An Endless War
How do I explain those years? Living in fear, waking up, keeping everything together with games and books and comics my only real company. I like to think I’ve done a good job in the preceding pages but like every writer I sometimes wonder if I have told it as truly as it really was and really happened.
Life was hell. Or rather, life was war. Danger was out there – in my mother’s constant rages, in people asking me questions I was terrified of and couldn’t answer. Danger was inside as well – the constant fear of relapse, of the darkness within myself. Fear, always the same unrelenting fear. I could keep it away but I could never block it out completely. It was inside me and outside me and in everything around.
There was another me that was birthed during this time in order to survive. Psycare has a model of the Higher Self which includes the Warrior Self, the Visionary, the Healer and the Teacher. The other Me that appeared was most definitely a Warrior.
Everything since young I had always been fascinated by combat. I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War when I was nine, the Book of Five Rings when I was fifteen. I discarded fantasy novels on the premise that “there was not enough fighting.” Next to the storyline, a good combat system was what I looked for most in a game. The clash of blade on blade, the positioning of hands and feet and torso ambrosia to me. I had done martial arts in the States. Shotokan Karate, picked because – hey, if it’s good enough for Ken and Ryu it’s good enough for me! Jujitsu was my second pick and I had a brief flirtation with judo with Zhen Xun when I came back to Singapore.
Tactics and strategy were my lifeblood. I used to play Herzog Zwei with C and C and I can clearly remember the day I outsmarted the older brother by using a roundabout pincer maneuver that only worked because he had forgotten about the fact that his units needed fuel. My boats went up the river and his base was toast. Ah, those were the days.
I guess that my 20s was the time to put all that knowledge to good use. The blade had been formed from the spirits of steel, but one had to know how to use it, and use it well. The world had shown me no quarter or mercy and I would show it neither.
I fought long and hard but sometimes it never seemed to go anywhere. All this force and strength and power simply to stay in place, keep on surviving, keep on living. To make sure Meimei was ok, and that I was ok.
Deep down I wanted to be moving on to somewhere else…wherever that was. America, Japan, who cared? I even thought of running away to the South Pacific and becoming a pearl diver or something.
It was just not possible. The battles sapped my strength and wore me down, even as I emerged victorious from each one. But I could not admit it at that time, just like how I could not admit that how the second depression really hit me that hard, or that I could possibly be wrong, or that I actually felt worried at times. I had to keep it together not just for Meimei but for myself as well. I couldn’t break down again, couldn’t go back to that black pit of despair. Anything was better than that.
I had to be strong. That one thought overruled everything. I was the void, the steel, the blade. Fight. Keep on fighting, keep on surviving. No thought besides striking. I don’t know if I attained the supreme state of warriorhood that is called “musou” (no thought) in Japanese – where there is no conscious thought, simply reacting as the situation demands – but I sure tried to get there.
A hellish existence, to be sure, but somehow I managed to keep it together. I lived in two worlds. In the human realm I know I did normal, mundane things – go out and buy food, cook, wash the dishes, watch TV once in a while. But in the realm of the spirit there was naught but endless battle.
In the years that have passed I have seen how some people have to kill parts of themselves to live (as did I) and even how parts can be revived and reborn, stronger than before. How there are worse fates than death, either physical or mental. The war is real. As I’ve grown I’ve seen the wilderness of battle in many other people as well. There are truly times that you must fight for your life, your dreams, your heart, your soul.
I sort of ran out of steam after a while. There is only so much punishment people can take before they buckle. I told myself I was invincible, indomitable, and I was, but I was also only human. There were just too many foes to fight, too many things to do. The battles took their tool but I refused to admit it.
I had to be strong for Meimei’s sake. I was her parent and she needed security, a focal point of calm and strength in a world which was constantly fraught with danger and uncertainty. I swore to become that which she needed, a man whose back would never break, no matter the cost. But the cost was considerable.
My Dad would tell me to “take it easy” and I would be like “cut the crap, I’m in a fucking war here!” but I never said it. Take it easy? You had got to be kidding me.
Take it easy. Those words would haunt me for some time, especially since he said them for years after each time we met. When I heard them as a young man I was furious. Did he even think I was capable of taking anything easy? NOTHING was easy! But though my anger was real and legitimate, there was a hidden truth to those words I wouldn’t know for some time.
I didn’t want to give in, though. I saw it as more capitulation, more defeat. I had never been taught the importance of rest – or more to the point, I had never been even shown rest. Certainly no one around me did it. Rest was weak, shameful, along with crying, talking and who knows what else.
I knew deep down somewhere I had to rest…but now that I think about it, I don’t think I would have been able to. There was too much in the way. Rest had become perverted, like so much else. I yearned for it but I had to fight as well, keep fighting, never stop fighting. Be strong, and wipe out all opposition in the way.
No rest, no quarter, nothing except endless battle. No other road but strength, no path save victory.
But what of the rest of myself? The other parts that had their own voices? I asked myself until it hurt so much that I stopped asking. Why didn’t I draw? Why didn’t I write? Why couldn’t I sing as well as I knew that I was able to? Why? Why? Why?
I knew all the answers to those questions. Once again Meimei shed light on it very well – your body remembers. It remembers the pain of wanting to create and not being able to, so it shuts down that part of yourself. As Florence put it, “you had to hold your parents’ psyches inside you, so in a way you had to kill that part of yourself.”
Kill? Yes, in some way. But also live. I wanted to create but I could not, I wanted to live and I had only the barest approximation of an existence. So unconsciously I forged the light of creation into a sword, and that sword would be my means of survival – nay, existence – for the next fifteen years of my life. It is perhaps known best by its Japanese name – katsujinken, the sword that gives life.
Obviously, I did not know how to explain this to anyone. I don’t think I was even truly conscious of it until later in my life. But yet there it was, the life that I REALLY led, not the “normal” smiling, Japanese-translating freelancer I presented to the world.
In Buddhist cosmology there are the 6 realms. The gods, the asuras, the hungry ghosts, the human realm, the animal realm and Hell (or the Buddhist equivalent thereof) The asuras are mighty demi-gods who are almost constantly locked in a battle for supremacy with each other.
There is no problem being an asura in the realm of the devas. The problem comes about when your soul is that of an asura (at least partly) and you live in the human realm. Then everyone else is going out and buying things and going to school and working and watching movies and you are training and fighting to beat invisible foes. The war never ends, not for one second.
It sounds kind of extreme to me even as I write it, and during those years I felt more than a little embarrassed, even at myself. Whoa there Nellie, are you really some kind of superhuman warrior dude? Well in some ways yes. But in some ways I was still deeply, completely and amazingly human. Those two were related in ways that I couldn’t begin to imagine back then. But even as battle consumed me there was something else. The edge of heaven at the end of the rainbow. Even if I couldn’t see it, I could feel it, and it was to there, mapless, that I walked every day.
We do what we must to survive. I felt a deeper resonance at the heart of that blade I wielded, one that went into Eternity itself. Ashura or human, there were foes to be felled and lives to be saved. Fight, live, and one day…one day we would make it out of the battlefield.