Not The (Girl) Next Door

Assalamualaikum w.b.t.

Coming home used to feel so good
I’m a stranger now in my neighbourhood
I’ve seen the world at a faster pace
And I’m coming now from a different place

Home. I am home.

It hasn’t changed too much since I left – well, there’s the newly-painted baby blue living room walls, the new beautiful verses from the Qur’an shining in gold on the wall, and the brand-new black sofas. I jokingly asked my parents if I am allowed to jump on those. ‘Cause when they bought the blue sofas not long after we first moved in when I was around three, I wasn’t allowed to jump on them but I still jumped delightfully on the forest-green sofas at my first home, Grandma’s house.

But apart from that, my beloved red spinning chair is still in the computer room, older than ever and losing even more sponge. The bookshelves are still filled with thousands of printed words ranging from Dr. Mahathir’s political views to how rivers are formed to fairies and pixie dust to hadith from the Prophet s.a.w. Umizoomi and Dora the Explorer still blaring on the TV downstairs, gluing Aimi’s eyes to the screen. Arif still hunches in front of pink gadgets (Mum’s phone, Mum’s laptop, Mum’s Galaxy Note) and blocks out the rest of the world. Dad still unwinds after work by lying down on his bed in his kain pelekat. Mum still yells at me to do this and to do that, and cooks great crab.

Know what’s changed? Me.

Though I may look the same way to you
Underneath there is somebody new

Today is the 14th of October, 2013. Exactly one year ago, I did not burn the midnight oil studying. I created an inferno from it. I slept for only thirty minutes, cramming mathematical formulae into my head and doing endless exercises, constantly attacking the buttons on my calculator. My breath tasted of badly-mixed coffee, and shadowy bags hung under my eyes due to lack of sleep and excess of tears. I had never studied so hard in my life. Pretty sure the last time I got an A for Maths was during Form 2. This is my balasan for blankly copying answers off Idzni every day.

With post-PMR celebrations came heavy, pouring rain symbolising the freshness of freedom, alright. But despite my madman-like studying, I wasn’t sure if I wanted an A for Maths. The inevitable day came, though. And yes, I got an A for Maths for my PMR. Sure, my KH grade suffered because of it (I had trouble staying awake during KH for crying out loud), but I was extremely proud nonetheless.

And well, it was the A that made me end up in boarding school. Qualifications of children of MARA staff to get into MRSM? A minimum of 6A’s, and A’s for Maths and Science. Cukup-cukup je. I went against my will, though. I suffered horribly, so horribly, that I came out feeling like that I wouldn’t give a crap if life decided to pelt me with sour lemons again in the future.

I’ll try to keep it brief. Was a total fish out of water – forcibly tossed to shore with nothing to cling on to. My lack of socialising for the past three years turned out to be a huge disability. Then there were judgemental, disapproving people, people who have never seen the world outside their wall. For the first week, ‘unwell’ would be an understatement. Blurry vision, restless leg syndrome, nightmares, no appetite for anything – not even Milo, intense shivering, terrible insomnia, lethargy, inevitable homesickness, culture shock, extreme loneliness, and severe depression. And for the following weeks, I would put all my energy into hoping that I would come home. I was exhausted, so exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. At one point I would lose my will to live for most days. No friends. No friends. No friends. Tried twice as hard, ended up half as liked. And when my troubles were dismissed as petulant, I skipped prep and cried continuously for two hours in the dorm. I never get too upset about the past, dear reader. But contemplating on this (which I do every once in a while) ends up in miserable nights and wet cheeks. If Dementors attacked me, memories of this period of my life would come crashing down on me like heavy rocks. Felt like all hope was lost – like all the lights in the world went out, and the moon was playing hide-and-seek but would not come back out.

But there is, surprisingly, always hope.

You’ve been saving those souvenirs
Faded photographs from my foolish years
We made plans but they’re wearin’ thin
And they don’t work out ’cause I don’t fit in

I suppose that what I really want to stress on in this post is getting out of your comfort zone. Well, at this point I was lightyears and lightyears away from my comfort zone. When people think of boarding school, they think that the hard part is washing your own clothes, sharing a room, no television, lack of privacy, having to switch the lights off before 11:45pm, et cetera. All of those things did annoy me, of course, but I could get used to that. That is nothing compared to me having to endure the real pain.

I was an oddball, and I had poor interpersonal skills.

This is a problem anywhere I go, because people are generally unkind. But at my old school it didn’t matter as much. I stayed out of everybody’s business and they stayed out of mine. Every man for himself. Lived completely in my own world, a bubble protecting me from the outside world, sometimes letting in my two or three friends. No harm done.

Unfortunately, at MRSM AG, people make sure that your business is their business. Perangai aku dahlah pelik gila. My stomach can’t accept certain foods. I have intense stagefright. My speech intonation is unusual. For most of my life, I’ve been surrounded by people who know more than basic English. Not used to interacting with others as I lived a semi-secluded life. Walked around the school alone. But I could not do all of these things in peace because they had to question everything.

Kenapa tudung kau pelik? Kau freehair ke kat luar? Kenapa kau cakap macam ni? Kau takleh cakap betul-betul ke? Asal kau gelak macam tak ikhlas je? Kat rumah dengan family kau pun kau macam ni ke? Kenapa kau pakai spek ni? Asal kau jalan sorang-sorang? Kenapa kau tak berkawan dengan orang? Kau speaking ke kat rumah? Asal kau tak ambik kuah? Weh, ambik ah! Kenapa kau menggigil kat depan tadi? Kau tak pernah cakap kat depan ke? Takkan kau tak tau lagu ni? Asal muka kau sedih je? Kau ada masalah ke?

I found that people find it easier to discriminate, rather than trying to solve the problem, or accept it.

And those memories will just weigh you down
‘Cause I got no place to keep ’em uptown

I suppose, that slowly but surely, I got used to everything and the sun started to shine again. Made friends – and some very amazing ones, in fact. Who knew I would manage to find a few like-minded people in the midst of aliens, eh? Mastered the art of asrama life (how to guarantee an vacant bathroom in the morning, how to find your clothes that got lost at the dobi, how to manage rubbish when plastic bags run out, how to cry without being noticed, how to keep your wudhu’ from Asar to Isyak, how to not grumble at late-night meetings). Topped the form for English. Became a BADAR member. Competed for Spell-It-Right, the preliminary round and the state round. Went to Mass Camp and had tons of fun. Became an AJK of Exco Komunikasi BWP. Shone thanks to my abilities in art, writing and computer science.

Oh, and believe me, my interpersonal skills improved by miles. Gained more confidence to do what I want, to speak out. Put a bookshelf in my room, a metaphor that I accepted this place as home now. My understanding of religion skyrocketed, and I performed ibadah a lot more, things I would do once in a blue moon at home. Learned to deal with people from all walks of life and how to be patient in the worst of times. Expanded my range of ‘edible food’ and learned to go weeks without the food I did love. I used to hate studying with people around – I still do actually, but now I can tolerate it. Discovered how to rely less on Google, and the internet in general. Extreme deprivation of WhatsApp and Instagram. Less watching newly-released movies, keeping up with tv shows, rocking out to a newly-released album, participating in fandom events, giving a crap about celebrities.

But the things I really, really miss until now? Fangirling about the latest trailer of whatever with my friends one minute after after its release, scrolling through beautiful quotes and pictures on Tumblr and Instagram, the convenience of swiftly researching something I don’t know on the internet, reading the opinions and comments of intelligent people, playing my music loudly, being able to keep a password-protected journal on the internet instead of having to fetch a solid book from the store room in a locked suitcase.

I’m not sorry for just being me
But if you look past the past you can see

And whenever I come home, I feel like the life I used to have is so, so, so far from this life.

Some people think that boys and girls sitting wherever they like in class is something foreign. Not that separating boys and girls is a bad thing, but, well, you can imagine (or can you?) what their reactions would be towards the secularism of my old life. Which is why I don’t talk about it.

And they are the type of people who find it hard to accept, well, ‘secular’ people. They don’t understand, or maybe just cannot accept, that some people were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, or converse in English at home, or have fathers don’t perform Friday prayers, or have mothers who don’t cover their hair, or have siblings and friends and relatives who go clubbing and drink alcohol. They go up to non-Muslims and ask them all sorts of strange questions about their culture, race and religion as if they came from another country.

This is why it is hard for me to make friends. But I’m trying. I am.

Thank God for the Form 1’s and Form 2’s, who are more like me. Who know what the world behind the wall of MRSM Alor Gajah is like. They’re taking IGCSE so they had to pass an English exam to enter. And well, those fluent in English are generally from more urban areas. Secular.

Sorry, the word ‘secular’ is just hilarious to me ever since I read Renyah. But then again, if you’re reading this blog, you’re most likely from KL or Selangor, therefore you guys are reading PAPA for KOMSAS and not Renyah.

(UPDATE: Okay, I didn’t REALLY know the meaning of the word ‘secular’ until now — it means having no connection with religion, so yeah tolong abaikan benda-benda pelik yang aku tulis. Being fluent in English does not equal to secularism!)

I am not the boy next door
I don’t belong like I did before
Nothing ever seems like it used to be
You can have your dreams but you can’t have me

However, they’re good people, really. My batchmates. They are. They care about each other, and they love God. They’re just… less exposed.

I think I’m exposed, though. I’ve went to school with seniors who joyfully did the dirty in dark cinemas yet I’ve known guys who’ve cried because they don’t want to carry the sins of hearing women sing. I’ve known girls who send ‘pictures’ to their boyfriends and I’ve known girls who wear socks just for a one-minute walk from the dorms to the surau. I’ve heard stories from those who go to New Year parties with kisses and booze and I’ve heard of those who wake each other up to perform Tahajjud at 4 a.m. And I’m talking about people my age, people I know.

How did I get this far? I was supposed to talk about me.

With morning calls there are morning speeches. I think it was around March or April or something, when I was in no position at all to make a speech in front of everyone. It was late at night, and a girl came to my room begging for someone to give the next day’s morning speech. Roommate #2 forced me into it and gave my full name, babbling about how I’m good in English, and how everyone has to give a speech sooner or later, and yadda yadda yadda. Easy to say for somebody who has never experienced anxiety and is totally comfortable on stage. But… I didn’t want to look weak, I suppose, so I didn’t protest that much. And I ended up spending more time worrying about the speech than preparing for exams taking place the following day. Like I said, I had a shivering problem. Don’t know where it came from. Sebelum aku masuk sekolah ni, takde pun. Went up on stage. Forgot my lines. Dudes mocked me. It was hell.

Didn’t end there. I became infamous because of that, really. And you know what? Because of that, from having little confidence to speak in public, it dropped to way below zero. Every time I had to make a presentation in class or whatever, people would observe me carefully, their hungry eyes just waiting for me to humiliate myself. On bad days I would, on better days I wouldn’t. The second semester was full of oral tests and presentations and speaking out, though. I hated it, but it was beneficial in the long run. Slowly but surely, I would lose the anxiousness of addressing an audience.

Every other week, morning calls would be done according to one’s form. For example, Form 4’s would have their morning call at the Foyer Gemilang on Monday. The day after competing in S-I-R at Mahkota Parade, my class, 4 Dentistry, had to handle it. I was hoping to take part to increase my confidence – read the SEEDS or recite the student oath, but Cena forced me into giving the morning speech three minutes before I did. Yeap, two of the things I suck at. Spontaneity and public speaking. Believe me, I was shivering. But Alhamdulillah, when I went in front they couldn’t see me shivering. Probably because it was at the foyer so I didn’t have to hold a mike. I got tremendous applause, mostly from the guys, when Cena said my name. Most of the guys here are… not very nice. It’s a fact, okay. All the Form 4 baru students I’ve asked, agree with me and say that the guys at their old schools were way more decent. I ended up talking about S-I-R. And you know what? I was good. Great, even. Excellent. Despite all the unnecessary mock-clapping from some guys. Aku buat bodoh je, didn’t even see it as a threat, but this one girl interpreted it as me ‘fighting back’, said that I was determined to finish my speech. That’s a… flattering way to see it, I guess, even if it was not my intention. But since then, I felt like I could do anything, man. Anything. Like I was just waiting for this moment. The moment of truly breaking away from the shy, timid little girl with no voice whom I used to be.

Ironically, I made that speech whilst recovering from literally losing my voice. Nasib masa S-I-R I didn’t sound too much like a frog.

Anyway, I discovered that I actually like addressing an audience. When you make a speech, you can like, share your opinions with people. Wow. How awesome is that? I hope to give many, many more speeches in the future. I proved everyone wrong about me that day. I showed them that I am capable of talking in public! And people congratulated me for it. Broke down the walls around me, they didn’t know how strong I am!

Parents fear that they’ll grow distant from their children when they go to boarding school. In my case, I grew closer to them. Before this, I didn’t talk much about my life to my parents. Not that anything ever happened in my life, anyway. I mostly immersed myself in TV shows and fandoms – takkan aku nak cerita pasal spoilers episod Glee yang bakal keluar kat parents aku kot? Then I went to boarding school and always heard people on the phones with their parents and was just like… “Wow. People actually talk about their daily lives to their mummies”. They influenced me to share more with my parents, I suppose.

I believe I grew a lot religiously. Berkat sembahyang berjemaah, baca banyak risalah agama, dengar tazkirah setiap malam agaknya. Before I shifted schools I didn’t hafal Ayat Kursi, or wear handsocks, or know the tune of Asmaul Husna, or recite prayers before sleeping, or read the Qur’an very much. I’m still working on gathering the courage to nasihat others, and to accept the nasihat of others.

All in all, my tragedy was a good thing. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.

Oh, I can’t come back there anymore
I am not the boy next door

P.S. I feel the need to talk about this, because I’ve been wanting to blog about it for months but never got to it. I sprained my ankle during Mass Camp, after a go on the flying fox. ‘Cause after I landed, I didn’t watch my step (the steps were high), and my right leg terpleot. One of greater fears since I saw my Year 6 (Standard 4, actually, but in England, Year 6) teacher Mrs. Basson twist her ankle. Yeah, it hurt. But it hurt good! I felt like a Gryffindor, I was so proud to have a serious physical injury, haha!

Had to use a cane for a while, had to bandage my leg, had to pray using a chair. Was my excuse for not participating in SEGAK tests and for skipping Taekwondo classes. After around three weeks, I walked back to the dorms with Shakirah. The afternoon-turning-into-evening sun was hot in the sky, and barely anyone was around. It was serene and lovely, and… I dunno. I just started running. In my baju kurung. It felt amazing. Felt young and free and limitless. The last time I ran was during Mass Camp (Cikgu Zamri would force us to do three rounds every morning).

Like Pollyanna said, you never, never know how perfectly lovely legs are till you haven’t got them—that go, I mean.