Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Daughter (Molly Auntie, the Sequel)

The sequel to this:

The thing is, I love my mother. I really do. I know you're not supposed to when she has been nightmarish and controlling but I can't help it. I guess no one ever can. As Meg Ryan said in a movie, even people who hate their mothers, love them.

I call her every week and speak for an hour, at least. I use a phone card, you know the ones you can get cheap? You pay $10 and get to talk for three hours. I'm not kidding! Lately, she asked me not to waste my money talking so long on the phone. I think our conversations cut into her day. She's very busy, my mother. She may be what is euphemistically known as a "homemaker" but she is always buzzing about on different committees and stuff. Directing, organising...yeah, that part didn't transmit. I'm scatty. All over the place. God only knows how I managed to get through med school.

I never wanted to be a doctor. Not me. From the time I was young all I wanted to do was read. And write. I loved poetry, stories, the taste of words on my tongue, the rhythms, the cadences. But I don't suppose I would have been good enough. It's a hobby, not a way to earn a living. Only, I don't have hobbies anymore.

Why I became a doctor? Mom. But it's not what you think.

I was looking for something in her closet one day and came across her folder of certificates. She was really smart, you know, top of her class, always. Also good at games - netball captain, hockey captain, school captain. Head prefect. When I got to school, my teachers, all her old friends looked to see if I was like her. A chip of the old block. But no. Hardly even a chip. I was this mousy little thing, hiding in a corner, face buried in a book. I didn't even look like her. So they were nice to me, but otherwise...

Anyway, as I said, I was going through her folder and then I found it. Her acceptance letter to do medicine in the University of Malaya. I mean, that was HUGE. Simply awesome. Do you know how difficult it is to get into the medical faculty there? I wondered why she didn't follow through but then I realised, her father, my grandfather, would have never gone for it. I mean, he was very fond of her, proud of her, and all that, but he would never have paid to get a daughter educated. Sons went to university. Daughters got married. And that's just the way things were.

Yet, Mom adored him and wouldn't dream of blaming him for anything. If I said anything that sounded even vaguely critical, she bit my head off. So I stopped referring to him. I didn't like him much anyway. So strict and disapproving, he thought me and Chacko (my brother, you know) were spoilt. Spoilt? Us? You should have met our other cousins. They got away with a lot more than we ever did. We couldn't you see, we had Mom. She had this sixth sense and we couldn't hide anything from her. Not anything.

I remember when I was in Standard One and I poured my rose-flavoured milk down the drain because it tasted so awful. When she came to pick me up, she asked me, of course, if I had finished my milk. I lied and said I had and she turned, looked at me with those gimlet eyes and calmly told me she knew I had poured it down the drain. My mouth fell open. You couldn't hide anything from this woman!

So anyway, I wanted to ask her about the letter, but I needed to approach in a roundabout way so she wouldn't suspect I had gone through her private papers. So I asked her if she had had any secret ambitions when she was young and she looked at me strangely. Then she said, softly, in a voice quite unlike herself, yes, I wanted to be a doctor. She looked so sad that it went straight to my heart. And that was when I decided, yes, I would do it for her. I would become a doctor. So you see, it wasn't that she pressured me into this. I chose it on my own.

I think she was happy when I graduated. Proud of me. If only for an instant. It was tough, I can tell you. I hated all the dissection we had to do, on live animals sometimes. Once I cut into a live frog, saw its beating heart pumping away. Everytime I picked it up with the forceps, the supposedly chloroformed creature swallowed and pulled its heart away. It died of course. I cried for days. But I stuck it out. For her. I love her, you see. And I always wanted to be good enough.

Why I live here? I had to get away from home or Mom would have swallowed me whole. I do love her and I understand how much she sacrificed for me and Chacko, but because she was so much, I was nothing. She was the elemental female, the fury of a tropical storm, while I was, no am, weak, soft-centre, pliable. Easy to manipulate. Very easy to control. All my lovers caught on real fast and learned to manipulate me in a couple of months. It would be Mom all over again, and I wouldn't be able to breathe. Once the asthma attacks began, I would know. Time for goodbyes.

No, she never found out about any of them. She wouldn't have been happy if she had. None of them would have been quite acceptable. Not really. And while I don't agree with arranged marriages, I would rather remain single than fall out with my family, you know what I mean? You don't? Oh well. Hard to explain.

Would she like you? Maybe. But if she thought you had any other ideas, that would swiftly change to hate. She didn't pick you. So there must be something wrong with you. I was smart enough to graduate med school but not smart enough to pick a partner. So I stay single, at least, I don't get married. It's easier that way.

Lonely? Well, work takes up most of my time. And when I get home I pop something into the microwave and watch TV. Get out DVDs from Blockbuster. Weekends, I go shopping. Get all the chores out of the way. Sometimes I catch a play or a movie. Yeah, mostly alone. But that's OK. Some of us are born to be loners.

You think that's strange? Why? I don't fit in with crowds. Never have. People don't like me. They think I'm strange. And trying to fit in, I talk too much. I babble. Yeah, like I'm doing now. I tell you, when I get home, I'm gonna think, shit, why did I say all that? And I'm probably gonna spend the next week feeling horrible about it.

Kidding! Well, no, not really. Why do I do it anyway? Can't help it. It's like this fatal kink, I need to tell people why. I'm the way I am. Nobody cares. Not really. I'm sorry, I shouldn't be boring you with this. It's just, we got to talking about my mother, and sometimes, like now, I miss her and feel like talking about her. I wish...oh never mind.

Chacko? He's in England. An engineer. Lives there with his girlfriend. No, Mom doesn't know, but he's happy. At least, I think he is. He's nothing like me. Very handsome, confident and he makes friends easily. We were close a long time ago, and then, well, Mom loved him more than me and I couldn't accept it. Still can't. But at least, all the way over here, it's not in front of me. Of course I was jealous, wouldn't you be? I think it really hurt her when he moved to England, but they talk over the phone every week. Yeah, the way we do.

No, don't feel sorry for me. I chose to be here. I chose to be alone. I dunno, everyone is so social these days, it's almost like an obsession, like if you're alone, you're a reject or something. I don't believe that. I hate crowds, anyway. They sap my energy. My idea of hell on earth is a cocktail party, like those we have at the hospital, where you engage in superficial conversation for two or three minutes, before you titter off to talk to someone else. I mean, what's the point? Yeah, the alcohol helps but I don't like drinking too much. The last time I got slightly tipsy I ended up yelling obscenities at a stranger in a pub. That kind of thing can get you killed. Yeah, I know, strange. And I'm usually so low key when sober. Anyway, you see why I have to be careful. I can't be running around telling perfect strangers to get the fuck out of my face, can I?

Dad? Yeah, he's a nice guy. We're very close. I feel sorry for him but I could not stay there and watch her hate him. Yes. Hate. He adores her and if anything were to happen to her, I don't know what he would do. But she rejects all affection. I remember once when I was small, he bought her an expensive emerald necklace for her birthday. Her birthstone, you know. Anyway, she chewed him out for wasting money. No, he didn't yell back. He never yelled back. He gave up trying to win her over a long time ago, but I think he's very sad inside. And I am sad for him. I look like him, see, dark and scrawny, while Chacko looks like Mom. So her rejection of Dad felt like, yeah, it felt like she was doing it to me.

Ugly? Check.
Useless? Check.
Hopeless? Check.

But you know, I never found Dad ugly. I love him madly. We're co-conspirators, the two of us. The outsiders. We don't really count. Yes, I know it's a weird concept, but you can have outsiders in a family. The rejects (there I said it) who don't quite fit in.

She was proud of me when I became a doctor, but that's about it. I tried so hard my whole life but nothing I did was ever good enough. I remember running home to tell her I was the only one in my form to score an A1 in my triple one nine English exam. And this, when I was ill with conjunctivitis and could hardly see the question paper. Everyone in school had made such a fuss of me and I thought maybe, this time, she would be proud of me...but she glanced at the paper, gave me a half smile and said, not bad. Just that. And suddenly, it didn't seem so huge anymore.

So I guess, that's why I live all the way over here, with no family and few friends. Australia is a lovely country. It has a whole different energy to Malaysia. More loving and accepting, I think. But sometimes I miss home. Sure I do. So I go back, at least once a year to remind myself why I cannot live there. If I stayed away too long I know I would be tempted to chuck everything and go back. And that would be disastrous. It would kill me. They don't understand me over there. Come to think of it, they don't understand me over here either. But that's OK. It hurts less when strangers don't understand you. When it's family, it's like fresh knives.

Does my Dad miss me? I guess he does. But the way things are between them, I can't bear to watch. So I ran away from home. Like some silly kid. And I will stay away, until... I don't know until what. The other day, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and didn't recognise this 35-year old body. It seemed strange and unfamiliar. What happened to my life? One day I was 19. And suddenly, here I am creaking my way towards senility in this form I no longer recognise. Everything on suspend. Chest tight. Breath held. Waiting. Don't ask me for what.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. All meaningless.

No, I don't need therapy. I know that I seem mixed up, but that's what we all are. Mixed up. Walking wounds. It's just that I acknowledge it while people like you pretend you have it all together.

At the end of the day, we're all desperately alone. All of us. Marriage doesn't guarantee communion. Neither do children. We scream into pillows and hope that the pain will abate so we can drop off into a few minutes of hushed oblivion.

No, I don't long for happiness, anymore. Happiness is a lie. There is only a slow cancelling out, an extinction. I never really lived so I cannot die. I will cease to breathe, and will you even remember today?

Or that I once existed?

What's my name?


goldennib said...

You craft your character studies so beautifully. You captured this woman's loneliness and insecurities very well. Saddly, I understand her only too well.

part-time buddha said...

I'm a total moron.

lemontree said...

beautiful writing- love the way the autobiographical tints fade in and fade out leaving the reader guessing

A thinker said...

Jen, you've captured very well the human dilemma. All of our problem.

And the mom? Hard on her daughter probably because her success reminded her of what she'd never had.

Grey Shades said...

I'm speechless! its like i'm listening how i feel and what I am through someone else's keyboard...

Jenn said...

Nessa: Thanks dear. Somehow I knew you would.

PTB: I don't think you are. Just very sensitive. All writers are, I think.

Lemon: Haha, thanks for that. And I'm not telling...

A thinker: You know, I never thought of that. I always thought the mom in this case was hard on her daughter because she reminded her (the mom) of her husband. Like, barely visible. But thanks for the insight. Wow.

Grey Shades: Hello, welcome to my blog. Really? Then you and I should relate very well.

Grey Shades said...

Thanks! and yes I think we'd relate really well! Say, do you check the mail ID you'e listed on this blog? Have mailed you something there...

Jenn said...

PTB: I finally read your email and understand what your statement is in relation to (it kinda puzzled me before). All I can say is I don't think you are. I think you are absolutely adorable. Thanks.

Grey Shades: Thanks. I checked my mail cos of your alert. And replied. :)

David Cho said...

Very complex, yet very telling. Will the story continue?

The way you write is very captivating, and every story, however long is a page turner .. uh...scroller.

Jenn said...

Thanks David :)...but no, this story stops here. I think despair is always a good way to end things, don't you?

Grey Shades said...