Are you going to get married someday? What about kids?
Living in an Asian country, I got asked this question all the time, especially when I reached marriageable age. What I really wanted to reply with it “no thanks, five is enough” but I doubt they would understand, so I usually gave some pat answer. It used to really tear me up though.
Same goes for being asked “what are you doing now?” If you ask me what I was REALLY doing all this time, it was to live and survive and grow as best as I could. I used to tell Meimei and Florence that that was my real job – healing, growing, taking care of the house and fighting demons. And it’s one that I did 24/7.
My life was so different from anyone else I knew that I was at pains to explain what I was really doing. I used the “I’m doing freelance translation” excuse so much that it seemed stale and worn even to me. It wasn’t really untrue, and yet it wasn’t really true either.
Deep inside I longed to tell someone everything, to have them commiserate and understand, but I was scared to do so…and besides, who could I tell? Besides my sister, that is. She already knew the whole story.
Suffering has a way of awakening the spirit and though I am no Dalai Lama, I would like to think that I learned from those years in which outwardly, all I did were the same things day after day. Time ground in an endless procession of tomorrows. Wake up, play games, watch anime, talk to Meimei, surf the Net, go to therapy, and repeat ad infinitum. I wished there were more.
I was twenty-five, going on twenty-nine. Most of the horrors of the past had ended…or at least, had seemed to. This was a new kind of pain, one of ennui. Things hadn’t really settled down that much at home either. There were still explosions and flare-ups. There was a particularly intense episode where my Mum shut off the fuse box so that she could force my sister out of the room she was in – the latter had blocked the door and refused to come out.
Around this time we hired Mary again and we were happy to have her back with us. She knew all our old habits – like how I liked to dunk cookies into milk, and how Meimei liked cheese on toast – and also knew how to make all the dishes that we liked. For a while it looked like the good times were here again.
Then my mother fired her. The reason she gave was that Mary was lazy and good-for-nothing but it was far simpler…she was jealous. My sister and I got reacquainted with our old family servant in no time at all – how could we fail to do so, when we all knew and loved each other so well? But to my mother it must have seemed like a threat. So she dismissed her summarily one day without so much as a by-your-leave, and before Meimei had gotten home from school so the latter couldn’t say anything about it.
My sister got SO MAD, and she even shouted at my mother – a rare occurrence indeed. No response from except the same stone-cold, angry visage and the reply that there was no keeping on servants that couldn’t work properly. What about all the times we had spent when younger? How about finding her alternative employment? Just “pack your things, you’re done” one fair afternoon. Whatever she didn’t want in her life, she just cut out – my father, the maid, anything that didn’t measure up to her exacting standards.
Meimei tried to have it out with her, to tell our mother just how angry she was, but it seemed useless. I encouraged her to write a letter and at least get the feelings out of herself – but she just stared at the blank pieces of paper in listless rage, her fingers trembling on the blue pen she held. Then she closed her eyes and tossed it onto the table. “It’s no use” she said in a voice brittle with suppressed emotion. “She won’t listen.” I was about to tell her that’s why you wrote the letter – for yourself, not for the other person – but I don’t think my beloved little sister was in a place to hear that.
Though I can also recall a year in which NONE of this happened…perhaps normal to other people, but nothing short of a miracle to us.
The threat of relapse had receded into the background and I was ok – relatively speaking. I bought a Wii, and with it came many new games, including the cult hit No More Heroes (now THERE’S a unique game for you) We actually played a few with my Mum – mainly Wii Sports and other party games.
But yet that “okness” was another kind of pain in its way. I had to be ok because all hell would break loose if I wasn’t. And being ok was good! It was fun! I mean it was a welcome relief from all that shrieking and terror. I wanted to have fun and just relax and chill out for a while. Thinking back on it I was more than a little attached to pleasure, because I had precious little of it in the past.
It never occurred to me (or rather it occurred to me but I repressed it at a deep level) that the 20s are actually that time of a person’s life in which they are working, making friends, advancing their career…Going Somewhere. Where did I have the time for all these things? I just wanted to rest a bit after everything I had gone through.
I continued learning, and living, and loving, and growing, but it was not the life I wanted. Deep down I think I knew that. I consoled myself with the fact that things were not as bad as they were before (and indeed they weren’t) but it was always a stop-gap solution at best. And in all this time America and Japan, the twin Shangri-Las of my heart, grew more and more distant from me even as the Net brought the world closer and closer.
It’s a bit strange, looking back on that time now. I can remember feeling happy. Truly! And yet there was such a pallor over everything that I was not aware of. I don’t think I knew how deeply everything had gone underground. I was indeed proud of all the internal work I had done and I knew it had paid off. The fact that I was not longer wracked with mental illness everyday was more than proof of that. How then, could there have been such things that even I did not see them?
Time was flowing and the world was changing, but I don’t think I was ready to step into the big picture yet. The signs were all around me – I attended a few friends’ weddings, and my cousins had babies popping out left, right and center. But for me it seemed that I was in the same holding pattern I always was, telling people I did translation work, that I was going to university (someday!) that I was just taking it easy for now – though that “now” was a period of many years.
I didn’t even get a data plan for my phone. I used Youtube (I doubt you can live in the 21st century and not) but not Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest. I only wanted what I wanted and I shut everything else out consciously and unconsciously. I saw game after game after game be localized and I had nothing to do with any of them – except criticize the translation from the comfort of my sofa of course.
Things were changing and had been for some time now. Video games weren’t just for nerds and geeks anymore. Crunchyroll was around and anime could be streamed live now. Iphones and high-speed Internet were changing the world. And here I was just sitting at home masturbating, literally and figuratively.
The old envy flared up again whenever I saw people move forwards. I can recall clearly after one session with Florence I came home and I drew a picture of myself sitting at the side and crying while a whole bunch of people were walking towards this gate called “Future.” There I was, working on myself as usual, but I wished that life had more to it than games and therapy, as important as those two were.
I can remember trying to move forwards. I entered writing competitions. I started taking my singing seriously (as I will recount in the next chapter) I brainstormed many ideas, from learning how to dance hip-hop and giving classes (the second K-pop wave had hit Singapore and there were no shortage of aspiring dancers) to investing, to even playing poker. None of them really took off. Once again I would go as far as research, and learning but I could never bring myself to take that vital first step.
I grew so much in that time in therapy, in my dealings with people, as a person, and yet I felt I was standing still. I think deep down inside, beyond even my considerable self-awareness and psychological knowledge, I wanted the world to stop, for time to cease its cruel motion so I could get my shit together and Go To America or work in the Industry or whatever. For me to get my life back.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. The next chapter happens during this period and that definitely isn’t about Abuse and Pain and Loss and Sacrifice. I could live without the ever-present threat of relapse and oh, you don’t know how much of a relief that was! I slept better, but not great. I didn’t have three to four flus every year and trouble sleeping all the time.
I felt so alive and yet I wasn’t really. It is amazing to me how such feelings could have been there, running beneath the surface. I lived and it was alright and it was good but it wasn’t the life that I truly wanted to live. It was more make-do, more “don’t worry, it’s not so bad.” Always the same holding pattern. Always having to be “ok.” And ok I was, but…no, not really. I wasn’t.
Another thing that happened during those years was that my hatred of qualifications and tests and other related matters dimmed. Time is a great healer of all things, but I think it was mainly my hard work and desire to heal that made a bigger difference. I was still in therapy and although we never touched on these issues directly, whatever else that was healed did have a kind of spill-over effect.
I saw with mature eyes – my own eyes, not the fractured vision of others – why we needed some things and why. The world is imperfect. People weren’t defined by their jobs, or what papers they had, or how much money they made. Sometimes they were and that was sad. But you didn’t need to be. A degree wasn’t the be-all and end-all of things. Having qualifications meant just that – it was a piece of paper certifying your abilities in certain skills, not an indictment of your character.
I knew all this years before but only intellectually. I came to a deeper understanding of them on levels beyond the intellect and my long-held hatred and fear that I had felt for years of the ‘O’ Levels and the JLPT dimmed and then eventually disappeared entirely. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly day by day they got smaller and were gone.
It might have to do with my letting go of revenge. A long time back in the Things Fall Apart chapter I used to go to Borders in town to read whatever translated manga they had. One of them was Blade of the Immortal, one of my favorite manga and serious contender for Best Samurai Series Ever.
One of its key themes is justice versus vengeance. When wrong is done to you, seek justice and not revenge – for the former is where true strength arises and the latter is where eventually you suffer more than whoever hurt you. As an avid player of SRW I knew all about justice (they talked about it all the damn time) but I also appreciated how the message wasn’t flung directly at you and rather explored in many different ways.
Around this time I also watched Gun X Sword, another anime in which revenge was a key theme. It wasn’t preachy. It wasn’t holier-than-thou. It presented revenge in a clear-cut and open way. There was no bad or good, just the need to visit pain on those that had done you wrong.
I think that might have been what did it. A few months later after watching it I felt better and t I wasn’t obsessed with revenge anymore. There was no conscious decision on my part – somewhere along the line it just happened. Healing can happen in many different ways.
Why did I have such a strong need for revenge inside me? I didn’t know. It might have been my Mum. It might have been that long-ago incident with my grandmother putting chilli in my mouth. I had certainly suffered in school and that took a long time to get over. In the end though, it might have been the fact that I had always been searching for a greater strength and power, and justice beats revenge anytime.
There’s a line from Zero, the Final Fantasy Type-Zero opening, that comes to mind here. Koko de shika iki ga dekinai nani to hikikaete mo mamorinukanakya. (I can only breathe here, so I must protect this place, even if I have to give up something in return) That was a lot of what I felt back then. I had to keep the world out to protect who and what I was.
In terms of personal progress and the grand scheme of things maybe I really wasn’t ready to take bigger steps than I did at that time. I told Terrence years later that “I guess I have always been moving forwards, though not in the direction or the speed I wanted.” That about sums it up. What I did then was what I could do. If I could have done better I would have. And most importantly I would learn that it wasn’t my fault – or anyone else’s. None of it was.