I remember the day I met you: a frigid winter night in 2019, walking empty moonlit roads as harsh winds chattered our bones. It was 2:00 a.m. We walked with our friends' past streets doused in shadows, eerie alleyways and residences that stood our hairs on end, all for those steaming noodles. I shivered as the cold seeped through my thin jacket. I didn’t know you; you felt so unknown, and I felt so incredibly shy. But it was the first time since I’d arrived in this foreign land that I’d laughed so hard and the warmest I’d felt inside for a long time. I was happy.
It’s been three years since, and it’s still difficult to know the exact moment when things changed. I didn’t think it was possible, and the hit was harder than I could take.
Perhaps it was that night during dinner when you cracked that atrocious joke; it was so blasphemously terrible. I tried to tell you off but was wheezing too hard to succeed. I remember the loud chortle that left your lips, and I returned it with a glare. Still, it warmed my heart, for I knew what a numbingly cold week you’d had.
Perhaps it was that day under the warm summer sun when I finally opened up to you, saying things that I’d never envisioned telling you, but realising in the moment that I wanted you to know. The sadness that I no longer wanted to hide away like a dirty little secret. Still, a part of me was worried, terrified even, that unveiling my scars would change the way you saw me. Instead, you showed me only kindness, rolling back the sleeves of your thin blue hoodie and baring your own.
Perhaps it was on those long train rides home in the freezing night, watching the little spheres of light speed past us in the dark nothingness outside, or during those long days in the library, seeing you bent over your work. Your silver-rimmed glasses would slip down your nose and you’d barely notice, too absorbed in what you were reading.
Perhaps it was sometime during those long hours we spent talking about ridiculous things — mindless arguments about whether the frosty winters or balmy summers were better than the other. I, with my tropical roots, insisted warmth meant comfort, joy, and love. You, shamelessly donning that same thin blue hoodie on the iciest day of the year, asserted that the cold, with its chilly winds and overcast days, meant comfort, joy, love and warmth. I called you a psychopath. Perhaps it was your god awful sense of humour and the roar of ugly laughter that would erupt from our mouths at your every dreadful joke. Your grey eyes were so crinkled at the corners that they were nearly closed, and your grin so wide with gums on full display. You laughed so hard you snorted.
I always imagined I would somersault into these waters if the day ever arrived. Instead, I tripped and fell, slamming face-first and realising I couldn’t swim.
I’m far from perfect. I can be dramatic and an emotional wreck at times. I overthink and overstress, and this uncanny grey area I seem to be stuck in feels mind-numbing. Perhaps you feel my exhaustion too, although I would hate it if you did. Sometimes, when my thoughts run unrestrained, I ponder over life and its many unknowns, about how terribly you want to move overseas and those long months you spend dreaming of working in the Arctic. I’ve never experienced a snowy winter, but I see the way your grey eyes light up when you speak of it, the radiant smile that drifts across your face. Knowing you, you will follow the winter wherever it goes. I would expect nothing less.
But in those moments when I fear our friendship is a ticking time bomb, and I feel a strange sinking in my chest, I remember that one conversation — when you told me about last summer, and how hard you try every day not to return to that dark place. I feel grateful to have you here with me, as short as these precious seconds may be.
It’s the dawn of a new year — a fresh chapter in life’s uncertain terrain. I have not yet witnessed my first snowfall and I know not when or where I will. But I know, with certainty, that the day will come. I will stand there bundled in a warm jacket and woollen boots under the golden hue of the rising sun. I will feel the first flakes of icy white land atop my palms and I know I will think of you.
And perhaps my heart will warm just a little, despite the god-awful cold.