I still remember how I met Eric*, a co-worker, at a company event almost two years ago. He was handsome, athletic and boasted a ripped, gym-honed body. “You’ve got the physique of a sports instructor,” I told him playfully. Eric was flattered and we started chatting. We were both in the civil service, but had never met as we were in separate branches. After our first meeting, we SMSed and e-mailed each other. A fortnight later, we went on our first date. He was eight years older and certainly knew how to impress a girl.
Once, while we were exploring the Marina Bay Sands Skypark, he found me hotel bath towels after I said I felt chilly. When I was sick, he would call to check on me three times a day and bring me medicine and nourishing drinks. Being outdoorsy, we sometimes jogged together. Once, I felt faint as we scaled a steep hill. I fell into his arms, quite literally, as he caught me. As he fussed over me, he blamed himself for not being more attentive. I recall being on the verge of blacking out, all the while thinking, “Wow, what a guy.”
Within a month, we were officially an item.
A PERSONALITY CHANGE
The first couple of months with Eric were bliss. We would meet almost every day after work. We enjoyed working out together or going for a run. Things progressed quickly. Eric started talking about our future together, suggesting that we get married within two years. I was introduced to his family – he was Malaysian, and his family members lived across the Causeway. I began staying over some nights at Eric’s rented apartment here. But as quickly as it started, our fairy tale started to unravel.
I soon discovered that Eric had a dark, capricious side and would flare up over the smallest matters. We had our first major argument two months into the relationship. We were out shopping and I had complained about a rude salesgirl. He lashed out, accusing me of being unreasonable and for making a fuss over nothing.
“You’re such a typical Singaporean,” he yelled, before storming off.
It got worse. When I dropped by his home to deliver medicine after he’d fallen ill, he scolded me for being intrusive. A few weeks later, he skipped out on celebrating my birthday, saying he had to visit his family in Malaysia.
Our romance was unravelling at a shocking speed, and I had no idea what I’d done wrong. He would ignore my SMSes and phone calls. I messaged him on Facebook, asking if he still wanted the relationship. His curt reply: “You’re a smart girl; you’re sure to figure it out.”
I felt as if my heart had shattered.
By the third month of our relationship, he was still avoiding my attempts to contact him. Shortly after, on Valentine’s Day, he called me saying that I was a “nice girl” and that he was sure I would find someone “more suitable”. From that point, I considered our relationship over. One month later, he met me to return some of my belongings. Seeing me in person for the first time in a while stirred up his emotions. He confessed that he felt “bad” about ditching me and asked for a reconciliation.
Confused, I decided to wait it out, to see if he was sincere. He’d also taken leave to go overseas, so I planned to have a long talk with him when he returned. As it turned out, I didn’t see him again.
WITHOUT A TRACE
In March 2011, around the same time Eric suggested we get back together, he got a mediocre work appraisal which deeply upset him. He told me that he was contemplating resigning from his job, and that he might return to Malaysia to start a business. He took his annual leave, which totalled about two weeks. I didn’t contact him as I figured he was abroad. Then in early April, I found out from his colleagues that Eric had stopped showing up for work without reason. He had been uncontactable for two days.
Before Eric left, he told me he’d moved out of his rented apartment, but he never updated me on his new address. None of his colleagues knew where he’d moved to. Even more mysteriously, his mobile phone line had been cut. He had also deleted me and our other colleagues on Facebook. Desperate for answers, I reached out to his good friend in Singapore. But he refused to give me Eric’s new phone number or address. Chillingly, he told me that Eric was in a “very bad place” and was suffering from a “condition”, without elaborating.
Friends urged me to move on, but I couldn’t. Over the next seven months, I sent Eric several Facebook messages to ask if he was all right. He never replied. Some of my pals were quite tactless, saying: “You liked him so much, but look how he left you without a word!”
Others speculated it had been a one-sided relationship, or that I’d only fallen for him because of his looks. It stung, but I pretended not to care. I considered looking for him at his family home, a terrace house, in Malaysia. But I didn’t even know the exact address – just the name of the property, which he’d mentioned before.
AN UNEXPECTED REUNION
By November, I was between jobs – I’d left my company in hopes of changing careers. With more free time, I set out to look for Eric. I still cared enough to want to know if he was all right. I googled the name of his property and obtained a street address in Malaysia. I paid a taxi driver $250 to take me there. My friends advised me against it, but I went ahead anyway.
Thankfully, my parents, who knew the whole story, were supportive, trusting I could look out for myself. After two and a half hours, I arrived and started knocking on random doors in the area. I had forgotten which house he’d lived in. On the second try, I struck gold – his mother answered the door. Recognising me, she was surprised but let me in to see her son.
It was my first meeting with Eric after seven months and it was hardly a joyous reunion. When he saw me, he didn’t bat an eyelid.
All he said was: “Oh, you’re here.”
I was also shocked by his appearance – he’d lost 10kg and looked frail, bones practically jutting out of his skin. He told me that he’d returned to live with his mother and siblings in Malaysia as he couldn’t find affordable accommodation in Singapore. As for leaving work, he insisted he’d had a fever and had been “too sick” to call in for work.
In the past months, he related that he’d been living like a “zombie”, trying to make ends meet. He was evasive about his work, saying cryptically that he had “fallen off the straight path”. After more probing, he finally admitted that he was doing odd jobs – one of which was as a runner for illegal moneylenders in Malaysia. I noticed scars on his forearms, where he’d been cutting himself because of personal woes. He was in credit card debt and claimed that banks in Singapore and Malaysia were chasing him for over $10,000. His problems and hectic work schedule were taking a toll on him: over lunch at his house, he mumbled to himself and appeared “zoned out”. Midway through our conversation, he even fell asleep at the table!
His mother told me ruefully that Eric had been “out of it” for the past few months – he’d been absent-minded, walking around in a daze and muttering to himself incoherently. She even admitted that he had been bringing home KTV hostesses. She was upset with his lifestyle, but unable to convince him to get out of it. That night, at 10pm, he prepared to go out for work. I decided to tag along just to find out exactly what he was doing.
He warned me: “Don’t be surprised by what you see.”
That night, we visited four nightclubs. They were dodgy and packed with hostesses in skimpy attire. I felt like an outsider in my T-shirt and jeans, and sensed the male patrons staring at me. In each club, Eric left me in a corner while he met with his “associates”. He would confer with them over his laptop, and they seemed to be discussing various transactions. Despite my best efforts to quiz them, and even sneak a peek at his laptop (unsuccessfully), they were evasive.
“We’re just trading some stuff lah!” one said, brushing me off .
At one of the clubs, I was joined by a young hostess, 19, who injected ketamine into her arm, before my eyes. Eric later told me that she was his girlfriend. They’d hooked up just after he returned to Malaysia. He claimed to feel sorry for her, and was trying to “save” her from drugs. I wasn’t happy, but kept my emotions in check. New squeeze aside, I was more disturbed by Eric’s lifestyle. We returned to his home at 7am. It had been a traumatic night. I was upset at how low Eric had sunk. I asked him if this was the kind of life he wanted, and pleaded with him to find a proper job. I was so emotional that I cried for 15 minutes. All the while, he didn’t say a word.
I left for Singapore the next day.
When my parents quizzed me, I said Eric was depressed and had lost the motivation to find proper work – I didn’t tell them about his new girlfriend and how he was working as an illegal runner. Still determined to help, I texted Eric a week later, and he asked if he could borrow $12,000 to settle his debts. He promised to repay me. I agreed and wired over the cash – most of my work savings of the last one and a half years. After hearing about Eric’s plight, my mother had warned me not to lend him any money but I reasoned that if money could help, I would gladly offer it.
Barely a week later, he told me he’d found a job in a factory. He also asked for $5,000 more as the initial loan wasn’t enough. Encouraged that he was finding his feet, I sent over more money.
The following month, I went back to Malaysia to return some of Eric’s belongings. He wasn’t in, but his mum was. I casually asked about Eric’s work. She told me there was no new “factory job”, and that he was doing the same shady work as before. I was horrified that he’d lied to me. After all the help I’d offered, he still wasn’t picking himself up.
Shortly after, Eric contacted me over Facebook. He was furious that I had spoken to his mother “behind his back”. He accused me of meddling.
“If you’re so free, why don’t you do something more meaningful with your life?”, he taunted.
Hurt, I suggested that he seek counseling. He lashed back, saying I was the “same old Molly” who always assumed that he needed help. That was the last straw. I was livid. I sent him a final message, wishing him well, adding that it was a “pity” he’d let a misunderstanding ruin our friendship. And so, Eric finally slipped out of my life. I concentrated on my new job to move on. I knew I’d never see the $17,000 I had lent him, but I told myself that the money could be earned again – I just had to work harder. I picked up valuable lessons from my time with Eric: always get to know a guy better before entering a relationship with him. And be on guard for people who change easily. I’ll never get back with Eric even if he mends his ways. He’s too unpredictable, too temperamental, and can’t be there for me emotionally. I know I deserve someone better.
There’s a postscript to all this.
After 10 months of silence, Eric suddenly sent me a string of SMSes last October. He apologised for not staying in touch, adding that he was close to being declared bankrupt as he couldn’t service his debts. He was living with a new girlfriend and barely getting by.
“I feel like ending my life... I was this close to snatching a woman’s purse on the street earlier,” he lamented.
He asked if I could lend him $1,000.
But I wasn’t falling for it again. I told him point-blank that I was still upset with him and was numb to his pleas.
“All I can wish for you is the best,” I added.
He never replied.
*Names have been changed.