The first thing I do every morning is to check your room. It comforts me to see you there, physically, even though we both know you’ve never really been present.
The ‘CCTV’ we’ve installed along our corridor has always given me this strange sense of security even though it’s not real — we just stuck it on with double-sided tape.
Dad says he put it there so that loan sharks won’t try anything funny.
Dad leaves the TV on but he’s not watching. He’s afraid of how quiet the house is without white noise. Without you. There he sat, waiting, but you don’t come home. It’s been three days.
I’ve thought about where you could have gone - I pictured you drinking with your friends, watching soccer matches. Gambling. Succumbing to your addiction. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to.
On this night I discover how it is like when sadness fills the heart. Your chest feels so heavy that it almost physically hurts to breathe.
The therapist said learning as much as I can about gambling disorder will result in less shame and more hope that you will get well again. So I consciously remind myself to have compassion for you.
But it’s difficult. When I see you playing Dai Di on your phone late into the night. I get that maybe it’s not really gambling if no money is involved. But it’s the idea of it that makes me mad.
“All I want is for our family to stay together.
Love each other.
Forgive each other,”
Dad broke down at Ah Ma’s niche today. The last time I saw him cry was 10 years ago at her funeral.
You’ve always been stubborn, hot-headed, impulsive – you live life on your own terms and do what you want. I resent you, yet, I wish I was a little bit more like you.
I watch from outside as you and Dad quarrel about our house, which we sold to pay off the loan sharks.
You even had to sell your share of the wine shop but I think that might have been a good thing since I never liked that you were in the alcohol business. You agreed that it was.
I notice the greying hairs and fine lines on Dad’s face as I watch him check his earnings for the day. He’s always wanted to retire from driving, but now that has to wait because we have these debts, your debts, to clear.
Whenever I look at him, I see so much of myself yet I know I could never achieve half of the things he has. Or be as generous as he is.
He told me the other day that his biggest regret in life is not having given enough to me. I asked him to stop being ridiculous.
Since deciding to quit gambling, I’ve seen you chant Buddhist prayer verses before bed every night. You say that the silence when everyone at home is asleep helps you to concentrate.
“Humans have a lot of sin in ourselves.
I don’t pray to go to heaven.
I pray to repent for my sins.
I pray for others.
When I pray, I try to attain a pure state of mind and make those my only thoughts.”
Your Monday evening grocery runs with Dad have become a routine.
You share a coffee and some small bites before shopping.
For the first time in a long time, I catch a glimpse of constancy.
“Tonight there’ll be no distance between us //
What I want most to do, is to get close to you //
Tonight I celebrate my love for you”
– Tonight I Celebrate My Love by Peabo Bryson
You said to me when I asked you what you really wanted in life.
“I realized just be simple, don’t be greedy. Just be simple, simple, simple.
You don’t need to have big money, and do things without thinking of the returns.
Simplicity was really what I wanted. Happiness is possible even though we are not rich.”
Opening image: A note, one of several, detailing a list of debts amounting to S$39,000 accumulated by my mother, Annie. The money was lost over the span of the last one and a half years on online soccer bets made mostly through illegal betting sites. She lost a total of S$400,000. At the worst point of her gambling disorder, she was indebted to over 20 loan sharks. The sum owed to the loan sharks has been repaid via a combination of loans from extended members of our family, and the sale of my house.