Just before Christmas I hosted my annual holiday dinner for some friends from secondary school. This year has been a busy one for most of us and not everyone is in Singapore, but we made do and it was so good to see them again.
We had to call it a night early - last train, early morning wake-up calls, exhaustion - and the entire dinner was very intense and rushed. In all the hustle to get food on the table and everyone seated, I happened to look across and see a stark white intruder interrupting the smooth black of a friend's hair. It was a real jolt to the system, let me tell you that. I'd seen that dark hair bent over the Maths O-level ten year series, and all of a sudden mortality aims a kick at your teeth. I mean, I've found white hairs on myself too, but it's different when you see them on people you believe are permanently 16 years old. I felt a little bit sad watching the last two guests walk away down the empty road below my flat.
I remember when we were younger and had hours of free time to waste. My friends and I would stretch out across the living room sofa and watch two or three movies or TV shows back to back, often arguing over what to see. We watched everything from The Exorcist (Director's Cut) to Man on the Moon (the Andy Kaufman biopic) to Seinfeld to forgettable action thrillers. We'd sit there with our feet up on my parents' coffee table, calling out advice to the actors or freaking out at the scary scenes. Afterwards we'd order junk food and the guys would eat everything.
Every Halloween, Channel 5 used to do a Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror marathon and we'd call - or text, later on - to remind each other. (That's something from before the Internet: watching TV in your own living rooms, connected by the phone line. Long pauses and a faint buzz of static in between every time one of you says, "Holy shit, did you see that?" and the other replies, "Yeah.")
It's such a wonderful and terrible thing, having friends from school. They get older and you get older, and nobody realises how fast time is going, or how good things are while they last. I thought I'd be watching the Treehouse of Horror marathon every year, but it's long been cancelled and I have to work, anyway.
Now as I struggle through my daily routine I remember afternoons spent wandering aimlessly in town, shopping for nothing. Lunches at Thomson Plaza and walks around the terrace house estates. Even further back in time - lying uncomfortably on the cold concrete floor at 4 a.m. after the movie lets out, waiting for the trains to start back up. Hatching yet another half-assed scheme on the rusty swings at the park near where I used to live. Walking everyone to the bus stop and waving after the last one gets on the bus.
That's the joke life plays on you, isn't it? All the time in the world when you're young, broke and thoughtless. You get enough money, but no time or energy when you're older, more sentimental and battling to keep all these atoms together, linked. I still don't cry at movies, but these days all it takes is a newspaper article about something fucked up - tragedy, death, rape, animal abuse - and I'm tearing. You got to keep things together, otherwise there's nothing left and we're all adrift in the sea, nothing to hold onto. Until next year, then.