As I mentioned in a post last week, I am posting my new speech which I have written for Toastmaster today. This is the speech I’m set to present today. Wish me luck and hope you enjoy this semi-fictional story.
Three Years, Three Months, Twenty Days
The date is August 30, 1998, 26 days before her 7th birthday. Yet, she can only remember the tiny bits and pieces of memory that would surface now and then.
Why can’t I remember? That question would plague her for the next two decades until the night she discovered the concept of childhood amnesia.
Why is that day so important? Because that is the day of her mother’s departure and the day that changed her forever.
“I’m just going on a trip. I’ll be back before you know it.” Her mother had said in the days leading to the departure.
“You promise you’ll call?” She arched her brow.
“I promise.” Her mother replied with a smile.
Her mother left early that day, hours before she would wake up alone in the large empty apartment, craving for food and her mother’s return. It would be a few more hours before her aunt would come to pick her up and take her to her uncle’s apartment. “You will stay with your father’s family while I’m away, understand?” Her mother said days before while she was packing, stuffing as many articles of clothing as she could into her suitcase.
She arrived at her uncle’s apartment later that afternoon with no recollection of what she did that day. Her mother was all she could think about.
She’ll call soon. She’ll call soon. She chanted mentally to lessen the anxiety of the wait.
And that was exactly what she did after taking her last bite at dinner that night – go stand by the phone.
One hour flew by, then two, then three. No one asked her what she was doing. They all knew.
By the time her grandmother finished bathing her cousin, she had begun dozing off by the phone. “Come on,” her grandmother said, “let’s go home.”
“But my mom will call.” She said in a small voice.
“She’s probably not there yet. After all, America is a faraway place. Give her another day.” Her grandmother said gently as she pulled her into a standing position. “You got school tomorrow. Let’s go home.”
After breakfast the next morning, she and her grandmother walked two buildings over to where her aunt was waiting on a motorcycle. “Ready to go to school?” Her aunt asked.
Before her mother departed for America, she had placed her in the best elementary school in the city which was 20 minutes from her uncle’s apartment.
Though eager to learn, she couldn’t concentrate in class that day. Her thoughts kept flying to her mother, wondering what she was doing at that moment, what America was like, and when she was going to call? She felt as though if she doesn’t hear from her mother soon, her mind might begin to conjure up frightening situations.
The first week flew by with a daily routine – school, homework, dinner, and wait by the phone. Why isn’t she calling? She wondered.
Quickly, the days turned into weeks and before long, a month had gone by. School had fallen into a monotonous event and she had eventually given up expecting her mother’s phone calls by telling herself, she will call when she can.
One morning early October, she woke up with a throbbing headache. Her eyelids felt heavy and she felt drowsy. “I don’t feel too well.” She complained as her grandmother immediately placed the back of her hand on her forehead.
“You’re fine.” Her grandmother replied a moment later. “You probably didn’t sleep well last night due to the heat. You will feel better by this afternoon.” It was true, the weather was always a roller coaster ride when autumn rolled around.
As the day went on, however, she didn’t feel any better and by lunch, her teeth and hands were clenched tightly just so she could stay awake. Meanwhile she was shaking, her body struggled to get warm. Out of nowhere, a fiery hand touched her forehead. “Are you alright?” A familiar voice said.
Mom? She thought as her heart fluttered. Has my mother returned? With effort, she lifted her head. It was her mother’s sister. What was she doing there? Had something happened to my mother? She wondered.
“You’re burning up.” Her aunt said as she grabbed her backpack off the floor and took her hand. “Come on, let’s go home.”
The following weeks would be some of the most miserable weeks of her life as she battled the constant shifts in her body temperature and other symptoms that no amount of western or eastern medicine could sooth.
Her aunt would tell her almost two decades later about how terrified she had felt during those weeks as she watched her lying on that cold concrete floor struggling to get her temperature down. “I wouldn’t know how to explain to your mother if anything happened to you then.” She said.
When the fever finally died down and her strength returned, her aunt enrolled her in a nearby elementary school. She didn’t ask why she couldn’t return to her old school but she later discovered her aunt was her mother’s backup plan, that her aunt was to check on her after a few weeks and if it wasn’t working out, then she would go live with her aunt.
“How much longer until my mom comes home?” She remembered asking her aunt when she finally got over her illness.
“I’m not sure,” her aunt responded.
One night almost six months later, her aunt woke her up in the middle of the night, “Your mother is on the phone.” In the dim lights outside her room, she could see her aunt holding the cordless phone.
It was the first time in almost six months she had heard her mother’s voice. There was so much to say, where to start, she remembered thinking but at the same time, she could hear a sense of urgency on the other end of the phone call. “Mom?”
“I don’t have much time to talk right now,” Her mother said quickly, “Your aunt said you were sick.”
“Yeah but I’m better now.”
“That’s good to hear. Listen, I don’t know when I’m coming home to get you.” Her mother said. Get me? What did she mean? She wondered. “I’ve decided to stay in America.”
That revelation shocked her yet gave her hope. I’m going to America? She thought while her jaws hung slack for a few moments.
The next day and for the next three years, two months, and some days, life fell into a steady, monotonous rhythm –school, home, eat, homework, sleep – while always staying in the shadows of her younger male cousins. During the summer and winter holidays, she would be shipped to her father’s family.
For two decades, she had buried this story deep within her, never letting anyone know of her treatment by her relatives, of all the times she had stood by helpless while being bullied in school, and of the mantra she would often whisper at night – nothing lasts, everything ends eventually.