Chlorinated Pool Water, Raindrops, Sweat and Tears
My most romantic story tells of a relationship of a girl called Rae and myself. Interestingly, while I was planning the story, I realized that it is actually related to the theme of ‘water’. With this in mind, I decided to look our relationship from 4 distinct periods named after 4 elements mentioned in the title that have consistently appeared in it.
Chlorinated Pool Water
As a former school swimmer, I know that chlorine can do 2 things. One, it sterilizes and cleans the water we train in. Two, if you do not wash it off promptly after training, but allow it to linger, it eats away at your skin. To me, chlorine symbolizes the hammer fall of hard-hitting reality and how the pain eats away at you if you allow it to linger.
It was the Swimming School Nationals of 2005. I was slated to compete in 2 events, the 100m and 200m breaststroke. Being in JC1, I was extremely eager to prove myself and thus, I thrust headlong into every training session and sometimes, even did my own self-training. Little did I know that the constant overtraining had depleted me mentally and physically. Both my races were disasters. I was deeply disappointed as I had really trained the hardest I could. This was also the time I spent much time praying and I felt that this was truly my time to shine. In my anguish, I headed to a toilet cubicle and decided to cry out to God one last time asking him ‘why?’ endlessly. I knew I should not be angry at God but I was. I told God my spirit was broken and if he wanted me to continue walking, he MUST carry me.
That day, God sent an angel to carry me. This angel was not dressed in white, nor does she have majestic angelic wings and less of all, a halo. My angel was dressed in green and white, holding the RJC (Raffles Junior College) flag and ironically, happened to be cheering for the guy who beat me and eventually won both events.
I met Rae halfway through the event. We met online while I was searching for music and spoke on MSN. Given what I have been through, it was very tough for me at that time to express myself. Nevertheless, her ignorance of who I was and how I failed the expectations of everyone, compounded with her genuine openness slowly disarmed me. I began to talk to her over the net and share with her. Despite having Rae as a newly found friend, the bitter and traumatic experience at the Nationals continues to cripple my already bruised self esteem and hamstrung my faith in God.
Rain always speaks of a time of refreshing. This is especially so if you are a farmer biding your time for a harvest, the sight of cumulous clouds and the splash of the raindrops against the skin will no doubt bring unspeakable joy. That joy was what I experienced soon after I knew Rae. My interactions with her were ever so amazing. She was enlightening, entertaining and every so enigmatic. Once, I decided to ask her out for a date. (Actually it was more like my cell group leader asking her out. You see, we had a cell group outreach following Festival of Praise and since Rae was the only friend I had in that period, I called her).
Her response was modeled after her personality, ‘Boo! You know, my mother says I should not be doing this. But I think you are a nice guy, I go with you.’ That mademy day. When Rae agreed to go with me to Festival of Praise 2005, I think she seriously did not know what she actually signed up for. She perspired profusely throughout the 2 hours we were queuing and was almost bored to tears. I was so embarrassed. Nonetheless, I thought it went well as she was still conversing with sufficient enthusiasm even at the end. However, my classmates at ACJC (Anglo-Chinese Junior College) would tell you, the true test of whether a date succeeded is not what SHE says to you after you (because women can be such professional actors) but it’s whether she follows up with you the next day.
The next morning, I was waiting expectantly for that SMS, that raindrop of hope. It did not come and I resigned to my fate and went for service as usual. I turned my phone back on after service, that moment became one of utter surprise and delight when I saw ‘1 message received’. ‘Oh, I really enjoyed last night. You are funny. Anyway, Roddick won!’ That day, Andy Roddick may have been the happiest man in tennis but I knew for sure that moment, I was the happiest in the world. Our subsequent ‘dates’ were equally dubious. The classes we were in were actually rival sports classes in 2 schools. Therefore, both of classes met (with much antagonism) regularly and through these meetings, I always tried to make it into as real a date as I could. So here are those infamous ‘dates’; Waterpolo qualifying match 2006, Tennis finals 2006 and not to forget, Swimming finals 2006. The feeling I get after every time I meet Rae was just like eating a frozen chocolate brownie. The sensation just worms its way into your heart and mind, making you feel pure bliss.
Sweat obviously exemplifies hard work. The phrase itself is probably an understatement. When I say ‘sweat’ or ‘hard work’, what you should be conjuring in your head, are images of back breaking, mentally-taxing, grueling hard work, not much different from a rice farmer. This period refers to the time after Nationals and my road to pulling myself back together.
As I had spent much time training, I neglected my schoolwork and thus left a huge backlog of homework. Moreover, the time mourning and taking self-pity did not solve the problem in any way and merely added to the backlog. Under this mammoth amount of work, relentless pressures from my teachers and my already bruised self-esteem, I would have collapsed and broken down long ago.
In spite of all these, I persevered because Rae was always supporting me from behind. Her frequent and warm SMSes never failed to encourage me and lift me up from the emotional doldrums I was in. With her support and practical help in the form of the many late-night coaching over MSN, I slowly caught up. Though I still met with numerous dead ends, I held on knowing someone believed in me. I recall the day before my History Promotional Examinations which happened to be my birthday; my teacher said I may not be able to pass. In my desperation, I came up with an 8-hour plan, boldly attempting to complete my whole year syllabus. Miraculously, I accomplished it. At this point in time, there are probably only 3 things that I can actually remember in the flurry of 8 hours, all of which begins with the letter ‘S’. Stalin, the Steak I was celebrating with, her SMSes.
Lest you think I am a parasite who keeps living off Rae, I also contributed to her life. Rae was an introverted Christian in her church near her neighbourhood. Her father objected to her faith and thus, she was not very willing to share it. Using what I learnt from my cell group, I encouraged her many times and offered to pray with her. I even shared with her the weekly sermons we have in cell group and church. Through this, I find it immeasurably rewarding to see her grow in the Lord and to wake up certain mornings and find ‘1 message received’ detailing how she too helped another believer strengthen his or her faith. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is truly hard work in action.
Everyone who trades in the stock market knows that every roaring bull run would come to an end once the depressing drudging bear comes in. However, it never ceases to amaze me to know how many people actually pretend this would never happen. I would not pass judgment on them because I am very much guilty too.
In 2007, I suffered 2 huge setbacks. The first of which was my horrible A level results. The second would be my last swim at the Nationals before I put up my suit and enlist in National Service. These were even more devastating than the ones I have suffered as a JC1. This time, I put in a lot more hard work and figured I covered all grounds and thought through everything. In addition, the expectations on me were much higher this time and I knew I really could not fail. However, I still did. I thought I could never recover from this. I decided to call Rae the next morning after the grades were released after sleeping for 16hours.
Before I get into that, I would like to say this. The worst thing that to a male, to me, is never really failing or losing, people fail all the time, though it is tough, it is hardly fatal. The worst thing to me, was messing up my grades, waking up next morning and the first thing you see is a picture of your best friend on the headlines and the next thing you read says ‘Top Student of RJC’.
I couldn’t bear to face Rae, and much less to even touch the article that details her success story despite how much I knew she deserved it. I called her the next day and I decided to share with her my grades and how depressed I feel. If you realized, Rae’s humour is always a little peculiar. Instead of giving me the usual ‘I still love you’ speech, she quoted from a song, “Umbrella” by Rihanna.
When the sun shine
We’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever
Said I’ll always be your friend
Took an oath imma stick it out ’till the end
Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella
Upon hearing that, I broke down and cried.
I enlisted soon after. I texted her every time I booked in and booked out. Looking at the people around me just crumble under the pressure and knowing that with every passing day, it gets tougher, stricter and much more demanding, I realize I could find my anchor in God and Rae. Her support during this time was very much appreciated and I kept telling her so.
My bull run was just slowly beginning to take off when the time came for Rae to depart to the States for her studies. Just like the people who pretend that the stock market boom will last forever, I pretended and kept ignoring the day which she was leaving. But I can always vividly recall the last night. On that last Sunday night, it felt just too painful to say goodbye. As I packed my bag to get ready to book in, feeling the reality of the situation and I realized that we would not see or talk to each other for a long time. We ended up staying online as long as we could so as to prolong our time together. The logging out of MSN that night was nothing short of heart-wrenching.
There are many things I did not realize then. But as I look back now, I see God’s hand moving through Rae all this while. She helped to instill in me compassion and sensitivity for others, to inspire me to fulfill my dreams and most importantly, to always look to God in times of tribulation and impossible circumstances. When I asked God to carry me that day in the toilet cubicle, I did not know God has already made bigger and better plans for me.