IT is incredible how friendships can be forged from conversations exchanged over the Internet between people who are hundreds or even thousands of kilometres apart. That was how Wuan and I met, in one of the channels of the Internet Relay Chat (IRC).
That was the era before broadband and the proliferation of digital cameras. We used 56k modems that emitted beeps like fax machines when dialling into the Internet. Our conversations were mostly messages typed out in text with some ASCII art thrown in.
She was in Kuala Lumpur. I was in Penang. We chatted about general topics and discovered that we had many common interests. We liked nature, durians and delicious hawker food. From chatting online, we graduated to phone conversations and then decided that we were comfortable enough with each other to finally meet face-to-face.
I took a flight down to see her. That was the first time I travelled unaccompanied after becoming a tetraplegic. It was a major challenge. I was not sure how I could move around the airport and get into the plane with my wheelchair. Fortunately, the airline staff provided all the support I needed for an uneventful journey.
It was also to be a trip to meet the other friends I got acquainted with on the same IRC channel. A couple of them came to pick me up from the airport. We had lunch together and they helped me to check into the hotel after that. We promised to meet up again before I left.
Wuan and I had made plans to have dinner together that evening. While waiting for her in the hotel, I wondered how we would react on meeting each other in real life for the first time. From the instance when we began chatting online, I never concealed the fact that I was using a wheelchair. Even so, imagining my impairments could be vastly different from actually seeing them.
As those thoughts were running through my mind, there was a knock on the door. I looked at my watch. It must be her. I opened the heavy door with some difficulty. Our eyes met. It was as if we had known each other for a long time. Our after-dinner conversation dragged into the wee hours of the morning. We had so much to share with each other.
We spent the rest of my time in the city together dining, strolling the breadth and length of shopping malls and generally enjoying each other’s company. She never once showed any discomfort or being embarrassed when we were out together. That was a good sign. She even learnt to disassemble my wheelchair and put it into the taxi boot. Needless to say, I did not get to meet my other friends from IRC again that trip.
Four days passed by too quickly. Soon it was time for me to leave. There was still so much we wanted to share with each other. I wished we had more time together. We had no inkling of when we could meet again. That aching in the heart the moment we parted told me with certainty that I was indeed in love.
Our relationship began to flourish from that point onwards. The greatest hurdle then was not the distance between us. Whenever we could, we were more than happy to make the 400km-journey to see each other. Rather, parental objections on her side made us wonder how we could take the relationship to the next level.
I understood their concerns. My impairments were not exactly attributes parents desired for in a son-in-law. No parent would want to see their child marry a disabled person. There was little else I could offer to alleviate their unease except to pledge to love their daughter with all my heart and soul. We carried on despite that, hoping against hope that they would eventually accept our relationship.
When my mother became terminally ill, Wuan took leave from work to help me look after her. The day before Wuan had to go back, my mother cried. Wuan consoled her and assured her that she would be coming to see her again the following month. Perhaps, my mother already knew that it was to be the last time she would see her.
She slipped into a coma one week later. Wuan would call at pre-arranged times and I would place the phone over my mother’s ear for Wuan to give her some words of encouragement. After one of those conversations, I asked Wuan what she said to her.
“I told her I will be going to Penang this weekend.” There was tiredness in her voice. “I told her if she could, to wait for me. But if she is suffering too much it is all right to let go. I will look after you. I asked her to please not to worry any more.”
I listened in silence, choked with emotions and trying hard to hold back my tears. Ultimately, my mother knew I was in good hands after she was gone. It was no wonder that Wuan was the only woman in my life that my mother approved of.In the end, Wuan never made it to see her for one last time. She breathed her last a few hours before Wuan arrived.
Wuan was a lifesaver during those months of profound grieving after my mother passed away. She listened patiently to my outpouring of sorrows every night and then gently consoled me. She gave me space and time to heal emotionally, which I eventually did, with a lot of encouragement and support from her.
After eight long years of being together, Wuan’s parents finally relented and gave us their blessings. Wuan arranged for us to go back to her home town to meet them. That two-hour journey was the longest I had ever made. I was full of nerves the entire way.
Her father’s first words when we met were, “Welcome to the family.”
My ears have not heard sweeter words. It was as if the overcast sky suddenly cleared up and the sun was shining brilliantly bright. The anxieties just melted away. That indication of approval was all Wuan and I had been waiting for, for so many years. They have since accepted me wholeheartedly, impairments and all.
Wuan and I have been blissfully married for six years now. She is not only my wife but my best friend and staunchest supporter as well. The very reason I am able to do what I am doing now is because she has always backed me up in every way she possibly could.
One evening, while lazing in the living room watching television together, I asked her “Why do you love me?”
“There is no why to it. I just love you for who you are.”
Nothing more needed to be said. If I am not the luckiest man on Earth, no one else is.
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