An extended version of the previous story I posted, for English class
It's about Jessica again.
Another 7 minutes and I'll be done, I thought to myself.
It was the same every weekday morning. I'd come to camp shrouded in an aura of detest, eager to be done with another day of my two-year sentence. Like a pre-programmed automaton, I had changed into my exercise attire and hit the gym. With a lack of mental stimulus, it seems that even bookworms such as myself would turn to exercise to reduce the humdrum of our days in the army. Whoever made that observation that brains and brawn were inversely related was spot on.
The treadmill beeped, 2 more minutes, 'now starting cool down'. The pace slowed gradually and the weight of my legs were made painfully aware to me. I reached for my sweat towel, and that was when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that distinct face; an unmistakable face that haunted my boyhood.
"Jessica?" I blurted out in astonishment.
I had to do a double take to ensure that my brain wasn't filling my head with boyish fantasies.
"Ah! Chun Man!" came the reply. A sweet melodious voice in a place I'd least expect to hear it from, and she was calling my name to boot!
"What are you doing here?" I enquired almost instinctively.
"Oh, I'm here on my internship," She replied curtly, as though she had already anticipated the question.
"Your university internship?" I probed further.
"What are you studying?"
"Sports research and management."
It was then when I remembered how it was like talking to Jessica all those years ago. She was, and still is, quite a unique individual because she seems devoid of all basic human courtesies, at least when it came to holding a conversation or being friendly.
Jessica and I have an odd history. My miserable love tale began when I was 11, turning 12. I was in primary 6 and was hitting that awkward age of adolescence. It was during that time when I, like many other boys that age, started to realise that girls smelled nice, looked pretty, and were incredibly challenging to approach. In particular, there was this girl, Jessica, who had an air of superiority about her and stood out amongst the rest. I remember speaking to her briefly during my time as an 11 year old. I was struggling to form the simplest of sentences in front of her, so I mostly feigned the need to borrow a pencil or some other form of stationary. Returning said borrowed object only gave me another chance to talk to her, which was enough to satisfy my pathetic 11 year old brain. It was a fleeting crush which I expected to end when we moved on to secondary school. I didn’t think much of Jessica afterwards; much of my attention back then was directed at choosing schools. My mom, school teachers and tuition teachers expected me to get into St Joseph’s Institution, where I fell short of the mark by a mere 4 points. I wasn’t too upset about it, while my mom was discussing future schools and education paths with my teachers, I was plotting to ruin it all by choosing a neighborhood school so I could be with my guy friends, my bros, my esses, my comrades and compadres.
And that is how I got into Chua Chu Kang Secondary School (CCKSS). Oddly enough, none of my friends, for whom I sacrificed a chance at a better school, even made it into CCKSS. On my first day of school, I was thrown into a school of strangers. I remember being shown around as part of an orientation programme. Whilst in our neat rows of twos, my class passed by another class in a narrow corridor. And in an instant, I caught a fleeting glimpse of her face as she passed me. I turned around to take a second look, but it was too late, she was lost in the crowd of unfamiliar faces. I was as shocked back then as I was now. I honestly thought that I was seeing things. It wasn’t until the next day, in the morning at the parade square, when I saw her sitting by her lonesome, that I actually believed I wasn’t delusional. I truly felt blessed that I fell short of St Joseph’s Institution by a hair’s width. As kids, both of us, I assumed, were uncomfortable talking with beings of the opposite gender. Our conversations were short and fragmented.
I’d start with, “Hi.”
She’d reply with, “Oh, hi.”
“I can’t believe you’re in this school too!”
“Cool, alright! Um, bye!”
And that was it. I would walk back to my class awkwardly without much of a conversation closer. From that moment onwards this coincidental incident would forever be stenciled in my prepubescent brain as ‘fated’. Later, I learnt that she lived 2 blocks down the road from my house, further cementing the aforementioned notion of fate. I truly believed we were meant for each other.
Semesters went by, as did the years, and at that point I was getting rather good grades and was living a life of semi-luxury. I was living in a terrace house and boasted many other luxuries, and even though I didn’t flaunt them superficially, I was spoilt rotten. I even found myself a girlfriend. Her name was Cheryl. And even though I dated her for 6 months, which was incredibly long for a kid, I still fancied Jessica. I still remember the night when I confessed my feelings to Jessica; she turned me down. This was the period of time when Jessica and I were in the same class and despite my best efforts, she never warmed up to me, and that just made me fall for her even more. She said that she wanted to wait until after the O levels were over to consider a relationship, and so I waited. For Jessica, I would’ve slain twenty men, climbed Everest, and offer their bodies on a pike on its summit as some sort of ritualistic sacrifice for her as my goddess, all whilst dating another girl. Call me a cheat, a scumbag, but that was what I was. I even dated two other girls after Cheryl before I hit 16 and the prophesied date of the O levels had arrived. Needless to say, my young, scandalous ways didn’t help to help win any favours of my goddess before judgment day.
After O levels, I felt like a free man. I did relatively well for the examinations, and was rather pleased with my results. Jessica and I would split paths for the first time in our lives. She was going to Catholic Junior College, while I was going to Ngee Ann Polytechnic to study Banking and Financial services. There was no way I was going to shackle myself to another 2 years of pointless learning in Junior College. Ironically, should I have chosen to enter into a Junior College, based on my grades, I would’ve chosen Catholic Junior College too. At that point in my life, I had many things awaiting me; a fully stocked inventory of computer games which I had forsworn before the O levels, a new school with new exciting learning opportunities, but most crucial of all, was the long awaited verdict of Jessica’s decision.
She ignored me, and dated some other guy.
I was devastated. Comparatively, I was richer, taller, and I waited longer than the boy she was dating. It was absurd to my 16 year old mind that she would pick him over me. I felt like I was living the villain in those stereotypical love comedies where the lead girl makes off with the less refined, less wealthy, and less handsome chap at the end of the movie. I couldn’t accept it.
Looking back now, it’s no wonder I was rejected, after all I was courting Jessica whilst dating three other girls. However, this incident really hit me hard. I’ve been rejected many times over in the past by many different girls, but I never grieved like I did then. All the notions I had of fate and intertwined destinies were shattered, and this would mark the beginning of my long, painful metamorphosis.
The feeling of melancholy lasted well into my years in Polytechnic. I was alone, and found myself more comfortable the further I was from other people. Many of my classmates tried to befriend me, but eventually, they got the hint that I preferred to be alone. I ate my lunches alone, studied alone, and attended classes alone. I drew my fortitude and forged my emotional independence from prolonged isolation. Perhaps it was a form of subconscious atonement or self-inflicted punishment for my past misdeeds. Like a man possessed, I lived out the rest of my Polytechnic days as an emotionless zombie. I tried courting a few girls in Polytechnic, but to no avail. Not surprisingly, their rejections did not affect my in the least. During that time I looked back on my actions as a boy and found myself truly remorseful. It was at that point where I strove to become a better person. I still fancied Jessica, but I was slowly learning to let go.
After a good 3 to 4 years, I was finally over Jessica, or so I thought. It was as though the dense fog of emotional despair had finally lifted, only to be replaced by physical torment and pain. I enlisted in the army.
I remember how I spent my last days of freedom. I ate heavily and played World of Warcraft from dawn to dusk. There was no way anyone was going to convince me to prolong my two year sentence by exercising and training before I even enlisted. I had two years to torture myself with physical exercise, why would I exercise to prepare for it? Would a prisoner who knew he was going to get tortured purposely rake his flesh and gouge his eyes in preparation for the torture chamber? They were mad!
Thus, when I was enlisted, they threw me into the obese batch. Eventually, I was marked as ‘unfit for combat’ and assigned to do clerical work. Oddly enough, after assuming the role of a monotonous office drone for a year, I found myself making routine visits to the camp’s gym. It was there where I lost most of the fat I accumulated throughout the years, like shears to a sheep. This brings us back to the present.
It has been 5 to 6 years since I’ve said a word to Jessica, and now she was here, on the treadmill next to mine, in my army camp. It was like being served the richest prime ribs at a vegan convention. The odds against me were astounding, yet there she was. If I were a more superstitious person, I'd be inclined to believe that we were meant for each other. It was as though some omnipotent being enjoyed leading me astray with a series of highly coincidental events.
"So, perhaps we should meet up later for lunch?" I asked, seeing that she had started up the treadmill and probably didn’t favour holding long conversations in between panted breaths.
Jessica returned with a rather questionable look, one that I could only describe as the look of disgust. "I think it would be better if we didn't. It's only my first week here and I'd prefer to have lunch with my colleagues and superiors first."
"Ah, of course, I understand. Perhaps some other time then." I said as I nodded in agreement.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks into months. Our encounter in the gym had reignited the flames of passion and love inside me, and it took every ounce of my mental fortitude to smother and tame that fire. Life in the army was so straightforward and simple before she showed up, I honestly had a hard time wondering if this was considered fortuitous or unfortunate event. Occasionally, I would throw out the question to have lunch together but she always refused, usually quoting some sort of excuse until finally, she just resorted to ignoring my messages. Eventually, any revitalised enthusiasm was quite quickly drowned out. Under any normal circumstances, most people would like to catch up with an old classmate, but Jessica wasn't 'most people'.
After awhile, I took the hint. She didn’t want to associate with me, not even on a friendly level. I do not blame her, neither of us asked for this crazy meeting. I my life quickly resumed its normality, and before I knew it, my service to my nation was complete. Our paths split again, and perhaps it may intersect again sometime in the future.
Even now, I still wonder what it is I see in Jessica. There will always be a place in my heart with her name on it as she was the girl I lusted for the most, to the point of unhealthy obsessions. As one of my friends quaintly put, 'Your first love always seems to be the most pure because it was before you looked at girls for things like sex." I was denied minor things before in my life, but never something I craved for so dearly.
Her special brand of aggressive ignoring changed me as a person. It was a painful metamorphosis, and I was pulled back down to earth. And when I finally emerged from my cocoon of melancholy, I found myself to be a more rational and humble person.
There are times when I reminisce about these past events and wonder how I would've turned out if she did agree to date me. I shudder to think of myself turning out like some of the punks that flaunt their shallowness and arrogance on Facebook or Twitter; strutting around in overdone spray-on tan, exhibiting their poor fashion sense with popped collars and shutter shades, holding up their hands in odd gang signs as though they’re suffering from severe arthritis.
Perhaps that might be an exaggeration, but it is undeniable to me, that Jessica was a pivotal person in my life, and try as I may, I will never be able to forget her.