It’s late afternoon. A seven-year-old me was reading Charlie Brown’s Encyclopedia when two strange-looking women clad in green and pink neon-colored sarees entered our dingy hall. Palm readers, they call themselves, and their focus was me. Mom was a stickler about this. On the other hand, I hated them as just last week; I got labeled by an astrologer as hopelessly stupid. Back then, palmists, astrologers, or any random guy claiming they could predict the future would be happily welcomed and served a hearty meal.
One of this betel leaf-chewing saree-clad women grabbed my wrist, scrutinized my palm, brooded, and told me;
“This adopted girl of yours is a curse to the family. She has the palm of a serpent and this is not good.”
Helpless, I turned to Mom who then said;
“You are such a suey!*. We didn’t know this,” with a cynical look.
*A Hokkien (Chinese) expression which means bad luck or unlucky. Being Malaysian Indians, we mix all dialects in our conversation.
My world came crashing down is an understatement. Multiple thoughts hovered. Mine would look something like this in no chronological order.
- Was I adopted? Why didn’t Mom deny it?
- I can’t be the “suey”. Let me prove it.
- Why am I here again?
- Why was this lady’s teeth badly stained?
I eventually learned that I was indeed adopted. Mom quoted that a random guy impregnated my biological mom, and my birth was filled with traces of dirt and shame. Anyways, post-palmist lady incident, I was determined to prove my self-worth. Being smart was an understatement. I needed to be on top of everything. I fought to be the class topper; every talent or Science competition had my name on it. I made sure I was a name known at school. Soon enough, Mom was happily bragging about me to family and friends. She also ensured I never forget my “suey” ness. Occasionally, I’m reminded of how grateful I must be to my family for their sacrifices. My intelligence was because of them, she said. I have to state here that my mom hates studying, and she was a high-school drop-out. Dad was an aircraft technician. I do not have much to say about Dad due to his non-existence in this drama. His life goal: is to stay out of Mom’s way and make sure she’s happy so that he’ll be left alone.
I am twenty-six now, halfway through my Doctorate. Getting into the program was another interesting story that I will share some other time. Life has toughened me up. The airlines did not renew Dad’s work contract due to his age. My brother was still studying. From allocating a contribution, now I am the family’s sole breadwinner. Inside me, I had this sense of creepy delight. I am doing this! I feel empowered. I am no more the “suey” in the family.
Well, or so I thought. Mom had a knack to bring me down at the best moments of my life. So, she chose the right moment to say:
“It’s your duty to do this now for the family, remember that we have sacrificed more for you”.
So yes, I still did not get the approval needed, but it’s okay; indeed, someday, she will acknowledge me. I am not asking for a pedestal; just a loving glance would do.
Equating my schedule to an animal, I probably would quote the bird, Arctic Tern. They remarkably spend six months every year on air. I amazingly spent most of my day traveling on road as a lecturer, private tutor, insurance agent, freelance real estate agent, affiliate marketer, and medical surveyor. I got my hands dirty on everything out there while struggling to finish my Doctorate. Funds are needed to meet my parent’s requirements to dine out every week, monthly vacations, and premium-grade supplements.
I was driving to work on a typical day after staying awake the whole night to finish a journal paper. Having gulped a few bottles of energy drinks yet still feeling zombified, I got a call from Mom. It was one of those days when she threw a fit, moments before I left home. She was in a bad mood, and I have no idea why.
“You are a useless daughter and will always be!” BEEP…… she ended the call
I was unable to control myself. I started bawling my heart out. Stepping hard on the accelerator, I head towards the trailer in front of me. I had to end it now! Out of a sudden, I heard a loud, firm voice commanding me to STOP just moments away. Instantly, my car slowed down. Not a miracle there. The Sedan ran out of fuel. I forgot the intensity of the moment to lament over my misfortune.
But somehow, a sense of calmness lingered over me throughout the day—a clear mind. That voice got embedded in me since then.
It’s been two years since that incident; I am still in the same rut hole. Day in and day out, the same boring routine. Work, study, more work, lots of drama, and me trying to play the role of the best daughter in the world.
And yes, I am at a “marriageable” age now. Twenty-eight and single. Unacceptable. My parents, with much enthusiasm, got into this match-making game. Here are the criteria for a suitable groom from my parent’s point of view.
- The groom must be living within a radius of 5-10 km from us. (Extremely important)
- Must be from the same caste. (Very important)
- Must have a Master’s degree at least. (Not so important)
My details were all over the community of matchmakers for the scrutiny of the potential groom’s mom. Horrible self-esteem issues followed with people commenting on my height, weight, complexion, and education. Ph.D. girls are not the “wife material” for some. Mom joined the crowd one fine day and started sarcastically talking about my oversized nose and weight. A double whammy for me there. I would not delve into the aftermath of those incidents to not bore my readers.
It was another day when I was forced to dress up for a matchmaking meeting. There was no potential “groom” amongst the group this time. Interesting. The groom told his parents that he was not interested in meeting anyone. His parents’ choice will be correct. On my side, my parents were enthralled with this groom.
“Oh, such good conduct!”, they said and to top it all, he fits all of the criteria.
Both sides were happy, except me. I was horrified. My non-existent life seems to be sinking into an endless pit. Long story short, I followed the voice and made a decision that night. To put a stop to this endless charade. I decided to go out and find my life partner. A good friend introduced me to this sweet, soft-spoken guy. Messages followed by dates, and I knew he was the one. There were challenges, nevertheless, but I did the unthinkable. I took charge of my life. I mustered all the courage and opened up to my parents. And my potential life partner does not fit criterions 1 and 2. Chaos pursued. Mom gave me dirty looks and questioned my chastity. That hurt a lot. The best part was almost every day till marriage, I had to bear the brunt and berating of my mom for what an unholy child I am following the traits of my roots (The runaway man and woman who produced me).
I did not budge; after all, I am funding my marriage; it is my call. I was dense not to realize that earlier. The wedding got through with much hassle, vulgarity, shouts, and tears. That day, when I got into the car and drove away from a place I called home for 30 years, I felt liberated, shedding a million pounds of weight and feeling free for the first time.
“Be Resilient in the Face of Adversity”
I realized how resilient I was in facing life’s challenges. Until I was out of my cocoon, I never knew that my life was not exactly “normal”. Those very close to me threw questions like how did I go through all this without becoming an addict? I realize that I have a message to share with the world on how to go about this. Minus the tears and pain.
People readily share their problems with me. I attract those who face self-esteem issues. It was a mystery to me then. But now, the clarity I feel is fantastic. Going through such life experiences and challenges, yet coming out of it more robust, is an exhilarating experience. I am determined to help others who feel dejected and have lost their identity due to toxic people around them.
Looking back now, I can smile or dare to laugh out loud at what I’ve been through. I have accepted that everything’s meant to be, and that there is a greater purpose to all my life experiences. I can now see my mom for who she is. What I have experienced throughout is an internal turmoil, and how I choose to process it at this very moment will make a tremendous difference in my life. I used to have difficulties communicating confidently; I could not accept criticism, was angry at everyone who could not understand me, and was very defensive. These are all-by products of how I perceive life and people. I can choose to stop blaming everyone around me and focus on myself. I must take charge of my life, and since now I am, I know I can thrive in any situation. From being a scholar, and winning multiple leadership awards internationally to getting my biography penned down, life never felt better.
Now you may wonder, how did I possibly make it? The challenges were many, and life was not an easy ride for me. I attribute my resilience to my Mom for the first half of my life. Yes, you read that correctly! Her taunting, sarcasm, and psychotic behavior pushed me to my limits, and I was never complacent in life because of her. I can only say this now with clarity and confidence, as I see the situation differently. I consider myself the Chosen One to have undergone such hardship, only to be unbreakable.
After marriage, my mental state was unstable, which somewhat affected my marriage. My husband is a man’s gem, yet the harrowing experience we went through created a void. How did I find my link to happiness? I extended my hands and sought a life coach! If you are still wondering how to patch the pieces of your life, reaching out to a coach, counselor, therapist, or someone out of your social circle will uplift you. I found a newborn strength and vigor after my coaching sessions. Remember, reach out for help if you’re still on the bridge. Trust that there is someone who can provide the guidance you need.
Life is beautiful and abundant. Please don’t waste any moment embracing it. Decide to take charge of your life and stick to it.