The Bonus Years

I was supposed to die at 21. I decided that when I was 16.

At 16, I was the fat, nerdy kid who hated my dad. I hated him for wasting his days playing pool in a smokey room above a kopitiam in town. I hated him for forgetting to pick me up from school at least once a week. I hated that he had tattoos and smoked.

Why couldn’t he be like normal fathers? Why can’t I have a normal father?

I wanted another father.

I hated my life. I was living in a country where I was not a citizen of. Although I excelled academically, I was constantly looked over for opportunities. #2 was always chosen over me because she was a citizen but I was not. I didn’t hate her, but I hated the fact that merit was less useful than birth right.

I hated seeing how hard my mother worked to help pay for my $20 a month school fees. I was upset that I could do nothing to help. I looked at my mother and wondered why she put herself through so much torture. It pained me constantly and I had to hide it.

I felt most useless at 16 and I wanted to end it soon.


I’ll die when I’m 21, I thought.

I researched the best ways to die. By hanging, by asphyxiation, by medication, by CO2 intoxication… there were so many options. I didn’t know which was best so I didn’t choose.

Maybe when I’m 21, I’ll know what way I liked best to die, I thought.

Funnily enough, the moment I decided my expiry year, I became calmer. I approached life with less caution. I joined a karate club the next year, not afraid that I might be beaten to death (because that would fit nicely in my plan, wouldn’t it?).

I started doing a lot of things I never did before. I started to explore spirituality. I meditated daily, preparing myself for the inevitable end. I studied what it meant to die and what to expect.

Happy birthday to me

I was finally 21 in 2010. As did many years before, I had a small celebration with my family. I had planned for this day for so many years. Now I had to decide how I would die.

I thought of knives in the kitchen, how they would pain me and kill me quickly. I wanted so badly to go but yet… I did not. I walked into the kitchen, looked at the knives, and left.

My 16 year old self could not predict that at 21, I was not unhappy and bitter as she was.

Very strangely, because I was so convinced I would never make past my 21st birthday, I had taken risks I would not have taken otherwise. At 21, I was a brown belt holder. I was the president of the karate club in college. I had picked up a part-time job. I paid for my own driving license and a root canal. I had taken part in competitions in Kota Kinabalu, Bintulu and Singapore – places I would have never stepped foot into as a teen if I wasn’t convinced I would be dying soon. I paid for all my textbooks in college. Control of my life was within reach.

Unlike before, I did not feel helpless or hopeless.

In a strange way, picking a year to die did me a favor. It helped me compress my life into the things that mattered most.

The Bonus Years

If you’re someone who should have died at 21, the years after 21 are your bonus years.

I’ve had five bonus years so far. Everytime I celebrate a birthday I count all the things I have enjoyed in my bonus years. Seeing my little sister graduate from college. Helping her with her homework. Helping my mum build a pizza business. Seeing my dad in a different light.

Whenever something big happens at home, I always think, ‘I could have never seen this if I had died.’

What is strange about these bonus years is that I don’t know what to expect. I had planned my years between 16 and 21 but these bonus years caught me by surprise.

Like everything that is a bonus, you try not to waste it. I try my best to make the best use of every day because I really don’t know how long I have here. If I’m lucky, maybe another 50 years, but I would be happy even if I died tomorrow.

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