Letters of Life

These Golden Hours

You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by. -James M. Barrie, novelist and playwright (1860-1937)

The Clock Tower, Photographed by Karen Chia

Last Sunday afternoon, several old classmates and I met at our alma mater, a mission girl’s school on a hill in the middle of downtown. The school had moved somewhere else about a decade ago, but the buildings, some of them at least 80 years old, remained untouched when the campus was converted into an enclave of studios, cafes, ateliers, even an arthouse cinema.

Things never stay the same, and the land has been slated for redevelopment under the city’s master plan. Come next year, nothing we remember will be left standing, save a building or two. This is much worse, better to get rid of the whole thing than let one or two buildings stand in sad solitude, like debris the tide has left behind. Nobody wants to remember bits of their past this way.

Some of the girls, especially those who remembered me as an unsociable and insecure teen, didn’t expect to see something quite the opposite when we met again.

Back then, things were falling apart in slow motion on the home front, and it was all I could do to be as normal as I could in school, but unfortunately, I didn’t have the strength or whatever it took to extend myself beyond my immediate circle of friends. I hardly spoke to or made eye contact with the girls from other classes. I was a sullen knot of insecurity, walking around with an air of suspicion and desperation.

It’s all much better now, but how would they know that?

I came up to them yesterday afternoon, asking about their lives, their jobs, and they seemed uncomfortable, because what they remember of me as a withdrawn angsty teen is forever etched in youthful (thus eternal) memory and this woman, smiling and a little more pulled-together, they can’t put a finger on.

As we lingered in our form room, now just an empty room with whitewashed walls, we wondered why we never took any pictures of our lives cloistered together all those endless days and months, which I now know are the forever years. It seemed almost three decades too late.

A classmate, one whom I was quite close to then, smiled and put it this way, “We didn’t take any pictures because all we wanted to do was to get out of here.”

So we let them slip by, these golden hours.


2 Responses »

  1. This comes across so honestly and clearly – so lacking in vanity. What a phrase – ‘sullen knot of insecurity’. Just to say I’ve really enjoyed reading this & feel I’ve learned something.

  2. Thank you, ludd49, for reading and your kind comments. The ‘sullen knot’ phrase was inspired, I think, by one of my favourite American writers, William Maxwell (1908 – 2000).

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