I don’t remember my mother much. She died when I was just 3 years old.
I was left behind with a 6-month-old sister. Our dad didn’t want us.
When my mum was pregnant with a second child, my dad hit her until she miscarried.
But then he made her pregnant again with my younger sister, and after giving birth, she was too weak to fully recover.
A bacterial infection took her life in the end.
But I know she loved me very much. I could see how proud she was of being my mum when I saw an old photo of her carrying me.
The absent father
I don’t know what possessed her to marry my dad.
He dumped my sister and me with my mum’s parents, who looked after us for two years until I was K2.
He then handed us over to his brother and family to live for six years. There were a total of nine of us, including my paternal grandmother, living in a 3-room flat.
On weekends, my sister and I would look after our grandmother while the rest enjoyed their weekend.
She was strict, but she made sure we had eaten, even until her last lucid moment a few years later before she fell into a coma.
The uninvited guests
Although we had a roof over our heads, we were constantly reminded that this wasn’t our home.
My cousins liked to turn off the heater when I bathed, and once pushed me down a flight of stairs.
I wasn’t allowed to sit on the sofa and when guests came over with gifts, I counted myself lucky whenever there were leftovers.
The feeling of just being tolerated as a temporary outsider was so strong, I never dared to open the fridge in the 6 years I lived there.
One reason why we were so unwelcome was because my dad had poor relations with his family, and he did not fully financially support them to raise the two of us.
Actually, I would have been happy to have just been left alone, but I think I was an easy victim for my cousins to bully.
Once a cousin falsely accused me of showing a rude face to our grandmother, who was blind. She believed him and made me kneel down to whack me.
The teenage years
When I entered Secondary School, my sister and I finally moved in with my dad. You may think that yes, we were finally reunited, but things got worse.
Although my dad had remarried, he and my step-mum didn’t care about us. They would lock us up at home while they went out, and when my dad abused me, she didn’t do anything.
My dad’s abuse is not the usual caning. Once he threatened me with a chopper and used a cigarette butt to burn my skin.
The first job
My dad also said I needed to pay my sister’s bus fare and my own expenses. I started working at McDonald’s, earning $2 an hour.
Soon I had to work two jobs to support us.
With the little money I earned, I thought I could try to improve relations with my dad by buying him a birthday cake for his 40th birthday.
But I didn’t know there was a superstition that we shouldn’t celebrate 40th birthdays. He got so angry he threw my cake from the 4th storey.
The moment I wanted to die
I was really depressed and considered suicide. I wondered, is this the end of my life? What did I do to deserve this?
I was scared to tell people about my situation, what if they pitied me? I didn’t know who would listen to me.
One day when I was 15 years old, my mother’s brother and her best friend took me to visit my mother’s urn for the first time.
I hadn’t known where the urn was, but when I saw it I immediately broke down and cried.
I missed my mother so much, her love and protection. If she hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have had to live with abusive cousins and a horrible dad.
The day I ran away
The first day of N levels, when I got my pink IC and only had my uniform on my back, together with school bag containing a pencil case, I ran away from home to live with my aunt.
After completing my N levels, I asked myself: is education a want or a need?
I didn’t even have money to pay for my living necessities. So I decided it was time to work full time.
The career switches
My first full-time job was working as an operator in a Seagate factory assembling computer parts. I was one of two Singaporeans among a few thousand workers. My shift was 7 am to 7 pm, waking up at 5 pm to catch the factory bus.
The pay was too low, so I switched to the retail industry with a basic pay of $600 a month. But with commission, I could earn up to $3,000 a month.
Then my friend introduced me to an insurance job as a secretary earning $900 a month.
There was no commission, but I took the job to learn how to operate a computer and fax machine, and pick up admin skills.
My friend told me, “Cat, there is a destination in your life, this is just a pitstop.”.
This really encouraged me, because being in a place to learn, to be given an opportunity to pick up new skills, was more valuable than just the salary earned.
The last straw, and a kind act
I became a Christian and tried to forgive my father for treating me like shit.
I even tried moving back in with him but left after a week when he scolded me for not giving him as much money as my cousins gave his brother.
I remember going to the ATM, withdrawing the last $100 I had and giving to him as my last act of filial piety before cutting ties with him.
Right after, I took a bus to church with a fare card that only had enough money to get me to church, but not to take me home.
The thing about my sad childhood is that although I had a difficult time with family, I had friends who helped me in my darkest hours.
After my church meeting ended at 10 pm, my pastor sensed something was wrong but didn’t ask what happened. He helped top up my farecard by $10 so I could get home safe. I have remembered his kind act to this day.
The first husband
I really appreciate kindness and love from others, and wanted security in my life so much, too much actually, until I fell for the wrong guy who promised me he would look after me.
He made me pregnant, married me and then hit me for 1 year and 9 months.
We divorced with joint custody of our daughter, but I raised her as a single mum, working three jobs as I refused to be dependent on anyone for money.
The single mum years
It was really difficult being a single mum though.
I couldn’t afford to put her in full-day childcare and had to depend on the kindness of various relatives and friends to look after her while I worked.
Finding a permanent place to stay was challenging.
I didn’t want to impose on anyone too long, and sometimes we overstayed our welcome. I tried living with my sister, but she resented it.
There were times my daughter and I were out on the streets without a place to stay. I was so desperate once I called the police for help, but the hotline they gave wasn’t open.
I’ve moved 21 times in my entire life, and I’m so tired. I was scared of trusting men because I didn’t know if my next boyfriend or husband would be abusive.
Looking back at my life, I’ve learnt a few lessons:
• I must stand up for myself and not be bullied any longer
• I will stand up for others who aren’t able to do so
• Thank God for supportive friends and relatives who helped me even if they didn’t understand my situation
After many years of living a tumultuous life, going through too many downs, but surviving all of them, this is what I want to tell others:
1. Don’t beat yourself up when things aren’t going well. Find someone who can listen to you, don’t keep everything to yourself.
2. Let go of different pasts that have hurt you.
3. Stand up for yourself, and for others who are being bullied.
4. Pat yourself on the back when you did well, acknowledge the good things you’ve done.
5. If you make a mistake or get criticised, thank the criticiser for the lesson and move on. Don’t let personal feelings or self-pity take over your life.
6. Identify things you are thankful for every day, like a simple breath, waking up alive, having a thoughtful family member or friend who thinks of you.
7. Enrich yourself with knowledge, go for courses, learn new things.
8. Give yourself chances.
Speaking of #8 above, I took another leap of faith by marrying someone who really cares for me. We have been married for 10 years, and have two beautiful kids together.
Our lives have not been perfect, and we still worry about many things like finances, kids’ education, health, family, but I think my mother would be proud of who I have become today.
I still visit her urn to talk to her. I miss her every day. But when I see her again, we will finally be reunited.
Author’s note: The above is a true story of Cat (not her real name), a 40+ year old woman who prefers to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her children. She is currently working in a job that empowers people to take charge of their health.
What do you want to tell others? Find me at jules <at> workersofsingapore (dot) com