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All But The Memories Thrown Away
Richard Lim
27 Jan 2002, The Sunday Times


When she dumped me, I got myself an assignment to Tokyo, to cover the premiere of Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut.

Her father was still in the General Hospital, and I said to her, why don't you stay in my flat while I'm away, you don't then have to travel up and down from your home in Yio Chu Kang. I'll write you a postcard every day, it'll be my rock 'n' roll farewell tour report.

She said okay, and I gave her the keys to the flat.

In Tokyo, and afterwards in Shanghai, where I went on a last-minute whim because I just wanted to get myself lost in another place, I actually wrote to her a postcard everyday.

Each card would have the billing: Rock 'n' roll farewell tour report: Day 1, Day 2, etc, under which I would scribble some silly words.

Such as: "Day 3: I'm here in Shibuya, and the street is thronged with young people, and there are so many pretty girls, and they all have this freshly-scrubbed look, lovely napes, pert breasts, and taut limbs.

"The world must be full of such pretty girls, there are so many fish in the ocean, but why do I ache still for the one fish that will never bite? A jerk at the other end of the line, that's all I want - but, alas, that's what I've become."

Dreadful stuff.

When I got home, I found the postcards stacked neatly on my dining table, obviously left there by my day maid. She didn't stay in my flat after all, and she didn't read a single card. I tore them up and threw them away.

Just as I had thrown away the Tiffany's ring.

One day, knowing fully well I was mad to do so, but like a desperate addict down to his last dollar but driven nevertheless to score his fix, I went down to Tiffany's, and maxed out a credit card to buy a diamond ring.

That night I told her, I bought you a diamond ring.

Really? she said.

Really. But you wouldn't want to see it, right?

You're so sweet, she said. This is the first time anybody has bought me a ring.

But I was right, she didn't want to see it.

I'm sorry, she said.

That's all right, I said.

Come, hold me, she said.

I said, Hold on, let me play you this song.

And I played her Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me on my stereo.

It's a sad song, made all the sadder by Bruce Hornsby's mournful piano accompaniment, and Raitt's authentic cry from the heart.

Lay down with me, tell me no lies
Just hold me close, don't patronise...
Morning will come and I'll do what's right
Just give me till then to give up this fight
And I will give up this fight

There were tears in her eyes. Who's the singer? she asked.

Of course, you're too young to have heard of her, I said. Bonnie Raitt. She had struggled for years, played in one honky-tonk joint too many, and drunk far too much. But she's finally gotten her due recognition. She won a Grammy for the song, and maybe for her album too.

My young friend with her soft heart, she could not give me love, but she gave me what she could afford to give, and she gave it with gratitude and tenderness and sadness. In the darkness, I could feel the dampness on her cheeks under her eyes.

But I was callous. Not long afterwards, I looked up the Yellow Pages, then went to a pawnshop in Geylang to pawn the ring. The man behind the cage said: $3,000. I said: No, $5,000.

The next day I went back to the pawnshop and said to the man: Okay, $3,000.

He said, Sorry, it's now $1,500.

So that's how pawn-brokers make their living, they thrive on their customers' desperation. When you go back a second time, you must be really desperate for cash. Well, I wasn't desperate enough to give him my business.

I thought since I was in Geylang, perhaps I could do a Vincent van Gogh. No, not cut off a slice of my ear to give it to a whore, but to give that ring to one and make her day.

But in the end, I threw the ring, together with its pretty blue box, into the drain, next to where I had parked my car. Good luck to whoever found it.

I am reminded of her each month when the credit-card bill comes, although by now, more than two years later, the ache has become dull.

When I was in Tokyo for the premiere, Tom Cruise was with his wife, Nicole Kidman, both resplendent in the flesh. They are no longer together. Time has passed.

Last night, after I came out of the movie The Others, which stars Kidman, I thought about how I used to act out a variation of the sequence in Eyes Wide Shut, during which the Cruise character, ventures out into the Manhattan night after his wife, played by Kidman, has taunted him with her revelation of a near-sexual encounter with a stranger in the previous year.

In the cab, Cruise's character cannot help but keep summoning up images of his naked wife giving herself up to the stranger with wild abandon. Baby done a bad, bad thing, as Chriss Isaak sings on the soundtrack.

On many a Friday night, when her mobile phone was switched off, I would make frantic calls to her again and again, knowing it was all in vain. By the small hours of the morning, I would be driving aimlessly around town, hoping to shake off the desperation.

Then on late Sunday afternoon, she would call, and she would come over to my place, and all the anguish of Friday evening would be forgotten, at least for a couple of hours.

She would act as though she never knew I had called, so she needn't have to lie.

And I would fight against the impulse to ask her where she had been and why she had switched off her mobile phone, because I didn't want to have to find the reasons to believe.





Richard Lim's website is at limrichard.com

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