Essays from Home
OPINION: QUEEN & COUNTRY
In our new series, Q&C readers recount their experiences of returning to the family home of their formative years and the feelings and memories it stirs. We start with one essay about a man's return to Southeast Asia to visit his sick mother and make peace with his childhood trauma.
Home is where the heart is, or so the proverb goes. But for some of us, it's not always that simple. We've all experienced going back to the home we grew up in, and for most, it can be a joyful event. We enjoy spending time with family and catching up with friends before returning back to the place we have made home for ourselves as adults.
But sometimes a gay person going home to their past can give way to a whole array of mixed feelings. In our first essay, 'Coming home', a Q&C reader tries to reconcile past hurt and trauma on a recent visit to his childhood home on the other side of the world to see his ill mother.
I lay down at 10pm to sleep in my mum and dad's old bedroom where I am guest after my 15 hour journey from the U.K to Johor Baru in southern Peninsular Malaysia.
I suddenly awake at 1.37 a.m. I have a sense that evil is afoot. I’m in fear. I see flashing lights like I’d imagined teichopsia in a person with migraine but the flashes I see are on the sheets of the bed when I first stir. Was it the flickering torch of a violent crystal meth addict, high and on a malevolent burglary binge? A sense of foreboding and worry is over me.
I look outside to the balcony: no one. The thin curtains are restless in the breeze of the fan flying up to leave a gap. I’m imagining someone’s looking in. Is it paranoia? Why here? Why now? I decide it’s sleep deprivation and jet lag but wonder if my history of cocaine abuse has damaged my brain permanently.
I sit up feet on the floor - I’m feeling nervous in the dark. Drowsy and half in sleep, I irrationally imagine an alien crab-like tentacled creature is about to grab my feet from under the bed, wounding them with its razor sharp pincers. I try to go back to sleep listening to a guided meditation.
4.48am. An unusual sound awakens me. Flats of finger nails tapping on the door; ever so quietly. I sit bolt upright in bed. I see a shadow under the door. I spring up and fling the door open. I startle her. Mum, looking vulnerable and in the disorientation of her dementia is asking to shower and get ready for church. I manage to gently coax her to going back downstairs to bed.
I try to put my head back down. I think I hear voices mingled up in the sound of the fan whirling. Like the sounds I used to hear when coming down off a cocaine binge on a warm summer’s night. That same feeling is over me; lying tense in desperation and shame, willing myself to sleep while hoping that the morning would never come. I throw the blankets back and look out through the window - the voices turn out to be neighbours who are awake and have been coming and going in their car all night. Ok ‘I’m not going mad’, I say to myself.
I remain uncomfortable, in fear. A fleeting thought of disappearing into the night dances in my consciousness. I realise that I could be in danger here so I muster some recovery behaviour. I get up, put the light on and begin to write about how I am feeling and in doing so the realisation unfurls.
This is the house where I’ve never belonged. Mum and dad moved here after I was sent abroad for schooling. I was to return in the school holidays aged 12 to find all my things: my books, my teddy bear, my scrap book, my tin of precious things including a pendant of St Christopher carrying the Christ child binned in the move. I was always an outsider here; the visiting child in the summer holidays with no longer a bedroom to call his own.
Ancient feelings of hurt and fear re-emerge. It is in this house dad declared his disgust that Rock Hudson was no longer his favourite actor because he was gay (and had AIDS). The image in my mind of mum crying at the foot of the stairs in desperation saying I would ‘go to hell’ when I first ‘came out’ to her comes back. This home never felt a safe place for me.
Anxiety gives way to sadness. My eyes well up. I’m suddenly relieved - there’s no evil afoot, no violent burglars await, no monsters under my bed and it’s not permanent brain damage from years of substance abuse but a final acknowledgement to myself about how I have always felt deep down about number 35 Jalan Intan.
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