There was one thing that my mother didn’t teach me when I was young: how to stay at one place and learn to adapt. While my father would insist that we stay, my mother would scream that we move, in the soonest time, in the easiest way, possible.
We moved a lot when I was a kid that in my young, innocent mind, I couldn’t help but ask myself what was wrong with Mom, what was it that made her want to leave, what pain it brought her in trying to stay. Dad would talk to me sometimes, explaining these rash courses of action that took its toll on Dad’s work and in my schooling and try to make me understand the thing that I was too young to understand.
Looking back, I can see now what Dad was asking of me, what he demanded of my innocence. He wanted me to see my mother the way he sees her. He wanted me to understand my mother: what she is as a person, what burden she carry on her shoulder, what passion consumes her spirit. He wanted me to understand all of these because he knew this was the only way for me to understand why we moved a lot.
But I never understood; not Mom, not Dad, not even myself. All I knew was the empty questions I used to ask Dad whenever I feel alone or whenever I feel the loud thumping sound in my chest and wonder about the painful indecision of the adults around me; how they stare blankly at night and realize that a new house never remains new and decide the next day that it’s time to leave again, how Mom swallows her fear by moving, by changing scenes, how Dad feed her whimsical illusions with a meek submission to her every want, desire, wish and how Dad tells me to do the same, tells me it’s all for Mom and how love becomes sacrificial and suicidal, both at the same time. I never blamed Dad but I did wonder what made him stop trying, what sent him to his room and locked the door and stopped him from listening to what Mom said, to what I said. I didn’t understand his submission because whenever I look back, I only remember a father who loved his wife and his daughter that he did his best to balance the world for them. Such balance, I would understand later in life, meant that we move to places and that I would understand why.
But I never understood, not one of Mommy’s many decisions and indecisions nor a sentence of Daddy’s careful and patient explanations about why the world is cold, unforgiving. I never understood why on a calm, typical afternoon in a month I can’t remember now, Mom would take a bus out of whim and leave home, just like that without telling me or Dad. I never understood why Dad would chase after her. look for her, and in the end the three of us —Mom, Dad and me— would spend the night on the road, out of do0rs, and Dad would talk to her, under the bright city lights while I sit at one corner and wait for time to pass, trying ever so persistently not to listen to their conversation but failing just the same. And I would hear Mom speak words I could not quite understand but loathed, hated, cursed, with every iota of my energy as soon as she speak them until I realize that it was myself I hate so much because I couldn’t be the daughter who could make her happy, who could make her want to stay at one place for the rest of her days.
I would watch the cars and the people form an invisible rope that at one point I wished to cut, just so I could disengage myself from the life of growing up, of grown-ups. I would avoid the look of the people who stare at us, Mom, Dad and me, like we were some kind of an exhibit, a gallery of emotions on a road, in a city, once upon my lonely childhood days where Mom is the piece of somebody else’s art and Dad is the painter trying to save a masterpiece he did not own. I would bow my head down and wish for the people to leave, to stop staring, because in my young screaming head I knew what those eyes meant and how they slash through my innocence; the looks, the strangers, the hollow sound of all the people who never understand, a mass of lonely beings that float in an empty space, devoid of sound and understanding. I knew what they all meant: that in that cold lonely evening somewhere in our distant past, where Mom cried and Dad listened and I waited in the senselessness of everything that mattered, Mom, Dad and me were a lonely family. Is there even a better word for that, something more right, more apt for the gravity that weighed us all down other than the six-letter word ‘lonely’ that spoke to us in our darkest hour?
I could weep for Mom or feel sorry for Dad, in hope of making them understand that I exist as the third member of the family and that I have a share of the burden, whatever that burden is. But I didn’t weep. In the end I allowed myself to be taken away, slowly, gradually, like burning paper, through the cold chambers of time, allowed myself to grow older and older, away from the gloomy episodes of my childhood. Because when I look back to those days and try to understand every variable in the ‘lonely’ equation of Mom plus Dad plus me, I only get the sum of their fear and frustration divided by my inexhaustible attempt to understand the reason why.
Now that I have grown older I’ve come to understand many of the things that left me clueless, confused , when I was young. But some are perpetually beyond my reach, like Mommy’s loneliest nights or Daddy’s decisions to finally give up, and I decide to leave things that way. Growing up meant to me as the dawn of an understanding and acceptance of people, the closest of whom was my Mom and Dad. I have learned, slowly, painfully, to let go of the pain they brought me when I was young, their unconscious non-deliberate decisions that pushed me back to the far corners of their indifference, their fears, their errors. I have learned that I could never correct their mistakes any more than one can correct a crooked line written in pen. I could only chose to forgive, let go and allow myself to heal from the pain that I didn’t ask for, that could not have happened if only Mom chose us, if only Dad held on a little longer, if only I as more spoken, more active, more loveable, more perfect in my shattered little childhood. But what does a child know? I tell myself over and over again that it’s too late to blame Mom, it’s too late to ask Dad back. The only thing that is still waiting to be done is my life, all polished and clean, washed away from the inside out by the mistakes of the people around me. I may have lost the innocence that is distinct and pristine in childhood, the mark of being young and unadultered and unabused by the cruel hands of human existence. I may have lost my belief. But in my remaining days I will not falter in keeping faith to what I knew and learned during my painful days as a young girl.
Now that I am old enough to make my own decisions and take responsibilities for them, I begin to understand the crucial part a grown-up plays, and how important a decision is in the survival and adaptation of human life, like every minute of our lives we have to decide: what to eat, what to wear, where to go, who to meet, when to stop, when to leave. In the next few years I will be faced with the same circumstances my parents went through, the same hell, the same agony of adult life. Like Mom I will cry and break down and get confused and unhappy. Like Dad I will sink into a silent submission, a silent resistance. But far from the mistakes of the ones that came before me I will choose to remain faithful to my notion of the world, this world. I will seek for someplace else. I will not wish for a new world. I will not be like Mom. Th pain that I had to go through in my childhood pushed me to create a world where I exist, not just as a body made up of skin and bones, but as well as a human being with an irreplaceable worth, with value, with voice. I do not exist anymore as the lonely girl waiting for the grown-ups to notice her, waiting to be loved. My life is free from their decisions now. My life is waiting to be done.
I am in my own life, in my own world. This world is quiet, more peaceful, devoid of everything that asks for the impossible, stripped by everything that longs for something better, more beautiful. I am far from my mother’s lonely dreams, from my father’s unhappy days. They exist now only as vague memories of a childhood I once knew. I am far far away from them all. This world is quiet, more peaceful and yes, I am happy. Even if that means living all by my self.
Happy Independence Day, Summer.
Long live, this bittersweet freedom.