Jane left her apartment and approached the lift, praying along the way that her guest would listen and stay in the bedroom. Jane offered to get some food for them, even though she knew it was more an excuse to get out of the house. Had she stayed, the argument would likely have escalated, and the yelling was sure to attract unwanted attention.
Her younger self was in her apartment. Her pregnant, 18-year-old, flesh and blood self was in her apartment. Her hair, her clothes, and especially the look on her face, Jane was a hundred percent sure the young girl who turned up at her apartment was her 16 years ago. Perhaps a normal person would wonder about the how and why, but all Jane could feel was what seeing her younger self dredged up.
How she talked and reasoned was exactly how Jane used to do it endlessly in her mind back when it happened. Those thoughts now were manifested in the flesh, and neither its absurdity nor novelty made it any less frustrating. While the swirl of thoughts and feelings were fresh for her younger self, it was a most painful revisit to that moment 16 years ago for Jane.
Unprepared was a cliché made even more painful to admit when it really did happen. The bad thing about going through your thoughts by yourself was you tend to come to the worse conclusions. Jane was convinced she deserved what happened, she knew she was close to the cliff but flirted with it anyway. It was not that she felt invincible; but a mistaken belief that nothing would happen to her.
Initially Jane feared she had led down the people in her life. Specifically, she feared letting down the expectations of the people around her. Then it turned into dread over their reactions, would they abandon her? She knew they loved and stood by their daughter or friend, Jane. But would they still see her as that Jane? Her thoughts then shifted to herself and her future. She had her own values, beliefs and dreams, all shattered into uncertain shards. She concluded herself a fraud and hypocrite, and if her loved ones did leave, she would not blame them.
The flood of emotions her younger self brought up was almost too much for Jane to bear. She tried to urge her younger self to make different choices, hoping to protect her from what she knew was going to happen. For a moment, Jane thought perhaps this was her second chance to right a few wrongs of her past. That was unfortunately what caused the conversation to go downhill but Jane was thankful she managed to hold back from going too far. The years helped Jane gain some perspective and she learned to be kinder towards herself. A brief moment of introspection and Jane realized she was being as harsh to her younger self as she was to herself all those years ago.
Jane offered to buy dinner for the both of them. Thankfully she knew exactly what food would help and walked to the small stall nearby. It was a simple dish, fishball noodles, boiled fish paste rolled into balls with rice noodles and soup. It was Jane’s favorite food since childhood, and her regularity earned her the status as the favorite patron of the stall owner, Uncle Lee.
Uncle Lee ran and cooked at the stall by himself for almost 30 years, never missing a day of work. When Jane was a little girl, she went up to the stall and asked for a bowl of fishball noodles, not knowing she had to pay for it. Instead of correcting her, Uncle Lee gave her a bowl with extra fishballs. Jane eventually learned to pay for the food, but Uncle Lee never stopped giving extra fishballs for her orders.
“Two bowls, Jane? Somebody is hungry today!”
“I have a friend over.” Jane said with a smile.
Uncle Lee gave her a longer stare before moving closer and almost whispering, “You looked troubled, girl. Everything okay?”
Jane could never resist Uncle Lee’s sympathetic ear and they both ended up talking. Jane regaled him about her younger self in her apartment, but altered her identity to a friend instead. Jane was always grateful for Uncle Lee’s presence in her life, someone she could turn to without fear of judgment.
“Ah, girl. Your friend sounds a lot like you when you came to me all those years ago.”
Jane sneaked a quick suppressed laugh at that statement, if only he knew.
“I remembered. You gave me a bowl with extra fishballs without saying a word. I wished I was as non-judgmental as you and just kept quiet with my friend.”
Uncle Lee smiled, “Actually, I did judge you. I thought it was so silly of you to have such little regard for your future. I know so many kids your age who made the same mistake and thought you should have known better!”
Jane turned and stared wide-eyed at Uncle Lee.
“But I didn’t say anything because what good would that do? How will telling you that be helpful at all?”
Jane was a little startled at Uncle Lee’s revelation of what he really thought back then, a far cry from what she imagined. But somehow, she did not find herself feeling offended. She thought back to that day and the time after that. When Jane decided to move out and find her own place, he helped her with that. His wife and he would take Jane to all the doctor appointments and made sure she had everything she needed to settle in her current apartment, including of course, a regular supply of fishball noodles. Everything they did seemed almost contradictory to what Uncle Lee just told her about what he truly thought.
Jane was snapped back to the moment by Uncle Lee, who reminded her of her very hungry friend waiting for her meal. Jane gave Uncle Lee a heartfelt hug before grabbing the food and headed back. She was relieved to find her younger self right where she left her, albeit a hungrier version.
“Fishball noodles from Uncle Lee!” The younger Jane exclaimed; the smell informed her faster than her eyes could. She wanted to ask how Jane knew but paused after arriving at the answer herself.
As her younger self was busy scoffing down her food, Jane started with an apology. The trip gave her some time to think and formulate a response she was happier with. Jane realized she should have handled her younger self as she was rather than how she should be.
“Look, I’m sorry about before. It wasn’t fair for me to lay into you like that. I just hope for you to know a few things I wished I knew back then. But the choice of what to do next is up to you and I’ll support you however I can.” Jane said.
Jane recalled how she completely uprooted her life when she discovered she was pregnant. She was utterly convinced nobody would approve or support her, and she gave in to her urge to run away and start afresh somewhere else. Aside from Uncle Lee and his family, Jane eventually met new friends from work and neighbors, who helped and supported her in ways she never imagined possible. But what surprised Jane the most were the old friends who tracked her down and stubbornly insisted on wedging themselves into her life. And when Jane left to stay on her own, she was convinced it was the last time she would ever see her family. But her mother texted her a few days later and they gradually worked up from text messages to frequent visits by the whole family.
Jane took her younger self’s hands and looked intently at her as if to emphasize her point. Jane was wrong to think she was alone back then, just as her greatest fear was being judged too harshly, she had done the same thing to the people in her life by assuming how they would have reacted. And if there was anything she regretted, it was the unnecessary agony she put herself and the people who cared about her through. Sure, not everyone stayed in her life, but the ones that truly mattered did.
Her younger self was overcome with tears at this point and Jane offered to fetch a glass of water. As she walked to the kitchen, the strangeness of the situation oddly caught up to her for the first time. She considered the rationality of what was happening and if perhaps, she was simply hallucinating or dreaming the whole thing. A sort of cathartic epiphany her mind cooked up for her to move forward with her own life. It was bizarrely enough the simpler answer. Jane returned to the bedroom to find it empty, for a moment saddened she was probably right about imagining the whole thing.
And then she noticed the half-eaten bowl of fishball noodles on her desk, with steam still dancing on the surface.