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    4 Oct 2003

    I have wasted the last 4 years of my life.

    I woke up and stared at the ceiling. I saw patches of white against the blue. They looked like sparse clouds lost in the deep blue sky, looking for other clouds to join up with and be important.

    We had painted the room together. It was a hot afternoon and I had been enthusiastic enough. The walls were perfectly done, but when we got to the ceiling, we were hot and our heads were filled with better things to do on a Sunday afternoon. So we dabbed impatiently at the ceiling with our paint sticks and after an hour of stabbing, our faces were splotched with blue specks, as if we wanted very much to be smurfs. That white t-shirt I wore that day still has blue on it.

    Getting up in the morning is a chore and it's worse getting up and having nothing to look forward to. The room has a single poster on the wall. Uma Thurman lies on the bed with a lit White Rabbit cigarette on her left hand and she looks questioningly at me. I have never noticed her expression till this morning.

    Until yesterday, the room was filled with little trinkets and cds stacked neatly on a table along the wall together with the tv. Today, empty spaces stood where her ornaments once were. We seldom dusted that table and the rectangular outlines of a photo frame, a bust of Karl Marx and a host of small figurines were the only testament of what had stood there for the past four years.

    I stared out of the window and wished I hadn't said anything.

    I had seen the signs a long time ago but I didn't recognise them for what they were. Perhaps its because I trusted her or maybe because I didn't see it as anything much. Perhaps I had wanted it to happen.

    But I do recall the one significant episode that started the entire chain of events.

    I got up and walked to the small kitchenette and turned on the coffee machine. It rumbled noisily as it struggled to get the water hot enough to push through the filter of coffee powder. The living room was bare now except for a two person couch and a big television. The rug that hugged the floor in front of the couch had been taken away. It was peculiar but the room looked naked without that small rug.

    It started one night when she came home late from work. She worked in a advertising company as an accounts executive. She often complained of the amount of work she had to do and the accounts she had to handle but she liked it. She didn't like to work late though. She had said that her work stops when her boss leaves which was usually six in the evenings.

    "An urgent conference call" she said.

    It was normal that she had to stay back sometimes but I remembered because she came back with a different skirt. I remember her skirt because it was the one she had worn to my brother's wedding. I remember commenting on it as I drove her to work that morning. I remember her sitting on the bed, rolling her stockings up her legs carefully in the morning but she came back with her legs bare. When she came into the house, she gave a cursory 'hi' before heading straight to the bathroom instead of the ritualistic hug we performed every evening. It was a 'goodbye world, hello us' hug which she insisted on cultivating when we started living together. I thought it was all a little strange and when she went into the bathroom I opened her bag and there wasn't a skirt nor stockings.

    That was the precise moment I would tell my friends later if they asked me when I first knew.

    I poured milk into my coffee until it was almost white. I like my coffee creamy and took up a dirty spoon from the sink and spooned sugar into the mug and stirred. The thought that she was the last to use the spoon occurred to me and I felt like crying.

    It is funny how whenever one gets heartbroken, we feel that this is the worst it can get. When my last relationship failed, I imagined that then, this would be the dullest ache that my chest can feel or that the pain in my head is the most excruciating that it could ever endure, that the tears that I cry are the most bitter and my sobs the most piercing. So why does it feel even more agonising now? Is there ever going to be a limit to it?

    If I were to take into account the different women I loved and put it in terms of a chronological chart showing my emotional distress at the end of each affair, I'd probably find that each subsequent relationship had a higher spike than the last. I'd imagine that having felt the sorrow of heartbreak before, I would be desensitised to future turmoil. I know that I would feel like this, cry like this and hurt like this. I experience similar symptoms in each case but why does the intensity increase when I had been forewarned? Whatever happened to the concept of Pavlovian conditioning? Isn't this pain more motivating than electrical shocks on mice?
    Half of my coffee lay splattered on the kitchen table. I was lost in my thoughts and hadn't stopped stirring but that was ok. I didn't feel like I needed it anymore. I was already too awake for my liking. All I wanted to do was to close my eyes, sleep and wake up with painful memories erased or better yet, having her warm body beside me breathing softly.

    No one can describe the pain of heartbreak to you. Many people have tried to do it, writers have stretched the limits of the English vocabulary to try to portray it but it's impossible that such emotional injury can ever be elucidated. It can only be felt, not explained.

    When I confronted her and she admitted to seeing her colleague, I felt like someone had kicked me hard in the chest with a steel toe boot and my throat became tight. I had tunnel vision and I saw her face surrounded by halos of flashing white spots. I had to remember to breathe.

    On retrospect, I am constantly amazed how emotions can affect one physically. It was as if I had been tackled hard to the ground by a rugby player and had my chest stomped on by the rest of his team. And then the opposing team took their turn. But even that falls short of the pain I felt. Everyone tells you what to expect, and you do expect it, but you can't deal with it when it does.

    I can understand why my parents worried so much for me when I first started dating. They always told me to put myself first and never let any one girl affect me, that I should always be in control of a relationship and not let anything or anyone bother me. They tried to explain that being able to find someone who I love and loves me back was rare and few people, if ever, managed to find that perfect partner and so I had to be picky, I had to be aloof, I had to be indifferent to girls because they caused pain.

    I didn't believe them of course, I mean, they were married and they belonged to a different time. In this era, everyone was searching for love and finding it. The time of arranged marriages were long past. We were an empowered generation.

    But now I dreaded it.

    As much as I like being able to make my own choices, I fancied having my future, if any, relationships arranged. If it fails, at least I have someone to blame.

    I walked back into the room to change. The wardrobe was empty except for 10 shirts and 3 pants which now hung forlornly on the rack previously struggling under the weight of the clothes suspended on it. I had no trouble taking down my shirt and pants today where I previously had to make sure that I didn't dislodge her clothes or break her hangers where she hung 5 skirts, put together because they fitted a particular category in her head.

    I didn't feel like going to work today but I thought I needed some structure now. A semblance of normality, of life marching on. I needed it to pretend that things are fine.

    I didn't confront her that night when she came home with a different skirt. We had talked so much about spending a life together and that we would always be faithful and never cheat on each other so much so that it seemed ridiculous that just because she had a midday change of wardrobe that I would suspect her infidelity.

    Then one night the phone rang. The phone was on my side of the bed. I had put it there because she was a light sleeper and I didn't want her to be woken up unnecessarily. I had picked it up quickly so she wouldn't be roused by it.

    "Hello," I whispered, but there wasn't any answer and after a few seconds, the caller hung up. I replaced the phone and lay back before it rang again. With a similar response. She had an important meeting the next morning and I unhooked the phone. I turned to see if she was awoken by the ringing and saw, in the dimness of the room, that her eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling. She looked at me briefly and closed her eyes without saying a word.

    It was only the next morning when I was drafting an email to a client that I realised that the caller might be someone more than a faulty phone connection. The irony wasn't lost on me that I had rang her apartment when she was still living with her ex-boyfriend, whom she broke up to be with me.

    I stood naked in front of the mirror and looked at myself. I was going to turn 35 in a few months time and my hair had started receding. My cheeks, which were once described as high, were starting to droop into jowls. My chin now had a twin and I stared at their reflection; they seem happy to have found each other. The flab, which had been hidden beneath the surface of my stomach, now poked out proudly along my sides and hung out slovenly in the middle. My eyes had a dimness about them as if I had closed them too much the past few years and it had lost their colour to the underside of my eyelid. I wonder if it happened because I have grown old or whether it is because the relationship had sapped me.

    "Are you seeing someone else?" I had asked yesterday morning.

    She was combing her long hair at the dressing table. She had a ritual which I found amusing. She had to stroke her hair on the left side of the head 5 times and then switch to the right side of her head where she combed it exactly 5 times and repeated the process even if the hair on one side was neatly in place.

    She looked at me through the mirror and didn't say a word.

    In college, I learnt that we derive 90% of effective communication through non-verbal cues such as body language and eye contact. I wish I hadn't taken that course because I didn't like the answer her eyes gave me.

    This wasn't the first time I have been two-timed by a woman and when it happens, you always think it's personal. I mean there must be a flaw in you, otherwise why would your girlfriend cheat on you? And opinions gathered from my friends and most men would probably agree, it probably stemmed from the sex. It's a gut issue. You can't help but think it and that's the first thing I thought about as I looked at her reflection in the mirror - her having sex with another man and coming home to me.

    I had felt a thrill each time we met and had sex when she was still seeing her boyfriend. As she lay before me and I thrust into her, I had the powerful idea that I was providing her with breathtaking sex that she could never experience with her beau then. She had moaned and screamed that I was 'amazing' and 'yummy'. As I kneeled in front of her body, I felt as if I was mighty Caesar, surveying all the lands I had before me. And it was good.

    I wonder now if she says the exact same things to her colleague when they're fucking like rabbits or if he feels the same power as I did.

    It is one of the curses of having a penis. Freud was so wrong when he talked about penis envy. I would gladly have given mine away and be a woman so I don't have to deal with the constant thought at the back of my mind that there might be one hanging out there that provides or has provided more pleasure than mine has. Hippocrates, too, got it wrong when he said that jealousy comes from bile; it really originates from the dick.

    I took my underwear from the closet and put it on. They were much too tight around my hips for me and pushed my flab out, making it more obvious than it already was. I used to fit into them comfortably. Quite a while ago. I stepped into my pants and buttoned my shirt and tucked it in.

    I jumped when the phone rang. I sat on the bed and looked at it. It was black and was in a shape of a car. Its headlights flashed when someone called.

    I knew that it was over. It had to be. I came back last night to an empty house. I knew it couldn't be her calling. She had no reason to. The empty drawers were testament to her decision. There was nothing left in the house she needed; certainly not me.

    I sat on the bed and watched the flashing headlights till they stopped. I imagined for a while that it was her calling to plead with me that she wanted to get back together, that she was sorry and that I was adamant about not wanting her, that my life was much better without her.

    That made me happy for all of 2 seconds before I noticed that only one side of the bed looked like it was slept in. Mine.

    What possessed me to start a relationship with a woman who had cheated on her ex, even if it was to be with me? Back then I had a full head of hair and a stomach level below my chest. I felt invincible, managing to draw her attention away from her investment banker of a boyfriend. Her credibility didn't matter to me then. I had an inflated ego that made me confident that she would never want anyone else. She had told me herself that I fill up the void in her life like no one can. Now I wonder if she repeats the same lines to her victims.

    If I had been rational with my ear to the ground and my dick in my pants, I would have lots of doubts of even having a relationship with her. The foundation of all relationships is trust and we started ours with lies and deceit, albeit ones that worked my way. If a person is able to cheat on someone else, what strong moral issues will there be when they have opportunity to do so again? It was a mistake and like most mistakes, I only realised it on hindsight.

    I had to leave the house right away. There were too many memories behind each door, stories screaming out from each piece of furniture. We had made love on the dining table, fell asleep watching tv on that couch and we bathed together in the bathtub. Everything in the house spoke volumes of what had been and although I knew that time would silence those ghosts, it would be a long while before their whispering stopped.

    I put on my shoes and walked out of the apartment and closed the door. I knew I had locked the door behind me without my keys. But that was fine. I didn't know if I was ever coming back.