Saturday, June 30, 2012

Among My Own

(Grand Bazaar, Istanbul)

It was an odd match that perhaps shouldn't have been.

Still I was going along with it. Sharing has never been easy for me, but I did the best I could, all the while trying to ignore how my unconventional life must have sounded in your ears, and how uncomfortable it was for me.

In the ninety-nine point nine percent mate-for-life world of people from “our culture”, I had to belong to the zero point one percent.

It was soon clear to me that your life might look conventional from the outside, it was really “anything but” on the inside.

Your partner, regardless of being a decade your senior, behaved childishly. He ridiculed and complained about you often. He picked fights with you over the daily mundane. Instead of sharing a life together, he hid his assets from you. In fact, you revealed to me that he mentioned the D word often enough for you to ask for referrals of lawyers.

I scouted out the names and numbers of several family lawyers per your request, but I didn’t pass that information to you.

Instead, I talked to you about the realities of being a divorced woman in “our culture.” The culture from our mutual hometown, to be exact, still looks at a woman without a husband with contempt and despise.

You will be excluded from all social events for couples. That means you will lose the majority of your friends.

Eating out will be spotty, unless you are very comfortable eating alone in restaurants.

You will be looked at as a damaged good, regardless how much you struggled to raise your children in a foreign country.

Loneliness will be your constant companion.

You will lose the purchasing power of a dual income. You will have to say NO to things you used to take for granted. You will get used to shopping at places such as the flea market or the secondary market stores.

My first apartment was furnished with a table, four chairs, and a tiny black-and-white TV--all were hand me downs. We used three chairs for eating and studying, and the fourth one as the TV stand in the livingroom. We spread the sheets on the carpet in the bedroom in the evening, and that would be our beds.

Moving was significantly easier in those days.

The blank space on the information form where it says “Emergency Contact” I had to fill out each time I enrolled the children to a new school, would make me cry every time. “Loneliness” was too weak a word to describe how I felt.

If you have young children, these will be more severe on you and them, and last much longer.
Good thing is you don’t.

There are rewarding gains to be had, of course. I wasn’t trying to scare you away from getting a divorce. After all, the decision might not be solely yours to make. But I did want you to see clearly before you jump.

I wish someone had done the same for me. But it all was a big life’s lesson I desperately needed. I can see it now--now that the tears had long been dried.

When you called to complain about your home life, I listened with sympathetic ears. When you mentioned life has no purpose for you to continue, I tried to pump you up.

When you made the comment about how hard it would be to rid your newly acquired wardrobe, I knew divorce would not be in your near future.

That was fine, though. Plunging into the unknown is not only scary, it is also a move you have to make on your own. Nobody should make you learn the lesson before you are ready to learn it.

Then I had to go away. It was the trip of a lifetime--literally. I have saved over decades for this, and it is unlikely I will be able to do it again anytime soon. I savoured every moment of it, soaking in every little detail.

I did not forget you. Over the crepe-de-chine deep blue Mediterranean Sea, I thought of you. Before falling asleep with the gentle sway of the giant ship, I secretly wished you peace and strength.

It was easy to adjust the time change on the trip, when daily excursion exhausted me thoroughly. Coming home was quite a different story.

I called as soon as I felt mostly myself again, hoping you would enjoy the Turkish Delight and all the amazing sites, of which I took sixteen hundred plus photos, I visited during the trip.

You never returned my call.

I’m not quite sure what I had done to have angered you. I know you are alive and well from your online posting, so I don’t have to worry that you had taken your own life.

After doing all I could to support you, it is proven that it wasn’t enough. I am truly sorry for that. I hope you will eventually find the happiness you longed for.

Our friendship may have served its purpose, and now you are ready to move on. Maybe you needed to cut me off in order to forget the dark period of your life. That would require a complete reversal of your relationship with your husband, which is all but impossible.

It hurts to think that you behaved just like the rest of “our society,” which would be equally unforgiving should you choose to be a single woman realizing happiness does not necessarily require a man.

Why was I surprised? I shouldn't be.

Your silence speaks loudly how futile my efforts were, but I will get over it like yesterday’s headache--painful when it happened, yet will be forgotten soon.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

O Pardal do Sul

A walk in the park everyday prescribed by the doctor has gradually become a tantra among nature. He enjoys the early summer for its irreproachable weather. Everywhere he looks there are greens fighting fiercely for his attention. Flowers flaunt shamelessly with their seductive gestures, as if they knew their beauty is but a fleeting affair.

He has lived in this vast tropical land for so long that he hardly remembers his old hometown. it ’s at the tail end of the winter where he came from four decades ago. As he remembers his childhood friends, their laughter still haunts him like yesterday.

“Your father is crazy. He’s a mad man!” They chanted and smirked. Often one would push hm after the chant, adding to the provocation. He ran home as fast as his small stature allowed, into his mother’s arms with hot tears and torn sleeves. She wiped off his anger with soothing words, and mended his battle scar with meager treats she could find. A laundry woman’s pocket change never felt so warm and abundant.

He didn’t understand why his father was in the mad man’s house, as the kids called it. He did know that that was why they were as poor as the four bare walls around them. A silhouette kneading on a washboard by a tub of water with a pile of clothes next to it was what his mother toiled all day to sustain her and four children. They learned not to envy other children’s shiny new shoes futilely, but be comforted by the fact they still had as complete a family as it could be.

One day his father came home, thin in physique and vacant in the eyes. He felt the chills when his mother described how they used “electricity” on him. The far away land beckoned with a letter from their uncle, whose offer of sponsorship couldn’t be more appreciated as their way of escaping the constricting island, which pushed his father to the brink of insanity in the first place. His mind never fully recovered from the revolutionists’ persecution that forced them to flee to the island, which in his father’s eyes was a perfect death trap.

New landscape breathed new life to his father’s spirit, but the new continent extended the old struggle to the family. He did poorly at school, having to learn a new language and culture with people who, although did not chant, but teased nonetheless. He volunteered to give up school and learn to be a chef, a proposition met with reluctance. He told himself this would help his family. Deep inside he unwillingly admitted that school was not an attraction to him.

Regret? It is a useless emotion--he tells himself. He might have been doing something easier, or he might not. Who could tell? His sister hated his drinking, smoking and gambling he learned from fellow kitchen workers; but she couldn’t stop him, and the parents would never interfere. He has some regrets, but quitting school ranks low on the list.

He feels a little out of breath, and sits down on a bench nearby. Two bypass surgeries finally caught his attention to his way of living. The smoking and drinking days are behind him now. Mahjong is his only ungodly pleasure. Is it numbness on his arm, or is he imagining it? He couldn’t tell.

The fallout between his sister and him may be one of the regrets. He could’ve helped her when she asked. He had the means and ability. She took care of him and his brother growing up, as their parents were constantly laboring. Why didn’t he, he couldn’t say. Neither did his brother. From their parents they inherited the idea of “daughters are outsiders,” therefore money preceded affection without either one of them feeling any uneasiness.

He wishes he knew how to be a better husband to Rosa. His Rosa--the mother of their three children--could be his biggest regret. Their lives stopped after the accident. She couldn’t be consoled, and he didn’t have the patience for her sadness. Their youngest of three children was taken by the will of the gods. There was nothing he could do--he was grieving himself. Now he knew he wasn’t what Rosa wanted, but he didn’t know it then. He didn’t understand why Rosa had to go, and to a continent so far away no less; but his rage was somewhat lessened by the fact she left the kids behind. He heard she was happy now. He pretended he didn’t care.

His older son--his pride overflows when he thinks about it--is in medical school. He wishes his childhood schoolmates could see him now. The little poor kid they teased has a son who will be a doctor. The younger daughter is in college as well. It is a shame his father didn’t live to see this. He may be the second son, but his accomplishment is no less than the first born.

A familiar pain slows him down on his trek. They had a wonderful few years after the gemstone business took flight. If he knew how much he was hurting his health with too abundant of food, drinks, and everything else of the enjoyment of the flesh, would he do it differently? Hard to say, he shakes his head with a faint smile. Being a boy and growing up poor prevented him from self discipline and appetite control. He traveled with his brother to all around the world for business and pleasure. They feasted as if life was invincible in every sense. Were they just too naive? Life was too good to care about something seemingly distant and irrelevant. The land on the southern half of the globe has been good to them.

He has to crouch down for the pain is getting severe. Please...he thought...he just had a new daughter-in-law, he hasn’t seen the first grandson yet, he doesn’t want to leave his life that’s beginning to feel too precious to give up. Hsing--he calls out to his son, who lives hundreds of miles away--I wish you were here.

The two children smile to him in his mind’s eye, as he slowly falls onto the path he hasn’t finished, and slips into an eternal blackness.

(Sparrow of the South, in Portugese, to a life lost too early)


Related Posts with Thumbnails