Her handwriting stained the crumpled yellow pad with blue ink, and this article triggered a memory of her sitting in the living room, reading about human anatomy one second and flipping through the pages of OK Magazine the next.
I scanned the living room behind me and then the corridor to my left that led to the kitchen. The sizzling of the pan and the continuous smacking of the knife against the chopping board told me that our cook was too busy to mind me.
Glancing at the grandfather’s clock, I noted the time: 4:30 AM. I had five minutes to myself before the school service comes honking outside my house.
I wiped my sweaty palms on my school pants and sat on the nearest armchair. Unfolding the paper, I took a deep breath and dared to read it.
Dear Ma and Pa,
When you hurt us once, we expect you to hurt us again. Not that we think you’re bad people. We just didn’t expect that you’ll hurt us that way and this much. That’s all.
Please don’t think that we can control our emotions like experts do (if there are any in this field) because we try not to be hurt/mad/sad and numb but it’s too hard not to feel anything.
Also, we tend to do the reverse once you break our hearts. If, before, we watched you and said ‘hey, I’ll do that someday’, now we watch you and take useful pointers on what we shouldn’t do to our children in the inevitable future.
I wanted to leave this next part alone because it’s real complicated for me, but I have to try because I love you both and I want you to know.
If either of you does something wrong to your family, have a kind person tell us that you sinned not because we, your children, are not worth your love/care/worry/faithfulness/respect/trust/friendship.
You wronged us because you are selfish and at one point of your life – on the starting line of your marathon towards the brokenness/completion of our family’s brokenness/ deepening of our family’s sadness, you admitted that there are times you wish you have no children who calls you during the busiest hours of your workday to let you know that we love you; four-year-old children who cry when we’ve been awake for five minutes and you haven’t emerged from your bedroom to remind us that we’re not alone; teenagers who hide their test papers because they’re too afraid to disappoint the only father and mother they’ll ever have; teenagers who claim they’re old enough but keep your number on speed dial; adults who text you when they land a job and call you when they lose a job;adults who dream of raising a family in accordance to the patterns you’ve set.
That, at one point, regardless of how short a breadth of time that was, you acknowledged the possibility of a better life without us.
Have someone tell us – or tell us yourself – that your faults are not our faults.
And whenever we say ‘I hate you’, don’t think that we don’t mean it and don’t think that we’ll mean it forever. There will be innumerable moments of hate between us, because there’s nearly as much moments (in the past) when I could have sworn I’d die for you.
If you don’t like the fact that we said that or can say that, walk in our shoes and be reasonable. Don’t tell us we’re bad children and that you don’t like us anymore.
When you yell at us for breaking the trophy/staining the carpet/ using your credit card without permission/ forging your signature to get a tattoo at fifteen years old/ failing a career defining exam, we never called – or even thought of – you as a bad parent. We think we deserve your criticism because you know best. But if we ever we can’t help ourselves and yell back, it’s because we can’t believe you’re right for the hundredth time while we can’t seem to get anything right in our lives.
Don’t show us that we annoy you because we cry too often and we turn our problems into war-zones. You are not our friend/cousin/bully/classmate/schoolmate. We don’t need you to be annoyed at us and shove it to our faces. Tell us meekly and lovingly, so we know there’s a chance we’d do the right thing next time, and that there’s always a next time waiting for us.
Sometimes, a show of affection (unrestrained and not forced) is all we really want from you/ want to get from you.
We hate that you think we’re unreasonable. If you just ask us outright – ask what’s in our mind that’s bothering us – it’s your future. We want you to live today and to grow old happy. We also worry over your wellbeing and your romantic life and your driving habits. We worry for you as a child to a parent, and it is such a helpless state because you’re supposed to know better and we’re supposed to know only to a certain extent.
At the very end of the page were angry drawings and fat lettering of all the curse words I had ever encountered in my life. The only coherent phrase I can make out is: fucking sadness so stifling. The rest is nearly as perplexing as Mandarin.
I fold the paper once, twice, thrice, and I enclosed it in both hands, hiding it from view. This way, I feel her anger within my reach, and it is almost as if she never disappeared.
I shove the paper into my pocket. My sister hadn’t lied completely about wanting to pursue medicine; her idea of it was just not the kind that could heal anybody but herself.