I live in two alternate universes. One is a chaotic developing country where nothing makes sense; one is a First World island where everything is clean and seems to work. I work and play in the former but come home to the latter every few months.
Home is where the heart is but it is also where the guilt lies. Each time I come home, I’m confronted with how weird I am. Most friends are married and parents by now, while I’m still happily gallivanting away (and sometimes having cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner).
But I haven’t always been so out-of-the-mould. Growing up, I did all the correct things. Aced the major exams, got into the top schools and landed a promising job. In short, while I may not have been a flaming success, I wasn’t an embarrassment to the family. Then at the age of 27, I upped and went to the land of slums to do voluntary work. Eight years later, I’m still in the same country but doing something different, which allows me to have the odd Starbucks coffee now and then.
Yet each time I come home to the land of normal people, I’m confronted with an acute sense of failure. As the elder child in the family and the oldest grandchild on my mother’s side, I have failed both my parents and my grandparents.
Because I’m single, my mum has to listen helplessly as her friends boast about their children’s lavish weddings and adorable grandkids. It’s not that my mum needs to show off, but I hate it that she’s feeling like a pariah because of me.
Or when my grandma was dangerously ill earlier this year, everyone was trying to give her something to look forward to so that she would hang on and pull through. The best by far, I thought, was when my cousin told her, “I’m going to get married next year. Do you want to be there? If so, you cannot give up.” I couldn’t think of anything to promise and bribe my grandma to live.
My grandparents can’t understand why I choose to remain overseas and berate me for not coming home to look after my parents. Because I’m not married, my mum still worries for me although I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself. Because I don’t have kids, my parents are probably deprived of a fun distraction in their retirement.
And with each passing year as the odds of me getting a husband (not looking for one) and kids (don’t want any) fade into oblivion, these feelings of guilt get suffocatingly heavy. But the fact is, even if I could turn back the clock, I’d still choose to be where I am today. I am truly happy, but there’s a price to pay for my selfish choices.
So on this last day of 2012, as I prepare to return to the other alternate universe and head into the new year, I get to lay this burden of guilt down for a bit. It can wait for when I next come home again.