In death, we count the minutes of love

[10 JAN 2007]

What’s left of a person in passing but collective memories. Those experiences may not justify the whole, but they reflect the yolk of a soul. And some memories are just so painful, it is impossible to forget or to let go. Or what if those were the only memories that one remembers?

I try to forget emotional pain. But it stays. So that made forgetting a person so much easier. Blood can be thicker than water. But blood is even easier dissolved in abandonment and distance. So why did I still cry when I got the news of my father’s death? I’m now officially half an orphan.

I was utterly taken aback when two of my aunts from Pa’s side visited me that afternoon. They were the last people I wanted to see. They were the Mercedes Benz of the human species, but not when my incriminating road was parched and dry. It was mum who broke the news to me in that fluorescent-lit, squalid rectangle room. "Bad news Darren. Your papa is… died."

Before she even said those words, her eyes and nose flushed crimson. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize her zealousness for compassion, so I braced myself. When I heard the news, I sat agape for a while. Not that I was overcame by grief, but I was looking for a sign of how to react appropriately. The appropriate thing was to cry. It wasn’t remorse that I felt. At least not immediately. It was more like being told that the loved one of a close friend had died. In this case, I was my own close friend.

So my tears gushed. More from being touched by my mum’s compassion for a man who had taught her fear and hate. For despite those black-eyes and bruises, she sorrowed at the thought of his eternal absence. But then again, mum would cry even if the pet gecko of great granduncle’s third cousin’s second sister’s only son’s eldest daughter had been crushed.

The thought ran through my head that I was showing them what they wanted to see. Yet I cried. I didn’t feel like I was hurting that badly. Still I cried. I thought about what I was going to have for lunch later. I cried even harder. I couldn’t hold back. There was something in me that was grieving that I couldn’t recognize.

My grief lasted exactly 4 hours. As I was lying there with a t-shirt soaked in my own saline over my face, I tried to bring up the memories my father left me. They were few. They weren’t pretty.

I remembered that late night when I heard muffled screams and quarreling from my parents’ bedroom in our 3-room flat. I heard shrieks of pain and helplessness in between loud thuds. It sounded like something hard hitting against wood. The screams and quarreling were familiar. The thudding sound… was not.

Sleepily, I opened my bedroom door and crept out. The living room’s fluorescent light bathed everything in white. I peered my parents’ door frame into their room. My father had one hand clamped in my mum’s hair, and the other held the cupboard door open. Then left hand proceeded to slam what it held in its grip towards the unhinged side of the walled-closet door. My mum was sprouting half-buried mangosteens on her forehead.

Wild with panic, I plunged over and begged my father to stop. Tears were shrieking down my terror-ridden face. I hurdled my mum and dragged her to the living room and she collapsed on the dark brown leather sofa, sobbing. My father shouted something at her. I could no longer hear. Then my father took another threatening stance and I threw my scrawny body over my mum in the hope to protect her. She screamed, "It’s because he don’t want you to do this anymore that he is protecting me!" (She said that not in English of course.) And that ended the violence. My mum held on to me. I covered her. We were wailing wilder than any siren.

Another time I remembered the private moment I had with Pa. It was in their bedroom. We were like two mischievous neighborhood kids uncovering a secret. Almost carefully, my father pulled out one of the dressing-table drawers. Then he reached beneath it and retrieved a tissue bundle he had stuck to the underside. I could still see the grey sticky tape extending like the underside of an insect with four legs. He unwrapped the tissue to reveal a wad of cash. That he told me was what he was saving for me. For my future. He then reinstated the cash to our ‘secret place’. Weeks later, I reached under that same drawer and felt around. To feel that I mattered; that of his love in a bundle. No tissue was ever found.

Or that time when we were having lunch at the coffeeshop opposite our block. I ordered a whole spring chicken. He had his beer. Half way through my greasy meal, I spat a rust-grey gooey lump onto my fingers. That didn’t taste like chicken I said. My father took a look and said that it’s chicken liver and it’s edible. Without a second thought, I flicked that partly chewed mess into my mouth and swallowed. "That’s very good. You’re a fearless eater. I’m very proud of you," he said. Me. A ‘fearless eater’. I was also so very proud of myself. I was in his favor.

And that night when the loansharks came looking for him. He told me to answer to them, to say that he was not home. Meanwhile, he hid in my bedroom under the window. I opened my main door made of solid wood. There were two men. They asked for my father. I lied that he wasn’t home. They shouted obscenities at me and threatened to chain and lock my home’s iron gate. I could almost piss in my pants but I stayed firm. I told them that if they didn’t leave, I’ll call the police. I was there, standing alone, blank, facing these two brutes lashing swear words. I wanted it to end. I didn’t want them to see that I’m afraid. So I picked up the phone and issued my last warning. I was about 10-years-old then.

With a brick, they smashed the windows of my living room. Then they left. I was still standing there next to the phone. Seconds later, my father emerged from my room, unlocked the grill gate and slipped out. I don’t know where he went. I just knew I had to clean up the mess of shattered glass. Stunned and dreamlike, I simply went over to pick up the pieces. I didn’t even realized I was cut in my fingers and toes until my neighbors stopped me from picking up anymore of the shame. I was dripping blood.

Those were the memories I had for a long time of my father. Perhaps too long. There was no more anguish or hate. I had no news of him after my parents lived separately before they filed for divorce. I was about 14 or 15 years-old then. I was told that my father did not fight for my custody. Rather, he fought for half the sale price of our 3-room flat, which by the way, was fully paid for by my mum. Justice saw that he did not get a single cent.

For more than a decade and a half, he existed as a shadow. Once in a long while I saw him during Chinese New Year gatherings at Ah Ma’s house. I could count those sightings with three fingers, but I gave him my number during one of those. Since my parents’ separated, he had apparently started a business dealing with antiques and crystals in Batu Pahat, Malaysia. Very chin-chong stuff. Then surprisingly, he contacted me two years ago and asked me to make the trip and celebrate his birthday with him. I went. And one other time after that. He had a borrowed family by then, living with a woman and two of her children from her previous marriage. That lady was a real sweetie and we got on really well.

So as the search for a reason to grief flashed in head, I thought of her and her children. How are they going to live with my father gone? The hardship that auntie must face running the business and taking care of her two young teenagers. I wept for them. It reddens my eyes to think that just when my father had gotten his anchor, his ship left the port. I think he should be only in his early sixties. We’re never too young to die.

Perhaps God has it in His plan that we should make contact in the last two years. At least it reminded me of how he looked like. At least we had union and some good times over beers and karaoke. He cried when I sang that Hokkien song by Eric Moo, ‘叫邧的名’. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sing that song again without remembering the significance of my father’s tears.

My father is gone. I want to remember him. But I only want to remember him for those last two years. It is not love. It is not out of respect. I don’t even want to think that it is out of duty, an obligation to feign filial piety. But I do believe that somewhere within him, my father did love me. Even for that little that he showed, it was enough for my tears to flow. My heart missed a piece. But it is for the living that I live, not with the dead.

In case people wonder if this is a eulogy. It is not. Eulogies are supposed to be sweet, never mentioning any misdeed. Perhaps now I have the chance to exorcise my demons. No, the demons are not gone. I will remember the pain. But there’s no need to remember. To live is to die. But in death, we caution others how to live.


23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. czerin
    Feb 02, 2007 @ 09:54:40

    my condolences -hugs-


  2. yummy_tofu
    Feb 02, 2007 @ 10:12:55

    im sorry to hear about your dad’s demise.


  3. gentlegiantt
    Feb 02, 2007 @ 13:54:52



  4. faithpig
    Feb 03, 2007 @ 01:34:36

    My condolences to you and your family.


  5. jepungia
    Feb 03, 2007 @ 05:15:29

    miss you. Let’s hang out.


  6. jepungia
    Feb 03, 2007 @ 05:16:57

    miss you lots. Let’s hang out.


  7. into_the_wild
    Feb 03, 2007 @ 05:33:34

    i see closure. which is good.
    one day i’ll share with you my story about my (late) father and myself too.


    • celebratelah
      Feb 03, 2007 @ 09:54:18

      yup… nothing too much for me to pack so closure was easy. sure, we’ll catch up over a cuppa and bond over stories of our fathers… haha… thanks and hugs :o)


  8. blueyblue
    Feb 03, 2007 @ 06:13:53



  9. mousez72
    Feb 03, 2007 @ 06:41:53

    take good care… hugs…


  10. getridofme
    Feb 03, 2007 @ 11:00:18

    my condolences to you and your family..


  11. lyph
    Feb 07, 2007 @ 08:46:29

    i think you cry for what might have been..
    never seen this side of you.
    its nice to see the human story behind the face.. there’s always pain but there is also peace rite?
    Hope you are doing fine! and I hope his 2nd family is coping ok too.


    • celebratelah
      Feb 08, 2007 @ 05:44:01

      thanks for the concern :o) i’m ok. there were no deep cuts…
      u mean my posts in the past made me look inhuman meh? haha…
      sometimes with pain, it is not peace that comes… but just indifference. *gosh… did i just blow my human cover again with that statement?* 😛


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