Thus far my blog has been pretty squeaky clean and happy, happy, happy. Reminiscing about the “good old days” and wasn’t living overseas great? Look at all the cool stuff we collected! Look at all the great food I got to eat! Look at all the famous people I saw. And look at me, I am so global and open minded!
I once read an article in Denizen Magazine that compares being a Third Culture Kid to being a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. You know, the old “falling in love with the kidnapper” theory that we all learned about from Patty Hearst? From the safe vantage point of the present we TCKs fondly remember our past lives (i.e. our kidnapper) as romantic, exotic and exciting, when in actuality there were many difficult times during our "captivity": loneliness, isolation, and grief were a big part of our lives. Unrequited longing to belong somewhere, to be "cool". To not ever have to be the new kid at a school, to live in a house for longer than a few years, to have friends that you’ve had since you were in preschool. To not be constantly ripped away from security and stability, short-lived as it was.
Yes, I admit that I am guilty of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses. What I pretend not to remember are the days spent sobbing in my room, wishing that I wasn’t alone. My parents, either still in the throes of their grief over my sister’s death, or, being from that “laissez faire” parenting generation, left me alone a lot. Most days I came home to an empty house. School in Manila got out at 12:45, so that left many hours in the day to be miserable. I poured my angst into multiple volumes of diaries that I still have and have lugged around all these years.
I mentioned before that I was the girl who sat in the girls’ room during breaks, not knowing what to say to the crowds of laughing people in the student lounge. In my senior year, after finally feeling like I belonged a little bit, I was blindsided with the news that we were moving to Singapore. In December. It was life interruptus. You know, the sound of the needle scraping off the record as it comes to an abrupt stop?
I begged, I pleaded to be allowed to stay. It was only FOUR MONTHS! To no avail. We left the day after Christmas, and the nightmare started all over again. New kid, new school. Being alone at lunch. My mother remembers me crying and crying, begging for help. I felt so utterly alone, bereft. And from her, I heard, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” Now I understand that she didn’t know what to say to me. She didn’t know how to help me. No one did. I once confided in the guidance counselor in Singapore how miserable I was, only to feel more miserable for having told someone about my pain.
Sometimes I am asked, “Did you like living overseas?” It’s a hard question to answer. No, I was miserable, lonely and depressed. Gee, what a great conversation killer! Isn’t it better to say, “Why yes, it was quite enriching to visit Paris every weekend”. But wait … that is a conversation killer too! They are thinking, “Well la-de-da! Aren’t you special?” What awards do we win when we speak about our upbringing? A gold-encrusted blank stare? A brief moment of superiority, followed by the abyss of disconnection?
It’s a dilemma. What is your right answer?