Sunday, May 13, 2007

Polite Smiles, Painful Tears

As fate would have it, Steve reacquainted with that elusive girl from high school, whom he knew very briefly and only in passing. In fact, Steve does not recall ever having had much of a conversation with Jane during high school. He is however, very fond of the polite smiles they exchanged in the hallways and classrooms, when she wasn't huddled with her then boyfriend by their lockers. They seemed so very much in love.

After high school, Steve and Jane's paths never crossed in any meaningful way other than polite smiles on the streets and in the malls and restaurants. Then after over 17 years, they finally get a chance to sit down for a nice chat over dinner. What is originally supposed to be a discussion about business, turns into something Steve totally does not expect - the outpouring by Jane of years of pain, anger and frustration.

Steve is happy to hear that Jane's career has blossomed. Jane has been keeping herself busy with many interests and talents, perhaps as an escape from her personal struggles. Steve is saddened to learn that Jane's personal life has been one battle after another. Jane's life was a struggle from the very beginning.

After high school, Jane got married, but not to that guy Steve saw her always in a huddle with in the hallways by their lockers. That guy apparently hurt her so much that she just found someone else very quickly and got married, right out of high school. Steve is quite shocked by this but he is afraid to ask what the other guy had done to her and she doesn't offer an explanation, so he just leaves it. Steve thinks to himself sadly, "what a sign of troubles to come for Jane's marriage."

Steve would not have made such a snap decision personally but empathized with Jane's decison knowing what must have been her terrible state of mind at the time. Jane's vision was obviously blurred by the heavy toll on her emotions.

Although Jane is still married to that same man all these years, that is only so because of their young daughter, who Jane explained is very mature. Jane's daughter is the glue to a marriage on the rocks. Jane and her husband are total opposites, and have become so tired of one another that every other conversation turns into a nasty argument.

Jane had separated from her husband a few years back. She even tried to get a divorce but was unsuccessful due to sympathy for her daughter and mounting legal costs. Jane is convinced that her husband dragged the process on for so long that her legal costs swelled beyond her comfort level. At the same time, Jane was taking care of her daughter all by herself, with little help from her husband, except for the occasional visit. It was a tough time for Jane.

Jane recounts a story of one evening when she was all alone. Her husband had taken her daughter for a couple of days' visit. She felt so lonely without her daughter. She put herself in the bathtub with a bottle of liquor and some pills by her side. She drank and drank and drank, in a downward spiral of depression. She could not tell how many pills she took but enough to almost kill her. Fortunately for Jane, she woke up, but in the middle of the night, in the bathtub realizing what she had almost done. She closed her eyes and saw her daughter - that awakened her senses. She picked herself up and forced herself to continue.

What comforts Steve is that through all of this turmoil, Jane saw the love in her daughter. She found the strength to continue living. She found a different angle to view a difficult situation. Steve feels so proud of Jane for that.

From a very early age, Jane was thrust into a world of responsibility because she is the eldest child. She was expected to take care of her siblings and to always set an example. Jane recalled a time during her family's stay in a Malaysian refugee camp where they took on excruciating chores to earn extra food. As the eldest child, Jane was expected always to take the lead in performing the chores, which had to be performed under unsanitary and bordering on cruel conditions, at least for a child. But then, Jane's childhood was no ordinary one.

Jane's first encounter with suicide was when she was seven. The pressure put on her was so unbearable that she decided she would throw herself off a cliff. Fortunately for Jane, her brother held on to her foot and dragged her back, so that she could not go through with it.

As Jane recounted story after story, her painful thoughts manifest themselves through increasingly moistened eyes. She feels so much pain inside. All that Steve could do is listen and allow her to release the feelings trapped inside. He really wants to give her a hug but holds himself back to keep a professional distance.

When Jane speaks about her father, her sadness intensifies to anguished levels. Her father hardly spent any time with them in Vietnam because he was engulfed in his own world. When it came time for her family to leave Vietnam, her father was nowhere to be found - they had no choice but to leave without him. Jane would later learn that her father did not meet a very good fate. He died a lonely and sick man in prison.

As if all of Jane's struggles weren't enough, a couple of years back, Jane, only in her thirties, found out she had cervical cancer. Since it was caught early enough, doctors were fortunately able to remove the cancer using laser treatment. However, Jane must now live with the overhang of a recurrence of the disease.

Jane is convinced that she will die young. Steve tries his best to comfort her. He tells her that it is important for her to be positive; that a positive attitude and outlook can sometimes conquer illnesses when medicine cannot. But, of course, words are easier said than done. Steve wonders what he would do if he was in her situation. Would he fair as well?

Steve can sense that Jane is still going through some turmoil, but is consoled by that fact that Jane appears strong. Steve knows deep down that Jane can find a path to make it through.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Forever Grateful

In my younger days, I used to wonder why my parents didn't take more risks when they were younger. I used to think they could have been something much greater. They could have started a business. They could have invested more aggressively. They could have had so much more.

But, I always end up bringing myself back to how they risked everything to leave a country they knew so well but a war-torn country that was a deterrent to its people; to how they risked theirs and their family's well being by stepping onto that boat destined for dreams; to how they did the best they could in a harsh refugee camp for four months; to them fairing so well during their interview with the Canadian immigration official that he approved our application to come to this wonderful country without much hesitation; to them stepping foot on a totally unfamiliar land with not a penny to their names; to them providing the essentials and more to their two sons the best they could have in their low income jobs; and to their unending encouragement that is always a generation behind but nevertheless relevant.

They have done more than I could ever ask for. I will be forever grateful for without my parents I would be nowhere.