The Letterby Cyril Wong
Lies are easy when nothing else makes sense. I managed to keep to the truth once — and not just when I was idealistic and young, but until I was much older too. The truth is never complete. That incompleteness has killed me over time, I suspect. I thought I had been telling my friends and family everything, but it wasn’t enough; at least, I felt as if I had been lying anyway, in spite of best efforts. There’s only always so much anyone can do, say or comprehend. Then it’s just easier to lie, to say “I’m fine ... No problem at all ... Life is good ... ” instead of “I’m numb all the time, is that normal ... I’m filling my life with work, which can be dull but who has any choice ... Of course I love your company, but I need more ... ”
I’m convinced I’ve tried my best to tell you everything. I’m trying to say everything now in this letter you’ll find under your bedroom door. (You know why I can’t use email or WhatsApp for this. It’d reach you too quickly. Also, there’s still no such thing as total privacy in Singapore. If the police or the government wants to find out shit, they can and they will; they will use it against you. I wouldn’t want to get you into trouble. I don’t want to leave a trail of evidence in my wake, online or otherwise. And you always did say you liked it when I printed out notes for you from my desktop computer; so “old school,” I remember you saying. How about this for “old school” — burn this after you’ve read my note, or hide it well. I don’t want anybody to know where to find me. I’ll also transfer money into your bank account tomorrow: it’s all of my life-savings. You won’t have to thank me. I’ve no one else to give it to, since my parents are dead. You’ll get the money in at least a week. Nothing about all this will be linked back to you, I promise. I’ll make sure of it.)
You’re still my best friend. This is the truth. But like all truths, such a statement never encompasses everything; like how we sexually experimented as teenagers; how the sex coloured the way we regarded each other; how you then decided you were more “asexual” than “gay” and never wanted to lay a finger on me again, not even for a hug whenever I needed it; how you later experimented with other guys because you felt you needed to feel something; how I felt betrayed anyway. Then there are nearly uncontainable aspects of the truth: the lush and timeless comma of your fringe, how that lilt in your voice always made me giggle on the inside, our mutual capacity for silence even as we were strolling through the most crowded and bustling places together.
Yes, I’ll use the spare key to your tiny flat in Toa Payoh (the only one you could afford on your meagre salary as a music teacher; but you’re right that money isn’t everything, unlike what most Singaporeans around us think.) I’ll creep in when I know you won’t be home in the morning. Your bedroom door will be locked, as always, and I’ll notice that you’ve put out the salt and pepper shakers I gave you, shaped like an overweight, embracing couple when placed against each other. They gleam nicely on the coffee table next to your living room window. (Oh and please don’t misunderstand: I’m not implying that I still love you or that I’ve never stopped loving you. It’s not like that. I don’t suffer from romantic feelings anymore. I’m grateful that you’ve been in my life: that’s all.)
You’re still the only one who can appreciate what I’m trying to tell you now, without judgement or prejudice. You know me. I like to think I know you too. Ultimately, we want each other to be happy. That’s it, right? That’s the Hollywood simplicity of what we are — the rough summing up of everything. I lose track of myself. I thought I was going to cry for a moment, but genuine sadness has nothing to do with tears. Or maybe I just don’t feel anything and I’ve never had. I think the word might be “frayed” or all my emotions have frayed to nothing. I think you know I’ve had a lot of sex for the past few years. Think of it as a mind-and-body-consuming hobby. The crystal meth helps to make the sex last longer every time. The regulars I do it with enjoy the sessions as much as I do (Why else do they keep coming back? Yes, yes, I’m ugly when I boast, how you constantly remind me.) Pleasure kills the time when there’s too much time on my plate for circuitous contemplation. Pleasure is always a holiday from everything else, isn’t it? There’s the coming down and the chemical imbalance; I know, you warned me about the side effects too.
Such habits can change a person. But give me some credit: I might be an investment banker (too many of us in money-minded Singapore — what’s one less investment banker, right?) but it doesn’t mean I don’t know myself. I truly believe the drugs keep me from being distracted from appreciating who I am, if that makes sense. (There’s an ecstasy pill on the market called “Mercedes” — how materialistic and Singaporean is that moniker, am I right — that is as smooth as a glass elevator, even when one is sliding down from that vertiginous mental peak. One time it took me so high — and this gets pretty paradoxical — during sex that I found myself settling deeply and unmovingly inside a cave of myself, and in this cave there was the sweetest sort of nothing I had ever experienced: no self-deception, no longing to become anything or anyone, no hope, no me, no you, neither light nor dark, just an all-enveloping sense of knowing ... )
Here’s something else I came to terms with when I was spiralling centripetally and centrifugally: change happens. The movement never stops. Everything carries on. Or life sweeps most things under its rug and the rug never stops unfurling. I’ll be gone. You’ll be gone too. We might love, touch, infect, resent each other, but all that changes. There’s nothing outside of change. Even if people don’t change, fundamentally: they still need and wish for more. They still want each other dead or rely on one another for instances of incomparable joy. They still work their balls off for their performance bonuses; that golden handshake or retrenchment package. Death isn’t the end: it’s only a small part of an ever-shifting picture. We’re variables in a map of endless permutation that is neither spectacular nor unspectacular; neither poetic nor unpoetic. Nothing we strive for or hope to achieve can modify the largest scheme of things. We carry on. I carry on working, fucking, getting high, coming home, staring so far into myself for hours I forget I’m still here, staring ostensibly at the wall beside my bed or the spinning ceiling fan. You carry on instructing your kids in school and tell yourself they change your life for the better, or that you’re changing theirs. Then it’s over. Or everything becomes something else and so on.
I know I’ve talked about all this growing up (you listened without giving me an answer; in this way, you were always the wiser one.) That’s what is so great about our friendship, I think, that I could always talk to you like this (you’ll never hear me talk about the meaning of life with my colleagues, that’s for sure; clichés about the corporate life still hold true, you know, and one can always generalise — not uncruelly — about entire swaths of human beings: we can talk about such things for a moment, but the facetiousness and well-timed wisecracks always win out — glibness, humour, even bitchiness, are drugs too, if we come to think about it — and then nobody talks seriously anymore.)
Not that I don’t know what depression feels like. I’ve watched Melancholia by Lars von Trier (don’t laugh; I watch arty shit like that all the time. The director created controversy by comparing himself to Hitler at the Cannes Film Festival, saying he understood him, did you know that? I bet you didn’t. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with his comments; the man was being honest. How many of us can stay completely and utterly honest all the time? I watched the movie on my phone; you can download any kind of crap for free these days — any educated, modern-day Singaporean knows this. I taught you how to catch whole movies on your phone once, remember? You’re always broke all the time, so I think I did you a huge favour.) I’ve been depressed before, so I know the difference. When you’re depressed, time slows down, like how Kirsten Dunst’s character moves like she’s floating through formaldehyde on her wedding day. But this isn’t that. I’m not moving in slow motion as if time were an aquarium filled to the brim with formaldehyde. I’m just not moving at all.
I’m stuck at the bottom of a well, and not unlike Sadako Yamamura in that horror movie, The Ring (the Japanese original, not that garbage-remake by the Americans.) More precisely, I’m at the bottom of a well inside a well inside another well. Not a demoness waiting to climb out and terrorise the living, but a corpse that has given up. (Remember what you said when we watched the movie together in your neighbourhood cineplex: “If I were Sadako and after my father had killed me because of my talent for witchcraft, I wouldn’t get angry — I’d never get back up at all, but stay down and die.” Remember what I said in reply: “It’s just the kind of monsters we are.” It’s still true, at least for me. Does it still ring true for you?) Whether we blame others or ourselves for what we’ve become, it doesn’t matter. Everything carries on with or without desperate assignations of guilt or blame; with or without our understanding of how things are. That’s all I’ve been trying to say.
I think you know what happens next. By the time you read this and call me, I’d have smashed my phone and thrown it down the rubbish chute. That’s how you’ll know I’d be gone, when you dial my number and fail to get through. You won’t get to me in time. You won’t find my body (I hope so anyway; I really, really don’t want you to) anywhere in or near my Sentosa Cove condominium (Can you guess I imagined you’d one day be staying with me here: two of us on the balcony facing the sea, topless and sunbathing every Sunday afternoon, drinking iced tea, even when we’re over fifty? We’d converse about your enduring love for choral music and I’d bitch about the neighbours, my sex life, my — but who am I kidding, since even with you here, I wouldn’t be able to lie to both of us for long. I’d grow bored. I’d recognise the insufferable changes steadily taking over. I’d see that your love for me isn’t growing. We’d never be anything more than friends. We might even stay with each other long enough to wait for each other to die: the predictability and the banality of it all.) I’m hoping the surrounding sea will carry my drug-riddled (yes, I’m going to be insanely high when I wade out into the water, maybe even attempting to sing that gorgeous spiritual you used to hum to yourself when we were in school: “Wade in the water, wade in the water, children ... God’s gonna trouble the water ...” It’ll be my way of remembering you as I go.)
I know I won’t age another day after I consume the ecstasy and step out naked into the waves (maybe they’ll find my rotting corpse on a coast in Batam, or maybe not!) You’ll turn forty this year: we’re both practically middle-aged! You’re not a corporate slave, so you can let your hair grow out. You work in the arts, for goodness’ sake. So look the fucking part. Wear tighter clothes. Show off that body of yours. You’re more desirable than you give yourself credit for. Maybe one day, you’ll find a guy that speaks to both your mind and your body. Maybe (I secretly hope) not.
I hoped to tell you near the middle of this letter that the stars are out now. But even here on Sentosa, you can’t see stars. Only a winking, teasing satellite or two. We’ve got stars on our country’s flag but nothing in our skies — how ironic is that? Our unremitting cityscape is too blinding for stars to pull out their heads from deep inside their anuses and gaze down upon us. I guess I need to head off now. I’ve got a fuck-date in a few minutes. Then tomorrow morning I’m cabbing over to deliver my letter (I know you usually won’t be back until late at night) and make my plans. After that, I’ve got a whole afternoon and evening to prepare myself for what happens next, to get ready for my favourite change of all.
CYRIL WONG is a poet and fictionist in Singapore. His last book was the Singapore Literature Prize-winning poetry collection, The Lover's Inventory.