27-year-old Alice* works for a charity based in Singapore. She was abused by her father when she was nine. The following year, he was reported by her school teacher to the police. He was sentenced to prison for twenty years and is due to be released in a year’s time. Alice was put in a shelter immediately after the case was reported. Subsequently, she moved to another shelter after the home closed down and then spent time with a foster family. She moved back into her family home when she was 17. She now lives with her mother, and is currently single.
Burger King, Singapore
24th December 2015
It changed my life, though I am not quite sure if it’s for better or for worse. Having been through this, fate moulded me somewhat differently. I turned out slightly bitter but nonetheless, rather thankful. Why? Because life is not always picture-perfect. But it could have been worse. Still, it feels complicated because there’s some kind of damage that you cannot undo forever.
Till now, I am not sure what to expect when he comes back. I cannot embrace him fully. For most of my life, he was absent, and when he was around, he was a figure I feared.
FORGIVENESS AND ACCEPTANCE
I feel sad that forgiveness and acceptance is not a given after 20 years. No doubt he has served his sentence, and he has paid the price for it. But there is an unspeakable void. When he comes out of prison, it will never be like how it used to be. Maybe it will bring forth another set of challenges, so there is a lot of fear and uncertainty. I do hope he comes out alive, so that at least there’s a chance for a family reunion.
My emotions feel tangled. Is it that I’ve accepted what happened, but I’ve not forgiven? Have I healed? I wish I can find closure but there’s never a time when I could talk about this without crying. I’m really looking forward to the day when I can do so gracefully, without being stirred so much.
I do not know what it takes to achieve this tranquillity. I wished I knew how, then I could work towards it. Each time I talk about it, I am reminded of the guilt that I bear and the shame I had caused to my family. It is not just about what my father did, it is the consequence and aftermath of a broken family. This is not just about me; it is also about him being a father to my sisters, a husband to my mother, a son to my grandmother and a brother to my uncles and aunties. All of these changed overnight. Fault aside, I feel I caused this missing piece in their lives.
He did it but I was part of the game. If it had not been reported, maybe it would have been different. Having reported him, I was guaranteed some years of safety. But it was never my intention to jail him.
REPORTING THE ABUSE
I only wanted to stop him. It was my teacher who reported him, without first letting me know what she would do. She merely followed the standard operating procedures then. I did not know it would be this disastrous. I put up with it for two years before sharing it with my teacher.
When it first started, I told myself that maybe it was a once-off. But it only grew more frequent. Nobody knew about it. I would usually be alone in the room. A few times, he reminded me not to report it to the police. I could have reported him but I couldn’t and I didn’t want to. I went to a trusted source, my teacher, trusting that she would be objective and tell me first what she would do; perhaps she could speak to my family.
She didn’t do any of that. There was no damage control after it was reported to the authorities either. Immediately, I got plucked out of my family.
The relationship with my family deteriorated. It took many years to restore. The impact on my mother was too much—she developed high blood pressure and depression, which affected my sisters too. There, I was, in the shelter, away from the brunt of the trauma. My sisters had to overcome my mother’s tantrums. Worse yet, all of them had to face questions and gossip from everyone else.
I told you about the letter that my sister wrote me. I believe it was not written out of blame but more like out of desperation. My sister’s only five years older than me. What else could she have done?
My mum does not seem to trust me enough. I’m the youngest kid. I do not know whether it’s because of this.
Communicating with my mother is a challenge. Whatever I say, she’ll tend to seek a second opinion or some sort of validation from other sources. It does not help now that I am older, with my own set of views and values. Sometimes, I would rather she not ask me anything in the first place! In her eyes, I am immature and inexperienced. But now, I am an adult and I ought to be taken seriously.
I feel sorry for my mom, but the way we relate to each other is still very warped. The love that we have for each other is very rough and tough. Most times, we disagree and my sisters will try to mediate. That’s not how we should exist. I am not sure whether the brokenness led to this, but it would be fair to say it contributed.
I did not spend much of my childhood with my mom. It was just here and there. She was not with me all the way. Given the way things are, it’s hard to establish empathy or some sort of understanding.
I live with regret because there are many things I cannot compensate for. I cannot compensate for his absence; I cannot compensate for the lost time. I cannot compensate for the kind of pain that my family had to go through.
If he comes out of prison, will he feel the distance? It’s a pity if it turns out to be a poor reconciliation, especially if this is something that he has been looking forward to having in old age. But I know my mother will never forsake him. He still gets along with my sisters. They write letters regularly. I only replied to his letters once. We never discuss the issue of his return publicly. It’s like scratching the wound, you know? I’d rather keep it under wraps until the time comes.
I hope to show more tender loving care to my mum. I hope she’ll disagree with me less often. Even though I may have the intention, my actions are still not aligned. I only have them in my heart.
When my father comes out of prison, we’ll let bygones be bygones. Can we live together? I’d think twice!
As a child, I used to do physiotherapy. The therapist used to say: practise the exercises at home. One day, my father said he’d do the therapy with me. It was unusual because my mother used to do it all the time and he never offered to help at all.
He put the pillow cover over my eyes. The next thing I knew, he had taken off my pants. But there was no penetration or anything like that but a touch here, a touch there. That was one time.
I was nine. The frequency was once every two weeks. We would watch TV. He would ask me to touch whatever. At first, you’d tell yourself, maybe it would be just this once or twice. Maybe it happened accidentally, but the frequency became worse. My mother suspected something but did not ask him directly. When she did ask him, he assured her that there was nothing happening.
More and more, he was getting worse, more intense. He told me once or twice, “You cannot report me to the police.” I listened to what he said. I did not tell and I did not want to tell either. One day, I went to a classmate’s house. I shared it with her privately and we kept it to ourselves.
DISCLOSURE AND THE AFTERMATH
One day, I confided in my teacher after school had ended. The following day, an officer came to look for me in class and I did not go home after that. It all happened so quickly, like Speedy Gonzales! I did not know when I left home for school that morning, that I was not going back. There was no chance for any parting words.
I did not have contact with my family for the entire year, except the one time when I used a pay phone to call home. I spoke to my mom and she sounded fine, happy even, to hear from me. But it was a 10-cent-coin pay phone. What could we have said in so short a conversation? It was just a matter of seconds. When it came to the face-to-face meeting some time later, my mother said, “See! What have you done!”
On the day that my father was sentenced, my mother came to school. She was very affected by it, so she sat in my classroom and cried.
When I first entered the shelter, I missed my family home.
I missed my mother, like any child. I did not know that my mum was angry at me for what had happened.
I had a psychologist and a psychiatrist then, and every time I met them, I had to repeat the story. They would say to me, “I heard that your mother blah, blah, blah. How do you feel?” After a while, I felt as though I was repeating the same things, and getting upset over and over again. I figured it was easier to keep quiet.
Over time, I realised that no matter what I shared with these professionals, there was nothing that they could do to help me. They could not stop my mother. I tell them everything yet everything remains the same. My mother’s still angry and I’m still sad.
After the sentencing was done, the authorities had to see me for a while. Then the frequency changed. During the investigation period, it was every week, then it became once every two weeks, then once a month. Then I was referred to a new psychologist. I changed to a different one who remained all the way until I moved to foster care. And then the psychologist said, “You’re OK now.”
When I was in secondary one or secondary two, I stayed in a shelter. There was a psychologist whom I saw once a month. And then it became once every few months. While in foster care, I would meet them when I needed a listening ear to share my woes.
At 17, I returned to my family home. The authorities allowed this gradually. I went home a few days a week when my mother was not working. After half a year of this, I could actually go home. So when I started going to a polytechnic, I was home entirely.
MY MOTHER AND I
I do not like to talk about this, because I get overwhelmed by emotions. But I hope that this may help somebody somewhere, somehow.
My mother has had many challenges in life. She overcame them with her own will and grit but that has also made her bitter about life. She’s not well-educated, so she gets respite by nagging and blaming others. She’d say something to spite you even though she may not mean it. My uncle says that my mother is a tough nut because she lacks love. Life has not been good to her. She does not know what tender loving care is.
WHAT YOU BECOME
It’s not about what happens to you, it’s about what you become.
I remember bumping into a friend many years later after we had left the home. She said she had been on drugs and was doing rehabilitation at a shelter. Other friends were starting to build their families and seemed happy.
At every crossroad, you have a choice. If I had a choice, I’d rather choose to do nothing but I feel that I owe it to my mother to do well. The only way I can help her is to take care of myself. I’ve got to make sure I do that.
The only thing I ask of her is that she lets me do whatever I want to do. She’s a big part of my motivation. Sometimes, I find her a “thorn” because she’s the only person who can make me so angry and so upset. No one else can stir me up like she can! But I also realised she can have a huge impact because she means a lot to me.
To put it more crassly, if a lot of shit happens to you, don’t become shitty! Get out of that shit and turn into something good. The more you go to the dark side, the harder it is to turn back. One thing leads to another and every action comes with consequences. You must decide to do the right thing by making a conscious and deliberate choice.
Life will put you in shit. Life is full of shit. You’re still accountable to yourself, whether or not you choose to get out of it.
Be thankful—that’s your silver lining. Be thankful that you’re alive because your presence can mean a lot to someone. Be thankful for the people who stand by you.
Be thankful that you have gotten this far. It is not by chance. It is by choice.
*Not her real name.
This chapter appears in the collection Survivors by Eirliani Abdul Rahman and Daniel Fung, published by Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd.