Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
I was 5 when my parents left me.
My parents had been raising me up to that point, and we lived together, sometimes with my grandmother.
My mother said she was going to the toilet, but she never came back
It was at the end of 2004, my parents and I went on a trip to Perak to visit my mother’s family. On the way back, my dad had to go somewhere on business, and my mum and I were supposed to come back home together.
Instead, my mother took me to a high rise building that looked like an office. I remember it was on a very high floor, and I was sitting on the floor, playing with some toys while my mother talked to this man that I had never met.
I remembered what happened next very clearly.
While I was playing, my mother told me she was going to the toilet. I noticed that when she walked out the door, she walked in the other direction to the lift. But I didn’t think much of it at the time and kept on playing.
Suddenly, I heard a ding. I looked back at the lift, but the doors were fully shut so I didn’t think there was anything amiss. It never crossed my mind that she entered.
Time went by, and she still hadn’t come back. I started crying hysterically while the man was in the room.
My next flash of memory was when I was sitting in the backseat of the car with the mysterious man driving. I was still crying hysterically.
He distracted me by asking me to watch the colours of traffic lights, and it worked, because I stopped crying.
We soon reached a house. I remember when I entered, there were a few other children welcoming me. The rooms were filled with bunk beds and I was assigned to one of the bottom ones.
I was living in a prison, not an orphanage
I recall not having any clothes since my mum didn’t pack anything for me. The older children, aged about 7 and above, had to give me their old hand-me-downs to wear. Their clothes were huge on me, but I didn’t have a choice.
All this while, I thought those children were the caretaker’s children. It was only when I got older that I realised I had been sent off to an orphanage.
There were times I would get scolded because of the language barrier. Everyone spoke english while I barely knew any.
At dinnertime, I was a picky eater who only ate my mother’s or grandmother’s cooking. Whenever I refused the food, they would make me kneel on a piece of newspaper with sand and pebbles on it until dinner time was over. My knees would bruise and bleed from kneeling.
They always had routine food so I had to do this at least twice a week, whenever they served pizza or rice with curry. Before it could heal, I had to do it again.
During those terrible months, I would always think to myself, “When are my parents coming to get me out?”
I’m sharing this because I just want my parents to know what I went through. Especially my mother, so that she can be guilty for what she did.
After 4 months, I was found by my uncle
After a week or two of leaving me, my mother called my father and came clean to him about what she did. My father contacted his older brother and begged him to find me.
At the time, my uncle was away working in Jakarta and could only come back during the weekends. So on his weekends, he would take a flight back to Malaysia and search for me.
My mother didn’t know where the orphanage was, so my uncle had no idea how to find me. They looked for me for about 4 months. To this day, I still don’t know how they figured out where I was.
My uncle carrying me
The orphanage was Christian-based, so we would go to church every Sunday. One day, I saw my grand-uncle in the elevator while I was going up.
I recognised him and said “Hi, grand-uncle.” I don’t know why, but I just assumed he went to church here too. It never crossed my mind that he was there to get me out.
After the prayers, I saw my uncle at the lunch table. He spotted me and grabbed my hand. My uncle and grand-uncle took me, and we marched up to an office with the authorities.
My uncle had to argue with the caretakers, because they did not want to let me go. He threatened them, saying that he will sue them for keeping me there illegally with no documents. That’s when they gave in and let me go.
When I heard this, I was overjoyed. I thought to myself, “I am going back home to my parents!” This whole nightmare would finally be over.
As my uncle drove me back to the area I was staying at, I remember noticing how it looked different, that there were buildings that were being constructed.
Unexpectedly, they drove past all the turns to go to my house and instead went to my grand-uncle’s house. My parents hadn’t claimed me, and I had to go stay with my grand-uncle since my uncle was still working in Jakarta.
I was dejected that my parents never came back, but at the time, I was just grateful to be out of the orphanage.
I stayed with my grand-uncle, but I had no appetite
It was lonely staying at my grand-uncle’s, as nobody was around. My grand-uncle and his wife would go to work while their children would go to school or universities. Their maid was my only company.
I wouldn’t talk or eat so their maid got me to eat by giving me my comfort food, rice and tomato sauce. Although the thought of disgusts me now, it used to be my favourite food back then.
The only other time I would eat was when my uncle was back from Jakarta. At one point, every weekend, all my relatives would gather in the house just to get me to eat. When the weekend ended, my uncle would leave, and I would go back into my depressed mode.
Eventually, after 2 months of this cycle repeating itself, they realised I was not fine. That’s when my uncle called my grandmother, and she came back to Malaysia and took me in.
Towards the end of 2005, my grandmother and I stayed alone. After my uncle’s project was done in Jakarta, he moved in and we officially started living together.
My grandmother and I
My parents would visit me occasionally, just to disappoint me again and again.
A little while after I started staying with my grandmother and uncle, my dad came back to visit me, without my mother. He would come to see me very inconsistently throughout the years.
Although I didn’t get to see my parents often, I would talk to them whenever they called. The calls would vary between once a week to once every few months.
My mother only came to see me once, when I was 7 or 8. That time, she came with gifts, and I was just over the moon to see her.
My uncle however didn’t feel the same. He was furious with her and almost kicked her out. The only reason he let her stay was because of me. My mother was upset and blamed me for my uncle’s anger towards her.
Despite her actions, I was just happy to have the opportunity to get my parents back. To my disappointment, they disappeared a while after that.
Every year, I would beg them to come on my birthday. My dad would come sometimes, but my mum would promise that she would show up and wouldn’t. It was all just empty promises.
My dad and I on my birthday
For my 10th birthday, I pleaded with them to never leave and stay with me. They showed up two weeks after my birthday, and stayed for a while. But when they left, that’s when I lost all my hopes.
That was the switch that made me go, “F**k it,” with my mother. I stopped answering her phone calls and she never showed up since.
By then, I understood: they didn’t want to see or know me as their daughter.
I didn’t feel completely that way towards my dad, though. He was just a little bit more around and he was not the one who sent me to the orphanage.
I just wish I could ask my father why he chose my mother over me. Why isn’t he more angrier with my mother for leaving me in the orphanage? Why didn’t he come back for me?
My dad used to visit us constantly. That was until 2018, when he didn’t come to my grandmother’s deathbed. I called him and texted him to visit my grandmother in the hospital, but for the first time, he never showed up.
After my grandmother died, I realised I didn’t need these connections with these people anymore.
The emotional trauma that I still have to deal with to this day
When I was younger, I was ashamed of it. I used to make up lies with my friends saying that my parents just work and live in Johor or Perak. I didn’t want to explain a situation that I barely knew the answers to.
Now, I live with so much anxiety in me and get triggers very easily. One common thing people do that breaks me down, is when someone jokes around because of my eating habits. It reminds me of the time I had to kneel down on the grainy sand back in that orphanage.
Sometimes, I see my friends, my relatives, even sometimes in movies, going on family trips or having family pictures. Or it could be them having celebrations with their whole family around.
I would think to myself, “Why can’t I get that?” That’s when I really felt like I was missing my parents’ presence.
It doesn’t always have to be family pictures or trips. It could even be something small.
Like when I go to a restaurant and I see a family eating together. Or when I see a parent hand-feeding their child. It just reminds me of how I never had that growing up.
Now, I have a hard time trusting people.
I don’t trust anyone and I have built a wall despite how close I am with my friends.
I just like the idea of people not knowing me. It’s scary to get into relationships too because I have the constant fear that they might judge me or perceive me as someone ‘damaged’.
Every person wants to fall in love and get married. While a huge part of me wants that, reality always wakes me up. I feel like if I were to go through with marriage, I will face so many problems. The fear that married life will disagree with me because of what my parents did haunts me.
It’s not fair that I get judged for my parents’ actions when it’s not something I asked for. To be someone who has been an outcast almost my whole life and to go through that again with marriage, I don’t want to deal with it.
I feel like I live a double life, a part of living this life and another one is this cheerful girl the public sees me.
Maybe if this didn’t happen, I would be the girl that I’ve always strived to be and this hidden person would not exist.
One thing I could tell my parents now?
Despite whatever they put me through, I turned out well. I’m the top in my class, I have good friends and family, and no thanks to them.
This is what they missed out on and it was their loss for not grabbing the opportunity to get to know me.
I realise now that I should never have had my hopes up and instead focus on what I had.
I was so focused on only caring about what I didn’t have, my ‘parents’, that I was blinded to what my uncle and grandmother gave me all these years.
Now I know who my true family are.
For more stories like this, read: 6 Signs You Have Narcissistic Parents and “I Don’t Remember What My Dad Looks Like Anymore.” As A Child Of Divorce, Here’s What It’s Like.
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