Colourful Jade

Thursday, May 3, 2007

I drove my mother crazy

I have been thinking of my past since I started writing this blog. People who have got the impression that I came from a normal family would be surprised. Being in this blog, it has awakened a lot of old memories. If people get to read about it, fine and if they don’t, fine too. It doesn’t matter who gets to read it. I feel strangely fearless to be this honest and open. As I said before, this is the beauty of being cloaked in anonymity.

I remember the last horrible thing my mother did to me was to embarrass me in front of my cousin. She is my senior by a few years. Because of this big time humiliation, it broke off a good correspondence with this boy that this cousin had a hand in our correspondence. She set up an introduction without both of us meeting. After that incident, there was awkwardness between my cousin and me. I created the barrier out of shame. For a long, long time it was very painful to think about it let alone talk.

I can’t remember exactly who started writing first. He was my cousin’s god-brother, a fellow church member. We had been corresponding for some months before he paid me a surprised visit. I was in Form Two. I was walking home from the nearest bus stop when my youngest sister came looking for me. At first I was frightened as I thought she came to warn me about my mother waiting for me in anger.

She told me there was a boy waiting for me at home. He came in a taxi. My first thought was to run away but I didn’t. I could be seen from afar with my sister. It was a very nervous me that walked slowly towards my house. There was a taxi that parked opposite my house with its engine running. There were people inside it besides the taxi driver but I was too nervous to give them a close look.

I had been making a point of avoiding boys and here I was about to meet one and it had to be in the presence of my mother. She was unpredictable. I was quite fearful of the kind of reaction she would have given. It rattled me. I hurriedly gave the boy a glance. He was short and stocky. He had light brown complexion. Surprisingly, my mother wasn’t fazed that a boy of different race came to pay her daughter a visit. I hurriedly gave him a handshake and then rushed into my room to change my uniform into something I had just grabbed from my pile of clothes. I had trouble finding my flip-flops and my mother said something that made me feel inept. I don’t remember what this Eurasian boy and I talked about. By the time I waved him and the taxi off I realized we had been the center of attraction. My neighbors had been watching us from their houses. His next letter told me he could understand my dialect. When I thought back what my mother said in his presence I blushed.

I was stung by a bee on my nose which swelled double its size. I looked so hideous. Unfortunately, my mother chose that day to stay at home. My cousin chose that day to pay us a visit. I was in my room feeling miserable when I heard my mother talking to my cousin. I quickly dashed into my elder brother’s room and locked up the door. Hoping that my mother would assume I wasn’t at home. When my cousin asked for me, I heard my mother reply that I was around. She started calling for me. But my silence didn’t deter her. She must have been searching all the rooms and finally she was knocking hard and loud on the locked door. The warning was ringing in my head. She seemed to have this urgency to flush me out from my hiding.

My elder brother liked to lock his room to keep his siblings from entering while he was away, but we managed to climb into the room through the gap. His was the only room in the house that had a gap above the door frame. My brother climbed over the door when he forgot his key and his siblings climbed over it when we wanted to invade his room.

My mother was getting angrier and angrier by my show of disobedience. All her shouting and banging didn’t budge me to open the door. I was too scared, all I could do was wait and see what happened. Suddenly, the banging stopped but not for long. It was a frightening sight to have her furious face appeared over the gap and the next frightening thing was her hand swinging a “parang” over the door knob. After a few swings, the door was opened. She removed the stool before she charged into the room to give me the first stinging blow. More blows were to follow. My cousin was the silent witness. After the shock of first few seconds or minutes, I just blocked out my consciousness of my cousin’s presence. It was too humiliating and hurting.

I felt so alone in my suffering. My fellow sufferers seemed to have deserted me. My youngest sister was running an errand. My middle sister had left home since she was twelve going thirteen. It had been almost a year. At that time she didn’t realize she was making her escape by choosing to stay with a cousin she’d hardly known.

It was another blow to my pride when my Eurasian pen-pal wrote that my cousin told him about it. I didn’t reply to his letters. Finally, he said he wouldn’t disturb me any further so that I could concentrate on my studies to prepare for my important exams. When I was in Form Four he arrived at my doorstep with his younger brother on his bike. I was very cool as I had nothing to give not even friendship.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Self-preservation or what

I am a night person. I have trouble waking up in the morning. But after I got married I had to make it a habit to wake up early simply because I started my marital life living with my in-laws. Actually, I had no intention of living with them. I told my newly-wedded husband that I would only live under the same roof for a week. During the week, we found a house and paid 2-month deposits for the rental. When my husband informed his widowed mother about our pending move to a rented house, my mother-in-law cried. So my smart-aleck husband left the decision to me. That’s to stay or not to stay. Of course, I wasn’t too dim-witted to know my future good relationship with my mother-in-law would be based on my decision. I must say I had made a right decision as my mother-in-law treated me wonderfully. I stayed with my mother-in-law for more than a year. She knew we would move out sooner or later as we gradually had been buying stuff for the house of our own.

When I was schooling, I had a difficult time waking up in the morning. I adored afternoon school. Every morning when I woke up I would crawl under my bed to continue my sleep. Predictably, my mother would check my room before she went marketing. I would wake up immediately upon hearing my mother’s voice in the hall way. Occasionally, my grandmother would blow the whistle on me as she could see that I had the making of a lazy-bone. Most of the time my mother didn’t take notice as I appeared to be busy the moment she’d set her eyes on me.

I remember there were two occasions I played truant with my middle sister. I was in Std. Two and she was one class below. It so happened we were late to school. The first time, we hid in the vicinity of our house. The next time, we hid in the vicinity of our school. If we didn’t die of fear of being caught by our mother, we would have died of boredom. The endless waiting for school to be over was killing enough.

When I was a little older I was a little smarter, I went to school to face the music, so to speak. When I spotted the two prefects at the gate, I told them I woke up with a tummy ache and was advised by mother to skip school. But I didn’t want to do so. The strained and pained look on my face convinced one of them to carry my school bag all the way to my class.

On another occasion, I was caught sleeping in class by my Geography teacher. In all honesty, I was trying hard not to fall asleep. But her monotonous voice and her boring lesson drove me to it. With the text book popped open in an upright position and I did the unspeakable thing. I was awoken by the loud voice of the teacher, followed by a chorus from the class that “She isn’t well.” The austere teacher sent me to the library for a rest. My good friend even brought me a cup of tea. It was passed through the large library window.

I spent a lot of time in my bed, apart from sleeping: I loved to read in bed. When my grandmother suffered her first stroke, I crawled under the bed to cry. When I was in Form Two and my elder brother was in Form Four, we had a fall-out because he considered I was rude to his visiting school friends. My one and only crime was being unfriendly to his friends. I went to an all-girl school and he attended an all-boy school. He mistook my shyness for unfriendliness. I slighted him by snubbing his friends. In front of them, he would taunt me, “Oh, the mouse is going to hide inside her room.” I always stayed in my room when his friends were around.

Four years later, I met three of them on separate occasions but I pretended no recognition of them. By then, my brother had a different set of friends. I was no longer a shy girl but I still didn’t mix with my brother’s friends.

I was the smart mouth of the family and every time my brother and I had a verbal exchange he would lose to me. For a couple of years we hardly spoke to each other.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hurtful Accusations

When my youngest sister was in Std One, her class teacher chose her to pick on. Maybe it was my sister’s asking-for-it stare or the teacher herself who was very pregnant. For reasons only the teacher knew, she made life very miserable for my sister. During one recess, my sister wasn’t allowed to leave the class until she had drawn a cow. She did go for recess because I drew the cow for her.

One night, my mother woke me up with a hard blow on my body. She accused me of stealing her money. At first she thought she had dropped ten dollars somewhere but when she found the change of it wrap in a handkerchief and place between her folded clothes she knew straightaway it was taken, not dropped. Right after her discovery, she came into the girls’ room and flipped the light on so she could find me, her suspect. She vented her anger on me with her fists pounding all over my body while my two sisters huddled in fear, their hearts jumped and pounded. That night, my sisters were lucky as our mother was too spent to turn on them.

As it turned out, my youngest sister was the thief. She stole out of desperation because she dared not ask my mother for money to buy exercise books. She was too afraid of her class teacher to go to school without them. She confessed her deed to me.

The next time she did it again, she stole money from my younger brother’s piggy bank. Again the blame fell on me. It was my mother’s vulgar verbal attack and accusation in front of my visiting cousins that broke me. I minded being called a thief. I minded the vulgar names she called me. Most of all, I minded being punished unjustly for something I didn’t do. I didn’t deserve the beating and humiliation. After that incident, it was painfully awkward to be seen by my cousins.

My mother thought I had the gumption to commit the crimes she accused me of. She had never forgotten the fact that I tried to run back to my aunt’s place (aforementioned in my previous post, Home Is Where the Heart Is).

At nine years of age, I was good at reading body language, fast on uptake and quick to pick on the tone of voice. In my mother’s eyes, I was brainier and trickier than my sisters. There was one occasion when my mother asked me to go to her neighborhood illegal bookie to place a bet. Normally my sisters were the runners for her but this time they went out with my grandmother. So I went with my two friends. Before I left I had an exchange of words with the bookie’s daughter who was five years my senior. I was the smart mouth and my friends and I had so much fun laughing at all the witty things I had been saying at the expense of the girl. Shortly, after my return, my mother decided to go over to the bookie’s place. She came home angry and then dragged me to the bookie’s place. Before we reached the bookie’s place I stopped at my friends’ place. I told my mother I needed the sisters as my witnesses. It was the bookie’s daughter who started it first.

I managed to get one witness as one of the sisters was bathing. My mother pulled me by my ear into the house, all the way to the kitchen and my friend followed behind. We found the girl all red-eyed and silent sitting on the dining chair at the table. My mother turned to me and gave me a slap. I could hear protest from the parents who told my mother to ignore the complaint of their daughter. Their oldest son said his 14-year old sister was a whining brat.

“Why did you make her--- slap--- cry---slap---how dare you---slap---@#$#@^&---slap.

My mother ignored me when I implored her to ask my ‘witness’ to tell her who started it first but she was too busy slapping me. My witness was too petrified to say anything.

When it was over I was again dragged out of the house but this time, crying. Once outside the gates, I refused to follow her home. I told her I wouldn’t go home with a mother who didn’t side her daughter. We had a sort of a tug of war, I was trying to go the opposite direction and she was pulling me to the direction towards home. It’s a no-brainer to guess who the winner was. She didn’t even leave me in peace to cry because a few seconds after we stepped into the house she called me into her room to give her forehead a massage. My sisters and I were trained to massage her every now and then.

Before I turned twelve, I did my last running away from home. My mother just came home from seeing her bookie and wasn’t very pleased to find me so engrossed listening to the radio. I was supposed to stay close to my baby brother’s bed while he was sleeping. She considered I was remiss. I incurred her fury and had to take what was coming. There and then, I decided to leave the person who made me so unhappy.

I left with nothing. As I was walking, I heard the occasional barking from the neighborhood dogs. I braced myself to continue walking. It was a dark night and I had no idea where I was going. The further I went, the more frightened I became and eventually, it had come to a point where I decided I had to turn back. I couldn’t make myself to return home. Mid way to my house I found a large pile of sand outside a house under renovation and sat on top of it. I sat there until my grandmother, my neighbor who was my regular rescuer and her mother-in-law found me.

My rescuer advised me to apologize to my mother with a cup of tea. My mother refused to drink the tea and spat out the words that she would rather lay an egg than to have a daughter like me. At least she could eat an egg. If I had the courage I would have said I would rather have a mother like my rescuer.

My long-suffering grandmother had almost nothing nice to say about my mother. She never hesitated to complain about her, but of course, it was never to her face. My grandmother thought there was madness to her unthinkable behavior.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

So heartbreaking

When people aptly made unfavorable comparisons to my youngest sister, my mother would take it as a personal insult that she had unattractive daughter. It didn’t sit well with my mother and she was quick to vent it out on the person concerned. Because of the belief, my sister was treated like a real-life Cinderella, she was to stay at home, not to be seen or recognized as her daughter. And because of that too, my mother used to send my youngest sister to run errands at odd hours.

Years later, my sister told me that one night our mother asked her to buy a box of mosquito coils and threatened her with a beating if she didn’t come home with it. It was past the closing time of the sundry shop. My sister went from one shop to another. In her desperation she knocked hard on each and every shop and caused a ruckus. But out of the three sundry shops, only one displeased shopkeeper opened his door. He started to scold my sister for disturbing his sleep. She began to cry and explain that a box of mosquito coils would save her from a beating. Anyone with a heart wouldn't have denied her plea .

My sister told me that on one occasion she was trailing after our parents and brothers as my father was taking photographs of them in the compound of our house. Every time my sister managed to get a spot next to our brothers, my father would move away without taking the picture. It dawned on to her that they didn’t want her to be in the photograph. It was confirmed when she heard them say they didn’t want her to spoil the picture.

Are you sure you got it right? It was hard to believe at first that my father and my mother shared the same way of thinking. But you are not ugly, I assured my sister while absorbing the new information and seeing my father in a different light. He was indifferent but never cruel. So I didn't really know him.

Another heart-breaking story she told me was that she used to squat near the doorway of our parents’ bedroom. It was also one of those rare occasions when our father was home early and playing with our younger brothers. They sounded happy as they laughed and played like one happy family and my sister was like the outsider looking in.

During the school holidays, I normally spent them staying with one aunt or another. It wasn’t out of the kindness of my mother’s heart that she gave me time-out to be happy. It so happened I was invited by my cousins. Maybe she took pride that I was popular with my cousins. I don’t really know how my mother’s mind worked. One time I was even invited by her tailor to accompany her and her nephew to Penang. Permission was given. I was allowed to follow her home on another occasion.

My two sisters said I was luckier than them because I was allowed to go places. They said though I didn’t get our parents’ love I’d got it from our relatives. At that times I just went on with my own life, didn’t know that my sisters thought I was luckier than them. I didn’t know that my youngest sister hardly went anywhere.

One fine day, my mother came home from the market and told my youngest sister to bathe and dress nicely. My sister said she could remember how happy she was because our mother was taking her out. Little did she know that what she expected had nothing to do with our mother’s plan. The destination was about ten houses away. When they reached there my mother’s friend came out, my mother grabbed my sister’s hand and dragged her into the house. My sister started to cry when she realized that my mother was going to leave her there for the next few hours. My mother’s warnings soon translated into slaps when my sister refused to stop crying.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mind over unhappy matters

I don’t know when I started this habit of imagining myself as a girl with magical powers that would make people happy. In this special world, I would fly everywhere and use my magic to bring joy to the needy people. I was very much loved by them because of all the marvelous things I did for them.

As I lay in bed, too spent after a crying, I would fill my head with happy thoughts of the good deeds I would do for people. I would imagine how well they thought of me and their love for me meant so much. I always drifted off to sleep before my thoughts concluded.

After the bra episode, I had begun to develop this habit of expecting the worst scenario that would await me at home. I didn’t take things for granted as far as my mother was concerned. So every time before I reached home I would imagine my mother was waiting for me, not with open arms but with hostility. As I was approaching my house, my mind always was filled with trepidation. It was such a relief when nothing happened. Whenever I let down my guard, something would happen. It was as if when I allowed my mind to be idle, I was inviting the one thing I didn’t want.

One day, I was caught by my mother playing hopscotch in the driveway of my tuition teacher’s house instead of going home right after the tuition. My mother was passing by on her way home from the market. It was a split moment when we exchanged glances and I didn’t know my fate was sealed. Since my mother didn’t stop and ask me to follow her home I’d continued with my game.

When I reached home without a nagging thought in my head, my mother greeted me with the cane, striking me on my leg. My mother was angrier than she had ever been because caning alone wasn’t enough to cool the fire in her and she dragged me into the bathroom and pressed my head into the bathtub of water. Before I could struggle, my head was yanked out of the water and then she repeated the act. After the shock of the few seconds, I remember how petrified I was.

My mother left me in the bathroom crying. As I was sitting on the floor of the bathroom, unable to cry anymore, one thought crossed my mind. I got up and filled a container with water and then I stirred in a handful of washing power. I made two attempts to raise the container to my mouth but in the end I poured away the content. Even back then, I knew I didn’t have it in me to commit suicide. I simply wanted to create a scene to act out my pain. Even though it was a one-man show with no audience I felt much better after that.

Being a self-absorbed person at that time, I didn’t know my youngest sister experienced the dunk-in-the-water experience more times than I did. It only happened to me once. But that’s another story for another time.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


The year I turned 11 wasn’t a good year. It was the year when my two paternal aunts discovered they had cancers. They didn’t live for long. The disease had struck them fast and hard. They died within a few short months of each other. I was devastated as I prayed so hard for their recovery.

While my aunts were dying, cancer was a hot topic. My mother was discussing it with the neighbors. I could hear the talk of growth, lump and the deadliness of the disease for it was as sure as a death-warrant. So when both my aunts passed away, it left no doubt in mind that cancer was incurable.

When I had budding breasts, I was all at sea about my condition. Terror was playing havoc with me. I thought I was dying and I had nobody to share my frightening thoughts with. It was a dark period for me as I had been crying quietly in the silent of the nights. It wasn’t death that freaked me out, but the knowledge that I would never ever set my eyes on siblings and beloved grandma was the cause of my unhappiness. Not that anyone had ever noticed I was deeply unhappy. Maybe I hid my depression well.

When my secret became too much for me to bear, I broke down and told my younger sister. Had I known it would bring such a huge relief, I would have shared my worry with my sister sooner. It was as if a burden was lifted off my back. Strange enough, the thought of dying flew out of the window the moment I felt released. Years later whenever my sister remembered my confession she would tease me.

Shortly after I’d recovered from my self-inflicted despair, my mother noticed that I needed training bras and bought some for me.

I came home from school to find my mother sitting on the twin swing with my neighbor and her daughter who was four years my senior.

“Hey, your daughter has reached puberty already,” she expressed her surprise. Woe upon me that an innocent remark would bring disaster to me. My mother rushed out of the swing and pounced on me like a bloodthirsty hound. I’d just walked past the gates when this happened.

She grabbed me by my shoulders just to check whether I’d worn bras or not. “Don’t tell me you haven’t worn your bras, you’re a disgraceful girl.” She was pulling hard at my blouse. I resisted as I felt she was stripping me in front of my neighbors. I was oblivious to her blows for at that very moment I was more concerned over my state of undressed. My blouse was pulled out of my pinafore, the top half was unbuttoned and the top parts of the pinafore were flapping on both sides of the skirt. In my struggle I was pushed down on the concreted floor, my upper body hunched over my bended legs with my both arms protecting my front.

I wonder if she had ever felt any remorse when she discovered I was wearing my bras. Had she ever realized her behavior was disgraceful? Strange things could happen every time a remark was made, no matter how innocent or otherwise. Even if it was innocently said, my mother would somehow see an underlying meaning behind it.

The episode of the bras was a good example. In some part of her twisted mind she thought either the neighbor had noticed that I’d not worn bras or implied she couldn’t afford to buy me bras.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

My bundle of joy

My youngest brother was born when I was 10-year old. I was fascinated by this perfectly formed tiny body. I spent my free time with him. Soon I was able to change his diapers and make milk for him. I would buy him tiny shoes and cute, tiny t-shirts with the pocket money I’d saved up. Suddenly there was a difference in my life. I had a real life doll to play with.

Before I knew what had hit I became more his mother than his real mother. I wouldn’t have minded so much even when I was practically tied to the tiny bundle of joy. There were times when I was disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to go out because I had to stay back to baby-sit him.

One day, my few months old baby brother fell sick and I accompanied my mother and him to the clinic. I remember the waiting area was crowded because everywhere I turned my face I would see someone and some people had to stand.

So when my brother sneezed, my mother turned to me and gave me a slap. Why? In some part of her twisted mind she blamed me for his illness. She caused quite a stir in the clinic. A slap wasn’t the only embarrassment I received I was further humiliated by her verbal attack. I was desperately ashamed, it was one of those occasions when I wished for the ground to open up and swallow me.

I had never been embarrassed about the way my parents looked as they looked presentable. But it was my mother’s unpredictable behavior which embarrassed and pained me and the awkwardness between my father and me that saddened me. It hurt that we didn’t have a normal father and daughter relationship.

On hindsight, my mother wasn’t quite the monster in the sense she had never inflicted serious injuries on anyone of us. At least no broken bones or concussion, no stitching and taping and these things have been happening to most unfortunate abused children. Some didn’t live to tell. Some were too young to understand they had done nothing to deserve such horrendous pains in their very short lives. To these suffering children death was a welcoming one.

In those days, without the help of hindsight to see the larger picture, I had felt the hurts and injustices that had fallen on me. At that moment in time, my every unhappy thought had been centered on my own suffering. I had never really spared a thought that my sisters were my fellow sufferers too.

My sisters and I have talked about our experiences. We always felt so ashamed about them but now we don’t. We used to wonder why we couldn’t have had a mother like the kind neighbor who lived across us. Back then, we were so ignorant that we didn’t know that there have been even worst parents in comparison to ours.

I should thank my mother, mainly because of her I’ve tried not to make the same mistakes she’d made. With my children, I would never reprimand them in public. I would make it a point to have a one-on-one talk. Making a scene isn’t my cup of tea. I am no pushover but I have a more dignified way of dealing with my problems. Though I had an unhappy childhood and a few unhappy episodes I wouldn’t want them to revisit on my children through my own actions.