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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

50: Old wounds

I am BIG on the ‘past being the past’, ‘moving on’ and ‘focusing on the now’.  And generally, I am quite proficient.  Of course it helps to be as forgetful as I am with my ‘now’ overflowing with all the essentials I need to keep in mind with the girls’ schedules -- making it easier to bury unpleasant memories DEEP in some hard to reach recess of the brain and heart.  Our move to Singapore, however, has stirred these memories and forced me to acknowledge my past.

To Matt’s delight, I have always had an aversion to shopping, putting the task in my dreaded “only if I really need to” basket.  Possibly, that may have been what spurred him on to propose!  And then one day, shortly after our move here, as we drove past a particular mall, I felt sick in my stomach as I recognized it from my childhood days.  And the memories came rushing in. With the implosion of my parents’ marriage and my father’s disappearance to his ‘other’ family, mom used to banish me out of the house with strict instructions not to return before a certain time.  If I was a teenager, perhaps that would have been music to my ears.  But I think I was not quite 10.  And so, with barely any money in my pocket, I stayed out of the house until the sun had set, seeking refuge from the heat by wandering aimlessly around certain malls.  Till today, I am not a fan of overhead fluorescent lights and malls.  I think my sanity was saved when I discovered I could block out my reality by losing myself in books at the library -- until closing time.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the Singapore Immigration office advising me the country did not recognize dual citizenship.  It was a surprise.  At 15, I had not wanted to leave Singapore and move to another country with my father (who was now a violent stranger to me) and his wife (who was not shy about showing her displeasure about being my new ‘responsible adult’).  My na├»ve self was sure I could find a job, support myself financially AND still go to school.  So I did what any foolhardy15- year-old would do.  I ran away, found a job, and hid at a friend’s house.  Of course my father found me.  And we left soon after.  And the beatings my father used to ‘grace’ my mother (and then the Indonesian and Filipino maids) with, I became the ‘heir apparent’.  I didn’t last long.  Two years later, and nearly broken, I left home at 17.  An unfinished education.  No money.  No job.  No prospects.  No relatives and nobody who cared.   Just some clothes in a bag.  In a country still alien to me.  I felt someone painted a big fat “L” on my head.

I was lucky my first boyfriend’s mother took me in.  But that didn’t last long either.  I felt second-rate and a loser on every level with not-a-bright-future ahead.  If I had known I had the option to go back to Singapore to be guided by one of my many uncles or aunts (my father came from a family of 10!), I think I would have hopped on the next plane -- if only for a welcoming face.  Instead, I left the sanctuary of this kind woman’s house, ashamed I was not good enough for her son but determined to be the master of my own destiny.   Fast forward 29 years, my grown-up self weeps at what my 17 year-old-self went through for the next few years.  But I consider myself lucky because things could have been much MUCH worse. 

But the recent opening of these previously forgotten wounds have not been for nothing.  It has reiterated to me how fortunate I am and forced me to really scrutinize the principal driving motivator in my life: to leave a positive legacy through the next generation.  I know I speak quite openly about my past.  It is not to garner pity but to remind myself that I am one of the lucky ones.