Four Years in A Day
Today marks the fourth year of my endeavor in making a living and making a life in San Diego, California. There’s a stark difference between the two, and there were plenty of times where I spent too much energy in one, while neglecting the other.
It feels surreal, knowing that it’s been four years since I walked into LAX, two suitcases brimming with my entire array of belongings; favorite items of clothing, six of my dearest (at the time) books, family photos, and a large bag of Milo, a malty hot chocolate staple from home.
As I sit here attempting to put the last four years into words… where do I even begin? Should I tell the tale of semesters with 18 course units and two jobs? Or about the marvelous road trips across the west coast with friends near and dear to me? That one year I went to three festivals and had to live on butter and toast? What about the humbling lessons I’ve learned through moments of arrogance and overconfidence? Or the rock bottom darkness that I fell into when my mammy passed away?
I peer retrospectively into my life in the United States. It all seems a blur, but there is clarity in knowing that every mistake, every joyous celebration, every person that I crossed paths with, made this experience exactly the way it meant to unfold.
My first three years were spent as a student; something I thoroughly enjoyed. Before I found love, the English classes I took for my minor made my heart full. I took pleasure in everything I read, from scholarly texts to clever works of fiction. I admired my peers in classes; unabashed and unafraid to be exactly who they were. Quirky, brilliant, and with golden nuggets of knowledge and opinion. I thank them all for sharing this with me in our 2 and half-hour long weekly meetings.
However, I learned the most not from hour-long lectures or comprehensive essays. The one semester of Spanish didn’t do much for my linguistic ability in the language. Instead, I learned the most from my peers. I especially learned what I did not want to do with my time here. I spent no liquor-laden nights with strangers in a small, sweaty fraternity courtyard. I didn’t attach myself to a clique. Instead, I worked up to three jobs at a time, spent sleepless nights at the library and drank way too much coffee. I was determined to contribute my ideas in class, and draw as much knowledge as I could from my professors. I immersed myself in academic culture: taking up leadership roles in student orgs, had two internships at once and studied my tush off to the best of my ability. Yes, I was a nerdy student and proud of it.
One class in particular was a women’s studies class. The title is telling; “Women’s Sexuality and the Body.” This course wrenched my eyes open with the forcefulness that is today’s rape and victim blaming culture. I had a limited understanding of the concepts, but with statistical evidence, academic texts, and stories of first-hand experience, I was fervent with rage and passion on behalf of all women. Personal experience pulled me into a place of self-loathing and men-hating. A close friend of mine called me a year later, devastated because she had recently been raped, and nobody would believe her. She experienced victim blaming in all its destruction, and I scrambled to find the resources to help her. This experience spurred the need for my passion project (more later).
This was also the semester my mammy left the world (and moved into my heart). Stricken with regret and shame, I cut all ties, including a four-year long-distance relationship with a man who knew me best at the time. I lived in remorse, glowering at anyone who tried to reach out and help me. I can’t recall the exact moment of my breakthrough, but I what I do remember is the first time I was finally able to talk about my mother’s death.
It was my second or third group therapy session for those who recently lost a loved one. Everyone went around the room, sharing their experience and thoughts about the person they were grieving for. I could never muster enough courage to say anything, until the moment I did. Through heaving tears and swallowed sobs, the words spewed out like a much needed juice cleanse. I recounted the phone call from my uncle, and then my father. I remembered the panic of trying to get home, with thousands of miles between me and my mammy seemingly impossible to journey. I recollected hearing my mammy’s last few breaths on the phone, telling her to be brave, and be strong, and that I was on my way home. I felt the depth of pain that propelled into my heart; my fear turning into grief when I heard my sister’s voice telling me she had to hang up. I remembered collapsing to the floor in front of my roommate’s door, not having the words to tell her what just happened. I cried for months in the solitude of my dorm room, while consuming the permanent lump that lived in my throat, especially when any thoughts of my mother crossed my mind. I lived under a cloud of darkness until that very moment, sitting in a circle with others who knew exactly what I was saying and why I was weeping. There’s a power in shared solitude, and I’ll never forget that.
The months following flew by. With graduation and a potential career in mind, I focused solely on finishing school. This was the time I discovered the power of yoga. A close friend from Malaysia was staying with me over Christmas; we couldn’t bear to be alone on such an occasion. Most of our time was spent wearing knee-high socks and binge watching Friends, until one morning when she asked me to join her for a quick morning yoga session. I never felt so alive after 20 minutes of guided movement. Since that, my yoga mat has become a place of sanctuary and meditation. I could not live without it. It gave me balance in a chaotic world of examinations and internships, a space to quieten the mind and contemplate when needed.
Through this spiritual connection with myself and earth, I found love.
Nicholas drew me in like bees to dandelion. I love telling the tale of when I first saw him, thinking innocently, “I could see myself with him.” Truth be told, I was tired of sleepless nights with strangers, leading to nowhere but another lonely night under my own covers. Tinder no longer had it’s appeal. I was seeking someone to share my life and love with. Well, I asked and the universe gave.
We tumbled into the whole thing so organically. Our bodies molded into each other like long lost jigsaw puzzles, unearthed from under the dusty carpeting. Our minds were always in sync, not like finishing each other’s sentences or feeding each other spaghetti. It was in sync in terms of our values, our needs and wants in a relationship and the passion we had for giving and receiving love. I never felt such pure intimacy with another human.
After almost two years of long distance, he made the commitment to uproot his comfortable life back home, and to share life’s struggles and troubles with me. In the radius of my life’s current state, I am thankful to have him.
Meanwhile, with one hand attached to the phone to FaceTime Nicholas, my other hand was elbows deep in my brand spanking new internship. With school and physical distractions finally out of the way, I was able to channel my energy into building my career, and Power Digital was the perfect place for it.
My experience with this company is another I find hard to string into words. There were plenty of ups and downs, moments of accomplishments and uncertainties. I sky-rocketed into a full-time job with them after graduation, and suffice to say I’m not one to ease into a transitional phase. It was rocky to begin with, but I am lucky to have peers who guided me (even scolded me when needed) through my challenges. I learned so much more about myself and my interaction with people in the one year at Power Digital than three years of college. There were humbling moments, there were triumphant moments. And believe it or not, there are moments when emotion and supreme passion need to be put away for later. I loved every second of it.
Life has a funny way of taking away what you value most, only to give you something worth much, much more (in it’s own time). As I neared this four-year anniversary, it also marked the final days of my legal immigration in the United States. Because of this, I am no longer legally allowed to work in this country. Trump can build his bordering walls, but bureaucracy and the USCIS beat him to the chase. I cannot work for Power Digital anymore.
Today, as I sit in my North Park apartment, penniless and sipping ginger tea, I am content. But, I didn’t feel this way yesterday. Instead, yesterday and the weeks preceding, I felt lost and frustrated because I could not do what I loved in terms of my career. I couldn’t hustle like I did through my college years and the one year of full-time employment. I woke up at noon, watched The Sopranos and contemplated my misery. Nicholas and I fought over the struggle to find employment and income. I was in a nasty mood because I had nowhere else to channel my energy.
Today, however, a leaf has turned. As I write this, I feel like I have so much more to look forward to, considering the trials and tribulations abided the past 1460 days. I’ve pulled myself out of countless shitty situations without giving up despite all against me, and now have so much to appreciate and value. I have lifelong friends and people that I love and whom I know will support me in times of need. I have a roof over my head and a man to fall asleep and wake up next to. I discovered that I love cooking and making homely meals.
I finally have time to work on my passion project, which is a BIG undertaking, but it has lived in my heart for over two years now, and it’s time I make it happen. All I know is that I can only take one day at a time, and keep my chin up while having my goals crystal clear in mind.
I’ve only been home to Malaysia three times. The first when my mother passed, the second when my grandmother passed, and the third when I graduated. Now, I think I am finally ready to say San Diego is home.
Three cheers to new adventures.
Love and light,
*This post was originally posted here: https://nisechang.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/four-years/*