English Writing—Childhood Memories

One of my earliest memories is of my 8 year-old sister, JY, being sent away to live with my aunt’s family, in the distant south. I was 3. Joining us was another sister JP. We also had a brother, aged 5, whom we had never met. He had been living with the same aunt since birth.

”Why me, why not them?” JY was sobbing, pointing to 6 year-old JP and me.

”Because you are the oldest.” Came the cold, stern response of mother.

I didn’t know then that our family’s living quarters were very tight even by Chinese standards then: 2 adults, 3 growing kids crowded into one bedroom of a 2-bedroom apartment, sharing kitchen and toilet with another family of 4, who lived in the other bedroom.

My mother hated dusty frigid Beijing. She fought with dad constantly about when they would “go back home” — to the wet warm south where they both had been born and loved. But movement of people or jobs seemed impossible in the China of the 1970s.

I suspect there was another reason why JY was sent away. ”Damn it, if I can’t go back, I’ll send my kids back!” I imagine mother telling herself in desperation.

After many tries my parents probably gave up the idea of going south. About 7 years after JY was sent away we got our own tiny 2 bedroom apartment. Soon JY and my brother JJ joined us.

The family reunion was a bittersweet occasion. My father was probably relieved the family was finally together. JP and I eagerly waited for our siblings but were soon baffled by the new family dynamics.

Mother seemed more depressed as her dream was now completely dashed as all her kids joined her to the hated north.

JJ must have been bewildered by his new environment. He had grown up to regard our aunt and uncle as parents and our cousins his own siblings. Now he suddenly was thrown into a family of total strangers and told these people were actually his real family. How traumatic can this be for a young teenager?

Sadder still was what was to become of JY. While initially happy to be back home, JY never recovered from the trauma of being forcefully separated from her family at age 8. She later married an alcoholic and succumbed to breast cancer at age 50, leaving a young daughter to fend for herself.

What kind of traumas and pains JY had gone through in her short life, I may, sadly, never know.