Prisoners at home
HERE IS a version of my truth—the truth that I am jolted awake by the loud, harsh words of my father at 2 a.m. The truth that I have to listen to my mother’s silent grieving; the truth that I cry with her even though we are walls and doors apart. I cannot hug her. I cannot offer her my blanket so she can wipe her tears like I normally do.
The first time I saw my mother cry was during a relative’s funeral, but this one is more devastating. I cannot see her but the feeling of agony crawls into my nerves as she sobs until dawn. It hurts me even more as she struggles to breathe. Her broken words draw a portrait of a helpless woman in my head. And there I am, unmoved, imagining it is just one of those unwanted dreams.
I cannot jump out of my bed. I cannot tell my parents to stop the early drama for I know that things might only get worse. I might not have the courage to look at her in that miserable situation. So, I go back to sleep—a simple way of saying that I closed my eyes and my tears started to greet my pillow a sad morning. As I listen to their plan of annulment, I come to ask how love can fool two people into dreaming of a promised happy life, and, eventually, struggle to break that promise in the end.
I do not have a happy family; that is the truth—or at least my truth. The parents who I thought were a happy couple, or who pretended to be, have turned out as two prisoners trapped in a home. Well, I guess it’s the surprising part of growing up when I get a wider vocabulary to rename what kind of home I have, and the persons who made that possible for me.
Before, I didn’t have much interest in the issue of broken families. Or other kids my age whose parents were separated. Or those bullies in class who shared their father’s love for the other woman (or women). Or even show biz breakups. Before, all I knew was that I was lucky. I thought it was my advantage that I had a complete family. I thought my parents were okay.
But after years of pretense, I realized that they are not. I now admit that a complete family without love and respect feels and is much the same as a broken family. The only difference, I guess, is how brave one can be to stay.
I admire my mother sometimes for doing wise things for us and yet making stupid decisions for herself. She took her poison by getting into a bad relationship with my father, and she has been taking the same poison for almost 30 years by staying with him. I remember asking her why. She replied with a smiley gesture: If I go, I might lose the remaining strength I have—you are my strength.
I now understand that I do not fully know how strong my mother is, and how much stronger she has become. But there is one thing I know for sure: that a certain poison does not kill.
My mother, she’s the simplest and humblest woman I know. She never gets tired of providing for our needs. The dust and rust on her hands never lie to me after a long day’s work. She cooks my favorite spaghetti. She cracks jokes sometimes, having no clue that she’s endearingly funny. She has keen hearing that allows her to easily recognize people by their voices even from afar, a cover-up for her nearsightedness. Her brown eyes, they are two shades lighter than mine. She thinks that 13 is a lucky number. And she is, above all, my model of an admirable woman.
My father, he’s far different. He’s noisy and arrogant. What he decides best for himself, he decides for the family as well. He tries to joke, but never qualifies to be funny. He has no mistress because no other woman besides my mother can tolerate his self-righteousness. He regularly asks what color is his shirt because he is colorblind. There’s too much nicotine in his lungs. His snores can cause insomnia. Probably that is why my mother sneaks into our bed—because she cannot stand every blow of my father’s noise.
But apart from those human flaws, I still try hard to like him. But the more I do, the more I come to hate him. He hurts my mother—maybe not physically, but the fangs of his words cannot spare me the same emotional pain that my mother feels. In other words, he is the direct opposite of the man she would want me to marry.
I cannot understand why some unfortunate couples like my parents spend a lifetime to prove that their once-upon-a-time love story would end in unhappily-ever-after. These are the same persons who took their marriage vows and planned a good life ahead of them.
My mother still has simple ways to be happy despite her being a troubled wife. She often tells me to look through my enemies—the people I hate and fear and despise—as if I never see them at all, not even a glimpse. And that is exactly how my mother gets by with my father through these years of unhappy marriage. Up to now, it is the same tactic: She can make her real sufferings invisible. Her anger is erased by a placid smile on her face. Her eyes still reflect her beautiful soul, though I know she is just keeping all the sacrifices and grievances to herself, saving us the burden.
People keep saying that life—or love, for that matter—is a roller-coaster ride. But it’s an understatement. I say it is more like a bumper car ride. You need to shake your head first. Get hit twice, thrice, or as many times as you can endure. You maneuver the steering wheel. You choose what direction to go. Not just one whirling trail can lead you to your destination. It is a crazy jam, my friend, which you have to deal with. Others will try to lead you to the side, to push and slam you to the gutter, to swerve into your way, corner you, and block you, until you cannot seem to move. But you have to keep driving because the game is not yet over.
I have seen my mother maneuvering that steering wheel. I have seen her bump her head so many times. I have seen her endure so much more than I can take. I have seen her, and yes, I am on her side in that bumper car ride.
“Katha Malaya,” 20, says she “wishes for strength for the sons and daughters out there whose family is breaking apart.”
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