Bloom And Blossom

An excerpt by Talissa Febra from Compassion Anthology. A seasonal anthology in collaboration with youth mental health group, Lingkar. Available here

For most of my life, I never liked being outside. Avoided the sun whenever I could. In elementary, other kids would bloom and blossom under the sun every morning. I was one of the kids that always withered away, overwhelmed. Always hiding inside, always in the shadows. My play-dates were always indoor, quiet, and small. Naps, salty snacks, sugary drinks, and horror films. Going outside always meant going to the mall or a restaurant. Parks were for bicycle rides after 3 p.m., when the sun had gone low and soft. My room was the only comfort the world could ever offer and my bed was the only home I would ever accept. Everything else was a threat. Everything else was too much. This went on well into my teens. Making the outside world as a source of my energy was unimaginable then, but once I learned how to do it, it became impossible to unlearn. The key, I have found, is to make a home in yourself. Only then you can find it anywhere. It is simply a method of survival.

I hadn’t always liked living in Bandung. I figured it was because I wasn’t at peace with myself then, which is to say I wouldn’t be able to find peace anywhere, but was still desperate to be somewhere I wasn’t anyway. I thought I wanted to live somewhere else, but I just wanted to leave the city. The idea of leaving made my problems seem, for the moment, tangible; like I could put the entirety of the weight on my shoulder in a box and put it down before I started running. But life didn’t work that way. It took a very long and hard journey for me to be at peace with everything that I am, and leaving the city was no part of it. Life after that was different and easier, but I still had to figure out a way to keep that peace. Not being paralyzed with self-loathing meant I had some more energy to pay more attention to everything around me. It was then I started to see Bandung in a new light and fell in love with it.

When I am myself, the city understands the speed I move in and the temperature I operate at. It is the only city that does. Its friendly weather and slow roll are in perfect tune with my frequency. It is very easy to live here. Now I cannot imagine ever acclimatizing to other cities. I cannot imagine wanting to. Bigger cities are too busy, too loud, too demanding, too suffocating. Smaller ones are too confining, too stripped, too dense, too close. Bandung is relatively cold year-round, but I always look forward to its colder days: grey noons and blue nights where nothing has a shadow in the morning, and where the darkness is so thick that there is no room for imagination at night. The weather lets people breathe, there’s nothing to be sweated out. No one is ever in a hurry to somewhere else, somewhere cooler and hidden from the all-powerful sun.

And the nights are always a dream. The moon's weak light mirrors mine, its craters grow according to the size of my worry. I wear the night like blankets—wrappings for the body when arms won’t do. On these days, my mind would hum and spark like a live wire. My heart is at ease and my body is filled with more energy; getting up and ready in the morning is easier, and I don’t have to beg for sleep to come at night.

Some call Bandung the city of romance, promising people who pass through the city a love story of their own. There is softness and delicacy to the city. It is humble and humbling. No matter how busy and crowded the city gets, it doesn’t become cutting or suffocating. I believe that the best relationship should be an antidote to stress, not a creator, and with that I can say that the greatest romance I have ever had in this city is with the city itself. I have had hard times here, of course, but the city’s innately slow tik-tok means I can live out my distress peacefully. In here, you always have time. There is never a rush. In here, everything is within reach.

Great romances dictate that you come out of it a better person, eyes lit up with a new perspective and heart filled with lessons. My heart is only a muscle, but it can learn more things than biology would allow. It has been trained and conditioned to feel certain things in certain places—my attempt to redefine muscle memory. It’s how I make the whole city my home, it’s how I make the city take care of me. I rewrote the map of the city by assigning certain places to be my charging stations, and I coded it into me: a coffee shop that offers relief, like the first cigarette after eight weeks; a bar that offers comfort, like hearing your favorite song the moment you step inside a car; a restaurant that offers joy and familiarity, like finding something you thought you had lost forever. It’s a two-way street: I go to these places when I feel certain things, and being in these places gives me feelings I want to feel when I am unable to conjure them on my own.

A city, like a body, is a map to its own past—a living history. A city, like a body, never feels final and is always changeable. There are streets and buildings that remind you of the city’s truth: it was built by and on colonialism, from the streets of Braga, the hotels of Asia-Afrika, to Gedung Sate. Time capsules that have abandoned time, frozen. History is a negotiation between preservation and reconstruction. What we sometimes forget is that our bodies should be an archive that’s filled with more of ourselves than people who have touched us and things that have hurt us, more lessons than failures, more truths and growths, more happiness than pain. That we should aim to preserve the better parts of ourselves first, and reconstruct our worst experiences to be statues of survival instead of scars of suffering.