A letter to my parents

Dear Mum and Dad,

You broke me.

I know you never meant to. I know you had a lot of expectations on me for a reason. I was your oldest, and you thought of me as extraordinary. After all, other adults, especially my teachers, always sang praises about how smart and talented I was. Which was great, although not unusual—but still something that many parents, including you, would surely take pride in. Mum, you really believed that I was the brightest star, and Dad, you was so sure that I was born to attain what you couldn’t achieve yourself.

But what happens after you experience something too often? That thing becomes a status quo. You start to take it for granted. It happened to you and me, too, even if you don’t seem to understand it.

As I grew older, my childhood wonders slowly morphed into a numb routine you are used to. At the same time, I outgrew my magic, like many unfortunate precocious kids did. It got more and more difficult to be the best. Eventually, I had to learn to settle for good, and then average. Which, in hindsight, wasn’t a bad lesson after all; it was in fact necessary.

The problem was, you were already too used to the Golden Child. You never got used to having a mediocre child as your oldest. And I, terrified after losing your validation and desperate to win it back, never got used to not meeting your expectations.

I made up for my lost wonders by working hard, often to the lengths of pushing and overstretching myself beyond my limits. I ambitiously aimed and prepared for prestigious schools and scholarships. I took whatever extra classes you wanted me to, whatever extracurriculars that would look good on my recommendation letter. Studying became almost like a religion to me; I took to it with a rabid overzealousness.

And yet none seemed to impress you. I pursued whatever goals you set for me, but you still doubted me. Perhaps it didn’t help that my younger sister is a better daughter than I; more intelligent, more talented, more sociable. Whatever I struggled with, she completed with ease, yielding even better results than I did. Whatever I did, her achievements would outshine. You approved of her choice to major in literature, but you dismissed my interests in favour for something “more practical and useful”. She became the Golden Child and I was relegated to the margins, the scapegoat.

(I envied her. I still do; maybe I always will. You’d never know this either.)

Nonetheless, I still chose to push myself. Because I wanted your approval. Because I felt that I have to win your love, prove myself worthy of it. And because I couldn’t tell you that I was tired, so tired.

Of course I couldn’t. Not after your sacrifices—tuition fees, those extra classes, having to send me to a faraway place to get better education and missing out on seeing me grow up. Not after you’re so certain that I was bright and deserved the best you could afford. Not after disappointing you because despite what you’ve invested in me, I could never be as good as my sister.

I didn’t have the heart to shatter yours to shreds—even if the reason I didn’t was because mine was already broken by you.

But I knew you never meant to. Parents often see their children as the better version of themselves, and thus expect their children to excel in whatever they wish they could. I knew you did, too. I knew that you’ve been through a lot of things and naturally, you wanted me to succeed, not to repeat your mistakes.

Mum, I knew you weren’t happy with Dad’s decisions, and that you’re tired from always having to be the bedrock that supports our family and make up for whatever Dad did wrong. You wanted me to do well because I would be a testament that not all choices you made in life were wrong.

Dad, I knew you’re an angry, terrified child inside an adult’s body, and that you’re haunted by your own feelings of failure. You wanted me to do well because you believed that I could correct your wrongs and live the dreams you’ve abandoned, even if it meant tough love.

I knew I wasn’t the only one who longed for validation; the two of you did too.

So I pushed and pushed myself to my limits, even beyond it. Not because I stand precariously at this precipice called anxiety, but despite of it.

But I couldn’t sustain that lie. I was tired, suffocated; my life was so arranged and controlled, it’s a life unlived. I spent sleepless nights staring at the ceiling, feeling an emptiness sinking in my stomach and eating me from inside. I pretended that I was all right, while I crossed my fingers and wished that lies that were so often repeated would one day become true.

They remained lies, of course. Deep down I knew that one day all this pressure would wreck me. It did.

Eventually, I crumbled under the weight of your expectations. I have many secrets, but I couldn’t hide this one from you: I finally broke down last year and flunked my exams. My counsellor had to inform you that I was so depressed I couldn’t even function.

And you blame me for breaking down.

“This is because you’re always so hard on yourself. You can’t even take getting bad grades…”

Mum, you didn’t know how much that hurt. You’re blaming me for doing something for you and Dad. You said I was too weak, too whiny. Dad didn’t even say anything.

You betrayed me—or did I betray you first? Didn’t I fail you before you failed me?

I’m angry at the both of you, but more so at myself. You had faith in me, but I couldn’t deliver; instead, I gave you disappointments after disappointments.

Love isn’t living happily ever after; it’s never perfect, rarely unconditional. Love can be beautiful, like a rose, but one entangled in thorns and smelling faintly of blood. For love is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites: anger, envy, fears, lies, hatred, disillusionment… and at its core is still love. I suppose that in spite of everything you still love me. I still love you too, but I wish you could understand.

I wish you could understand that I’m not the person you want me to be. I wish you could understand that I’m not a panacea for your shortcomings, nor a trophy to flaunt to relatives and friends. I wish you could understand that I genuinely want to make you happy. Not the way you want things to be—you’ve seen how I tried that, and failed—but my own way, which you never seem to approve of.

But you’d never know this.


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