need anything? they asked me.
Did you get my letters? I asked them. (The mail could take up to four months at times back then and often would never reach the destination.)
Can you hear me? We asked one another at the same time as our voices cut in and out.
Can you hear me? We yelled over and over.
The line would go dead then. Three minutes was up. I was alone again, in the one bedroom apartment with two windows and a kitchen which was a stove in the narrow hallway. It would be midnight by then, or later. And the place was dead quiet. I’d crank up the heater (if it’s winter) or AC (if it’s summer) again and lie on the hand-me-down mattress on the floor, stacks of used text books next to me. Soon, the sun would come up but the town never seemed to stir. I had been afraid of being alone ever since.