There are times over the years when I’d lie down and be amazed by how fortunate I am – that someone like David would still take the trouble to keep in touch with me despite my frequent absences from the online world. And those gifts when I was at Pusat Serenti Gambang – it was because of those material I received, plus the letters to and fro, that kept my English from deteriorating too much during my months there.
I remember Elviza having written something about her son, Luqman – of her wondering “whether she had saved the world in a previous life to have deserved such a child”. It is almost the same with me – what did I do to deserve a friend like David?…because I know and remember very well that during my years of addiction, I had failed so many friends…
He is someone I had first known through a Usenet newsgroup at the end of 1998 (If you are wondering what Usenet is, this piece in Malay Mail might help somewhat: The lost world of Usenet). It was at the alt.journalism newsgroup, if I remember correctly. I had sent in a comment, and David had replied to it – not at the group but by email.
CAPTION: Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things Vol. 2 By Amir Muhammad (Matahari Books) ISBN: 978-983-43596-6-9. This is the second and latest in this series by my most favourite Malaysian writer. Amir has a blog, where this book is mentioned in the post of the same title here. There’s also the Matahari Books – Facebook Group here. “But what has this to do with this post?” Something… And maybe it’ll be in the next post, at the rate that I’m going. But let’s go back to the accounts of 10 years ago first.
I was unemployed then. And my plan to try make a living through speculations in the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE) came to a grinding halt, with losses of almost RM30K due to two things: 1) Despite choosing the right counters most of the time, I still lost because I didn’t have the patience. And I didn’t have the patience because 2) I was heavily addicted to morphine at that time; and it was through intravenous means (IV – injection) since 1996.
BTW scary that it looked, it’s definitely wrong to conclude that “People who inject are in worse condition and are more heavily addicted than those who consume it by smoking”. That is how it seems; but it’s not like that, although it tends to be so. The more important factors are 1) How pure the substance is 2) How much one consumes daily 3) How long one had gone continuously.
But why inject? Because it’s the most efficient way, and there is a lot less wastage – you need just one-third the amount as compared to smoking to get the same effect; all other things being equal. In the late 70’s, I had `only’ smoked heroin – and spiked inside cigarettes too rather than “Chasing the dragon” from an aluminium foil. There were no less than two occasions when I went into detox – and I had felt like I would die from the pain of withdrawal!…from “only smoking” it. It’s exactly the same with morphine. And opium too.
On the other hand, for most of 2000 until Aug 05 when I was detained, despite the IV, my usage was quite light as compared to the previous years. There were withdrawals each time I came off, of course, but they were nowhere near those of pre-2000. However, don’t mistake these as “okay”, for heroin/morphine withdrawals are never that! I’ll say here that I’d never wish an enemy to suffer it. Nor for him or her to ever be an addict, enemy or not…
In October 1998, I had just gotten a computer and a TMnet dialup Internet connection, and was working on an idea and hope – of creating work for myself by writing through the Internet. Yes, I already had this vision 10 years ago, when the Internet was just something vague even in middle-class homes. “Computing and Technology”: Now this was something that I’ve had a very keen interest in since the mid 1980’s – I’d read each and every item in In.Tech and Computimes, the tech pullout of The Star and New Straits Times respectively… not to mention the occasional PC Magazine and PC World.
“Working from home through the Internet” – that was what I had in mind in 1998 [And 10 years later, beginning from the end of 2008, it’s starting to became a reality!:-) ]
But anyway; We exchanged a few emails after that. And I learned that he was in Korea, had a few degrees in different fields, and was also a published author. Automatically, I had entertained the thought: “An American living overseas… Is he with the CIA?” To my mind, which was one that had an extremely high valuation of the US, it was inconceivable that an American “would want to live elsewhere other than his country”.
Well, I had a lot to learn. David had also sent me a digital version of one of the books he had written – a dead serious book about the social problems in the US… racial issues, illiteracy etc. It was something pre-Sept 11, and David was already aware “of some things there”. BTW this also one of the reasons why I hesitate whenever people suggest I write a book. After seeing how he writes, I’d always feel my writing is inadequate.
All the while I had thought he “would disappear”, as was usually the case with people you’d know through the Internet and whom you never meet with. I was thinking: What was I, as compared to him?… I had nothing to offer, so there was no reason for him to go out of his way to maintain contact with me. I was wrong about that, for David isn’t “the usual person you know online”. Nor offline.
There were a few times that I lost contact with him for various reasons. They included my bouts of depression and extreme melancholy where I’d just shut myself out from anyone and everyone for weeks (I’ve never had these anymore since Aug 2005, although I had neared this zone again towards the end of 2007. Right now it’s difficult to imagine – not with Sherry’s perky SMS at least a few times every day. And Shakirah’s positiveness too, among others. There wasn’t much chance to brood and indulge in self-pity with this kind of people in regular contact).
When I failed to reply to David’s emails, I had figured that he’d just have had it with me; of feeling exasperated with someone “who didn’t seem to care enough to write back”. But David kept on writing, regardless!…sending emails on intervals to enquire how I was. And one thing that I will attest to about him – his consistency… his manner right now is exactly the same as it was from way back in 1998!
From the middle of 2002, my contact with him became less frequent. I didn’t have an Internet connection from home anymore after the landline was disconnected, and I had to depend on the cybercafe in Pasir Mas for access (It was only from July 2008 that I finally have a connection again – six years).
But there was something about David that is not often found in many others – he’d go out of his way to try contact a friend. Occasionally, he would also send me conventional letters by snail-mail – and I would hurry off to the cybercafe the first chance I got to confirm by email that I had received his letters… I would have felt very bad had I not done so, to someone who had taken the trouble to post a letter.
However, I simply could not do anything from Aug until November 2005 – I was in prison then. And if one knows what the Pengkalan Chepa Prison is and how things are inside it, one definitely would not make a remark like this: “But aren’t you allowed to send letters from prison? I saw on television that…” And even if I could, there’s the problem of address – it’s almost impossible for a non-Korean to be able to memorise the address!
Deep inside, I knew that David must have had sent a conventional letter – he always did that whenever I failed to reply to a few emails after some weeks had passed (I was right, as I discovered later – he did send a couple of letters to this address). In prison, I was feeling bad about it; of not knowing how to contact David to just tell him that I was still alive.
By the way, when he failed to hear anything from me, he had feared the worst. There was one incident in 2002 that I had mentioned to him. I had passed out in the kitchen at around 2am – it was from sheer exhaustion and “the body rebelling”, where I had gone for more than three days without sleep. Why and how? I had some quantity of morphine then, and I just went on and on without sleeping. “Drowsy and drugged” isn’t the same as “Sleep”.
There was something funny about that incident. After I passed out, there was a power failure. When I came to again two hours later, I could not see anything in the dark. I didn’t even remember passing out, so I didn’t know where I was. I remember thinking that “It was either a dream”. Or, “I had died”. I was desperately hoping for the former, of course! Then I groped around and felt metal, cylindrical. I realised that I was in the kitchen, and only after turning on the gas cooker and having some light did I get my bearings again (The automatic fuse box had shut down for some reason).
David remembered this incident, and had thought that I might have suffered the same again – the difference being I didn’t wake up this time.
In Nov 2005, I was sent to Pusat Serenti Gambang. Conditions were great here when compared to prison. For one thing, we were encouraged to write letters. On my first day (after spending two weeks in Detox) at the “Orientasi B” hostel, I had asked the guy in charge of administrative matters there – 266/05 “Jaffar Gemuk”, a 32-year-old former bank teller from Lanchang, Pahang – how often one was allowed to write a letter.
His answer was a cheeky, “Well, would five times a day be okay with you? Heheh! This is Pusat-lah not prison… you can write as often as you want, dude! The problem here is, many don’t write, and the officer is hassling me about it.”
(I also remember that he then rolled some tobacco with newspaper into a thin cigarette – something that is extremely difficult to get in prison – which we shared with another guy. I knew that I was going to be okay at that place, and I was more than right about that.)
But there was a problem when it came to David concerning the address. There was only one way – by email. It’s quite fortunate that David’s address was easy enough to remember. But there was another problem: Who will send it? Remember that this is Pusat – even handphones aren’t allowed (for inmates, of course). I fixed an appointment with my 25-year-old counsellor – Cik Rosyatini Muda (It became “Puan” a few months later). Unfortunately, she wasn’t familiar with the Internet (at that time).
However, I was determined. Around February, my relationship with my father and sisters – which had become estranged for years – was magically restored… one of the many wonders I had experienced at that blessed place of Pusat Serenti Gambang. I knew that my nieces were quite familiar with the Internet, so it was to be through indirect communication with David.
I wrote a letter to one of them. It was in English – that’s how I had communicated with my nieces since years ago… they had also lived in Liverpool, England for a few years in the late 80’s-early 90’s, and they understand it very well, of course. I also explained who David was, and asked her to type what I had written inside the letter and address the email to David.
A few weeks passed. There was no word from my niece. Or from David. What had happened? These thoughts came to my mind: Did the Pusat fail to send the letter out? Or did it fail to reach my niece? Or… did David receive it but was shocked to discover the place I was at… and had abandoned me too?
(TO BE CONTINUED. Yes, I know a few people here are going to be annoyed by this. And I expect one of them to send a SMS by 9AM at the latest. SORRY. But this post has become too long… And I must do “work” right now.)
* To Mohd Zawi: It’s all right for you to write a post about the meeting with David on 23 Jan… absolutely no problem with me. In fact, I was waiting for you to write it first.
** I was surprised by a comment by o-tai that came in early today, at the “Stargazer” post. This is one of the most well-written and most fascinating comment that I’ve received here.