Oliver’s Silver Flask
December 31, 2013

This December, five days before Christmas I was invited to a friend’s annual winter party. Oliver and I have known each other since January, so it was his first party that I attended, and I felt very honoured to be a guest. Not only is he a very good friend, knowing Oliver has been a very positive experience for me. Personally, I have learned a great deal from him. From his personality and perspective, from his knowledge and attitude towards other people, I felt that my personal being has improved positively, and I would like to honour our friendship and show my gratitude with a gift. Although I’ve set aside a certain amount of budget, yet a sudden change of plan forced me to weigh whether I’m willing to spend more, and after considering the great significance of his role to me, I decided that a higher price should not matter. I ordered a silver flask that was small enough to fit into his bag of books, knowing his affectation for sneaking in some vodka. Since I didn’t want the gift to be a seasonal object – “Christmas 2013” or “Merry Christmas” is too season-specific and gets boring after a while – I decided that the flask would be beautifully adorned simply with his engraved full name.

Coming an hour late to the party after picking up the flask and getting a bit lost, I obscurely pulled out the grey gift box from my bag and handed it to Oliver. He immediately opened it on the coffee table, and I was really glad to see his joyfulness when he unwrapped the thin white paper and saw the flask. It was quickly passed around the room from hand to hand along with his continual remark, “Look at what Tempe got me!” I suggested that he washed it first, but he wouldn’t hear me and filled it with Jack Daniels straight away. Throughout the party Oliver kept thanking me for the gift, and, not knowing how to respond properly, I only replied, “I’m really glad you like it.” His last acknowledgment, however, touched me the most. He called me and said, “When I’m 83 years old I would show this flask and say Tempe got this for me.” Hearing that put a warm feeling in my chest. One of my consideration in getting a flask with his name was that he would be able to use it for a long time, and that it would hold an long-lasting significance, yet to hear those words verbally from him touched me very deeply.

Sadly, I couldn’t find the words that in my mind would be appropriate. I was never taught that saying how I feel, whether positive or negative, is acceptable. The courtesy is to give a neutral comment, completely detached of my feeling, to show politeness. Sometimes I believe this moulds my tongue so that I do not say what I don’t genuinely mean. Giving a compliment is the biggest appreciation I could do for someone, and those words will contain the truest meaning of my feelings. However, after that moment when I was too tongue-tied to reply to him with equally meaningful words, I analyzed my reserved reaction and found that my lack of self-expression also caused me to keep myself from showing my emotions to the world outside. I found that I have always been afraid to tell the world how I feel because it’s like giving a hint of my mind. I don’t want to be offensive, and actively reacting to the world is offensive for me. I’m used to standing back, just barely at the edge of the circle, and observe how people interact with each other. When someone takes note of me, I see it as the person making an effort to know me based on my still, outer appearance, just as if the person is observing a lifeless statue and forms opinions about it. I’m not upset, because I know that’s what I consciously intend. By not making any active effort to let my mind be read by other people, I feel that I’m not being offensive to the world.

However, I also realize that perhaps being emotionally passive is my parallel response to the emotional passiveness of my parents. I could hardly remember them saying positive remarks about me that is filled with emotion. If what they said were compliments, those compliments sounded like statements instead, unattached to a sense of pride or joy. “You have high marks” doesn’t sound as beautiful as “you did great,” and “she does well in English” is not nearly as direct as “you do well in English.” Sometimes I felt as if my parents were showing me off, not appreciating me. They were always quick, however, to point out my mistakes and how I disappointed or angered them. In time, I learned to speak in the same detached tone, stating rather than expressing, and kept whatever positive remarks I had to myself only.

In reality, when Oliver said those words, I did have something that instantly came up in my mind: I hope when you’re 83 we will still be friends. Instead of saying it out loud, I politely smiled and turned my face so that he wouldn’t see my hesitation on what I should say. Confusion swept over me for a minute, and afterward it was already too late to bring up the matter again for me to say just that one sentence, a response that I convinced myself wouldn’t be of any significant to him anyway.

Two weeks after the party, I was still in regret that I didn’t say that sentence right away. It was my genuine feeling that I had intentionally brushed aside because I made the presumption myself that it wouldn’t matter to him. I realized then that it mattered at least to me, to directly tell people how grateful I am to have them in my life. I had that one chance before, and I let it go due to my fear, and I kept looking back and said, “I wish I’ve done that.”

Today, I saw a notification on my Facebook wall: “Your christmas present was really nice.” From Oliver. Although I hesitated for five minutes, this time I’ve learned my mistake and replied, “I’m glad you like it! And I hope we’ll still be friends when you’re 83 and showing off the flask,” followed with a grinning face.

He replied, “WE WILL.”

3.17 a.m., December 31st, 2013.