New Year Girl

I am a New Year’s kind of girl.

I have always relished the idea of clean slates, blank canvases, the idea of cleansing, healing, a meaningful sweeping away of the past and the ushering of the new (present, future, etc.?). And, of course, I am never not found with my artillery of goals and resolutions. When the clock strikes 12, my heart is filled with gratitude for the year that was and anticipation for year to come. It will always be a “Happy” New Year; I always feel fireworks spark in my heart and explode into the sea of stars above me.

But what happens when life decides to take away a couple of beloveds before you ring in such an occasion? I am still reeling with the ridiculousness and absurdity of losing my dog Rocket last October, and then, just last Christmas, my Grandpa. The short timeline between seeing Rocket’s ashes and my Grandpa’s is too bitter of a pill to swallow. It’s the worst nightmare; the cruelest form of déjà vu. The cherry on top? Seeing everything through my solitude and on a screen. It felt like watching a television show that was meant to slowly cut you open with the sharpest of knives, gut you out, forcefully pull your heart and chop it into a million tiny pieces. Brutal.

And because you need to continue living the next day and the day after that, you try to glue back all the chopped-up bits of your heart, put your mangled guts back where they belong, and stitch up the cuts that opened you in the first place. You are expected to perform, to smile, to laugh, to be okay. But inside, you know everything has changed.

I am a New Year’s kind of girl.

Now that my Grandpa, too, is gone, I wonder from time to time what coming home would feel like. Stepping into my childhood home, devoid of Rocket’s excited cries and my Grandpa’s raspy voice will surely rip the band-aid off and open fresh wounds. Home is not the same, just as how I know I am not the same person anymore.

My Grandpa had been in the hospital for a while already. Was I mentally and emotionally prepared? You could say I was. But I know my Grandpa to be a strong person, so there was a sliver of hope that he would make it, and that we would still be able to see each other once I could travel back home again. Promises of dining together again (my Grandpa and I love to eat) kept me filled with hope. I told him to get better so we could eat at Aristocrat again, just like we did after Sunday mass. He was also stubborn and refused to wear a hospital gown during his first few days. But of course, Angkong would do something like that, I thought with a smirk on my face.

It happened on Christmas Day. I was persistent to speak to him, but my Aunt said he didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’ll spare the details to respect my family and Grandma’s wishes, but I remember jolting awake at 6pm after a nap, and suddenly, my phone rang as if it was the sequence of happenings was ordained. My cousin called and told me our Angkong was gone. He went in peace, while he was asleep.

I know most families have issues, and I have my own as well. We are all given various roles in this lifetime—daughter, wife, father, son, brother, sister, friend, teacher, mentor, grandparent. To say the least, my Grandpa was far from perfect; but what he was great at was being a Grandpa. Maybe that was his purpose in life—to be the best Grandpa to his grandkids. My cousins and I were spoiled by him; he was our number one cheerleader and gave into our whims and fancies, supporting us in every way he could.

He brought me to Hong Kong for the first time at a very young age, and that inspired me to travel. He was a wanderlust who indulged in local delicacies, and one of my favorite memories I have with him is of us both, having a simple breakfast in Kowloon. We sat opposite from each other inside a busy cha chaan teng: him, eating congee and you tiao (fried dough), and me, eating toast with condensed milk and butter (and maybe with some chicken macaroni soup on the side). My drink of choice has progressed from Horlicks, Ribena, to Vitasoy, and nai cha (milk tea), but he always asked for a Coca-Cola. I remember myself being curious as to what he was reading. My Chinese is so rusty, so I could only try and decipher what was on the newspaper. Around us, waiters were bustling about, but around him, I felt like we were dining in a peaceful bubble. He looked so relaxed as he took a bite of you tiao, fresh from the fryer and blanketed in sugar crystals that glimmered when touched by light. It is such a mundane moment, but to me, perhaps, that’s what I hope my Grandpa is doing in Heaven now, with Rocket curled on his lap (or by his feet).

I am a New Year’s kind of girl.

Six days after my Grandpa’s passing, I am at a hotel balcony with a few friends, playing Avicii’s Levels as 2020 comes to a close. Great choice of music, I know (I really wanted Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling, but couldn’t remember the song at the time). With COVID-19 restrictions everywhere, there were no fireworks, so we made do with the ascending techno melodies, a swig of wine, and a slew of punk-rock and 90s songs that took us back in time.

Hello, 2021. Goodbye, 2020.

My friend Ashley shared that it’s okay to not be happy on New Year’s; but I won’t say that I’m sad. Maybe, I am still shaken by what 2020 served me during its final months. Life goes on. The sun still shines. I have work on Monday. Every day is a new one. Time remains to be life’s most valuable currency.

There is no new lesson that I have learned in 2020, but whatever it has turned me into, I know that I am more intent on living than ever before. Life is, indeed, so, so short. I do not have control of things even if I plan so perfectly for them, save so much for them. For some odd reason, I am compelled to create for myself this year. To write more, to get my art out there. I have a heightened awareness of my privilege, and despite the shitshow that was 2020 (the latter bit of it), I am still thankful, oddly and weirdly.

I guess I will always be a New Year’s kind of girl. The idea of clean slates and blank canvases will never fail to bring me a glimmer of hope—ah, the magic of new beginnings. Life will take, but will always continue to give, and give, and give. Perhaps I’ll finally reach my health goals this 2021. Perhaps I’ll save more money. Perhaps I’ll set more boundaries.

Perhaps, I’ll start living my life to the fullest. I hope everyone has a better 2021.

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