In his passing, Johnny has reconnected me with our old group of friends once again. Just like how he always did it with the many friends I met in the past, I met through him.
Everyone was in shock and deeply devastated when I shared with them the news of Johnny’s passing. There had been nothing but praises for my brother character, kindness and generosity. Of course, I would do my usual duty to mess it up- by highlighting his flaws and trolled about him in the spirit of brotherly love.
There were stories after stories of joy that flashed back to my mind as I meditated on this precious relationship this few days. Plenty of laughters and occasional tears – only when no body was watching. Especially when I was driving alone.
I recall being a housemate of Johnny in uni, it was always a tense moment going to the toilet, as he loved to bang on the door incase you get too comfortable.
He had no shortage of pet peeves. And I know exactly which button to press to get onto his nerves in retaliation.
For example, he liked to arrange everything in painfully organized orders and ironed all his clothes and stacked them up in military precision. He will always wear his polos with the shirt tucked in, the old school kinda way. As for me – I would wear whatever I needed the next day the night before, and had it naturally pressed overnight. And like every normal kid that age, unless absolutely necessary, never tucked in. It drove him crazy.
Johnny couldn’t stand how tardy I was and I couldn’t comprehend what kind of a straight man would behave like him. I guessed either God must have a good sense of humor putting us together, or was He trying to teach me patience with this impossible housemate.
Funny how things changed. Being diligent and organized turns out to be two of the top qualities I look out for in a hire nowadays. I would have chosen Johnny in a heartbeat over the 18 year old me. But that’s another story.
As I didn’t have a car, I would often rely on Johnny’s goodwill to send me to school, especially when the weather was bad. For some strange reason, he hated it when the front passenger flips down his sun visor. Me on the other hand, have the funny habit of flipping it down whenever I get on the passenger seat.
There must have been one too many times that I ignored his warning and he finally snapped at me while giving me a ride to uni. I protested by not talking to him and boycotting his free ride for an extended period of time until one day he pleaded for me to return (this is definitely the version of my own story). I can’t remember if after that I stopped flipping or he stopped scolding me for flipping, we never fought over the sun visor ever again after that incident.
As little as I cared to admit it, this man is special with a tremendous heart. Johnny’s greatest superpower is his magnificent ability to connect with people. His circle of friends are as wide as it can get; there’s the car group, the study group, the tennis group, the small group for supper, the Malaysian group, the other for clubs and parties and on and on it goes. He seemed to be able to find a place to fit right in, everywhere he went. I gave him the nick name Pat Poh (busy-body) exactly because he genuinely cared about everyone’s business.
He reciprocated by calling me back Pat Poh and Chicken Wing man (that’s also for another story) we have been calling each other that for the next 20 years.
Johnny has a nickname for almost everyone it seems. Adam- the Pastor, Lina – ah Ling, the list goes on. The lack of social distancing practice with everyone he met was perhaps the reason why he’s friend with everybody. And the opposite was true for me, as I was simply comfortable minding my own business hiding in my own foxhole.
Another thing I couldn’t stand about Johnny was how difficult he was to impress. I hated it when I told him something was good, be it a song or a movie or something that I accomplished, he would at best, commented “ok-lah”, and you will have to accept that as a compliment.
As I reminisced through our past What’s App conversations lately and noticed something that I had never paid attention to before; the change in tone in the years after we graduated. As I progressed in my journalism career, I would occasionally send him the articles I wrote and the magazine copies that I published. In hindsight, he seemed to be looking forward to them with anticipation and was often thoughtful with his comments.
When Johnny was first diagnosed with ALS, there was another prevailing change of demeanor towards me. He became even more gentler and openly expressed love verbally that frankly, as a bloke, I didn’t know how to react to.
Looking back at this unlikely friendship, I don’t know what I have done to deserve this. He has taken me under his wings as a big brother from day one, a kind of kinship that as the eldest boy at home, I had never experienced. He’s the fairytale kind of big brother that you could only wish for your kids to have one day, one who is always a few steps ahead to shield you from trouble, give you directions and one who is always putting your interest before his.
As I watched him in pain and deteriorations in the few times I visited him in KL in the last 2 years, I secretly prayed for his early release from pain and suffering. No one should have to suffer the way he did. Not especially for a man with such kind spirit. I thought I would be ready for it, but boy did it hit me like a hammer when Jean delivered the sad news to me.
This few days, I have recounted many memories with many many more unaccounted for. With all our differences, one thing we could agree on, was our common pleasure in talking about the mischiefs of our younger years and laughed over really good food whenever we caught up.
I have no doubt that we will continue the conversation someday, somewhere far far away. But for now, it is good bye. Thank you my brother for the friendship and memories. So long and sleep tight.
I love you back,
Links to Johnny’s memorial and tribute video