The world is on fire right now, in case you haven't noticed.
I hope you're doing alright wherever you are. I'm a little stressed about everything going on right now, but doing okay. The virus has really done a number on this country, huh? Remember the initial community complacency, and how quickly it was quelled by the surge in cases? That was really scary — to think we've been fine, that we're safe, only to have time unveil quite the opposite. To lose faith in the people who were supposed to guide us. But you and I already know what that feels like.
Back in January, during Chinese New Year, you picked us up to visit your mother's place. As per usual, I took the lead, ping-ponging between parents who were determined to never cross paths with each other. The first reports of the virus reaching Singapore surfaced, and even though it was a few isolated cases then, with typical Singaporean kiasu-ness, you were already worried. I mean, don't get me wrong. Eventually, you were right to be worried. You drove while lecturing facts about the virus, the quick government response, your previous experience with the SARS epidemic back in '03. I took it in stride, stoic expressions in the passenger seat.
I couldn't help but wonder if you were trying to make up for something. I won't pretend to know how you were feeling at the time — visiting your mother is never an experience we all look forward to. It must've been harder to know we're about to enter unprecedented times, times your father would never get to know and would never teach you how to cope with, the way you were trying to do with us. I never met your father, but I hear him in your nervous laughter, in all the untold stories, in your fear of your mother. As we see in our world right now, history always repeats itself, and apparently, this apple didn't fall far from your tree.
And then I went and got myself suspected of COVID-19, like a dumbass. When I had to get tested in March, I called you and just knew you would come. We hadn't spoken since Chinese New Year, and you were already pinpointing all the ways I was to blame for potentially getting infected. I was so fed up, but also so scared, Dad. You were there at the hospital, you remember what happened. I was the lone teenager in an isolation tent of adults and the elderly. But I never told you how your insistence to stay with me during the testing restarted my cold, dead heart. Ultimately, you couldn't stay, but with you and your indirect love, it's always the thought that counts.
I thought about you when the country went into lockdown in April. Not that I'd ever admit it if anyone asked, but I did. I thought about you in your studio apartment — the one that's close to all the virus clusters — and how the lockdown must be affecting you. Were you okay being shut in like that? Your photography gigs have got to be hit hard by the closures, so what about your income? Of course, I wouldn't know the answers, considering I never asked.
The first and only time I visited that apartment three years ago, my mind instantly disconnected from our reality. It was too much, too soon, too real, too sad. I know you were trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and you were so eager to show us your new place, which was why I never said anything about feeling despondent, about seeing my father reduced to a suitcase splayed on a cracked floor. We were both putting on a show that day — a trick I picked up from the best, don't you mind?
When I told you that I tested negative for COVID-19, you texted me about what we should do when lockdown restrictions lift: go out for a meal, visit places, see people. But what I really want is to want to go back to our simpler trips, when we would zip across the country in your car; when we parked alongside the tiny hill and watched the sunset; when we would camp out on the beach and pretend to spot stars under the blanket of the sky, the smell of our instant noodles cooking army-style, just the way you taught me.
It's hard to know where we stand, so I'm not even sure if writing this to you is too much. I figured you'd understand this sudden outpour of emotion; not like we were never close, you knew me once upon a time. I feel things I shouldn't, then I write what I can't say. I lost my faith in the world back when I lost my faith in you, when leaving became your new normal. Whoever said that distance means nothing must not have experienced it — you've run so far that I cannot reach you anymore.
I've spent a lifetime collecting cynicism, enough to fill this void and pretend it's a home. But I don't want to be angry anymore. I don't want to look back at this pandemic and see our relationship as another claimed casualty. This family of ours is broken enough; I've no reason to splinter it further. In times as disastrous as ours right now, all I want is to learn how to trust in the world again.
Can you do that?
Always your apple,
- title from "me" by the 1975
"and I put your mother through hell, don't you mind?" - kiasu: the act of being super extra