I remember my birthday when I was in elementary school. I think I was about nine or ten. Some friends greeted me. However, there was this group of mean classmates who were chanting cruelly:
“Selamat ulang tahun, Ruby. Semoga segera meninggal.” (Happy birthday, Ruby. We hope you’ll die.)
They did that over and over until our head of the class, Pak Huda, had to stop them. He didn’t yell at them, though. He cut in with that forced cheerfulness in his voice:
“Selamat ulang tahun, Ruby. Semoga segera meninggalkan sekolah dan segera pulang ke rumah hari ini.” (Happy birthday, Ruby. We hope you’ll leave school today and go home soon.)
He failed, of course. I glared at those kids, fighting back tears. Dad had taught me not to cry in front of my enemies. That would be a sign of weakness.
Of course, I’d never give them that satisfaction. I didn’t want them to laugh at me even harder, calling me a cry-baby for being overly sensitive. Surely, they’d say it was just a dumb joke. They didn’t really mean it. After all, we were just kids. Kids tend to say stupid things.
Fast forward to a few years later. I was fourteen and in junior high school, a bloated little freak who made them wonder why. Why? Why couldn’t I be more like my older sister? Why couldn’t I be smart like her? In their eyes, she was always perfect. Absolutely flawless. Our P.E. teacher, Pak Nova, even once asked me these stupid questions:
“You’re Indira’s little sister? How come you’re so fat? How does it feel to be fat?”
I didn’t know how to feel good about myself back then. Somehow, I’d let them make me feel ugly about me. With my sister around, she’d always have the spotlight. I’d never be good enough in their eyes.
It was after school. A lot of kids had already left. I was standing in the balcony on the third floor of our school building. Looking down, my head was filled with crazy thoughts:
Just one fall and that’s it. They’re not going to miss me, are they? Ma’s still got another, more precious daughter. She won’t need me that much…
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”
I’d nearly fallen off the ledge that I was climbing on when the vice principal walked past behind me and yelled. Thankfully, I caught myself just in time.
“Get down from that ledge, young lady,” he ordered me. “Don’t play around like that.”
So he thought I was only kidding around.
Fast forward to another few years later. Me, in my early twenties. Three years after college graduation. Barely with a stable job, still burdening my parents. Feeling like a complete loser, a useless being.
I’d crossed the quiet streets alone for many nights, silently wishing for a car to run me down and just getting it over with. I guess God still loved me, because that had never happened.
I’ve only told this to a selected few. You know how most people would react if you told them that you wanted to end your life. They’d think you’re crazy. A lot of them would start mentioning God and hell-fire for eternity.
I’d make Ma cry.
About four years ago, I went to Bali with my best friend Hazel Eyes for a holiday. We were sitting by Dreamland Beach in the late afternoon, when a huge wave came crashing down – threatening to drag me under and swallow me whole. It had felt like a quicksand under my flailing feet. Hazel Eyes caught me by my wrist and tried pulling me back to the shore, but the current was so strong that he’d gotten dragged as well instead.
That was when I realised one thing:
No, I’m not ready to die. I still want to live!
God still loved me, because my best friend had finally managed to pull me back to the shore. I held on to him for a while, shivering. It wasn’t even cold.
“You okay?” he asked, his hazel eyes were a mixture of post-terror and relief. I looked up at him and sighed, nodding.
He hadn’t known then like he knows now. He didn’t just save my life. He’d shown me one thing that I should’ve done and always do:
Never give up on myself, no matter what.
Looking back, I am forever thankful that the insanity has passed. He was one of my heroes, sent by God.
I’ve survived. I’m glad to be alive.
(Jakarta, 2/9/2016 – 9:00 pm. From Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Writing Challenge at Bangi Kopitiam, Sabang. Topic: “suicide”.)