One of the strangest memories I've had was watching into my mother's room. She was crying. I knew why she was crying, but I didn't really talk to her about it. I looked inside, just caught a glimpse, and then walked off.
This was when I was back in Singapore for a break during a winter vacation when I was studying at Snowy Hill. I had been away from Singapore for 18 months, and that was a record at that time. In fact, right now, I've been away from almost twice as long, almost 3 years. But somehow I feel like I've lived longer during those 18 months than these three years.
Those 18 months encompassed the entirety of the whole codfish episode. Somehow that was the last time I had been emotionally involved with a woman, and it was a very very long time ago, more than 15 years. That's half a generation. Now, I'm older. I have peers whose kids are turning into teenagers.
The codfish episode did not end well. Today I'll look back upon it and realize that it was an impossibility to be involved with a person like her, that even if I were flawed in some way, she was even worse, and she had to be resigned to a life of being alone. She was a very attractive woman. Took care of herself very well. Maybe a 9 or a 10 in her youth. Right now, maybe 8. I spent a lot of time wondering how on earth I managed to hold her attention for that long. And I spent too long holding on – not really holding on, but wasting time in the wilderness not moving on to the next big thing. But that was the flip side of things – hers was a classic case of narcissistic personality disorder. And it's really unfortunate that some of the most attractive women are going to be like that: these are the people who are extra motivated to take care of themselves, take care of their own appearances. But they're definitely not the best people to have as girlfriends.
So whatever happened has been talked about elsewhere. Where does my mother come into all this? Well, I've also had a difficult relationship with my mother. In a way I'm lucky and in a way not so lucky: I was the favoured child. My mother liked me more than my sister. But in a way it wasn't great, because she wasn't the greatest person to be around.
I'm not that sure that she really cared about anybody else. It was just so difficult to be around her. She had her own insecurities, and, like the older generation of Singaporeans, she grew up in an environment that wasn't really free. It was a parochial place that clamped down on non-conformity. She had one physical defect that I will not describe here, but it must have affected her. She was in between things. She was a second generation Singaporean, and my grandparents from her side were from China. They didn't learn English. Of the five children, she was the middle child, and maybe she felt left out.
And I may have talked about her ongoing problems with her mother in law over here. So here you go: it was tough for me growing up. She's probably the reason why I would rate my childhood as maybe 7 out of 10 instead of 10 out of 10.
I don't always like to talk about her. You can always complain about the disadvantages in life. And you can always overcome them. You can't completely blame your parents if they didn't teach you everything: if you are smart enough and determined enough, you'll learn those things anyway. You can always fight for better things and make your way around.
The one thing that your parents can help you with, that nobody can, is teaching you how to love, how to be comfortable with another human being. That's the one thing that is very difficult to pick up on if they didn't manage to instill it in you. It's also possible that you'll find it outside of your family, but less likely. It's not true that all the adults in my life were like my mother, but she has a special talent for sucking the life out of the place once she steps into a room.
That is not to say that I didn't have any of the blame for that. It's entirely possible that it's not just that she's got a heart of stone, but I've got one too. And for those of you who have read far enough into the blog, you probably have already guessed as much. It's entirely possible that the two of us just bring out the worst in each other.
Here's what my mother was really crying about. At the beginning of my going to college, we had an argument, and then she blew up at something and threatened to disowned me. I was pretty rocked by that and then I responded by writing a very tearful letter to her. But that was probably the last ever time I would say something like that, and possibly after writing that letter, something in me snapped and – well, she's always going to be my mother but at most she's going to be an acquaintance. We had plenty of opportunities to forge a great relationship but it never happened. And maybe she had very high hopes for some kind of a reconciliation but it would never materialize. This was 2.5 years later, when I would learn the meaning of being in a relationship, and subsequently learn the meaning of heartbreak. My mother always told me that if I were to find a girlfriend, I'd have to tell her about it. I didn't. I talked about codfish to a few other relatives, but not my mother, and she found out indirectly. That was what she was crying about.
So as I watched her – rather, walked past her room on my way to mine – I might have been a little more sorry for her. But I didn't really feel much. I was too wrapped up in my own emotions, because this was when I was barely getting over her.
The other reason was that I was angry at my mother. When that relationship was over, I had to hang on to something in order to cope. I realized that I had nothing. When things were going badly in a relationship, I knew that I had to hang on to something, and I realized that I didn't have anything. I knew that if I wanted to give my heart to somebody else, I would have the confidence to do it, until that person gave hers back to me. But I had to have something in the store in order for that to happen, and I did not have it. And it wasn't very often that I got really really angry with my mother but that was the one time that I was really mad at her.
The fact that it was winter somehow really resonated with me. It was supposed to be winter in Snowy Hill. It wasn't winter in Singapore, of course. But it was monsoon season and raining every day. There was something really awkward about this. I had been out on a date with codfish just before the start of the 18 months. And the real drama took place over those 18 months: 12 months of drama, and then 6 months of dealing with the aftermath and pain. And after those 6 months, and after breaking up, and all those wonderful things we said over the internet, and all the horrible things we said over the internet, get this – we were going out for dinner, face to face, for only the second time. I swear, you couldn't really make this up if you tried.
So there was this theme of frozenness. It was fall in Snowy Hill when we started exchanging greetings and we were getting more and more involved with each other. Then it turned into winter when our late night chats (morning for her, I presume) were at the most passionate and heated. And it was summer when everything fell apart, when we decided that too many mean things were spoken to each other. At the same time, I didn't have a very great social life at Snowy Hill. I was learning everything I could lay my hands on, which was nice, but there's that word again – being frozen in my interactions with people. It's a funny thing about the architecture of Snowy Hill – it's a place with plenty of snow and plenty of bridges. There was something that occurred to me as I was going through my first winter, with all the icy wind in my face, and the quietness of small town America. That place is basically the polar opposite of Singapore. As wintry as Singapore is tropical, as land locked as Singapore is coastal, as remote as Singapore is well connected, as White as Singapore is Asian. But the chilliness of the environment was quite meditative, and also it inadvertently brought into relief that my heart was as frozen as my surroundings, even as I was holding forth on an imaginary relationship that was going on in cyberspace.
Attachment theory states that there are different forms of emotional insecurity. My sister brought this to my attention one day, and we agreed that while she was of the anxious-preoccupied type, and mine was the dismissive-avoidant type. It's borne out that my sis had gone through anywhere up to 10 ultimately unsuccessful attempts at romantic relationships, and I have gone through a grand total of 0, unless you count in codfish, but she doesn't count anyway. But yes, I'm the dismissive avoidant type. The cold, chilly, heartless exterior, until I lose control of my emotions and end up murdering everybody in the room.
It's not that my mother's a completely rotten person: she's not. She can be conscientious. She put a lot of effort into parenting. She pushed me hard to succeed. But I don't think she really loved me, and she certainly wasn't generous with her emotions. And she was such a quarrelsome troublemaker with my grandmother. One thing, though, she's taught me to be patient with flawed people. She's a person that you'd look at and either see half a glass full or half a glass empty.
And people look at me and tell me that I resemble her rather than my father. Fair enough. But whatever I do I just try to always always make sure that the father half of me has the upper hand over the mother half of me. And failing that, at least to make sure that the parts of myself that I really don't like about my mother are properly reined in and safely tucked away.