The Vacuum in My Heart

I turned 21 last month; turning 22 this year.

Up until now I’ve never had an official girlfriend. Then again, I’ve never had an unofficial one either.

I’ve also never held a girl’s hand, much less kissed one — but that’s not to say that I’ve never thought about it, for I have, many times, just never had the opportunity. Or if I did, I didn’t take it.

My love life had always been rather barren. Like a desert that requires no water but always welcomes rain, I’ve lived a perfectly normal life without romance, though always harbouring a secret longing for it.

Have I ever fallen in love with any girl? Yes, of course; a few times in fact.

Old Flames… Fluttering, fluttering

I was once deeply infatuated with a girl in primary school (Rosyth Primary). I was in Primary Five, 11-years-old at that time. I cannot recall ever having had any proper conversation with her.

After the PSLEs we went our separate ways; still I longed for her, often thinking of her as I drifted off to sleep.

I went to Montfort Secondary School, an all-boys, missionary school, for four years. Throughout those four years I do not believe I made any new female friends.

As far as I can remember I stayed well within my comfort zone on the social front, having neither interest nor desire in expanding my social circle beyond what it had set itself to be naturally.

The lack of contact with the opposite sex ensured that she remained in the box in my brain labelled “love”.

“What box in your brain?” I hear you ask.

The Vacuum Theory of Love

Allow me to explain to you my philosophy on love. It’s been with me ever since I’ve ever seriously thought about love.

When you fall in love, you automatically slot that person into a grey little area in your brain, specially set aside for the love of your life. It is there that the person will remain until someone else comes along and fits in better.

Sometimes though, perhaps through a falling out or other some other reason, you take the girl out. When you take her out, it creates a vacuum that desparately seeks to be filled.

You start falling in love with almost every girl you see, every girl who pays the slightest attention to you. Doesn’t matter if that girl isn’t much to look at, by the time you’ve exchanged glances, you’re in love — or at least you think you are.

Primary School Love Moves Along

After my four years in Montfort, I went to SRJC (Serangoon Junior College) for a few months. It was there that I learnt just how much I lacked in the art of socialising, especially with the fairer sex.

I found that I had nothing in common with most of the girls, except that the girl I “loved” was from the same school as three of them. These three girls were to be the ones I came closest to in my three months there.

It was here that I fell in love once again, with one of those three girls. It wasn’t love at first sight; she was not the most attractive, and her introverted nature did her no favours in making my acquaintance. I was at that time rather introverted as well, so we didn’t really talk much.

It wasn’t until a class outing at East Coast Park, where, out of boredom, we started kicking a ball around to each other, that I really noticed her as R, as opposed to “that girl with the rectangular frames“.

She was the first and thus far only girl I know who has had the audacity (this is Singapore, we generally don’t do this here) to use self-deprecating humour — something I found absolutely adorable and fascinating.

Over the course of the evening, she told me about her family, her fears, and her ambitions. Without much thinking about it, she slowly grew on me, and I think I grew on her, too.

The $64,000 Question

The day after, I asked if she would be my girlfriend, through a third party: a mutual friend.

I know it’s a social faux paux, but allow me to explain: I was too bashful to ask directly. I had never done this sort of thing before, nothing even close. Call me a wuss if you want, but my children’s lives were at stake here!

Through the mutual I learnt that she had declined my invitation. She felt it was “too early for this kind of stuff”. She wasn’t ready for anything like this.

Hell, neither was I. A part of me was glad she did what she did.

Nevertheless, we kept an e-mail correspondence, which lasted for almost five years. The first e-mail she wrote me after my girlfriend request was one I would never forget. In it, she accused me of wanting her out of convenience: since “she’s right at my doorstep, why not?”

She might have been right.

Stale Letters in Australia

In late 2002 (or was it early 2003? I forget) she sent me through the post a small hand-made card, saying she was going to Melbourne, Australia, to study. I can’t remember exactly how I felt. I do remember feeling a little upset. Upset that she was leaving (and to so far a place!), and upset that I was never told about it earlier.

But mostly, I felt envy. I quote Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s soliloquy after he learns of his banishment, on how unfair it is that lesser beings than him get to enjoy Juliet, but not he:

‘Tis torture, and not mercy. Heaven is here,
Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog
And little mouse, every unworthy thing,
Live here in heaven and may look on her;
But Romeo may not. More validity,
More honourable state, more courtship lives
In carrion flies than Romeo. They may seize
On the white wonder of dear Juliet’s hand
And steal immortal blessing from her lips,
Who, even in pure and vestal modesty,
Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin;
But Romeo may not — he is banished.
This may flies do, when I from this must fly;

But this wasn’t my only point of envy. Sure, I felt envy that the unworthy would be able to see her in Melbourne, and not I. But there was another sinister kind of envy insidiously plaguing my mind: Why should she go? Why not me? I want to go to Australia.

I wanted to take her place.

In Melbourne

The months after she went to Melbourne were filled with wonderful e-mail correspondence. Letters were more personal, and she seemed genuinely happy to hear from me.

But then the e-mails started getting less frequent. I was busy with my Final Year Project, and she, with her examinations. Through her e-mails, I could sense that the stress seemed to be getting to her.

The fortnightly corresondence became monthly, sometimes a little longer. All my energy was being put into my Final Year Project, and I had little mental resources left to write anything worth writing. Her e-mails themselves seem rather forced and impersonal, almost as if they were something to be gotten over and done with. Perhaps mine were too.

Nothing Left to Say

Sometimes I wonder if it it wasn’t energy that I lacked. I had simply exhausted all topics of conversation; it had been years since we last saw each other, since we last had any shared experiences. We could only go so far talking about the limited number of mutual friends and acquaintances.

She mentioned in one of her e-mails too that writing to me was like writing to a stranger; I could do no better than agree but wish it wasn’t so. It was one of the last e-mails I ever received.

Enlistment Day

The week before my enlistment, having not heard from her for three months, more or less, I felt I needed to write to her. The days leading up to my enlistment were terrible. I felt like a prisoner on death row anticipating his execution. I was scared.

I wrote her an e-mail just before I went in. In it, I hinted strongly that I still had feelings for her in some of the worst prose I had ever written. I think I might have included a poem too. In a nutshell, I’d cringe if I had to read what I had written now.

Her reply to that e-mail was the very last e-mail I would ever receive. She said, in effect, that she couldn’t believe that I felt whatever I felt for her, and that it was quite strange. It could be summarised in four words: Please stop loving me!

I was hurt by the e-mail, and wrote her an apology, signed off with an ultimatum: do not reply to this e-mail and you’ll never hear another unsolicited word from me again.

She took me up on that offer.

Reading Fiction

I had never before been a great fan of fiction, always preferring the more practical and “useful” non-fiction. For years I had sworn off taking fiction seriously, thinking they did nothing for a person’s development, and were simply a source of entertainment.

Then one day a girl recorded an entry on her blog, telling her readers how she never knew a 19-year-old Singaporean could write like that, referring to a short article I wrote on expectations.

The months after I discovered that link (her blog has since gone private), I visited her blog almost every day, wondering if perhaps if I might have a chance to meet the girl behind those words. Alas, meeting her I did not.

But those months of constant visiting of her blog opened my eyes to how fiction can teach us about the human condition. She was at that point of time reading a book called The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles. Almost two or three times every week, she would publish a page full of passages from that book.

The passages she picked were simply superb, the kind that would make you go, “hmm… I never thought of it that way. But come to think of it, yes, that makes sense!”

I enjoyed the passages so much I went to buy the book. Although disappointed that the book as a whole was less than the sum of its parts, I decided to keep on exploring other fiction genres, notably those that dealt with philosophy (especially existentialism) and stories revolving around survival in the post-war industrial age.

Fiction, far from being useless, allows us to experience life we cannot or may not experience otherwise.

Below are a couple of my favourite quotes from fiction books I have read recently, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Quotations for the Week

Richard Yates

From Revolutionary Road.

“I’m afraid I’m booked solid through the end of the month,” says the executive, voluptuously nestling the phone at his cheek as he thumbs the leaves of his appointment calendar, and his mouth and eyes at that moment betray a sense of deep security. The crisp, plentiful, day-sized pages before him prove that nothing unforeseen, no calamity of chance or fate can overtake him between now and the end of the month. Ruin and pestilence have been held at bay, and death itself will have to wait; he is booked solid.

Ernest Hemingway

From The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.

His wife had been through with him before but it never lasted. He was very wealthy, and would be much wealthier, and he knew she would not leave him ever now. That was one of the few things he really knew. He knew about that, about motor cycles — that was earliest — about motor cars, about duck-shooting, about fishing, trout, salmon and big sea, about sex in books, many books, to many books, about all court games, about dogs, not much about horses, about hanging on to his money, about most of the other things his world dealt in, and about his wife not leaving him. His wife had been a great beauty and was still a great beauty in Africa, but she was not a great enough beauty any more at home to be able to leave him and better herself and she knew it and he knew it. She had missed the chance to leave him and he knew it. If he had been better with women she would probably have started to worry about his getting another new, beautiful wife; but she knew too much about him to worry about him either.

Existential Fiction

I leave you now with an author whom I think has had a great influence on many writers, Franz Kafka. If you have never heard of him, may I beseech you to read more about him at this Wikipedia entry of Franz Kafka. The quote below is from his “shorter stories”, which are really snippets of stories, which he has sometimes used in his longer short stories, but are in themselves able to hold their own weight.

Franz Kafka

From The Complete Short Stories.

When you go walking by night up a street and a man, visible a long way off — for the street mounts uphill and there is a full moon — comes running toward you, well, you don’t catch hold of him, not even if he is a feeble and ragged creature, not even if someone chases yelling at his heels, but you let him run on.

For it is night, and you can’t help it if the street goes uphill before you in the moonlight, and besides, those two have maybe started that chase to amuse themselves, or perhaps they are both chasing a third, perhaps the first is an innocent man and the second wants to murder him and you could become an accessory, perhaps they don’t know anything about each other and are merely running separately home to bed, perhaps they are night birds, perhaps the first man is armed.

And anyhow, haven’t you a right to be tired, haven’t you been drinking a lot of wine? You’re thankful that the second man is now long out of sight.

Card Tricks to Rekindle an Old Flame

He looked over at me with a twinkle in his eye, and asked if I wanted to be shown a card trick that wasn’t really a trick.

“It really isn’t a trick. Just for fun. Want to see it?”

“Sure,” I said, nodding my head.

We were in camp, with time to kill. I always found my friend’s beliefs in new-age mambo jambo to be very interesting, and had no reason to believe that whatever he was going to show me would be otherwise.

“Now, think of a girl. Any girl will do. But preferably somebody you like — everybody’s got somebody they like — it more interesting if it’s somebody you’re in love with.”

“Okay. I’m thinking of her,” I said, recalling images of a girl whom I was once very serious about.

He handed me the cards in his hands to me, and said, “take this deck of cards and shuffle it. Then cut the cards into three stacks on the table.”

I did as he asked, shuffling the deck, then separating the cards into three stacks in front of me, from right to left.

He went through the three stacks of cards, removed some cards from each stack, and put the remaining cards back. Then he combined the three stacks of remaining cards and told me to shuffle them again, after which I would cut them once more into three stacks.

This process was repeated two more times.

“Okay, this is the last one,” he said, combining the three stacks and laying them out one by one on the table.

“Wow,” he said, “interesting. Interesting and complicated. This King of Spades represents you. This Queen of Hearts, her. The Ace of Spades represents your ‘heart’ or ‘love’. It is your love. The Ace of Hearts is her love for you. This Queen of Clubs here is…”

He went through with me what the rest of the cards meant, as well as explained to me what the positions of each of those cards showed.

His final analysis showed that our hearts were close, and love strong, though physically we were far apart. He was a little puzzled by our hearts being “far apart” part — he didn’t seem to get it much, so he mentioned that perhaps it might have been due to my being in the army.

He also mentioned that another girl seemed to be fighting for my attention, while I had a ‘Jack of Clubs’ rival, who is physically closer, but lacking the kind of connection the girl I was thinking about and I had.

My friend then laughed, and asked me how true it was.

“The cards are only accurate the first time. After that they don’t seem to work anymore. So, how accurate was it?”

I looked at him, and smiled. Then I replied, “not bad. The girl I like’s in Australia! But I didn’t expect, and still don’t, expect her heart close to mine, nor our love to be strong. Strong, perhaps on my side, but hers? I don’t know… The other girl seeking my attention, don’t know of any other girl who would warrant it, perhaps it’s subconscious? And about my rival in love, I wouldn’t know that either but it’s likely, her being in Australia and all that.”

“Hey guys! Last parade,” a voice from outside shouted, and we put down the cards, and made our way down.

I enjoyed this. It made me wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, she might still be thinking of me.

On Road Rage (and Anything Unpleasant)

Taken from Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies, by Romilla Ready and Kate Burton, on road rage:

Instead of accessing all your best rude words and gestures, think instead about the sun collapsing into a planetary nebula in about 5 billion years’ time when all this angst will be completely pointless — and give yourself a quiet little smile and enjoy your life.

2006 is Here

And so 2005 is gone, and 2006 arrives.

The highlight of 2005 for me was my trip to Taiwan, for overseas military training. Other than that, it has been largely forgettable, with nothing much else to report.

I hope your year has been more eventful, in a positive sense of course.

Romantic Love, Where Art Thou?

One thing that has been bugging me throughout 2005 was the lack of romance in my life. Being in the army poses a somewhat big challenge on the social front: I haven’t met a new girl (save for those in the army, of which numbers are terribly pathetic) in a year.

There are, of course, opportunities to meet girls — I’m not saying that are none — but the challenge for me is to meet good girls.

“Good?” I hear you ask.

Yes, good.

Jeweller for Diamonds, Canteen for Food

Now, allow me to present to you this hypothetical scenario: Imagine that you’re looking for a vegetarian girlfriend.

Chances are you won’t find her at McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken, or at a butcher buying meat.

You’d probably find her at a vegetarian society meeting (90% chance of finding her there), or at a vegetarian restaurant (chances are low, but definitely higher than at eateries that serve only meaty dishes).

In short, you go to a jeweller for diamond rings, and a canteen for food. Different places serve different things.

Again, the opportunities to meet girls at bars or clubs are high. Many singles go to these places to mix around, meet new friends and potential partners.

I like girls who like books. But one who goes to libraries and bookstores typically doesn’t have the mindset of going to these places to mix around, meet new friends and potential partners.

Sure, I can meet new girls, but what kind of girls?

How does one meet the introverted, intellectual type of girl, who isn’t very keen on socialising with other people unless necessary?

You can’t. Unless she is forced to go out, you can’t.

How does one meet these kind of girls who are forced to go out? School…

University to be precise.

And that is why I can’t wait to get out of the army, and start my education again. For that is where I shall start finding the good girls.

Have a happy 2006 everyone!