“So, a new neighbourhood, huh?” His plain commentary started. My dad just got out of his car that he drove from my hometown, where he lived, to my new city here. Approximately 1,500km apart. He drove the super old red SUV through the highway and ferry boat to cross a strait because we lived on two separate islands. Fatigue grew to mar his face. He was accompanied by a driver from his office, but they took turns during the 3-day road trip and eventually rested for a while aboard the ferry. Their last miles from this city harbour to my new house seemed to be like the last straw on his back. So nothing made me happier than to take care of him and the driver by providing some refreshment and a clean bathroom. As arranged, the driver would stay at a motel a tad far from my housing compound which to be fair was far from anywhere. My dad would stay with me and he would sleep in the guest room.
I should have mentioned that there was another human being staying under the same roof. Two other living beings, actually. One was my husband’s dog, and the other, well, obviously, my husband. And that was how we formed a party of four, temporarily during Dad’s stay.
The first few days saw Dad help us set up the car and driveway. He installed some shelves, while my husband spent time in other parts. They checked the plumbing and we listened patiently when Dad made some offhand jokes on the layout. The material didn’t satisfy him, wasn’t even a patch on those he used to work with as a design and architecture consultant in his prime years and now still owned some stocks at that company. The quality was subpar. Well, you couldn’t really compare the buildings he supervised years ago with the present day’s. The material cost skyrocketed and prices inflated. Inflation, the consequential ghost of capitalism which now shamelessly marked me down as a victim of a massive oil and gas company layoff.
“You can start practising your driving again,” Dad said after refilling the oil and water tank. He would leave the car with us here and take a flight to come back home.
“Yeah, I’ll ask him to accompany me driving around town. There must be a quiet spot for me to get the hang of it.” The fact that my husband had plenty of time to accompany me driving because he was also laid-off, way earlier than I was, left unspoken. Lingered like a bitter aftertaste of pomelo rind in your tongue, no amount of water could wash it down. Only time could.
“The land they secure for the future highway project, I suppose.”
“Yup, so I’ve been told.”
“Good for you. Not always have your parents or husband drive you, you know.”
I swallowed lightly. This is the peak of loneliness, I thought. Had to survive alone. Come to think of it, my addled brain kept feeding me insecurities.
Then, there was something about Bonny, our dog. Bonny was an energetic mutt, my guess was due to the Belgian malinois blood in him. He needed constant stimulation, playtime, and walks. So when Dad was in our home, Bonny recognised him as a new source of excitement. The curiosity was palpable in the air and he jumped Dad much to his surprise.
(Much later after I started living separately from my husband, Bonny became a distant memory. The mongrel stayed in the city while I got back to the capital, an island away from my husband.)
My husband and I slowly and gradually taught Bonny about boundaries and respect. He didn’t respond well and quite often startled my dad with his paws trying to reach Dad’s chest or on him when he was horizontal on the sofa.
But the pinnacle of my mood after getting laid-off can be summarised in one single event, totally unassuming, yet pretentious at that time. The avocado smoothie triggered me.
It all started the most innocent way possible. My dad, tired as he was, sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor, overseeing our unkempt lawn. Bushes had been trimmed, but lemongrass and short papaya trees sprawling here and there. Bonny laying beneath the kitchen counter. A relaxing and slow day for us. I made some avocado smoothies. I knew it was his favourite, and my husband liked it, too. So I blended the green fruit, adding some dash of sugar for an elevated sweetness.
“Would you like some avocado smoothies?” I asked.
Dad just replied tersely, “Later.”
By any means, this was a harmless answer. Later means later, not No, not I hate your guts for shoving me avocado smoothies. And yet, both seemed happy to pop up in front of a series of unorganised thoughts in my mind. My shoulder slumped and I started making a fuss out of it.
“You didn’t like it,” I sounded clipped.
Which, obviously, faced with confusion painted on both of them. “Well, I like it. But I’ll have it later.”
My husband, taking a side, oh why you started taking sides now, “Later, honey, later. Not now.”
Nonsense, I pondered. They just felt sorry rejecting my offer and used different words to soften the blow. Newsflash, no amount of kind words could cover the real meaning. Somebody engraved in big bold invisible letters that I was a failure, even my father did not want the smoothies. My smoothies. Neither did my husband.
There I was. Jobless, knew barely anyone in the new neighbourhood since moving in here with my husband--our first house--, in a new city that I’d just known shy of four years due to this ex-work in oil and gas. Without a stable income in the next following months, since I only got some package entailing my lay-off. My husband got some, too. And yet, we still had a mortgage to pay, thank you very much.
Nobody wanted me. A broken thing. A damaged ex-employee. Somebody not good enough to keep employed or at least furloughed. Just, goodbye to me, they said. And now, even a glass of sweet avocado smoothies didn’t do wonders to my fractured self-esteem.
Fast-forward few years later, when things went downhill between me and my husband, and the in-laws in tow, I kept returning to Dad for my source of strength. He disagreed on some points of my dispositions towards the whole problem in my marriage, but he understood why I did what I did. His words kept me sane and I tried looking at the things from a different perspective that he offered.
I composed an email, I quoted,
The problem with being strong is people can't sense that you need help. They might catch the wind you're in therapy. But here's the thing about mental illness: people try or tend to brush it off. If you're asthmatic (and I know and you know this because Mother and I are both asthmatic), you tell your family and they nod and help to prevent the triggers. But when you're in therapy, suddenly you're a snowflake and you have to be strong because no one spares time for your story.
He’d read this and understand. Didn’t expect him to pick a side. I just wanted to find some rest from a man who never tried to be a dick towards me, consciously or subconsciously. And the population of such beings consists only of one man. Dad.
I looked back at that encounter in one afternoon where the days felt slow and my existence an insignificant part of this universe. It had long dawned to my realisation that Dad didn't reject my smoothie. He was still exhausted after crossing strait and enjoying the play with my dog. It was no big deal, really, from his point of view. He would drink the smoothie later, and did he drink it. It was my mind trying to cope with the recent loss of a job that failed to not read into something too much. The trauma left me unhinged and associated any delayed acceptance as an outright rejection. It was my mind playing its own trick. Dad wasn't and is never made aware of my feeling at that time, and all water is under the bridge now.
I hit Send.