By Whose Way Do We Go
Now, you choose.
“Never do drugs,” Mom used to say to me. “Well, unless it’s love. That, you’re allowed to be addicted to.”
And cigarettes and alcohol, I could almost hear her say to herself.
“But you wanna only do the right kind of love,” she would continue in her usual manner, like she was talking to someone else who wasn’t sitting right beside her. “That may be hard to find, but you’ll want to look hard for it. Along the way, you’ll probably get a taste of the wrong kind… well, take what comes and then walk away. What costs too much and leaves you a hangover really just isn’t worth it.” She nudged me then. “You hear me, baby girl?”
The only appropriate response at such times when she was in her own mood, space and time, was to nod.
“You seldom get to marry the love of your life,” was another thing she would say. “That’s the guy who’s perfect for you only because he’s unattainable — you’re too young, too old, too married, he’s going away, you’re not ready to settle down, etc. If you do meet him at the right time, then good for you. Otherwise, you just keep that guy in your heart, and you move right along to find the right man for you. The right man is more important than the love of your life.”
I was never sure if I should ask which one Dad was.
“My mother told me not to get married. She wrote me a letter just before my wedding and said to me — can you believe it — she said to me, ‘I don’t mind if you don’t get married.’ Of course, she denied it later when many years later, I asked her why she did that. It’s always about her. That just because she and my father didn’t work out, she would think that I would choose to be unmarried just because she didn’t mind!”
Ah, that famous letter that my mum constantly referred to. Sometimes, I wonder if she would ever have been this carefree and reckless in her pursuit of love if Grandma had never restrained her so, to begin with.
“But what did she really know about love? Married the first man she fell in love with. Said they were ‘meant to be’ and all that. She probably always thought she was the only one who knew what true love was until my father had an affair. Then, she wrote off all men. Because her experience must be the only true experience and her reality must be all ours.”
Sometimes, I wonder if Grandma did that to spare her the pain of heartbreak.
Like my mother, I’ve also done the cigarettes, alcohol, love.
But unlike her, I’m not addicted to them. Well, not anymore at least. For a time, life was a constant wrap-up in the highs and lows of chemical clouds and smoke — one’s always too intensely liberating and the other just brings plain devastation.
Yes, I prefer it this way — to be able to measure out just how much of myself I should give away, and what to retain to stay sane and functional. The road less travelled isn’t necessarily the one filled with adventure and risk, but the one that leads you into that quiet place within via a route less noticed on the map.
For a time in my life, I gave away pieces of myself so easily to anyone who came with their arms outstretched — I probably believed love was a free exchange with no view of imminent losses! Well, this probably explains why I still don’t feel whole. It’s my theory that once you’ve given away pieces of yourself, you never really reclaim those back.
Mum would say that’s ok and whoever said we ought to remain wholly intact through life? She was the kind who would be proud of her bruises, her indented heart, her battle scars.
She was all about that quote she used to love: ‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a Ride!’’
Calligraphed that on a card to me when I broke up with Ash. Wrote it down in a letter when Tyler broke up with me. Inscribed it on the front of a journal she gifted to me. You get the idea.
She wanted very much for me to trust, to dare, to live.
Because she did, and she found happiness with Dad. That was her experience and reality, and the one she probably thought would naturally be mine.
Well, it isn’t.
In some ways, she’s so much like her mother whom she tried so hard not to be.
I look at my three-year-old daughter making her way across the balance beam at the playground and find myself marveling once more at how she’s grown.
There will come a time when this littlest heart in our home will face the inevitable heartbreaks of life. The kind that would crush her, rob her of her remaining innocence once and for all, and leave that searing mark on her that she would carry forevermore.
The kind that will nudge her to grow from girl to woman.
I want to take that bullet for my baby girl but I also want that rite of passage for her.
We have all been there, Mum would say. And we’ve also learnt to fly.
Well, some of us have fallen and never gotten back on our feet, I wish I could tell her. I wonder what words of comfort she would have for me today. If life lessons are to be handed down and preserved, whose version do I tell?
“Mummy, put me in!” my daughter calls out from the swing. I lift her up and seat her in what was my all-time favourite childhood ride, and begin to gently push her.
“You ready to go to Mars?” I ask. This was something her father used to ask right before spinning her round and round in his arms.
“No!” she squeals and gurgles in the way I always want to remember her.
“Blasting off in 5…” I kiss her excited face.
I’m swinging her higher and faster and she’s throwing her head back in giggles.
Her little fists are clenched so tightly around the swing, holding on for dear life.
“You don’t have to hold on so tightly.”
“I’ll fall!” she laughs.
Grandma used to tell Mum not to swing too high — so she didn’t and in some ways, was always weighed down by that choice. Mum would tell me to go higher and higher—so I did and earned myself scraped hands and knees, blood and bruises.
“Let go a little and fly away, baby girl.”
Little hearts, they trust. Little hearts, they allow. Little hearts, they dare.
Her fists remain clenched though.
But I watch her turn her face up to the sky.
And close her eyes.
And finally, I see how I should let her fly.
Her own way.
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” Written in memory of what’s past, and for what’s to come.
This post was first published on P.S. I Love You.