VOICES: Single Again
by Evelyn Khor
When I became single again, besides adjusting to major changes in my personal life, my social life also took a dramatic turn. Friends we once shared as a couple no longer invited me to their parties and festive celebrations. Some of these were friends that I had known for more than twenty years, but overnight, they had become strangers. Slowly the phone calls also stopped and except for those unfortunate occasions where their shopping trolleys met mine in the supermarket, we never even met up for a cup of tea.
It was thus a real surprise to get a call from Janet, someone who used to be close to me in the past. I had known Janet even before she got married and had first watched her struggle with setting up a home, then shared her sorrows when she lost her first baby and finally shared her joy when her boy was born. Our two families used to get together and we used to talk for hours over the phone exchanging recipes, ideas on disciplining children and our problems with in-laws.
However, like the others, Janet drifted out of my life after my divorce and when she moved house, we lost touch all together. Janet was all excited over the phone and wanted to invite me for tea to ‘catch up with lost time’. Well, I thought, maybe I had been wrong about Janet after all.
It took me some time to locate Janet’s house and when I arrived, I was surprised to see a number of people already present. I had thought it was just the two of us but before I could gather my thoughts, Janet had come running to the car to hug me. She was fashionably dressed and as she waved her hand and gave orders to the maid, the well cut diamond on her finger sparkled as the light danced on it.
I only have a blur memory of walking into a huge lounge with expensive furnishings and paintings and being introduced to her friends who obviously bathed in wealth. After the introductions, there was a grand tour of the house and the impressive Balinese gardens (which cost more than a Proton Waja, it was whispered).
It was only in the late evening when her friends had left that we finally had some time together. I had a glimpse of the old Janet as she held my hands in her palms and asked,
“Tell me what has been happening to you.”
“Well, tell me about yourself first,” I laughed.
“As you can see, Joe and I have moved on. You know how we used to struggle to pay the rent in that dingy single-storey house in Kepong, and how we could only afford to eat out at the hawkers,” she said, and then launched into the story of their new found wealth, their new friends, club membership and the list went on. I listened patiently and was amused that Janet had forgotten her first question to me.
When she finally remembered and I had a chance to tell her about my new life, I could see sympathy in her eyes. She felt sorry for me because she believed that I would be having the same lifestyle had I remained married. She felt that it was such a shame that I was still living in the same house, holding the same job, driving a second-hand car and spending most of my holidays locally.
I shut my eyes and for a fleeting moment, I saw the kind of good life I would have had if my ex–spouse had not walked out of our marriage. And a feeling of loss and “what-could-have-been” crept into my heart.
I drove home late in the evening and, from a distance, I could see the scarlet blooms on my old bougainvillea tree. The colour of the setting sun had turned it into a flaming red bush and it looked majestic as it draped the fence. The lights had just been switched on and as I parked the car, I could see my three children sharing a joke and playing with the dog. An aroma of good home-cooked food drifted from the kitchen and someone had put on some music.
As I sat down for dinner and listened to the chatter from the dinner table, I could not help but feel a great sense of joy and peace. I could not ask for more as I thought of the many single parents that I know who struggle to bring up their families in a rented room where the sun could not reach.
I felt blessed that the wholesome food on the table was prepared by loving hands, while many single parents struggle to put meals on the table. I felt proud as I looked at my children who have struggled and yet have become better persons as a result.
Yes, if I subscribe to society’s standards, I am still a poor, struggling single parent who has not moved on. But it is precisely because I have not been propelled into the lifestyle of the rich and famous that I have had the time to stop and smell the roses, walk in unchartered territories and moved on to savour those surprise gifts that life bestows upon us.