by Lina Taylor
Everyone's afraid of growing old
|Please comment and correct me. Thanks!
When I was at the peak of my age which was from thirty to fifty years old, everything seemed perfect. I had a great family, a wife that was devoted to me and a child who loved me dearly. I had a great job; I was the CEO of a big company, Hitachi. I had a high income and owned a Mercedes car. Because I travel often, I became a frequent traveler and received free tickets to countries like Japan and America. With these tickets, I could go on holiday with my family every school holiday to relax and spend time together – just talking. My life was great.
As I grew into my late fifties, I became clumsier and more forgetful. I was less respected in both my workplace and at home. I was reprimanded by my children, who were teenagers then, and colleagues for forgetting things that were important, losing paperwork or dropping things. I tried to make up for my ‘defects’. I even made a “To-do list” to remind me of things that I had forgotten.
When I reached my sixties, the “To-do list” was no help. There were many times that I lost the “To-do list” itself and without it, I could not remember anything on my own. I was almost hopeless at my job. Being the CEO, I had a lot of appointments, paperwork and meetings to remember. I used to entertain clients, but as I grew older, they stopped me from doing that. They never said why, but I knew the reason, I was old, my jokes were old and my thinking was old. This type of old entertainment was not good enough for the younger generations as many of the clients were young. They were given the job by their rich fathers, I supposed. They did not need to go through the years of hard work to be a boss, unlike me. At fifty-seven, I was downgraded to just a small little role – a senior manager. I hated being old.
At sixty-two, before my year of retirement, I was fired. I was told that I was too forgetful to keep the job and that I was only messing up everything and confusing people. I was also an alien to the modern technology and did not know how to operate them. It was best to let me go. In other words, I was old. On the day I was fired, I dragged my feet along as I took the public transport home. They had taken away my job, my car and my life. I knew I could not get a new job anymore at my age. I wanted to stay young, young forever. I could not face my family, not yet. I went to the park and sat down on the beach. I watched the sun set. From a full ball of fire, to half, to a small portion peeking out from behind the sea, finally the sun disappeared, just like my life had. Only a few rays of sunshine stayed, pouring red glitter over the clouds and the sky above it. It was beautiful. I stayed there just looking at the sky as it turned dark. It was pitch dark when my cell phone finally rang, it was my wife calling. I dared not answer. I was too afraid to tell her the truth. I waited for the ring tone to stop then I sent a text to my wife telling her I had a meeting and would return home only at midnight.
I finally gathered the courage to tell my family the bad news during dinner a few days later because I knew I could not keep my bad news a secret forever. For the last few days after being fired, I left the house every morning at the usual time to prevent suspicion from my family but instead of going to the Hitachi office where I used to work at, I went to the nearby park and sat there for hours just watching the sea and sun. I only returned home when night had fallen. I knew someone would spot me loitering soon, how many grown men in a suit would sit at the beach for hours doing nothing? Thus, one day during dinner, I took a big breath and said, “I lost my job.” There was moment of silence. Then my 18-year-old daughter laughed, “Ha. Ha. Your jokes are very dry.” I did not laugh, signaling that I was not joking. Nobody said anything for sometime until finally my daughter screamed, “What about college? Now that you have lost your job, can you afford to let me study overseas?” I shook my head in reply. My daughter stared at me, “Why?? Why did you lose the job? It is my dream to study in the University of Cambridge. You promised to fulfill it! You promised. How could you break your promise, evil freak!” Tears ran down her cheeks as she ran into her room, slammed the door and locked it. There were many reasons why – my savings would not be enough to support her throughout the four years in university and my wife was not working. I could ask for some money from my mother, but I will still be not enough. I wanted my daughter to be happy, to realize her dream. I wanted her to be successful. I wanted her to forgive me. I was really sorry. Many words ran through my mind but somehow, every time I try to say something, I would swallow back my words and keep quiet. Therefore leaving my daughter into thinking I was an “evil freak”.
My wife placed her wrinkled hand on my shoulder and tried to console me but I was so confused and stressed that I became frustrated. I shoved away her hand harshly and sulked. My wife drew back in shock, looked at me sadly, shook her head and walked back into our room. I hated myself so much. I hated myself for losing that job. I hated myself for growing old.
The next few years were hard. To make up for the loss of family income, my wife worked as a cleaner while I worked at a fast food restaurant but it was never enough. As the years flew by, my daughter finally graduated from a local university with a degree for medicine. She moved away to live by herself. I was left with my wife.
My wife was always there for me. She was there to comfort me when I was feeling down. She was there to share my joy. She was always with me, loving me. But I never cherished her. I took her for granted. Until she passed away, then I realized I needed her, I missed her. On the day of her funeral, I did not cry. I was a man and it would be too humiliating for an old and fine man like me to cry. I just sat down through the whole funeral ceremony and not let my emotions take over me.
At home, I sat on my sofa. I was alone, all alone. I had no one to live with. I looked at the dirty dishes in sink. I smiled as I remembered that my wife and I used to fight over whom had to wash the dishes but my smile disappeared after I remembered that that was when my wife was alive and now she was not. I want to cry so badly. When I saw the onions on the kitchen table, I had an idea. I started cutting the onions. Tears finally rolled down my cheeks. I was relieved.
One day, I was walking in the market buying groceries for the week when an old family friend, Lee, which was also the butcher of a pork stall casually chatted with me, “Hey! Congratulations! I heard that your daughter got married last weekend! Your daughter personally came here to send me an invitation to the wedding ceremony but I was busy on that day so I did not go. It was sweet of her though to invite an old uncle that used to give her presents when she young.”
Those words were not insults or anything bad but it stung real hard. Questions were crowding around in my mind. My daughter is married? She did not tell me, her father, anything about that? She did not invite me to her wedding ceremony but a non-blood related old friend? Suddenly, I felt so left out and even more alone then I used to feel. I asked Lee if he still have the invitation card with him. He nodded and handed me a pink card. He asked, “But, don’t you have –” I walked away hastily from the pork stall before he could finish that question. As I walked further away, I heard a faint shout, “Don’t you want to buy some pork? They just arrived today!”
I called the number on the invitation card. It was the new house number of their new condo.
I heard a young man answer, “Hello?” I asked for my daughter, Linda Tan, only I did not say that she was my daughter. I was asked to wait. I heard him shout in the background, “Honey! You have phone call!” “Who is it, dear?” a young lady answered. “I don’t know, here, the phone.” There was a pause. Then a young lady’s voice answered the phone, “Hello? Who is this?” I hesitated for a moment then said, “Um, Lin? It’s your father.” I heard a gasp then the voice stuttered, “Hi… Pa. How did you get my number?” Suddenly, I was angry and upset at the same time. But I replied in a calm voice, “From your Uncle Lee. But never mind that, I heard that you got married and you didn’t invite me, your father, to your wedding?!” My daughter stammered again, “Um, I thought… I thought, well, you would not like to come…” I shouted, “What kind of stupid reason is that?! I’m sure I know what your reason is. I’m a fuddy duddy and you don’t want to embarrass yourself by letting everyone know that such a fine lady like you would have an old ugly man as a father. You didn’t want me to ruin your wedding, isn’t it?” The scared voice became confident and angry, “Well, you just answered you question! I’m glad that you know it.” Then she hung up.
This was the last straw. I could not stand it anymore. I was going to end my life where it had started, as simple as that. I was going to die sooner or later, why not make it sooner and end this misery?
Later at night, I drove towards my first home, where I was born. My mother had lived there ever since the day I was born, until she died two years ago, just before my daughter graduated. She died of loneliness after my father died of stroke a few years before. Thus, I felt guilty for visiting her only when I wanted money. As I hadn’t been there for a long time, I had to follow the street signs to make it there. It was not long before I saw the sign of my hometown – Changi Village, Exit 1 kilometer. I drove for some time.
It was only when I saw the sign for another town that I realised that I had missed my turn off. I turned the car around and drove towards my home in the same lane. I knew I was driving in the wrong direction but I did not care. It was late at night and not many people were driving on the road. I drove over the speed limit as I wanted to reach there quickly. Suddenly, everything happened so fast. I saw two bright head lights coming towards me, then “Bang!”
I flew out of the window and rolled down a hill. I rolled down speedily and was only stopped when I hit a tree. I screamed in excruciating pain. My head hurt badly. When I touched my head, my hand was covered in blood. I looked around for someone but I only saw a house not far from where I was. Just then, I realised it was my old house! I crawled slowly towards the house as it got bigger and bigger. After what seemed like an hour, I finally reached it. I was relieved. I lay there until darkness finally enveloped me forever.