Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Time & Its Healing Properties

It was about 35 years ago when I was a boy of 9 years old, living in my grandparents' home in Kobusak. Mom and dad were divorced, and then dad remarried a Kadazan woman. Mom left Sabah for good, while dad and his second wife went elsewhere to "work". We saw dad about once a year for a few days.

The 6 of us children were separated from one another—Audrey, Dennis and Flora went with mom; I was parked at my grandparents' (my dad's parents); Bridget to a grandaunt's; Evelyn to a granduncle's in Labuan. But later on Bridget came to join me at our grandparents'.

My childhood is not anything to shout about—it was a nightmare; it was traumatic that it's a wonder how I did not end up becoming mentally unhinged from the experience.

My grandfather was not a very pleasant man; he had a temper problem. He was born into a poor family in China about 90 years ago. He did not go to school. Then at the age of 16, he was forced to join the army. In the wee hours of the morning, he escaped by running many miles with only the shirt on his back to a relative's house. From there, he proceeded on to the coast where he boarded a tongkang. He did not have any money to pay for the passage, but he offered his services as a labourer onboard throughout the journey to Singapore. The journey took several weeks.

From working in Singapore for some years, he saved a bit of money. He then took another tongkang to follow some friends to the then North Borneo Island in the east. He landed in the town of Api-Api (now Kota Kinabalu) and eventually found his way to the small town of Beaufort where he worked as a manual labourer at the railway station. There, he met and then married a woman named Margaret Tan, a divorcee with a 4-year old son named William. Margaret was the former wife of a Japanese Officer who had to leave North Borneo when the Japanese surrendered after the Second World War. William adopted the surname of his Chinaman step-father, i.e. Koh. In the following years, Mr Koh and his wife had a dozen more children, but William was the blacksheep of the family. He was frequently abused by his stepfather.

In his early teens, William was taken away by his grandmother who looked after him until he reached adulthood. I fancy that his stepdad never agreed to that arrangement, but reluctantly had to let William go. I couldn't help but felt that my grandfather, i.e. William's stepdad, had some sort of hatred againts us, William's kids. And he took every opportunity to let it out on us. Unfortunately, dad was not a successful man, having dropped out of school after Junior Cambridge, and he had no choice but to dump us at several of his relatives'. And I was the unlucky one who ended up at my grandparents' house. Such was the background of the living hell I had to endure as a young boy.

I can still remember sobbing quietly in the dark every night before falling asleep, I don't know how much of my tears had gone into my pillow. I didn't mind the hardship, really; I didn't mind being treated like a slave, but I just couldn't stand all the beatings. At times, when I was going to sleep, I wished so much that I would not wake up again. But each time I was disappointed to wake up to live another day of living hell.

There was once when my grandfather asked me to help him repair a rotten timber wall behind the kitchen. Bear in mind that I was only 9 then. I accidentally missed the head of the nail and the nail was bent. Grandpa became angry; he pulled my hand and then used a wood of about 3"x3" thick to beat it non-stop for a long while. I couldn't use my left hand for a few days after that. As time passed, I became very angry and I developed a kind of hatred against my grandfather—the hatred that was to remain forever.

Several years later, after I grew up, I eventually escaped from the living hell. And I have never been able to forgive my grandfather since then. The memories of all those nightmares remain fairly clearly in my mind up to now.

I met grandpa irregularly over the years for obvious reason. Well, it's been 35 years since that day I blundered with the nail, and I still haven't forgiven my grandfather.

Then last Sunday, during Girlie's wedding, I met my grandfather again after some years. He's been reduced to a frail old man of 90 who could hardly walk on his own. And then I had an amazing revelation—I no longer felt the hatred against him which I've been feeling all these years. It took 35 years, but I finally found it in me to forgive this man. Truly, time has a magical ability to heal any wound, no matter how severe.


Sarah said...

Amazing. What a great ending to the story. It must be good to be able to let go of it all at last.

Cornelius said...

Yes, Sarah, it is good to be able to let it go. I don't know why I couldn't control myself. All those years of hatred, I knew it all the time that hatred is a bad thing, but I just couldn't forget and forgive. It's not as easy as that. I tried, and I failed, honest. So yes, it was good, and it was a relief to finally be able to forgive.

Socrates29 said...

Thanks for relating the family history of your family which I find interesting because of its similarity to that of mine in so far as the past history is concerned.

Like your grandfather, my late grandfather also came from China at a very young age (16 or younger). He also worked for the Railways in the carpentry section in Tanjung Aru.

My late father also worked for the Railways Department (what was once known as "NBR" (the North Borneo Railways). He was a keen collector of railway engines and we still have photos (in black & white) of vintage railway engines like the Huntslet or Vulcan.

While young I still remember and have recollections of a "Koh" family staying in the terraced quarters behind the 5 wooden houses which are still standing and being occupied till now.
Small world isn't it!

gbeejipp said...

oh wow. This one would sure make a good book. But yes, wounds can actually heal by themselves over time. We'll just need to give ourselves a chance.

Cornelius said...

This is quite an amusing coincidence, JIPP. I told another one of my family stories to another friend, and she also said that it would make a good book! But alas, I don't think I have it in me to write a book. No one would want to publish it!... HAHA!

But the story I told my other friend was the love story of the Japanese Officer and Margaret Tan. A story with sad ending. I didn't think that people in general would like to read a sad ending anyway.

Who knows, perhaps one of these days, when I'm retired and have nothing else to do, I might just write a book!... hehehe