out of love
16 Mar 2004
She asked me last night if I was sick of it all. Whether I just wanted to break it off and get it over and done with. She said it matter-of-factly. She wasn't angry with me or raging at our loveless relationship held together by our child. I didn't reply. We both lay on our backs next to each other, not touching, eyes open, stating at the ceiling.
Sometimes silence speaks more than words.
I haven't always been thinking clearly or that much for that matter for the past five years. I can't exactly say when I stopped thinking at all and merely existed in this shell and acted out the role as the dutiful son and later, the father to my child. I can't remember the last time I made decisions and acted according to what I wanted instead of doing the 'right' thing, which was usually the wrong thing for me or something I would come to regret later.
It probably started when my wife, then girlfriend, told me on the train to work that she didn't want me to worry but she had something important to tell me. The day had started normally. I met her at the train station, held her hand and went up to the platform. It was like any other day commuting to work. Everyone was there. The businesswoman who always dressed in grey suits grasping tightly to the daily newspapers, the university student who wore rude t-shirts everyday with a discman that chugged out the same songs everyday, hardly muted by his earphones and our carriage's resident crazed old man (every carriage had one), who often talked to himself and dug his nose like a gold prospector. We met at the train station at 7.45 every morning without appointment and without explicit acknowledgement - just knowing of each other's presence seemed to affirm our existence and our place in life.
But that morning was a little different.
Imagine a waypoint station where a simple flick of a switch can send a train hurtling a different direction from which it was travelling. Now imagine that train was me and the switch was the simple phrase, "my period is late."
As much as we had prepared for the event that this could happen, we realised that faced with that reality, we had to throw everything out of the window. Every couple who is sexually active must have talked about it before. I mean even in my gatherings with my buddies, we have discussed it and hoped that it would never happen. I have always professed to being pro-life - the life being my life. I wouldn't sacrifice my freedom for anything or anyone else in the world. I had just graduated and eager to make my mark on the corporate world. I had university bills to pay and had planned to work in Japan for a few years and make my mark there; no way would I want a financial burden like a baby just right when my life was just beginning.
Strangely, as much as we talked about it, we never fully resolved the issue between the both of us. Helen was a staunch Catholic. She wakes up at eight on Sundays to go to church and that speaks a lot of her faith, seeing how she has to wake up at eight every other day too. I haven't been to church for a long while and sometimes I feel guilty when I stumble into her room and she's clutching her rosary, no doubt praying for my condemned immortal soul. She would never consent to have the baby aborted and as I looked into her eyes that morning, I knew that while she was saying her period was late, what she was actually telling me was that I was about to be a father.
I think that was the beginning of the end of my conscious life. I did finally wake up last night but I can't imagine how I let those five years pass.
Checking in on Joe is the first thing I do every morning. As I stand in front of his bed today, I see for the first time as a burden on my life. As many people often do, I wondered about what happened to my parent's dreams. My father confided in me once when I was younger that he always wanted to pursue his music career. He was in a band where he was the drummer. They were called The Dreamers. I never realised how apt that was. My father today is a clerical officer in a school and the only music he ever pursued was a hi-fi system which he literally had to run for in an office telematch to win. Where had all my grand plans for the future gone? Did I, like my father, give up everything for their children?
But no matter how bitter I felt, it's impossible to fault the little breathing creature on the bed. Joe's hand clutches a little bolster - the one we cry for nights over when our mums throw them away when we're 18 - and even with the drool forming gently on his chin, I can't help but feel affectionate and warm towards him. I padded out of the room silently and went to change for work.
In my first year at university, I read with much bemusement about John Paul Sarte in the mandatory philosophy class. In a novel of his, the protagonist woke up one morning and sensed that everything around him was different. He would leave the house and be captivated by a metal object in his hand, so mystifying it was that it filled him with wonderment but when he looked down to see what it was, he realised that it was merely the doorknob. As much jokes as I made then about the substances he was abusing then, I had those same existentialist moments when I stepped out of the house for work.
The thing that struck me most as I walked to the train station was how alike to cattle we have all become. On the pavement I was joined with scores of similarly dressed people striding purposefully with our briefcases and document cases to the station. We didn't need sheep dogs either; we each knew our place in the procession and were herded forward by something more dangerous than dogs; we were led by our inertia - we never imagined that we would continue to be doing this everyday but we did it because we had nothing else to do. I stopped in my tracks at this realisation and the procession wavered as people behind me grumbled and made minute corrections to their trajectory to resume the inexorable march. The dissonance lasted only for a few seconds before I became like any other obstacle on the path of a river, sidestepped, ignored and forgotten. On any other day, I would have reached the station by now but today I was looking at the bobbing heads before me and wondered if things could have been different. Inasmuch as inertia can be slowed, momentum led me to take up the march again in a few moments.
I had missed my usual train and I felt like I was exploring an alternative lifestyle by being surrounded by different people. I couldn't see the businesswoman in her grey suit nor the university student, who had recently graduated to shirts and pants recently- he must have found a job. I did spot easily this carriage's crazy. He was a middle aged man in a chequered shirt and blue pants who grunted out loudly every few minutes. I don't think that he consciously did it even though his whole body shook when he grunted, I suppose it had become something that he was so used to that he didn't think that he was doing anything peculiar.
I totally understand how that feels.
My memory of the years that follow that day in the train is still vague though some emotional spikes are hard to forget. I remember following her to the doctor to confirm that she was indeed pregnant with much weeping (mostly me - women seem to be pretty strong when it comes to such things). I recall the dread I felt when I was at her place, waiting for her parents to come back so I could tell them the news. I remember frantically calling every restaurant in the city whether they were available for us to hold a wedding in "yes two months, why are you laughing? two months," before finally finding a place at an old country club. I remember the priest talking to us and telling us that we were doing the right thing an hour before our ceremony. I still have the scar across my arm when I cut myself against a broken window as I rushed her to the hospital when Josh wanted out.
Five years of my life compressed in those few memories.
I looked around the carriage and spotted this couple who sat quietly in a corner. The boy was reading the newspapers and the girl had her head on his shoulder. He looked over at the girl every few minutes when she rustled from her nap. It was obvious that he was very much in love. He looked just like me five years ago.
I wonder what happened if that day never happened. Perhaps I might still be in Japan right now working or having the money to go visit exotic countries or learning a new language - anything but the drudgery of life I have now. Maybe I would have met someone else special since Helen and I obviously have compatibility problems which were simply swept under the carpet of monotony in our domestic life. I guess I'd never know.
As the train pulled into my station, I couldn't help but walk over to the couple. The girl was still napping but my shadow falling over the boy made him look up. He looked so young and had a spark in his eyes - eager to prove himself to the world and knowing that he could handle anything that came his way. He was me.
I started to tell him something but stopped. I just looked down at myself for a moment and walked out of the train, knowing that whatever I had wanted to say wouldn't have mattered anyway.