A Small Thought on Regret

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“Kupit” is a Filipino word that pertains to a specific kind of stealing. I did a quick google search and actually learned a new word, pilfering. This word means stealing in small quantities. This definitely fits a significant portion of what ‘kupit’ means. It also takes place in location that someone has regular access to. Examples are the parents’ wallet in their dresser at home or the cash box in the business where you work.

I wonder if people who have done this have experienced regret for what they have done. Given that I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, this happens quite frequently actually. They are done either by employees or the kids themselves. I was one of those.

Perhaps the small quantity makes it easy to dismiss.

Perhaps the perceived infrequency makes it easier to not feel remorse about it.

In my case there were a few reasons.

There were times when I felt that I didn’t have any other options, because the shame of asking money from adults who are not my parents was just too unbearable. Being unable to communicate my needs – and those of my brother – was too stifling. The adrenaline rush of trying to sneak away the yellow-coloured 500 peso bill felt like a better alternative.

As children who lost their primary caregivers, I realized now the importance of knowing who is really in charge in all aspects of our care. In true Filipino “raised by the village” fashion, various aspects of our care were delegated to various relatives by our legal guardian. Based on my child-like observation at the time, being the eldest of my mother’s siblings enabled him to make these requests with ease and authority. The challenge is, I got confused and surprised by how certain needs were met.

After the accident, my brother was separated from me, living in the city an hour away with another aunt and uncle. I didn’t know who thought of the idea. I eventually got the hang of helping to make a living by operating the sari-sari store and knew that I am significantly in charge of our livelihood. I had to ask my other aunt to sign Permission Forms, but I didn’t feel comfortable asking her to attend PTA meetings. Instead, I would go on my own, persuading my homeroom teacher to represent myself.

The fragmented upbringing continued as a pattern. A few years after living together, it was decided my brother should go back to the city for school. I didn’t know who. Being separated suddenly again was disorienting, as I started high school feeling alone. I didn’t know who paid for his school fees. I continued to live with my grandmother. And then, the relatives my bother lived with suddenly got approved to immigrate to Canada, prompting her to move there to be with him. I lived alone in my store for a little over a year, functioning like a student during the day and a businessman after hours. Revenue from opening the store during nights and weekends was not enough, so I started selling snacks to my classmates during recess. It worked fine until it did not.

In 2005, it was decided that I move to the city to live with my brother and cousin. Turns out, letting a 13 year old fend for herself can only work for so long. School registration was frustrating because an adult had to accompany me. Asking for tuition money was humiliating. My heart sank about having to ask for uniform and book fees. 2007 was a turbulent year. The sexual assault reinforced the idea that the key support for me is not there. Fighting hard in school to be valedictorian added pressure. The application and then eventually immigrating to Canada happened that same year. New people are ‘in charge’ now, but I’m not sure who and how. I have a different legal guardian, but living in another relative’s house. My brother lives in a different home, and I wasn’t sure how his school fees are paid – let alone the one who will cook meals and pack lunches.

Part of helping me move on with my life is trying to trace back the entanglements in my psyche.

I think that the saying “live life with no regrets” is causing me more confusion that freedom. This is because objectively speaking, doing certain things are indeed wrong, hurtful, or unproductive. As a teenager, yelling at adults in a heated conversation is not helpful. Stealing money is not right either. Self-harm didn’t really help with coping.

But I acknowledged the reasons that motivated my younger self to do them. Back then, they were compelling. With the distance of time and perspective, they are flawed but understandable. The pang of guilt was better than the pangs of hunger, which makes incremental stealing more tolerable. It can be hard to assess the hurt I am inflicting towards certain adults, when I don’t even know what their role is supposed to be in my life. As I also learn more about the teenage brain, I feel compassion for younger me from the early to late 2000’s. There are moments that felt turbulent and explosive, that the sharp pain of self-inflicted punches felt more comforting. At least temporarily, it masked the layers of dread, uncertainty, and feeling violated by someone else.

Learning from past mistakes seems to be an important concept, but something that does not have a defined roadmap. Forgiving our own – and other people’s – mistakes, is also quite convoluted and confusing. It seems like it will be a life long process, and that is okay.

 


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