trapped by my own fear

{found here – }

I’m not sure you’ll understand.

Do you know what it’s like? To be so afraid of people; to be so afraid of rejection, of sticking out, of being embarrassed or humiliated or laughed at. I used to think these problems were little things. I grew out of them, I told myself.

But do you know what it’s like? When I was younger, my legs quaked on days when we dressed up for school. They were mounds of rock upon rock, crumbling to powerless fragments as my body trembled. The epicenter. The focus. The pressure of the rocks pushing against each other every day, suddenly released— That was what these special occasions were. I was doing so well until now. There were days for coming in patriotic red and white attire for National Day, for coming in ethnic costumes for Racial Harmony Day, for coming in dressed as your dream job for Aspiration Day. I was there. I stood on the corridor outside my house, in the train station, outside my mother’s car. I was right next to my family, I was alone, I was so close yet so far away from safety. Nobody ever said anything; I had been the one doing all the talking. I was the one standing in that train station, back pressed against the pillar, fists balled, shaking, eyes closed, head lowered, telling myself, “it’s today. Today’s the right day. You didn’t get it wrong. You didn’t get the date wrong.” And I would see them; people from my school, going to my school, nonchalantly dressed  in uniform. They did not do anything; I was the one who told myself, “why are they dressed like that? Did I get the date wrong?”

I never once got the date wrong. But every one of those days was a fresh new nightmare, and I cannot forget the feeling.

When I was younger, I was a feeble, scared little child. But wait– couldn’t you say your name? Couldn’t you ask for a toilet pass, order a snack at the coffee shop outside your school, talk to your friends? They tell me I was a shy girl. I was quiet, but I was sweet. I do not remember that account, but what I do remember is crying into my father’s arms on the first day of school. I remember wetting my skirt because my request for a toilet pass was rejected in favour of the spelling test. I remember deteriorating my vision when I was 10 because my glasses were hideous and everyone would call me ugly if I ever wore them and I remember how I could never read the words on the board or find my class in the morning, but it was okay, because my classmates welcomed me. They said I was pretty, and one of them even had a crush on me. What does one do to be accepted? What are the limits? When I malfunction, does anybody tell me? Do I wait for the cold sweat and tears to seep into my control board and electrocute me? Is that how I learn when something is wrong? What do I do then?

For every time I ordered something complicated, that usually involved at least two languages and more than two words, I repeated the order until I had it known by heart, and then some. Chicken rice, steamed, one extra egg, takeaway. No chilli. Chicken rice, steamed, one extra egg, takeaway. No chilli. Chicken rice, steamed, one extra egg, takeaway. No chilli. Wanton mee, black sauce, no soup, no chilli, takeaway. Wanton mee, black sauce, no soup, no chilli, takeaway. A cheeseburger, no pickles, no onions. And an iced milo, medium. Small fries. A cheeseburger, no pickles, no onions. And an ice milo, medium… The words got faster with my heartbeat. I had to slow my breathing, wipe my forehead, cup my hands around my elbows. The execution was less than perfect. “Chicken rice…um, steamed. Ah, ah– one extra egg. No…take- takeaway. No chilli. Please.” Every new order was a new battle.

I’ve outgrown this, I tell myself. I look in the mirror; now who’s the vice-president of Chinese drama, in the exclusive drama class, entrusted with the position of being class chairperson? Who’s the girl who can act anything from fear to anger to delusion? Who’s the overly friendly, strange while unapologetic, leader that everyone turns to for decision-making? For class spirit? Who drops encouragement letters out of the blue? Tell me, who? I’m like one of you. I’m okay, I’m friendly, I’m confident.

My voice never shakes. But being one of you is so exhausting. I throw out multiple baits to catch many fish, but I never have the courage to reel them in; I would rather stay on my boat and pretend that the silence of the night is louder than the live fish, kicking and squirming on my hook. In group conversations, I am fine. There is a revolving spotlight, and I can take the heat. But one-on-ones are different. There is a constant expectation to meet to keep the conversation going, like running on a treadmill that keeps increasing its speed. I fall short, and tumble into a polite silence, that could last for hours or days if it’s an non-face-to-face conversation. The overhanging cloud of a conversation in the process of crashing and burning not only permeates the air, but drags me down. It hangs on my shoulders, bringing me to my knees, while my hardened clay smile chips at its edges.

I cannot forget the feeling. It makes you want to recoil, withdraw into a corner, squeeze yourself into the smallest ball you can form, crush the life out of yourself. It makes you want to stay in the comfort of your room forever, to not reply any of your messages and let them accumulate, to read and write and never open your mouth. I cannot forget it, even if it doesn’t haunt me in full anymore.

trapped by my own fear

numb island

{found here – }

i think my skin is morphing into bark.
i tear at it but it does not break.
i try to bend my fingers, but everything is stiff;
my steps are big and clumsy and i fall on my face
but it is okay, i am protected. my skin
cannot be scratched

i think my skin is morphing into bark.
i tear at it but it does not break.
my father slaps me across the face, but i feel
nothing. my mother tries to lace her fingers
around mine. they do not fit.
my lover puts their hands on my face,
on my waist, on my legs. they are crying,
“do you feel nothing for me now?”
i put my hand on their shoulder, but
they shake leaves off their side.

i think my skin is morphing into bark.
i tear at it but it does not break;
i peel but it does not bend.
there are times when even i prick myself.
and as far as protection goes, i am happy with it.
but there will always be a part of me that regrets
making my walls so high, making my borders
so hard to trespass, locking myself inside a
tiny prison with self-induced claustrophobia.

i think my skin is morphing into bark.
i tear at it but it does not break
but i ache to feel again.

numb island

it’s crowded in my head

{image found here}

There was once a boy I was infatuated with.

I thought the long looks he sent me from across the room were of want and need, of bashfulness and of insecurity. Only after I fell out of infatuation with him did I realise that he has the same wide eyes for everyone, brown-tinted irises and bushy eyebrows that never bent a different way for me. An emotion I once dare mistake for captivated was actually just perplexed.

He was wondering why the tight-lipped girl who hardly formed a string of words in his presence was looking so curiously at him. I had thought, some several summers ago, that a boy who held my gaze for four seconds straight and did not let go had to be in some kind of love with me. I had never found out if that was a misconception or not.

On some occasions the tips of his fingers would brush against mine, and I would feel the supposed sparks of electricity in a deep pit of my stomach. I was set on the assumption that these touches were not coincidental, but part of a ploy of a magnetic boy who knew whose fingers were the north to his south. Or at the least, happy accidents born of a silent desire repeated so many times – in a head usually so quiet – that the Forces of the Universe bent to his wishes. I wanted to tell him that I would gladly hold his hand and walk as far as he wanted; but I only recently realised that he had never planned to hear those words from me.

When I was still in infatuation with him, I thought that he was exactly what my heart wanted. Countless nights my subconscious would play back his face, and in the morning I would wake up with the sun in my hair and a stupid smile on my face. For hours I would ponder on my approach for when I next met him, like a chess game I was playing with delicate fingers, playing for a stake I did not want to lose.

I ended up with a bitter stalemate, a halfway-there-but-not-quite, the definition of “in the middle of nowhere” leaving an unusual taste on my tongue.

Unapologetically, I had given all I could to him for two years. Every conversation that was too far out of comfort zone, every forlorn stare, every indiscreet comment. Every fantasy of the future, every content smile thinking “I’ll wait for him”, every poem I ever wrote for him.

It was only infatuation, but it still hurts when he looks me in the eye.

{written on 5 Oct ’14}

it’s crowded in my head

cover (up) girl

{found on We Heart It}
{found on We Heart It}

In the mirror, in the morning, I am perfect.
Or rather, attractive. Desirable. Presentable.
Something about the way my hair curls naturally
The way my face looks porcelain without make-up
The way my clothes match my skin tone.
In public, I am the girl who walks
with the right mix of grace and quiet
Like a still, glassy pond reflecting a brilliant sunrise.
Exuding a certain kind of confidence
Never misplaced, never wavering
Back straight, chest up, eyes focused.

So why is it that at home,
I am the girl
In messy clothes, bad posture, blemishes
Who looks at herself in a front-facing camera
And laughs it off too quickly?
Why am I the one
Who wishes to be in a body more mature than her own
Desperate to own make-up for covering up her face?

Why is it that
At home, I am the girl
Made of clay
Anxious to fit into the right mould
Afraid to dry too soon into
an ugly, indefinite mess?

I’ll go to sleep, and tomorrow will be a new day
But time is running out on my hour glass
My day-to-day hours of glory are growing shorter
And I know that one day I will wake up,
Hungry for self-love,
And I will slap on a new mask
And hopefully, be able to pretend that everything is all right.

cover (up) girl

a beautiful morning

The dark, grey clouds gather in masses over the trees, their heads facing the now-forgotten stars and their legs ready for galloping. They are like stallions of night, preparing to dissipate until they are called once again.
The lighter clouds are wisps of cooler air, neither day time or night, streaking the sky in every direction; it is as if they are the dust under the horses’ hooves, or the wind carrying them away. Erratic, beautiful.
Then there is the sunlight. The gentle, pink-orange-yellow rays, bursting forth with a warmth no one has ever experienced. They crawl out slowly into the brightening sky, laughing infants of the Sun, turning into the wise and old by dusk. Their presence chases the horses away, scatters the wind, claiming the sky as they take their place. Every day is a amalgamate of colours, a new canvas for creation.
And the only proof it ever occurs is the reflection captured in the reservoir, where thousands of commuters in trains pass by, preferring the landscapes on their smartphones.

{written on 7 August ’14}

a beautiful morning

a year of different seasons, a year with you

{image found here: }


I, January.

I liked you from afar.

You, the tanned boy with black-framed glasses that I found my eyes gravitating toward;
I, the girl by the corner of the room, lips pursed and expression clouded,  in a mood of constant contemplation.

You, the boy who deliberately didn’t do class work or pay attention;
I, the girl who found herself struggling to pay attention with you in the room.

You, the boy with nothing to lose;
I, the girl with so much to hope for.


II, February.

You came closer.

You, the boy I saw at every school event I attended;
I, the girl who found it step out of her shell.

You, the boy who talked loudly and laughed even louder;
I, the girl who spoke softly and cried even softer.

You, the boy that met my gaze that night;
I, the girl who held it.

You, the boy with the almond brown eyes;
I, the girl who would never forget.

You, the boy who I found staring at me in class, unblinking;
I, the girl who quickly looked away, unbelieving.

You, the boy who joined my group for projects, wanted to know me;
I, the girl who let myself go.


III, June.

I loved (you) every minute.

You, the boy who could brighten my day with a ‘good morning’;
I, the girl who made you bagels for breakfast and met you before the sun rose.

You, the boy who couldn’t sing but did it anyway for a laugh;
I, the girl who found myself joining in, unabashed.

You, the boy who bought me lunch when I had lessons after school;
I, the girl who automatically knew when you entered the room.

You, the boy who introduced me to new people;
I, the girl who taught you math formulae and chemical reactions.

You, the boy who took the train home with me;
I, the girl who lived in the opposite side of the city from your house.

You, the boy who wished me ‘good night’ every night without fail;
I, the girl who started sleeping later and smiling more.


IV, July.

I told you I liked you.

You stood perfectly still.
I couldn’t breathe.

You looked away, eyes uneasy.
I shut my eyes, preparing for the worst.

“My grades–” you started, then stopped.
I blinked, once, twice, waiting.

“I can’t have a girlfriend this year-”
“…not with the national exams coming up.”

Silence. “I understand.”

“I’m sorry.”
“Did you ever feel the way I feel toward you?”

A pause. “I think so.”
A sliver of something that could be, yet nothing at all.
“Let’s just pretend this conversation never happened.”


V, August.

We spent time apart.

You, the boy who left with his friends;
I, the girl who stayed in school to study.

You, the boy who talked to everyone but me;
I, the girl who found afternoons more quiet than ever.

You, the boy who continued eating bagels I did not make;
I, the girl who eventually got used to the space beside me as normal and not empty.

You, the boy who still sang loudly and out of tune;
I, the girl who did not want to hope for things that could not be.


VI, October.

The national examinations were around the corner.
Months of stress had built up and left me exhausted and weary.
Even the sky began to weep uncontrollably,
sending sheets of white down every day,
leaving us frigid, leaving us cold.

You called me the day after the last examination.
Asked me to meet you in the garden behind the school.
When I saw you there, you pulled me into an embrace with your gloved hands,
And said: “I’ve missed you so much. I should never have–”
And I said, crying: “Don’t ever do that again.”


VII, December.

You became my worst distraction.

You, the boy who slung his arm around my shoulders in the cinema;
I, the girl who fed you popcorn and giggled softly.

You, the boy with callous, rough, warm hands;
I, the girl that held them gently.

You, the boy with a million childhood stories;
I, the girl with big dreams of becoming famous.

You, the boy who I bought matching phone cases with;
I, the girl you showed your hiding places.

You, the boy who told everyone I was your girlfriend;
I, the girl who brought you home for dinner with my family.

You, the boy who sees my vulnerability like no one else;
I, the girl who confided your fears to.

You, the boy I love.
I, the girl who is hopeful.

Things are looking up.

{john legend – all of me}

{written on 2 August ’14}

a year of different seasons, a year with you

waiting (for things that will never come)


To the people who were just too far apart to make a connection, no matter how hard each person tried.

This is the third time I’ve had to dial;
this time, the house number.
My father picks up, perks up when he hears my voice
Asks, “where are you now?”
I tell him, “please pass the phone to mom.”

Silence quickly ensues,
and he calls for my mother.
More silence. Eventually,
“She wants to know where you are.”
“Khatib. Can you tell her to come out and fetch me?”

He pauses, a silent question lingering in the air:
‘Am I not good enough?’
But it is ignored, and maybe for a second
I consider asking him to fetch me instead
But it is gone in the same second.
And in that last note a thousand lines could be supplemented instead,
a thousand ways to make up for earlier
“I love you”s or “I’ll see you at home” or
“I bought breakfast” or “I’m going to work tomorrow”
or something, or anything

“Okay,” is the final reply.
I strain to say “by—”
But the line goes dead.

{written on 1 August ’14}

waiting (for things that will never come)