The train pulled away, speeding faster and faster away. Everything became a fuzzy haze.
So ended the three week visit of my cousin and his wife. I didn’t expect it, but as I walked off the platform, with the train’s red tail lights inching further and further away, I felt a strange sense of sudden sadness. For a few moments I felt the emotions wallowing in my eyes.
I didn’t take the bus home, but really felt like walking. Perhaps to walk off the feelings. The cool August drizzle helped, and the slight cool breeze washed away some of the lingering effects of the goodbye. Another good bye. Till we meet again.
It felt like yesterday that I went to pick them up, showed them around. Those long bike tours around the city, to the market places, green gardens, not to mention canal cruise in Amsterdam, or that memorable sunset on the beach. Then there was the long journey to and around the north of the Netherlands, the awe inspiring trips to the many museums and galleries, walks in the rain and forests. Though most the time they were on their own, as they travelled around in France, Germany and Belgium, the short weekends they came back to have an energy-boost before they set off again were fun, to say the least.
What made it all the more meaningful were not the places and sceneries I’ve visited perhaps a dozen times already. It was the conversations we had, about the present, and the past. The past not so long ago, and very long ago, as long as I could remember. It’s been a while since I talked to anyone so deeply, and I felt in touch again with the things I’ve more or less left behind when I left ‘home’ and boarded the plane back in March. All those heated talks at home, the troubles with my parents, the worries and despairs seemed all so far, far away. I thought I had left that all behind in this peaceful and uneventful life I lead now. But my cousin and his wife have managed to bring me back, for better or worse, to what I still have. Family.
The family you cannot choose, unlike the friends you can surrender and sunder. The family you love to hate, and hate to love. The people who have they faults, their mistakes, their terrible secrets, and their temperaments that you keep on pointing out at every chance you get, but then when you remember the one moment in your childhood that you felt loved seems to blur out all their failings. The people who watched you grow from an innocent baby, to a naughty child, to a rebellious teen, and who expect you to be bigger, better, and larger than they could ever hope to be. The people whose words sometimes sting, but at other times are so warming and delicate that they could break silence. The people who sometimes say nothing, but mean everything.
The people you care about, but have a hard time saying or expressing it, because you’ve been brought up not being used to expressing or saying it. The people you’d like to hug and say ‘I love you’ to, but is too difficult because it’s too embarrassing and makes your skin crawl. The people you share only bits and pieces of your life with—while hiding all the rest out of fear of disappointing or despairing them—but then will perhaps be closer than anyone you will ever meet in life. The family you know you will one day loose, but have not yet realised it, until it’s all too late. The people you argue with and for those heated moments seem to detest to the bitter end, but then realise the next day that they are still your family. The family you know will forgive you not matter what you do, and love you all the same, even though some people have a different, more subtle and indirect way of showing it.
The people who often hurt you, by the things they say and the way they say it, but are actually secretly proud of who you’ve become and what you’ve done. The people to whom you seem so useless and worthless, but are silently crying happy tears because they’ve been able to see their years of hardship and patience grow into a fine person. The people who save every penny and are so thrifty and cruel to themselves, in order to put you through college and hope that you’ll have a better future than the rest of them. The people who put so much hopes on you and want to see you succeed in life, but expect nothing in return.
Yes, we talked a lot about family, my cousin, his wife and I. About how I grew up, how I was as a child who often stayed at my cousin’s place…how the ‘good old days’ were, when it was just fun and play. But also about how, away from the fun and play, there were already signs of deterioration lurking around every corner. The years of misunderstanding, prejudice, denial, distrust, non-communication, the interference by people who believe they are trying to make things better but in fact make it all even worse, the deep-seated hatred and intolerance, together with the inability to change and accommodate to others have caused a lot of ruin within my family. I may have been a child, but I could see, perhaps as young as five, that there were things seriously wrong with my family. Not that that is anything out of the ordinary, but when it’s your family, it becomes and is a whole lot bigger than life itself.
And now, confronted again with the realities of the situation at home, the inevitable aging and ill-health of my parents, I should be more concerned. Not that I should start worrying about their well-being every single moment, or start to get myself involved in the ongoing state of cold war at home. Be more concerned, as it caring, understanding and compassionate. I mean I cannot change anything that is going on, even the things that I hear that make me sad and disappointed and hurt. But I can change the way I feel, and the way I feel towards my family. I can wish them well, hope they have the wisdom and courage to step away from their pain and miseries, and hope they have the strength and ability to see happiness and embrace it.
I need not at salt to old wounds. I need not react strongly or be too affected whenever they hurt me by what they say or do. I only need to appreciate, to see what they see, to take them as they are, and not try to see what I want to see, and to try and change them into who I want them to be.
It was realising all this, from the many talks I had, that I felt a sense of ‘relief’. Relief that despite all odds there are still people out there who do care, who are still there for me to depend on when I need to—people who may be very far away, but the bond between them and me seems so strong that I feel it in my dreams and thoughts.
And how long can I have all this?