May 24 2012
And he couldn’t, so she left.
Did she still love him? Probably. Decades later, when I was in my 20s, my gran was once again alone because her second husband had passed away. She took up Chinese calligraphy, and one day I noticed her signing off with a different name. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s a pen name,” she replied. “Every respectable writer needs a pen name.” It was only after her death that I found out she’d been signing off with my granddad’s name.
Today’s guest blogger is Regina, and she has a family story to tell as well. I’ve never met Regina before but I’d love to. She comes across as warm, funny, and genuine online, and I’m sure she’s even better in real life. She’s written a letter in response to an earlier guest post, and I’m very grateful that she’s allowed me to share it here.
First of all, allow me to tell you how much I admire you for taking the first step toward liberation.
I admire you for being strong in the face of adversity.
I admire your resilience in the wake of seemingly insurmountable odds.
I admire your courage to stand up for everything that matters to you.
I admire your faith and your ability to love.
I won’t claim to know how you are feeling right now; neither will I attempt to place myself in your shoes. Every relationship is different, and as much as you have poured out your feelings in words, I don’t know you personally to be able to stake claim on understanding your decisions.
I will not tell you that time heals, because it doesn’t. Perhaps in time we move on… because life has a funny way of moving us forward without us even realising it—but the pain and hurt will always be there.
You took him back, time and time again… because you believed that he would change. You gave without asking for much in return, only that perhaps one day he would see the error of his ways and stop leading multiple lives. You gave him a family, and wished that he would find it in his heart to be a tad more responsible. You supported him silently, ignoring your hurt, your pain, and yourself.
That hit too close to my heart.
You wrote your piece so that your daughters might one day understand. I’m writing this to you because I am a daughter who understands.
My mother got married right after she graduated from University with a degree in Economics. She was 25, in love with the very first man who made her feel special, walking down the aisle believing that it was the start to the rest of her life. She was not afraid of where the road would lead, because she had him to guide her through. She was blind to his faults, for even though life would be wrought with obstacles, they could work everything out together—because they had each other. She felt fortunate that he had chosen her despite having women fall at his feet. She trusted him.
She tried to create a home, an environment where he was happy to come home to every day. They bought their first black and white TV set, and it was small enough for her to carry it on her lap riding home on his scooter. He didn’t allow her to work—because he was a conservative man who believed that he should be able to provide for his family.
She got pregnant after three years and several traditional treatments.
That was when it all started.
When she was seven months pregnant with me, there was a newspaper notice that caught my maternal grandfather’s eye. A grainy picture of a woman carrying a toddler, with a “looking for” header, complete with my father’s full name. My grandpa didn’t tell my mum yet, but he called the number stated on the notice and spoke to the woman. Apparently my father had been carrying on with her, even through his wedding vows. He left her and his daughter without a word when he found out that my mum was pregnant.
My grandfather confronted my father, who admitted his liaison and swore never to repeat the mistake. He made an oath at the altar—for he said that he only loved my mother and that it was a moment’s folly that continued because the woman refused to let him go. My mum, young and in love, took him back despite my grandparents’ objections. She was buoyed by the fact that he had chosen to leave the affair because he said he wanted a real family with her.
What she didn’t realise (nobody did, for that matter) was that there were two other women in the picture. Neither of them knew of the other’s existence, and both of them believed in the lies spun by a smooth talker.
They came to the house, one after the other. They confronted my mother and made themselves out to be victims. My mum was then pregnant with my brother… and I can only guess how she must have felt during those moments. She dared not confide in her parents, because they had warned her and she had refused to listen.
She still took him back, after he begged, pleaded, and cried… spewing empty promises that never materialised. She loved him to the point of ignoring herself. She needed him to be with her because he was the only life she’d ever known. She took him back because her children needed a family, and she didn’t know where else to turn. She was entirely dependent on him, and she was afraid to walk away. Perhaps at the time it was easier to ignore the affairs and try to get back a semblance of life as she knew it.
Of course, he never stopped. It could just be in his personality to feel needed—by the more women, the better. He went from one to the next because he could. It didn’t bother him that he had a wife and two children waiting for him. He took pride in being able to wriggle out of situations. It fuelled his restless spirit and reminded him that he was wanted.
We migrated to Singapore from Indonesia when I was eight and my brother was four. We couldn’t speak a word of English. Everything was brand new to us… and we had to start right at the very beginning. We didn’t have relatives here, and we didn’t dare to walk to the corner store to buy anything because we had been so sheltered.
I went to school and started from scratch. My mum learnt English with the aid of The Straits Times and a dictionary. My brother played with the neighbours’ kids and eased into English much better than any of us did. My father just went on playing the field.
Until one day he left—and never came back.
He left my mum with a mountain of debts, two young children, and a broken heart. She had never worked a day in her life and she now had creditors knocking at the door daily. She tried to kill herself thrice. I managed to save her in time the third time round, perhaps by a stroke of divine intervention, when I came home from school early because I wasn’t well. She didn’t know where to start—and how to survive.
But she survived. We all did. We were emotionally battered and scarred, but we were survivors nonetheless.
Two years ago, my father died a poor man, alone, without any of his women by his side. His death was undiscovered for two days.
I have never forgiven him.
I recount this to you because I know what my mother went through. She loved unconditionally, and she lived in the belief that he would change.
I know she still loves him despite everything that he has done to her. Worse than physical abuse, he struck her soul repeatedly, twisting a serrated knife into her heart with a heavy hand and a cruel sneer. She has never remarried, although she has many male friends who offer company in her twilight years. She told me that she would only exchange vows once in her life—and she has stuck to her part of the bargain.
She told me to call my father when I got married, just to let him know. I never did. I didn’t feel the need to. He tried calling me numerous times throughout our 25 years apart, but I hung up on him (on landlines, on mobiles, at work). He didn’t deserve my mum or his children. He didn’t deserve to be my dad.
Unlike you, she didn’t have the courage to walk away. She didn’t feel strong enough to carry the burden. She would rather stay in the relationship with both eyes closed. Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like had he not walked out on us. Would she have come to that breaking point and chosen to divorce him eventually? Or would she have soldiered on… disregarding the pain in her heart so that we could live?
I don’t know. I suppose I never will.
Your daughters will understand one day. A woman’s heart is easily bruised, but despite the repeated hard knocks it continues to beat stronger with the passing of time. It is criss-crossed with scars, but it doesn’t fail. It beats for her children, it beats for herself, and it beats to survive.
Your heart will, too.
A woman who understands