Thumbnail: My grandparents

When I was young and it was sum­mer, my mater­nal grand­par­ents would come from Hong Kong to babysit me. It was a strange time in my life, what I con­sid­er my fetal years when I don’t remem­ber learn­ing any­thing, or hav­ing any aware­ness of my own con­scious­ness.

My grand­fa­ther was a strong, intel­li­gent, lov­ing, gen­tle man, and my biggest hero. He showed me his war wounds, and taught me about states of mat­ter. I even learned the term “civ­il war” from him when he used it (in English!) one time when some old black-and-white footage of Chinese bat­tles came on the TV, but his English was­n’t great so I thought he was say­ing, “zero war”.

He was my favourite per­son in the world because he gave me the atten­tion and stim­u­la­tion I nev­er got from my par­ents.

In one of those sum­mers, I stole his cig­a­rettes, two at a time so he would­n’t notice, and hid them in the com­part­ment of a red and white chil­drens draft­ing table. It was my way of get­ting him to stop smok­ing.

One time, I heard my grand­par­ents shout­ing in the kitchen. They were fight­ing. My grand­moth­er accused him of pee­ing on the toi­let seat. It was the first time I heard them raise their voic­es at all, let alone at each oth­er. I thought it was strange because at that age I was prob­a­bly pee­ing all over the toi­let seat, and no one ever yelled at me for it, so I did­n’t under­stand why it was such a big deal.

My aunt and uncle were over because they want­ed to spend time with them, and they came to see what the com­mo­tion was about. But they just stood there, lis­ten­ing, not want­i­ng to take sides.

Eventually, my grand­fa­ther slow­ly bent at the knees, his entire body sag­ging, buried the heels of his hands in his eyes to rub out the tears, and said to my aunt and uncle with lan­guish­ing paus­es, “Sometimes, she makes me want to kill myself”.

And I knew he meant it.

I was too young to even be shocked, but for my grand­fa­ther to say some­thing like that was com­plete­ly out of char­ac­ter. He was invin­ci­ble to me. I nev­er under­stood it.

Until now.

Eventually, he went to live with my aunt and uncle for a while. They slow­ly became warmer when they saw each oth­er a few weeks lat­er. I don’t know if they ever talked about it.


  1. You must have been no old­er than three. It’s amaz­ing you remem­ber the episode so vivid­ly. That goes to show you were dif­fer­ent from chil­dren of your age.

    • I sus­pect I was a lit­tle old­er because I remem­ber it hap­pen­ing at a cer­tain house. John says that I tend to for­give very, very slow­ly because my mem­o­ry is too good, and painful emo­tions stay with me my entire life. I nev­er knew how right he was.

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