We Have The Power To Write Our Own Narrative

It’s cancer’…  The doc said.

And with that prognosis, I saw myself living back in Perth, Western Australia. It’s been 11 years since I left Perth and my relationship with the city is still uneasy. I’ve grown up a hell of a lot since then and have made peace with a lot of people, places and things from the past that have haunted me. I’ve made peace with Perth too, but I don’t know if I ever want to live there again. I’m grateful for where it has led me and how it has shaped the person I am, but there is still bitterness in the air whenever I visit that I can’t quite get rid of.

Perth was thrust upon me. It was the first Wester’ and ‘white’ city that I’d ever visited and I was super excited to be there. Soon, my 8 year old self was struggling to hold onto that excitement. My awe of the beautiful sandy beaches, clean air and sunny blue sky was quickly replaced by confusion, despair and alienation as I realized that I was in fact, not on holiday as I was led to believe, but rather on a whole new chapter of my life.

Perth turned my life upside down. The city symbolized a change of fate for me. It symbolized the breakdown of my parents’ marriage, the end of my spoiled childhood and a scarring foreign encounter with the West. Perth made me feel like an outsider. The city projected what I saw as white ideals and expectations that I couldn’t understand at the time or live up to. I wasn’t outgoing or macho enough like the rest of the boys in school. I was too fat to be sporty like most of the other kids. I seemed to focus too much time on studying, and preferred to spend my lunch time eating in the shade or volunteering at the library rather than running around the school grounds, taking up a sport or participating in group activities. I tried to preserve the Albert that I knew but soon realized that how I acted and who I was back home in Jakarta had to be a thing of the past if I ever wanted to fit in or feel like I belong.

I tried hard assimilating, and in my efforts, it made me hate myself for being an Asian and the stereotypes that came along with it at the time. I tried hard, shedding my ‘Asianness’ and embracing the ‘white’ way of thinking and living—a more open, liberated and individualistic view of the world. This new way of thinking paved the way for me to experiment with my sexuality and allowed me to realize that I was, in fact, a gay teen. Yet at the time, this realization made me frustrated more than anything. Perth teased the homosexuality out of me, but I was not able to deal with it. Familial and cultural beliefs and expectations came roaring back and I was upset that the city was open-minded enough to lure me to explore my sexuality but was not progressive enough to spur me on to follow through and embrace my sexuality fully. Not that it was entirely Perth’s fault that I couldn’t come out while I was living there, but it was another example of me trying to adopt a more liberal way of living when I was in fact, perhaps, not ready to do so.

‘He’s got 6 months if we don’t operate. One year, probably two if we do, but no guarantee.’

I left Perth at 21, thinking that if I do come back there to live again, it will be in my own terms. Yet here I am, potentially having to go back out of love and care for my step dad and mum. I didn’t expect Perth to haul me back so forcefully like this, but neither did my stepdad expect his cancer to return so aggressively. I’ve always believed that you attract what you’re ready for (whether it’s readiness in terms of dealing with something or someone, or readiness in terms of when the universe deems that it is your time). Life is not fair, and we are often dealt unexpected cards, but more often than not, we are fortunate enough to be able to determine how we respond and move forward. My stepdad has chosen to fight his cancer with every bit of strength and positivity he has, and I know I need to adopt the same approach. I can choose to feed my Perth demons by letting the past continue to haunt and paralyze me or I can choose to kill them with acceptance, kindness and positivity.  

Despite all the challenges that Perth has thrown at me, it has given me a lot of love and care. When I first lived there, I never felt that I was in control of my life or what was happening to me. I was in reactive mode and playing catch up. I needed to get out of the city to better understand myself and what was happening, and that helped me change my perspective. I told my stepdad recently that while we cannot control what happens to us, we have the power to write our own narrative. And the next time I’m back in Perth, I intend to fully practice what I preach.