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A Parting in Fifty-four Pieces

Published 21st October, 2019 in MRP Guest Blogger

  1. How do endings end? 
  2. If you’ve followed me this far, I thank you sincerely. 
  3. But October is almost over, and these weeks are drawing to a close. 
  4. To borrow the immortal puzzlement of the undergraduate: what to put in a conclusion? 
  5. I’m really bad with goodbyes. I never know how to end, to close, to finish, and so I do it
  6. in slivers, splinters, and slow degrees, like death by a thousand cuts, across a thousand hours
  7. Maybe that’s how we all part: piece by piece, we forget and fade away in fractions. 
  8. But isn’t it strange too, that ‘parting’ is a synonym for endings, 
  9. As if things are never finished, only sectioned up, to be put together again;
  10. As if it were Chinese, and we were only saying 再见 (‘see you again’)?
  11. I think endings are arbitrary, artificial. 
  12. Life goes on, even after a story ceases, or a life lapses. 
  13. The lines extend outward, onward, past the ellipsis or the exclamation mark, in wriggly, messy ways. They transform into other people, other places, other stories.
  14. Sometimes endings are messy. Sometimes endings don’t end. Sometimes we wish life would close and move on, as doors, books, and other people close and move on. Sometimes the ghosts don’t go away, and the darkness sits inside you, night after night. Years pass, but the circle remains splintered. 
  15. She blocked me. On Facebook, and SMS. Even on Whatsapp! 
  16. Her profile picture went blank. Virtually, literally, she became faceless overnight. 
  17. Her ‘last seen’ went from 2.47pm to: ‘a long, long time ago’. 
  18. It took me a long time to delete those texts.
  19. I still can’t cross that bridge without a shudder.
  20. First, it burned with denial; then it smouldered with memory; later, it was irradiated with regret.   
  21. Finish already la, so what? Dead is dead. Nothing else after that. Just a shell, said my father, his eyes red-rimmed at the wake; just a shell.
  22. Neil Gaiman’s Dream of the Endless declares: ‘You attend the funeral, you bid the dead farewell. You grieve. Then you continue with your life. And at times the fact of her absence will hit you like a blow to the chest, and you will weep. But this will happen less and less as time goes on. She is dead. You are alive. So live.’
  23. So live.
  24. So, live. So? Live. So; live. So—live. 
  25. !
  26. ?
  27. I still think of Grandma’s last hours.
  28. We beg her to hold on, to not go yet. Don’t you want to see John-john get married? Or Joy-joy graduate? She only shakes her head slowly, silently. 
  29. In a thousand ways, across three years, we had watched her slowly waste away.  
  30. First, they amputated her toes. After one operation, she had woken without her left leg. Nobody had thought to tell her. It had been her greatest fear. Grandma had wanted to die whole. 
  31. Grandma had woken. Then, Grandma had wept, fearful and frightened. 
  32. About a thousand cuts and a thousand days later, Grandma decided: enough. 
  33. Grandma that last, lonely night, shaking her head quietly, wearily, refusing to meet our eyes.       
  35. ?
  36. ??
  37. The day the Old Man’s cortege rolled past City Hall, it rained and poured torrentially, almost as if on cosmic cue, almost as if obeying story-logic, narrative-arc. Overnight, he became our grandfathers. I wept too, though I only knew him from bland, insipid textbooks. 
  38. What a way to pass into legend, into malleable myth. To be transfigured into a tale. 
  39. It’s said somewhere that the true death only happens when even your memory is extinguished forever. Macklemore sings it as: ‘the last time somebody mentions your name’. Until even the faint shape of those stories are scoured away, lost amid the lone and level sands. 
  40. And so, because stories don’t disappear so much as transform, maybe there are no true deaths, no absolute endings.
  41. Maybe what we have are just partings: shards and segments that decay, words and weavings that decompose, or flake away—
  42. —but are then borrowed, digested, and reconstituted in other places, other organisms,
  43. like the humus of an old-growth forest,   
  44. like the hydrogen in shimmering suns, 
  45. like the idea-images that shine so splendid in our million makings
  46. Maybe endings are arbitrary, artificial, once we realise life, quite literally, goes on  
  47. ,
  48. In the Beginning was the Big Bang: an expanding point of sound light time bosons quarks neutrons electrons protons matter antimatter; everything-ness unfurling, unravelling, transforming outward, outward;


51. In the Beginning, then, probably, was a Word. Really?

52. If there are no endings, and only partings, then maybe we are just unfurling, unravelling, transforming variations of that first Word.

53. How do endings end? Maybe they don’t. Maybe they only change, transforming into other people, other places, other stories, other beginnings

Read Ruizhi’s first three posts with us: ‘Beginning and Introductions’, ‘True Stories’, and ‘Ghost Stories’.

Ruizhi prefers to be lost in stories, but occasionally he gets lost in cities too. He is currently completing his Masters thesis on colonial fisheries at the National University of Singapore, where he also teaches history to undergraduates. He runs @singapore_stories, an Instagram project offering alternative insights into Singapore’s pasts, presents and futures, and lives in a quiet neighbourhood named after conquerors from a faraway land. There, under the shade of a Central American tree, his grandmothers tell him stories he can’t find in textbooks.

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