Sunday, 4 March 2012

From then to now

Another Jay adding up to the few Jays I already know. Nicolas has decided to cement his new identity / life by changing his name. It will take a little time for me to get accustomed to calling him 'Jay'. I told him so. He first saw it as a refusal to accept the changes and support him. He sent me another one of those volcanic letters which, in spite of my efforts to fight some emotional undercurrent, I took as violent blows on the face. My friendship was questioned. My sincerity as well. He felt hurt by what I told him. I had received such a letter a month ago. Same rebukes. That happens when Nicolas gets overwhelmed by what he's going through and loses control of his emotion. 
This time I confronted him. Why only write to me? Why not choose to see me and tell me face to face? I told him I didn't understand why he would keep on seeing as a friend if I were such a detestable person. I had the unpleasant impression that this friendship of ours was like a dictatorship. The bitter taste of my falling out with ChingYao made matters look worse. Why was it that some of the people I love the most and feel the closest showed such an ugly face and used me as their sitting target? What was it in me that triggered such violent outbursts, as ChingYao once explained?
I wrote another answer to Nicolas once I calmed down again. An image came to me, which finally connected these events and gave an explanation. It's simple, but I had not thought of it recently. I told Nicolas that even if I understood his insecurities and would always stand by his side, there was one thing I could not accept: his threat to abandon our friendship which was precious to me. As soon as I wrote this word, everything became clear to me. Yes, all my life, I had dreaded that feeling of abandonment. 
When my parents sent me to kindergarten, little did they realise that even at so young an age, it was important to explain and reassure the child. I suddenly found myself in a completely foreign surrounding with not much of a word of explanation from them. I can't help now thinking of these pigs which are raised to eventually end in the slaughterhouse. They trustingly follow their master unaware that they're actually going their doom.
My doom was that day after day, I would be beaten up by the other children. I can hardly remember anything. I have some vague image of me on the ground receiving their kicks. It's a blurry blank for me. I couldn't yet speak French then, Vietnam was making the headline of the news because of the ongoing war, I was an alien, I was different, even more the perfect target for their bad treatment. My mother told me that she would be standing in tears on the other side of the gate and be the powerless witness of the bullying. The teachers would all feign not to notice anything. 
"What I don't understand is why you didn't walk in the school and tell the director or a headmaster to put a stop to this bullying", I asked her recently.
"I never thought of it. I was so shocked and helpless. I yelled at the children to stop, but no one paid attention. And taking action like that has never been in my nature..." she went on. Another woman was standing next to her and had said: "Oh that's children. That's what they do, play and fight... You can't do anything!"
 A couple of years later, I witnessed other instances of my mother's extremely emotive reactions. We had lost our country. Saigon had surrendered to the Communists. The Vietnamese community abroad knew what it meant. My parents attended lots of meetings. They would also gathered with other intellectuals, writers, journalists and discuss the matter, maybe to feel a sense of togetherness now that they had lost their country. My father was harshly criticised by the press for some statements he made. My mother suffered from it. They would argue all the time, at home, at their friends', in the car... 
Once on our way to some of my parents's friend, my mother was in tear and opened the door of the car and unfastened her seat belt in an attempt to leave. Us... All of us? I didn't react. I hardly understood what they were fighting about. I could only see that they were unhappy. I only put my hands around my little brother's head. I didn't understand. We were in the middle of the freeway. My father yelled at her to close the door immediately. I saw my mother upset and crying. And the terrifying thought that she could just vanish from my life was starting to grow in me. 
Even if later I saw her calm down and laugh with the other adults, I was never quite reassured that this would not happen again. 
The same scene was repeated another time, certainly as they were fighting about the same topics.  
A few years later - I was eight or nine then, my brother and I had watched a show by one of our favourite singer. Hers were songs about fabulous worlds, fairies and witches. The show was quite an intricate one, beautiful staging and design. Very close to a Broadway show. In one scene, we saw the witch preparing a magic potion in her cauldron.
The next day, my mother was preparing phở. She was stirring something in a big cooking-pot. We laughed, reminiscing the witch we had seen the previous night.
"Why are you laughing, boys?" she asked.
We told her. 
"What? You think I am a WITCH????" 
We were stunned. We tried to defend ourselves, saying that the comparison was an innocent one, and that of course in no way did we even think she was a witch. But it was too late. Her two sons saw her as a witch, which meant that they didn't love her. She was truly very upset. 
Whatever we said didn't help. I remember her calling someone on the phone, crying. Then I saw her pack. My brother was crying and begging her not to go. She was crying too, but said that since she was a witch she had to leave. I couldn't feel anything. I was too young to reason and think that the whole thing was beyond ridiculous. But the fear of seeing my mother leave was becoming more and more threatening now. 
At the end of the day, she was still at home. She calmed down and told us that she would not leave. Our father was out at work therefore oblivious of the family drama that took place during his absence. My brother and I didn't know what to say. As the afternoon was ending, the children program was on TV and we watched it. I was scared that any witch might appear on the screen. But it was just a silly rabbit singing a silly song about carrots. 
My mother was sowing from the living room table and would occasionally glance at the TV screen and smile. 
We were safe... but for how long?
"You didn't even shed a tear" my brother said later as we were in bed. "I did all the crying..."

These childhood memories flashed in my mind as I was writing to Nicolas. I also understood why my friendship with ChingYao had taken such an unfortunate turn. When he told me that he had willingly terminated a friendship with a very dear female friend of his because she would continually be late at their appointments, I was shocked that he may choose to leave someone for such a ridiculous reason. And I didn't want to go on being threatened (even unconsciously) in such a manner. The fear of abandonment went on in my life and took another shape in my love relationships. 
Nicolas's volcanic letters are hard to swallow, but we always rise from the ashes and move forward. The recollection of this childhood trauma and its connection to recent events have found their purpose. The letter had its effect on Nicolas who in turn, wrote me a very moving reply. He was in awe of me, he wrote, and whatever comment I would make was like the final judgement to him. I wasn't aware of that. We saw each other a few days later and swore to be even more honest and not be afraid to say things face to face. If I may have to resign myself to see my friendship with ChingYao gone up in smoke (he told Nicolas that he had received my letter but could not reply to it, and in spite of my repeated attempts to engage a conversation, he avoids me and sticks to the strict minimum necessary. Obviously, my presence makes him ill at ease) my friendship for Nicolas has grown stronger.

Now I have fully embraced the change of name. Nicolas has indeed become Jay.

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