first love, first heartbreak

by The Dreamer

{this is part one of my travel journal and reflections from my trip to cambodia}



They say to consciously soak in moments. Turn them into movies, into stills. Don’t ever forget the seconds that make life soft and beautiful. Collect them. Treasure them. Review them in your dreams.

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to flush out my thoughts, channel them into energy and words, but somehow, it just didn’t seem right. I tried my best to recall my time in Cambodia day by day, but I’ve been stuck in Day One. Now, I’ve decided to let go. Gone are the nitty gritty details that I’ve refused to let go of. After all, I just need to hold onto the ones that truly matter. Ones that turn my heart into a blooming field of flowers.

Rubatosis: The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.

I can hear it right now. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. For some inexplicable reason, recalling memories of Cambodia, which I’ve journeyed to recently, does this to me. I feel the rise of a blush on my cheeks, as if it were just yesterday that I’ve turned my face towards the warm yet relentless Cambodian sun (who am I kidding…the sun belongs to all of us. no one.) Even though my earphones are jammed into my ears, serenading me softly, my heartbeat is louder than ever. Sigh. It feels like the first time I fell in love.

But…I did fall completely, utterly in love with Cambodia.

Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.

The moment I touched down to familiar Singaporean grounds, my heart started to sink. Instead of relief, I felt a giddiness that came from overwhelming sadness. It felt overly dramatic, but I couldn’t stop the tears that welled up in my eyes.

I remember giving my team members final hugs, holding onto them tight, reluctant to let go. I remember thinking: This is where the magic ends. Where the clock strikes twelve, and everything fades. I remember scanning at my friends’ faces once more, wondering how many of these people whom I’ve regarded as family for the past 10 days, will slowly fade away from my life and become a temporary guest in my memories. I remember holding onto my friends tighter than ever, willing my tears not to drip onto their shirts.

And when I found my parents amongst the crowd in the Arrival hall, I lost it. I bawled. I felt this sudden pang of loss. So many words were brimming on my lips, wanting to spill, but yet all that came out was a forced whisper through trembling lips: “Why did it have to end…”

My parents weren’t interested in listening to my stories. They didn’t even comment on my tan or my Cambodian scarf or my tears. Instead, their eyes were rimmed red as well.

“Your uncle has just passed away.” These were the first words they uttered to me. No “Welcome back.” No “We missed you.”

I suddenly felt ashamed for crying over something as insignificant as…I dunno, feelings. My loss was nothing compared to my father’s.

It was Stage 4 cancer. I was immediately shuffled into the back of the car, made to change into a black shirt as my father tensely looked ahead, the veins from his arms popping from holding onto the steering wheel so hard. The car ride was silent. I expected it to be filled with my laughter and my eager sharing, but instead I fell into a deep sleep. I remember staring at the familiar palm trees that lined the road, and thinking: I’m back home. Or am I?

When I woke up, the sky was a periwinkle grey, with dark clouds. It was my first time in a cemetery. I shook hands with a sobbing aunt, who fell to her knees in the middle of her Taoist prayers. Ghastly, familiar yet foreign faces of relatives stared blankly at the coffin which contained my uncle and his cancer.

The chants and the bells and the incessant sobbing filled the room, and yet what occupied my head were the laughter of children back in Cambodia. I couldn’t look ahead at the funeral processions or my mourning relatives. Instead, I stared at the camera in my hand, which I gripped tightly like how my father gripped the steering wheel, and I cautiously looked through my images one by one, gripping onto these memories like salvation. Like a last way to stay alive and to stay sane in this place filled with death.

My eyes filled with warm, wet tears yet again. Not sure whether it was sentimentality over the loss of my uncle, which I barely knew, or whether it was over how foreign and cold these familiar grounds felt…and how warm and familiar foreign grounds many miles away felt.

Rückkehrunruhe: The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.

Cambodia felt like my first love, yet simultaneously felt like my first heartbreak.

For the first time, I felt afraid of losing sight and losing grip of the memories and the emotions stirred within me when I spent time in the village in Cambodia. I wanted to etch down every single face, every single grain of sand, every single time I felt more than alive, into my memory. Yet I sat dumbly at a corner of the cemetery, watching the sky grow darker through the windows from the corner of my eye.

Even as my vision blurred, I held onto my camera, burrowed myself deeper into my chest, and let the tears seep through the fabric of my jeans.

钧 x x

j e a n x x