The Wind Blows Across Empty Plains

Wow, is it quiet in here or is it just me?

*crickets*

Ah…well…

So sorry to all my readers (yes, I see the both of you back there) for the apparent deadness of my site. Life is a funny little thing. A river that rages along and pulls everything to the whim of its current. I am but a man, alas, with so many obligations and so little time. I’ve been trying to dodge life’s various curveballs and not get buried under its –

Oh, what the hell. I’ve been lazy. It’s just as simple as that.

‘Maybe I don’t have to write a blog post every single day,” you say to yourself once and the next thing you know, it’s been over a year and your blog is collecting digital dust bunnies. Oops.

I had half a mind to just shut the whole thing down since I wasn’t updating it at all, but then one day (well, yesterday), the blogging flame that once burned brightly in my mind and then simmered slowly for a while before being extinguished by the lazy waters of procrastination suddenly re-ignited itself. No, I thought, I can’t abandon this blog. It’s my mind space. It’s where I throw out the random thoughts that refuse to stay contained. I can’t shut this down any more than I can shut down my own brain.

So I return from my own ashes like a keyboard-tapping phoenix, ready to unleash a blog storm again and drench you all with my thoughts (it sounded less dirty in my head, I promise).

Until I get lazy again. Which tends to happen from time to time.

But I’ll work on that.

Maybe tomorrow…

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Moving On

I had to go to my old office a couple of days go to take care of a few final formalities; they’d been kind enough to give me the option of working with them again if, within a month, I changed my mind about the new job.

My old office is a little bit closer to home, so I actually got to sleep in an extra hour and only had a short train ride to get there. But, as I got off the train, I felt ill at ease. This was the exact same routine I’d been following for a year, but doing it again after a month felt kinda depressing. The familiar little office looked the same, but there was something different about it. Its wood paneled floor and glass-walled cabins like an alien landscape and me the explorer who’d landed here by mistake.

I spoke with our HR person and we discussed the few logistical matters that needed to be taken care of to completely end my association with the company. There was, again, a sense of unease and apprehension creeping over me. The same doubt I had before about leaving a boring but safe job for something new resurfaced in my mind. This was it. Once we were done here, I’d be walking out of that door forever, completely absorbed into a new life.

Looking around the office reminded me of lazy afternoons spent with no real work to do, and insane deadlines that more than compensated for those afternoons by pushing everyone to their limits. It wasn’t an atmosphere that suited me well, but it was the only atmosphere I’d known for the past year.

I left the office feeling bummed and depressed and lost in my own head. Time to go to work.

It was about a 40 minute ride to the new office, and over the course of that time, my day got brighter. I was looking forward to getting there in spite of the longer journey, something I never really felt at my old job. It was a place I went because I had to, but now I was actually excited. It made me realize that’s how I’ve felt this whole month. I’ve been excited about work, about new assignments coming my way, about getting my work published on the site.

I got off the train with a spring in my step. It was the start of a new week and a new month, and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me.

A Life In Pictures

What would I consider to be my most prized possession? That’s an interesting question. I’ve certainly got a fair number of possessions, mostly objects whose value doesn’t extend beyond the surface.

I’m an avid reader, so I’ve got a bunch of books. They entertain, they educate, they transport me to far away places and, in their own way, they make me feel right at home. There aren’t enough bookshelves in the house to fill all of them, and there are quite a few bookshelves. Bookstores and libraries have been my whole childhood, and there’s really nothing more comforting to me than curling up with a good book and losing myself in a great story. My favorite author, who  discovered during college, is Neil Gaiman, and any book of his is a must-have…but most prized possession? No, not quite.

As a nerd and a collector, I’ve also got a whole host of comic books, video games and assorted memorabilia. I do take great pride in my collection and tracking down the items I need to make it more complete. I could tell stories about hounding specialty stores and frequently checking if they’ve got the latest items in stock until I finally land my prize. Or about tense times spent on eBay trying to outbid some random person on a piece of fluff that’s only going to fill a vacant spot on my shelf (and in my heart! – cue violins). But even I’m not that fanatical about my hobbies. Would I be upset if I lost it all tomorrow? Yes, extremely so. My collection is basically my treasure trove. But, ironically, it’s not what I treasure most.

So what then? What do I prize above all? My most precious possession isn’t really an object in itself, but a collection of objects: my photo albums. Now, I’m not exactly what I would call a photographer, though I can, at the least, point a camera at something and click a picture. Photography was something of a hobby when I was a teenager, and it slowly faded away, mainly because I was a bit lazy about carrying a camera around everywhere.The age of smartphones has eliminated that problem, though I still don’t take nearly as many pictures as I once used to.

If I’m not such a good photographer, and not even a very frequent one, why in the world would photo albums mean so much to me? More than items related to my actual hobbies? Well, it’s because my past lives in those photos. I’ve talked in earlier posts about the power of memory, and how certain people, places and events in my life will always be with me in my mind. But it feels good to have a more tangible reminder, a snapshot of time spent with that person or at that place.

When I do take pictures, I like to keep them as natural as possible. The posing, ‘everybody smile!’ kind of pictures are generally kept to a minimum; I prefer capturing people in the moment, to have a more authentic memory of what was going on at the time. I mean, I don’t want to remember that time me and my friends went camping and stood smiling in front of a tree. I want to remember the trip as it happened. Granted, that doesn’t always result in the best looking picture (more a fault of my photographic ineptness than anything else), but I think it makes for a more memorable image.

As a teenager, I remember carrying around a little black Minolta camera (that would be ginormous by modern smartphone standards). It was the family camera, for the most part, but I sort of took it over after a while. I loved using it to take pictures of anything and everything, especially during family outings or any kind of celebration. Sometimes, I’d take a few photos on some occasion, then snap a bunch of random shots because I couldn’t want ti finish the film roll and get the pictures developed.

Now that was an exciting process in itself, and a slightly nerve-wracking one. There was no ‘gallery’, no way to immediately see if the picture was blurry or out of focus so I could take it again. All I could do was hand the finished roll to the photo studio and hope the results turned out great. It was exhilarating to go through the stack of developed photos and see the ‘perfect shot’ (by my standards anyway) and pretty devastating to find a picture that was underexposed or out of focus or suffering from the dreaded ‘red-eye’. But even the worst picture could tell a story. It just sucked at telling it.

With the advent of technology, we upgraded ourselves to a digital camera. Today, that old thing would be a museum piece, but for my teenage self, it was a technological marvel. The camera was a square brick with a giant LCD screen on the back, and used floppy disks instead of film. Floppy disks! We kept a steady supply of 3.5 inch diskettes to store photographs, and it was so exciting to be able to just transfer pictures to the computer instead of waiting for pictures to be developed. But still, the old Minolta hadn’t lost its charm and was my default camera.

When I went off to college, I took it with me, leaving the digital camera for general family use. It was what I used to document my experiences there. My first time seeing snow (something I’d basically dreamed of since childhood), the beauty of the college campus, and random hijinks with my new friends. All of it was captured on film and developed at the end of each semester.

Eventually, I got a digital camera for myself, something a lot more portable than the Minolta or the old brick and didn’t require any diskettes! It was my near constant companion, and I was a happy shutterbug. One of my first major ‘shoots’ with the camera was my best friends’ wedding (well, they were fairly new friends at the time, but oh how far we’ve come). Nowadays, it’s all about the smartphone and playing around with various camera apps. Though none of that would be worth anything at all if I hadn’t stored it away in my albums.

That was perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing. Organizing the pictures I’d taken into one place and telling a story with pictures, creating a flipbook of sorts that moved from one event to another. There were drawerfuls of albums all over the house, some from trips to the zoo, some from Christmas, some from high school graduation. I’d even created some albums specifically for myself before going to college, taking pictures that depicted highlights of my life and storing them in one place, for me to look at whenever I felt homesick.

Of course, things changed for me back in college. As I grew ever more detached from my family, those photos began to lose their luster. Eventually, I stopped looking at those albums altogether, or even paying attention to them. When I was moving to a new apartment one year, I left them behind. They meant nothing to me then. Only now do I realize how foolish I was. So many precious moments and memories, tossed away like yesterday’s garbage. With my mother gone, I could have kept part of her memory alive through some of those photos, but now they’re gone as well.

It was a mistake a I learned from, if a bit late. The stacks of picture books were soon replaced with computer hard drives. All the pictures from my digital camera would be meticulously organized to keep a proper timeline. But even then, things didn’t quite go as planned. One fine day, I bought myself a new computer, and decided that all my pictures should be stored there instead of one the old one. But I screwed up somewhere when transferring the files, and a good chunk of my pictures were lost. It feels almost like I lost a year of my life with those pictures. Granted, the most notable events of that time are still in my mind, but many of the smaller, random moments, moments that would have been forgotten if not captured in an image, are there no longer.

I’m much more careful with my pictures now, keeping track of every image in every album so that nothing gets lost in the void again. Sadly, the pictures of my mother are few, but they are enough to keep her here and to strengthen the memories that live within my family.

In recent years, my photography habit has begun to re-surface. Now it’s all about the smartphones of course, and playing around with various camera apps to get the most vibrant pictures. I’ve even developed a bit of an Instagram addiction (seriously, I may need help here). And at the end of the day, I store it all on my computer, carefully organized by date, telling my story one image at a time.

I know that one day, my memory will fail me. There will come a time when I am too old to remember small things, to remember a weekend trip taken with the family or to remember the color of an old friend’s eyes. These images will serve to bring light to the dimming recesses of my mind, to remind me of good times had and relationships forged. They will, I hope, remind me of a life lived well.

Without them, I would be an amnesiac. My history, a book of blank pages.

The Immortality of Memory

An Ordinary Day In 2045

I trudge into the little room and stare at the boxes laid out in front of me. Another day of sorting and meticulously arranging the memories that others have forgotten. It’s not the most glamorous job there is, but it has its moments.

It feels like I’ve been working as a Sorter forever, but it’s only been ten years. It’s about the only thing I can do now. My bones tend to creak when there’s any more exertion involved, and I get tired easily. My own memories of life have started to fade in and out, sometimes blending together into vivid tapestries that were never really painted to begin with. So I go through the memories of others, living the lives that they no longer do, sharing in their joys and sorrows.

First up in today’s haul, an old box of toys. Batman action figures. Now that takes me back. I pick up one of the figures and examine it. Was this mine? No. I never had that one. I wonder what did happen to my old Batman collection. It was lost ages ago, and I can’t even remember where it all went. As a younger man, that would have upset me a lot. I’d be devastated about losing a collection I’d spent so much time amassing. It seems so insignificant now, nothing more than a bunch of plastic.

And so it goes with all things in life. Every loss seems catastrophic in the moment, a black hole from which one can never emerge. But as time starts to cover the cracks left behind, it creates some perspective. Losing your lucky keychain or your favorite shirt doesn’t seem quite so important as it did then. It’s not the worst day ever, or the end of the world. You almost feel sorry for your younger self, agonizing over such trivial things But there are some losses that even time can’t take the sting out of.

Losing the people in your life is hard, whether it’s best friends moving away across the world or close relatives dying. It takes away a part of you and leaves a scar that never heals, no matter how much it may fade.

But every loss, no matter how big or small, can help you discover something about yourself. You may find that you’re more resilient than you thought, able to find light amidst the darkness and to find new reasons to smile even as the old ones disappear into nothing. Or you may realize that you’re not as strong as you believed yourself to be, falling apart like a house of cards when you lost a bit of stability.

How you cope with loss can help you see who you really are, both in terms of the relationships that are gone, and the ones that you now have. A whole new world opens up to you. It’s a world that’s more unpredictable than the one you knew, one where the things you hold dearest can be snatched out of your grasp at any time by the chaos that rules the universe. It’s a scary thought, and may lead you to lock yourself up in your mind, throwing away the key. Fear of loss may lead you to hold onto everything with an iron grip, searching for control where you have none. Or you could choose to accept the way of the world and appreciate what there is without worrying about how long it will stay.

It’s not an easy thing to do. To this day, it’s something I’m working on. I think back on the many losses I’ve suffered over the years. They made me feel helpless, like I had no control over my life. But of course, that wasn’t true. I had control over my choices and my decisions. I could live in constant fear of losing, holding onto everyone I loved so tightly that I might just smother them. Or I could focus on making memories, creating moments that would live to be immortal even if the people sharing them didn’t.

And that’s what I find myself surrounded with. Immortality. These boxes, full of objects lost and forgotten, are preserving stories, or parts of them anyway. I put the Batman figure in my bag. My grandson will love it. Who knows what adventures he’ll take it on, what stories he’ll tell with it. One day, this simple toy will be lost again, relegated to the past. He’ll be very upset; it’ll be the end of the world. But his memories of the toy and his adventures with it will never be lost. He will have them forever.

Gone, But Still Here

How would I feel if some event that I attended, and enjoyed, were taken away from me? Sad, pissed off, grumpy. That’s the short answer.

The longer answer is ‘I don’t know’. Well, the answer’s actually longer than that. I’m sure I’d hate losing the event and feel upset about having it taken away from me, but I’d also find something else to take up my time. Any ill feelings would eventually subside and be replaced by acceptance and nostalgia.

As a real-life example, I haven’t exactly lost an old event, but an old place. The shopping mall that my family used to visit every weekend for a night out, that was the site of many a delicious childhood meal, has recently undergone renovation. The whole mall’s been closed off with the promise of re-opening under a brand new guise.

Now the truth of the matter is, that mall kinda sucked. Back when we only had a handful of places to choose from, it was a shopping hot spot, but in today’s Dubai, it was a dinosaur that had somehow dodged the meteor. But I still liked going there for the nostalgia factor, and the food court on the top floor was a reminder of all those Thursday nights with my family.

All that’s gone now, soon to be replaced by a shiny new coat of paint. Yay. The march of progress in this city can be frustrating to watch, tearing down the simple little things to make way for the next big thing. Why not just leave some things as they are? I get that it makes sense from a business standpoint: if it’s losing money, make it better. But my childhood self wants that crappy little mall, complete with the tiny bookshop that had a strict ‘No Reading’ policy, the Hallmark store where I’d browse through random knick knacks sometimes, the little video store where I’d search for video cassettes of my favorite cartoons and, of course, the food court with the A & W in the corner.

Just thinking about it as I write this post makes me feel like I’m 9 again.

Losing a regularly visited place like that really sucks. But, like I said, the resentment’s passed. I’m not angry or upset about losing that place, because I haven’t really lost it. If I close my eyes, I can still remember it in vivid detail, from the aromas of various cuisines drifting through, to the games that used to be at the adjoining arcade, to the fountain that greeted you immediately after entering the mall. It’s all still right here,

Darkest Corners

I was looking through my previous blog drafts and came across this piece, which I had published last year. It’s pretty depressing, maybe overly so, which is why I later took it down. However, after my last post about being on the road to happiness, this serves as an interesting contrast, touching on the same subject and showing how my life and my perspective on it have changed in the past few months.

On a more technical note, I’d like to think my writing’s improved as well. Some of the below post is hard to read for the wrong reasons.

I promise this will be the last post where I depress the hell out of my readers.

***

This is a strange follow-up to the fairly upbeat ’30 Days of Fitness’ posts, but there are certain thoughts that tend to eat away at me from time to time, with increasing regularity nowadays. They needed a place to be unloaded and this seemed like the best dumping ground. It feels somewhat therapeutic to be writing all this down, but it’s only a temporary reprieve. Like weeds, they’ll take root again, infesting the darkest corners of my mind.

———————————————————————————————-

Isolation

 

I look out the window at the sprawling city before me. They say it glitters like jewels in the sun; all I see is a dull, lifeless gray. The streets are overflowing with people running to and fro, from office to office, meeting to meeting. The city is supposedly a melting pot of different cultures, but they all look the same to me: faceless and indistinct.

It has been a little over 4 years since I returned to the city. At one time, it used to be home; I basked in its familiarity. Today, I find myself as a tourist in a foreign metropolis, walking past uninviting towers of glass and concrete. This is not the same place that I grew up in and, at the same time, I’m not the same person that grew up here.

It is a city that’s designed for a certain type of person. To use the popular cliche, it is the city that never sleeps. Everyone spends every hour of every day working to earn even more money, hoping to climb up the corporate ladder and sit comfortably on top of it. The boundaries between professional and personal lives are ever shifting, the concept of free time laughable. This city is designed for a certain type of person. That person isn’t me. I don’t think it ever was.

Now I find myself lost in the midst of a desert, desperately seeking an oasis of humanity. Making friends was never easy for me, and I find friendship to be an especially rare commodity here. In the sort of ironic twist that life loves to toss around, the friends who are dearest to me live half a world away, and with each passing year, I fear the distance between us is becoming intraversable.

More and more often, I find myself thinking back to happier times, times spent with friends in a place where I actually seemed to matter, where I felt like I belonged. And then, through a combination of bad luck and bad decisions, I found myself booted out from there and thrown back into this cesspool. At least I had my family around as some sort of consolation. But even that wasn’t meant to last.

———————————————————————————————-

Grief
 

My mother died of cancer last year. It came out of nowhere, and as we were still trying to process the situation, it was over. My prior experience with death involved my grandfather, who died when I was too young to really grasp the concept, and my grandmother, who I had been so far removed from at that point that news of her passing brought no major outpouring of emotion with it. So this was, in essence, the first time I’d lost someone I truly cared about, and in such a horrible and unexpected way.

The days after my mother’s death were like a haze. My father, brother and I went about our lives, trying to find some semblance of normalcy. I had fully expected that a death in the family would render me catatonic, so I managed to surprise myself by continuing on with life. But there was a nagging feeling that things were wrong, a feeling that I pushed into the depths of my mind.

Now, over a year later, everything still feels weird. I had though that on my mother’s anniversary, all wounds would be healed, all memories of her death would be wiped clean, almost as if by magic.And yet, the pain still lingers. Many nights I will close my eyes and see myself again at her hospital bed, watching the life slowly drain out of her. In my dreams, my mother still lives, but so does her cancer. It’s as if the healthy, happy person I knew never even existed.

———————————————————————————————-

Anxiety

After a fairly lengthy period of unemployment, I finally managed to get a job earlier this year. It was, I hoped, a new beginning. A way to finally get my life back on track. And so it was, for a time. A new routine led me to adopt a new, healthier lifestyle and got me thinking about my financial security. However, that security has been compromised somewhat by a few financial troubles plaguing my family, and I find myself wondering if I can actually save for some sort of retirement.

My job is the kind of relaxed affair that’s hard to find in a fast-paced city like this, and I’m certainly grateful to have any kind of employment at all, but I do find myself on the quest for something more challenging. But then another thought occurs to me: what if this is all I have? What if no other place will hire an engineer who hasn’t done any real engineering in years, a short-lived salesman who doesn’t like selling, and a writer who’s barely got any experience in the field? Five or ten years from now, will I still find myself stuck behind this desk? Or will I be on a constant hunt for gainful employment?

I follow the same routine every day: wake up, go to work, have lunch, continue work, come home, unwind, go to bed and repeat. Without any friends around, things get predictable fast. My brother is busy with his own life, and as much as I love my dad, surely he can’t be my only companion? I want to settle into a routine that makes me happy, a routine that I share with a certain someone, but the search for that someone seems to grow more difficult with time. And if I am losing my mind, as I so often believe I am, then I have to ask myself what sensible girl would want to spend her life with someone so mentally and emotionally broken.

Uncertainty has always found a way to re-route my fortunes, through financial struggles, unemployment and even death. It’s hard to look at the future and see any brightness. The future is full of uncertainty, and I’ve already had enough of that. So I go one day at a time, trying to make it through uneventful and bland work days, absorbing myself in my hobbies, escaping the mundanity of my existence in the colorful worlds created by books and video games, sticking to my schedules, and going to bed each night with the hope that tomorrow I’ll wake up in a happier and more fulfilled life.

The Long Road To Finding Happiness

“I’m afraid the cancer’s spread to her liver and her lungs. There’s not much we can do now. She has about six months, though honestly, I think it might not even be that long.”

The doctor was right. It was over in about a month.

My life was in free fall.

***

2008

I was loving life. Grad school was chugging along, I had a great social circle, and I was newly single, having left a relationship that wasn’t working out for anyone.

My days were spent in a musty old engineering lab, doing research and watching the hours tick by. My evenings were for my closest friends, usually dinner at their place followed by a movie or board games.

I wasn’t even in my mid-20’s yet, and I felt immortal. Responsibility was a word hovering around the margins of my life. As long as I was spending time with those I cared about, nothing else in the world mattered.

Family, which had been so important to me growing up, was a distant thought. I had a new family now, and I built my bonds with them as blood ties started to clot.

As far as I could see, everything was great.

***

2013

It was all wrong.

She couldn’t be gone. Not yet.

She still had a good twenty years left in her, at least. She would see her daughters-in-law. She would play with her grand-children. She would be an old widow, with happy memories of my father. And one day, in the distant future, she would leave us, satisfied with the life she’d lived. But not now. Not yet.

My father looked down at her. She was completely still, eyes staring out the window at a landscape they could no longer see. Doctors and nurses rushed around, giving their condolences before going off to see a patient they might actually cure. I sat on a chair at the far end of the room, unable to control the tears rolling down my cheeks.

I had to accept it. She really was gone.

All hope was lost.

***

2009

There was still hope. Not a lot of it, but enough.

The job market had taken a turn for the worse. Companies exhibiting at the university’s career fair once seemed to welcome everybody with open arms; now most of the stalls had a giant ‘U.S. Citizens Only’ sign on them. Perfect.

I was looking for every excuse to delay graduation, for a number of reasons. My life still revolved mostly around my friends and my hobbies, with very little in the way of actual work. I didn’t want to leave that behind to get stuck at a desk for 8 hours a day. And what about moving to a new city? Or a new state? I hated the idea of starting my life over again.

No, this ride couldn’t end.

I just had to focus on the bright side.

***

2013

The sky was turning gray.

It started raining when we reached the crematorium. This was it.

The final goodbye.

As my mother’s body was put into the furnace, I wanted to rush over and pull her back. It was too early for her to go.

But I knew it was over. The furnace door slammed shut, bidding us farewell.

My whole world had fallen apart, and piecing it back together would be a long, difficult process.

***

2010

Everything was going to pieces.

A year-old Master’s degree. Still unemployed. Visa running out. Nowhere left to go but home.

Home. Wasn’t I already there? That’s what I’d believed the last few years. I had thought that this land would be my home. That this is where I would stay, planting new roots and forging new beginnings. Instead, I’d hit an abrupt end.

Desperation. Depression. Desolation.

I didn’t think life could get any worse than this. Leaving behind the verdant valleys of this peaceful Pennsylvanian town to wander the steel and concrete desert of Dubai? It was my hell.

But there was no escaping it. I couldn’t live illegally. That didn’t sit right with me. So I left.

I returned home. Or to a place that used to be home. I felt like a foreigner now.

My father’s kindness seemed so passive, my mother’s love overbearing, my brother’s jokes corny. Could I really live here again?

I missed my friends.

***

2013

I missed my mother.

She had been so full of life, so full of vitality. Earlier that year, she had been juggling multiple roles, as a teacher and a mother. She was one of the most well-respected teachers in her school, and had even been awarded for her outstanding achievements. As a music teacher, her renown had spread throughout the city, or so it seemed. She was still teaching at music institutes three nights a week, and the other days she held private lessons.

It was hard to believe that the same person had been bedridden, unable to even walk to the bathroom without someone to lean on.

As a child, I remembered being impatient whenever we went out, because my mother would take forever to get ready. She took any opportunity to stand in front of the mirror, fixing her make-up or brushing her hair.

For the last month of her life, my mother couldn’t bear to look at a mirror. She didn’t want to see her yellowed skin and eyes; jaundice was a side effect of the cancer.

Life had no real purpose now, a series of meaningless repetitive tasks performed day after day. A constant cycle of waking and sleeping. Sometimes I felt like I was in a movie; my mother had played her death scene, and after shooting had wrapped up, she’d come back on set to hang out with us. But nobody yelled ‘Cut!’, and the scene never ended.

Barely two weeks after my mother’s passing, my dad got into a car accident.

Was this really happening?

***

2010

It was real.

I got the job.

After a lengthy interview process, I was hired as a Sales Consultant. It was a far cry from my engineering degree, but it was employment.

The past month had been tense. My parents worried about my future and my brother was trying to be my ‘life coach’. They all seemed so alien to me. But I knew I was the alien. I no longer belonged in this city; it was just a temporary setback for me.

The company I was going to work for was a multinational corporation. There were frequent relocations to other branches around the world, and stellar employees could pick their destination. It was my ticket back to the US.

Within another six months, I could potentially be promoted to Sales Manager. Within a year, I’d be hopping on a plane.

Soon, everything would be ok again.

***

2013

Things were getting worse.

The accident had left my dad with a hematoma in his brain; the doctors said it would clear up soon and shouldn’t cause any lasting damage, but that was hard to believe.

For months after the accident, my dad didn’t seem like the same person. Forgetful, prone to repeating himself, impatient, irritable, humorless. No lasting damage? That’s not what I saw.

My brother was busy with a new job, so I, perpetually unemployed, had to play nurse once more. Was this my life now? Attending to the people I loved as they decayed into empty husks?

Even worse, I was turning into a hypochondriac. Every day, I thought myself to be developing some form of cancer or life-threatening disease. Every ache, every sore, every little bump on my skin was an omen. The rational side of me tried to shake it off, to make sense of these harmless things, but it wasn’t good enough. I was a prisoner of my own mind.

And then, a ray of light.

My dad cracked a joke again.

Bit by bit, he began to heal, becoming more like his old self again. He wasn’t quite the same; there were some odd quirks, bouts of of forgetfulness. He was like a broken cup that had been glued back together so it looked whole, except for the little chip on its rim.

But he was better. And so was I.

There was hope once more.

***

2011

It was hopeless.

My job was a nightmare, and my manager decided it was best to wake me up.

I was unemployed again.

Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for working life. The stresses of the sales world had turned me off the idea of working, seemingly forever.Was there even any point in job hunting? What were the odds I’d find something I actually wanted to do?

Instead, I grew content and complacent at home, devoting my time to watching TV and playing video games. After a time, I took up cooking again, having lunch ready for my mom when she came back from school.

My parents sometimes questioned me about my job search and I gave them evasive non-answers. Living at home with all the time in the world to pursue my hobbies? Why would I ever want to change that?

Life wasn’t so bad after all.

Until two years later, when we received a shocking diagnosis.

And about a month after that, all our lives were turned upside-down.

***

2014

Our lives were slowly getting back on track.

My dad was doing well, my brother was busy with work, and I was learning to keep my darker thoughts at bay.

But I was still unemployed, and that was becoming a problem.

A stroke of luck. One of my brother’s friends had an opening for a writer in their company. Writing had been an interest and very casual hobby of mine, but I relished the opportunity to turn it into something more.

The job was relaxing, except for little bursts of stress when a deadline had to be met.

But it wasn’t enough. There was still a void in my life, a sense that things weren’t quite ok. My dad, while mostly normal, couldn’t stay in the house by himself. Which meant that if my brother and I happened to be working late, then so was he. We were living in an incomplete jigsaw puzzle, trying to find those missing pieces that would make the picture whole.

I hoped things would get better soon.

***

2015

Things are looking up.

It’s been close to two years since my mother passed away, and the world’s still spinning.

My father keeps himself busy with work, and with cooking when he’s at home. He’s alright with staying home alone when needed, though I try to make sure that doesn’t become a necessity too often. There are still the odd quirks and bouts of forgetfulness, but I’m used to them. If life were a sitcom, those would be the moments that make me shake my head and say, “Oh, Dad!” while the audience erupts into laughter.

My brother is busy, with work, a new girlfriend, and life. But it makes the moments we spend as a family that much more special. His jokes are as corny as ever, but so are mine, and we can share a good laugh together.

I’ve recently started a new job as well, pursuing writing as a full-time career. It’s been a hectic but amazing month so far.

Our lives still aren’t the same as they were, but different doesn’t have to be bad. And there are some small consolations. I am not a religious person or a believer in destiny, but part of me wonders if perhaps I was meant to be here. Maybe I was meant to be back in Dubai and to end up unemployed for some time so I could spend more time with my family, spend a few good years with my mom before she had to go.

The skeptic in me says that’s not the case. I’d tend to agree, but I hold onto that thought. There’s nothing wrong with a little magic in life.

I’ve found a purpose in life again. It’s to search for those little bits of happiness, whether through achievements in my job, working on my hobbies, or just sharing a laugh with my dad and brother over something completely silly. After all, as I’ve learned, the whole world can change at any time.