I was about 2 weeks away from sitting for my HSC trials. I guess my stepmom had heard the rumour through regular contact with one of the Tai Chi housewives back home. Anyway, she broke the news to me. Apparently, this lady claimed to have seen him at some event. And he was with a girl. And they were holding hands. And as soon as he realised he’d been spotted, he had quickly pulled his hand away.
I didn’t want to believe it. I figured it was just gossip by the same bunch of bored housewives I’d never cared for. I mean, he had been so into me, it was unfathomable. I had taken advantage of his feelings for me. Treated him like a doormat. Broken up with him over seemingly silly stuff. Like the time I found out he’d watched Michael Jackson’s latest music video (Thriller) behind my back when he’d said he’d wait to watch it with me (I hadn’t asked him to wait – he’d willingly offered to do so). And the time he told me he was heading home and to bed after visiting me, and I found out he’d gone to a party instead. I made sure there was hell to pay each time before I took him back. He knew how to beg and cry and I thought I had the upper hand each time. Everyone did.
Now, with this new rumour, I didn’t know what to think. Despite what I thought about those gossipy housewives, this somehow sounded strangely plausible. He’d been caught out before with the other lies. I could see him doing it. So I rang him. Long-distance calls were expensive back in those days, but I had to do it.
At first denial, then he eventually admitted to it. Yes, it was some girl whose dad had recently died. He’d been her shoulder to cry on. And that’s how it had started. There’s more, of course, but I won’t divulge the rest. Bottom line – he wasn’t going to ditch her. So I told him it was over. He said ok. I hung up. I couldn’t believe my ears. This wasn’t right – I’d expected crying and begging on his part but he’d seemed, well, relieved. I decided he’d been let off the hook too easily.
So I rang him back. Really gave it to him. He cried. Lots more talking later, he asked to keep our relationship going. But he still didn’t want to leave her. Even at that point, where my self-esteem was at the lowest it’d ever been, I knew that was bullshit. I wanted nothing to do with this arrangement. So, after nearly two years of putting my life on hold for him, it was all over. I’d basically sabotaged my start in a new country out of a misguided belief that this knight in shining armour would come and rescue me from this hell. What a fool I was.
To this day, I don’t know who the other girl was. She might have been innocent in all this – maybe he’d lied to her as well – but it didn’t make me any less mad at her. Heck, I lost a parent too, and I never used that as leverage. I wanted to believe that he chose her because she needed him more; that she got his sympathy vote because of her bereavement; that it pandered to his protective male instinct. Or something.
Evidently time was a great healer of wounds. About two years later when I went back to Seremban with my younger sister, I had no problems calling him up to say hello. He dropped in at the Allson Klana Resort where we were staying, and chatted for about 5 minutes. I asked him about the girlfriend, and was surprised he didn’t at first know who I was talking about. When reminded, he brushed it off saying, oh, that’s been over a long time ago now. And no, he wasn’t seeing anyone at the moment.
Anyway, he mentioned he had just started a pest control business. Good for him, I thought. He’ll do alright, he’s a smooth talker – a natural salesman. And the Hokkiens have a good nose for business, after all. Then he left. That was over twenty years ago and I have not seen or spoken to him since.
Apart from a soft spot for schmaltzy 80s love songs, I really haven’t thought about that chapter in my life since those early years in Australia.
For years, I did regret not maintaining contact with my friends from Convent – I’d pretty much put all my eggs in the one basket relationship-wise and chosen not to keep in touch with them, to my detriment. Then, 25 years after I’d left Convent Seremban, I thought I’d try to see if I could pull anything up on Google. I hit paydirt and found a blog by an old classmate, talking about their recent 25th-year reunion dinner. I got in touch with Mala via Facebook, and the rest is history.
Mala came to Sydney for a holiday a few weeks back, with her three teenage daughters. We met up and I had a fantastic time taking them around town – the Opera House, Watson’s Bay, Bondi Beach, Manly Beach; they even visited my restaurant one evening. And, of course, we had lots to talk about – catching up on those lost years of memories. She told me about the Convent reunion the year before, and how great it was to catch up with everyone after all this time.
She said she’d been surprised how many of the girls had ended up marrying their childhood sweethearts. She thought it was awfully sweet. She didn’t have a boyfriend in high school; she’d been too preoccupied with school work and activities and friends. ‘How about you?’ she asked.
‘Well, actually, yes, I did have a boyfriend’.
I told her his name.
She thought about it for a second, then a flash of recognition.
‘Is he in pest control?’