Today is an ordinary day, TGIF. Today is also my birthday. Technically, my birthday is almost over. It’s 11 at night right now in Jakarta.
I’m turning 22. Big deal. 21 was a big deal, they kept telling me. At 21, you get the license to drink. At 21, you are welcomed in the club. At 21, you’re “officially” an adult. It’ll be a turning point. It’s going to be phenomenal. Do I agree with these statements? No.
I got my driver’s license last year. That’s pretty much what I fulfilled about society’s expectations on this turning point of an ordinary citizen’s life. Because I disobeyed society – I first experienced a hangover about 4 years ago in a house party over at my friend’s. I first got in to the club with my friend’s ID, and the following times I kept using other people’s ID and use tons of makeup to get in. I first drank alcohol when I ate chocolates shaped in tiny bottles with wine and champagne in it when I was 8, and we all ate them as a family. My parents bought the collection as a gift for no reason. They like buying gifts for us children, with or without reason.
Same thing with family days on Sundays. My brothers and my parents would say, it’s up to me where I want to eat, and we’ll go there to eat. We’ll stay over the weekend at whichever hotel I want to stay at. Yes, I’m a really lucky girl, one of those princesses in the family who gets everything she wants.
I am sitting here in my lifeless apartment room in San Francisco, thinking about the princess castles and polly pockets back at my room at home, way across the Pacific Ocean. There’s also a huge Barbie summer house and tons of pretty jigsaw puzzles too. They’re all gifts for me scoring perfect grades in elementary school. Ever since I can remember, every year, what I wanted for my birthday has been one of these toys. Then it becomes electronics or books. Then maybe a dress or an accessory. When I turned 16 and from then on, I didn’t know what to ask for anymore. I think I had enough and I want to become successful. I want to impress others. I want to impress my family. Buying and getting stuff doesn’t impress people.
I never receive presents since I was 16 anymore. The most I did was save up some money from my dad and purchase a luxury bag as a present for myself. Before I knew it, I adopted this habit of wanting something and never asking for it in the first place. How would you know? Because it’s always been like that for me: Ask, and it shall be given to you.
For almost 2 years, I never visited Jakarta anymore. I thought I can intern or work here for the time being so that I’ll get some experience before I graduate and find a job. So I did. Then I couldn’t keep up with school because the moment I searched outside-school activities and explore the real world, I realized that drawing is not for me. It’s somebody else’s dream and that I don’t belong here. My passion is in the romance of words, the wordplays, the literature and the classics. The national paper and also the fiction section over at the bookstore.
Actually, I’ve been denying it. I had a passion for words since I can remember.
At 21, I came to a point in my life where I wanted to give it all up. I thought really hard about dropping out school, thought really hard about accepting myself being single forever, and thought really hard about suicide. Nope, it’s not the alcohol or the parties. I never went to parties anymore since I was 20, and never drank for once since I was 19. If I didn’t ask for what I wanted, I wouldn’t have gotten the driver’s license anyway.
The first half of last year, I had no hopes in my future. I refused to take phone calls from my family because I’m embarrassed. I don’t know what to say. Somewhere along the line I just don’t like to admit that I want some things. I need some things. I don’t like letting people see me at my weakest. I don’t enjoy asking for help. It’s best not to bug anybody, because I dislike being bugged too.
But this is different. This is family. You never realize until you stop and think, for all your life, your parents give you everything they can give. Their time, energy, love and care – everything – just so you become happy, and that makes them very proud parents. I just never ask for it anymore, and kept rejecting these invisible gifts – and I let negative feelings takeover me. So there’s the depression.
This stubborn face is too proud to admit she needs love and care during the first half of last year. Then, at one point, when I was in the shower, breaking myself into tears as those waterfalls run down my saddened face, I thought, heck, I can’t stay like this forever. If I want to commit suicide, I might as well do it like a real woman. If somebody were to write my biography, it would not be “She died of taking pills” or “She died of shooting her head”. It would be “She left the world with a legacy” or “She lighted up the world before she left us”. I received a call from my mother that night. Finally, I picked it up.
“We love you and miss you so much, darling!” She said. She offered me to come back Jakarta during the summer. Of course I said yes, yes, YES, I miss you guys so much. I can’t live without the love and care I can give and receive. Being nurtured, growing fruitfully, and living in a place of love. I can’t stay here in America anymore. That’s when I decided I no longer want to be here. My soul is not here. It doesn’t belong here. You actually have to fight for it if you want to feel belonged in America.
The day I came back to Jakarta, I remember I had a very small baggage with a very saggy face. I’ve habituated myself with this countenance – I see that face everyday in the city. People go to work and their faces expressionless – tired, stressed, solitary, individualistic America. I’ve mirrored it. I’ve left behind the place of love and care and didn’t realized it. I know I want it, but didn’t ask for it. It’s like I know I wanted a boyfriend and eventually husband someday, I worked for it, but I didn’t ask for it. For no practical reason at all, I turn down dates and didn’t give a chance for second dates. I’m not meant to be, I’m not worthy. I was lost.
When I came out of the airport, I saw my brother and my mom, the brightest faces I’ve seen in 2 years. I silently cried throughout our ride home. We all talked. I talked about how I wanted to kill myself and quit school and get a job to earn money so I could support myself. Then maybe give up myself to do volunteer work so that I actually do something meaningful to the society, rather than continuing school in a field that I don’t have passions about. I don’t care about anything anymore.
Then she said to me, each one of us is a little candlelight that makes up one bright world. Once you lose a light, the surrounding lights get dimmer. The point is, you can’t make others happy without making yourself happy. Without making yourself happy you can’t make the people around you happy. The people who are with you are the candles that matter. The people across lands and seas who don’t know a thing about you, you don’t have to worry about them. It’s not for you to feel responsible about. You’re not God, for Christ’s sake.
Yes, I tell myself: You still got a lot to learn ahead – things like how to give love freely, how to be a better friend and a good life partner, and the greatest daughter in the world for your parents. Most importantly, to enjoy life and embrace downturns.
Before I knew it, that summer holiday last year changed my life so much. I met my current boyfriend, who is a lot like the ideal boyfriend in my head, had a great time with my friends over those past 3 and a half months, and nothing else matter as long as my family and friends stick close together throughout the rest of our lives. We’re very bright, and none of us are solitary. We’re collectively bright and color-full of lights. And that’s much more meaningful to me than anything else.
What is pleasure? What is pain?
A luxury bag, or a car. A pair of designer shoes, or a designer dress. Takes a painful amount of money to get that dress, but is it the money or is it just me?
Does it really matter? Does all these stuff really matter? Right now? 5 years from now? 20 years from now? 50 years from now?
Then, if today is the last day of your life, and the only thing that mattered was the quality of your life, as opposed to the number of years you’ve lived, have you truly lived?
Yes, the Jakartans and for most part of Asia value fresh graduates from overseas. They’re viewed as more prestigious and worldly. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to get out of Jakarta once I graduated from high school. Both my elder brothers and cousins studied overseas too. Most of my friends got out of Indonesia to further their studies too. I suck at math, I don’t enjoy science enough, and I don’t see the point in studying English language further at that moment, until now I realized that it’s the only subject I can and I want to learn to excel at. When you intrinsically desire to master something, a skill set or an activity, you don’t really care much about the external drives like how you’re going to be viewed and why are people’s opinions different than yours about it. I had always drawn as a kid because I was practicing my observant eye. Isn’t that why I kept choosing descriptive and argumentative essays during English exams? I was never the narrative type. Illustration is essentially narrating.
I take it that for the mean time, what I’m doing here until graduation is a test of patience. Patience to work for the life that I want, to impress myself – not others. That’s true success. I know I’m going to die through shining a brighter light to an already bright world. The most important thing is to shine the brightest light to the people who matters most to me – surround them – so that their days are as bright as I can be – so much for the saggy face.
I realized I look healthier whenever I’m in Jakarta, even though I eat healthier in the States.
And indeed, my 21th year on earth, for just 3 months of summer, I changed my life from a complete hopeless to a hopeful one, looking forward to getting through another day.
“The best way out is always through,” as famed writer Robert Frost once said. As cliched as it may seems, in the end, it’s the process that matters.
We get wiser by trusting our instincts, be proud of the things you value, and become truly successful in our own standards. Not in the eyes of others.
What you learned in art school: It is a creative process. You learn the art of patience, perseverance, constant practice in developing relentless energy, nurturing the never-give-up spirit, and satisfying the unstoppable thirst for living well. This is my statement of purpose, coming out of my long-overdue educated life that will soon end, preparing a stronger me for a brighter world.
I’m now officially 22. I had a great year being 21. And the great lesson here is this: Life goes on, so get over it, move on, and follow through.