Jakarta, 2 January 2007
Written under Miss Sassy (17)
No, this is not a tribute to the ’90s girl-power movie set in beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona, starring four fabulous African-American women, Whitney Houston included — though I must note that the movie was actually a very good one. Nor is this one for the poignant movie that won Helen Hunt her Oscar.
But it’s in the same spirit as these films.
I should warn you, though, that this column will be an honest account of a life that includes some dark chapters, and if you’re one to refuse tainting your New Year’s cheer, you should consider stopping at this point.
At the end of 2005, I wrote a piece on this newspaper about living on after the sky has fallen, to persevere and strive for redemption, to be positive and keep moving on.
When I wrote that, I was at the end of a three-year recovery period after a world event had shifted the course of my life dramatically and left me to make do with whatever options available, as remote as they were from my original dreams.
Then, I was taking steps I thought would make it all somehow easier to manage. I was one of the last to leave my previous turmoil-ridden employer that had lost me much sleep, took a couple months of a much-needed leave, toyed with the idea of joining a growing business I’d been a passive partner in, and finally settled in a new 9-to-5 gig I thought would be the promised land, career-wise.
By the second week in, I started to feel how wrong I’d been, and within three months I’d almost left twice. By now, I’m acutely aware that it was a mistake to join the current company a year ago.
The chronic ambiguity of roles and responsibilities, overlapping structure and excessive top-down approach that left underlings under-empowered — I was aghast to see a giant multinational being run like a personal kingdom, in a severe top-down approach that borderlines on person-to-person’s private pledges of blind loyalty. Teamwork and logical methods are checked by the door, even as they walked around in power suits and tried to project a highly-professional look.
Steely determination and a positive attitude have kept me going, trying to believe that honest hard work and sound capability would prevail — or that the next management would turn it all around. Things are yet to improve meaningfully, and as colleagues who’d lost hope started jumping ship, I’m again one of the last sensible ones remaining on board, and I wonder why I’m trying so hard to stay even with an arrested professional development, stolen private time, bulldozed peace of mind thanks to bigwigs’ ego and political agenda, and raging ulcers after a healthy 12 years.
As much as I’d refuse to admit publicly (as if writing in the Post wasn’t public enough), I think it’s because I don’t have many other aspects looking up.
Except for a few early summer’s days when an unexpected beau spoke to my heart, only to repatriate without much chance for a continuing relationship — what chance after a 4-day romance, anyway? — my personal life has gone nowhere. To add insult to injury, some ghosts of loves past reappeared cruelly to mock me further.
And as if the 2004 tsunami didn’t claim many relatives already, my family lost three more members within a 40-day span this year. For long, I didn’t have a heart to look into my father’s bereaved eyes, the man who had to bury two brothers before he even got a chance to recite the 40th day tahlil mourning for his mother.
I don’t mourn publicly, but something in my heart that sank after the tsunami has sunk deeper. How life is fleeting; merely a passing.
Yes, life can be hard at times, and as my friend Nneamaka once quoted her brother’s sage words, don’t assume that it can’t get any worse. Since Nneamaka and her siblings have endured so much, from leaving Nigeria to foster parents in Europe and later settling as immigrants in the U.S., they know a solid thing or two about a hard life. And as I walked my own life the past five years, I surely found that just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does.
I’m not regretting the decisions I made; and it’s not that I didn’t learn anything either.
I learned that even after thorough information-seeking and extensive interviews, you don’t really get to know a company until you’re actually inside.
I learned that top posts are often secured by major political maneuvering instead of superior capabilities and leadership. I learned that being constantly forced to do things contrary to your values could eat you up physically; that love is more precious than I thought before, and elusive; that life is truly ephemeral with ethereal forces often controlling it instead of us.
I truly learned that even after all your best intentions, your best efforts and bounce back bravely from a series of setbacks, you can hit yet another brick wall.
After five years on survival mode, I’m exhausted, O gentle readers. Contentment was what I strived to reach in my 2005 year-end piece, but even that is getting harder to maintain.
I’m grateful that I still have my nuclear family intact, a monthly paycheck and a little bit of healthy mind and body left, but there have been times I feel like giving up and running away from all these woes and pains to search for a piece of peace I knew I once had.
But how do you run away from life? And as disheartened as I am, getting wearier than ever that I’ll ever make it, I’m still not suicidal. Yet I’m petrified that any move I make next to change the situation will fail — only to bring more despair.
So I’m pretty trapped, aren’t I, holding my breath for the umpteenth time for a chance to relieve the mounting burden inside. It’s more terrifying as Jack Nicholson’s character’s harrowing question starts creeping in: What if this is as good as it gets?
The women in Waiting to Exhale felt like they were hitting a dead-end on the love lane. They made do, relied on each other as they survived cheating husbands and deadbeat boyfriends. I’ve been relying on my own small support system, but I’ve gradually restrained myself from unloading, as I’m afraid this circle will get smaller if I turn into a dispirited, negative field, longing desperately as I am for comforting affection.
The summer man’s parting words, along with his caring embraces, were that I should heal myself before the sentiment slowly destroys me. How sad it is that in four days a stranger can see it through my eyes.
The characters in As Good As It Gets were rolling along in their own routine orbit where status quo prevailed for better or for worse, when misfortune weaved them into the same universe. It took them tremendous strength to leave their own comfort zone and take risks, and in the end they discovered more of life. (I’m trying not to remark cynically that it’s a Hollywood movie, after all.)
If you’re still reading this and starting to wonder if I’d offer a solution at the end of this somber note, frankly I don’t have the answer right now. I’m so far out of my comfort zone, I’m practically adrift right now, taking plunge after plunge into what’s started to seem like a bottomless well.
Yet my only positive option toward happiness and peace is to keep on marching the best I know how, bracing my nerves and steeling my heart for another round, saying thanks for what I still have and sending another litany of prayers for the Almighty’s compassion and mercy, and lingering patiently for the moment when I can finally draw out a small breath… Exhale.
And hoping faithfully, as hope is what’s keeping me going at this point, that this is NOT as good as it gets… That it’s gonna get better.
For love, health, happiness. For faith. Happy New Year, everybody.