It’s the time of the year where most homes have an artificial tree decked in all things shiny and young children look forward to opening boxes of presents.
Bitter Christmas memory
But for a long time, that description was just something I saw on every Christmas television series and movies that played on the television.
Instead, a vivid memory I have of the festive season as a 10-year-old was returning from a Christmas celebration to a home littered with broken pieces of ceramic plates that my mother had slammed out of anger.
Some furniture was also overturned, which was most likely my father’s way of venting his frustration without physically hurting anyone.
As if it was a routine, my parents halted their clearly heated argument and retreated to their room while I carefully trod to my room — lest my feet get pierced by shards of broken ceramic pieces — where my older teenage siblings tried to distract me with chatter and loud music.
Happy family just a pipe dream
While my parents were responsible enough to not let their children witness them fighting, they weren’t calm enough to talk things out quietly.
The songs that we listened to and the relatively-thin walls of our HDB home weren’t enough to drown out parts of my parents’ even louder conversations:
“Were you spending your night with that sl*t again?”
“I swear to God, I’m not cheating on you anymore.”
“Are you not thinking of the kids when you do this to us?”
“If you’re not happy with me, just divorce me.”
At that point, I remember thinking to myself: In place of big boxes of wrapped presents, all I longed for was some peace and quiet and a normal, happy family.
But even then I knew that wish would remain a pipe dream.
15 years later, my parents are still married to each other.
Every year, we’d take a family photo during the festive season for the yearly Facebook post wishing from our family to yours, a Merry Christmas.
But don’t be fooled by the saccharine-sweet family portrait, my parents are still unhappily married.
While they do not throw inanimate objects to the ground anymore, they no longer sleep in the same bedroom as well.
Most times, my siblings and I would have to play the role of their messenger pigeon but on good days, they do exchange sentences with each other.
But talking for too long will just start another argument.
“Why don’t you get a divorce?”
Once, frustrated at being the middleman for my parents for the umpteenth time, I asked my mother: “If the both of you don’t like each other, why don’t you get a divorce?”
Don’t get me wrong, though.
It is every child’s wish for their parents to stay together until death do them apart.
My parents, however, remain to be the death of each other.
They have exhausted every possible means to save their marriage, including couple’s counselling.
They even conceived another child (as ill-advised by a family elder), thinking a baby would reignite the spark they had.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. If anything, postpartum depression made their relationship worse.
As if it was common sense, my mother replied to my question: “You think it’s that easy? What would people think?”
Of course, there were other factors that kept them from “consciously uncoupling”.
If my parents had to get a divorce, they probably have to sell their matrimonial home and I’m pretty sure my housewife mother and salesperson father couldn’t afford homes of their own.
They were also thinking of their five then school-going children: My parents thought it’d be selfish of them and they also didn’t want a potential divorce to risk a dip in our academic performance.
But the biggest reason why they chose not to get divorced was to “save face”.
Coming from an Asian family, the subject of divorce is almost taboo.
For my parents, they didn’t want to “let down” both sides of their family or be seen as “failures” at maintaining their marriage, as if anyone was keeping score.
And it’s especially harsher for women, who may be seen as “used goods” after a divorce.
But saving face has also cost the family a lot of things.
Developed trust issues
I’m blessed to not have mommy or daddy issues because my parents have been present throughout my childhood.
But I have developed some trust issues as a result of my parents' marriage.
I have a great father who taught me self-defence, makes the best scrambled eggs and pampered me with lots of toys when I was a little girl.
He did, however, commit a big mistake that arguably changed the family forever: He had an affair.
When my mother noticed that he was frequently coming home late at night, she knew something wasn’t right and hired a private investigator to follow my dad.
Unfortunately, her instincts were right. The PI returned with several photos of her husband cosying up with another woman.
While my mother did try to keep these photos away from her children, she couldn’t hide things for nuts.
The sight of the photos broke our hearts, and it probably hurt my father as well realising how much it broke the family.
He said he has broken up with the woman and we forgave him, because he is our father after all.
But my mother also believes that a leopard never changes its spots.
Ever since she found out that my dad once had an affair, she developed an unhealthy habit of checking his text messages whenever he is asleep.
“The people you think you’re closest to can always hurt you,” I remember she once told me when I walked in on her scrolling through my dad’s phone.
And that quote has stuck with me since then.
Fear of relationships
Their relationship has made me more cynical when it comes to matters of the heart.
Everybody knows that a fairytale love story is unrealistic.
But I also thought that a normal, long-lasting marriage was unbelievable too, courtesy of my parents’ relationship.
It became a norm for me to overhear my parents raise their voices over anything, from an unwashed plate in the sink to my mother’s suspicions of another affair my father was allegedly having.
Being exposed only to their relationship conditioned me to once believe that love doesn’t last, it will fade over time, which made me fear to commit to relationships.
The good news is I figured out that my parents’ relationship was a special case and I have been with my boyfriend for more than five years now.
But a small part of me still fears that our feelings would fizzle over time, just like my parents did.
Another shot at happiness
But their relationship shouldn't be about their children and definitely not what others would think of them.
Their relationship should be about them.
Mistakes have definitely been made by both parties, but they both deserve another shot at happiness.
And that won't happen if they don't break out of this prison they call a matrimonial home.
Though it is not the most ideal solution, I hope one day they realise that separating is a possible option that they can consider if everything else goes south.
And my siblings and I would love them both the same no matter the circumstances.
A divorce shouldn't be seen as failing in life, you've just progressed to another stage.
But for now, if uploading happily posed family photos to give people the impression that they are in a thriving relationship makes my parents happy, then I will remain content as well.
Top image by Fasiha Nazren