Stories of Gratitude: Cherilyn Tan
Editor’s Note: In this series, we show our appreciation for the people who have made a significant impact on our lives in a selfless, giving or life-changing way—sometimes even at the expense of themselves. And we wouldn’t be the person we are today, without their tenderness, love, support and compassion.
“Be thankful that you have food to eat, a roof over your head, and the opportunity to go to school and learn!” Mum would have this line ready for me every time I showed signs of rebellion or discontent as a child. “I used to have only porridge with soya sauce to eat, and worked in a factory every day, just to make money to survive.” Her hard truths are still a constant reminder to me of the comfortable life that I have today, especially whenever I feel that life is a perpetual uphill struggle.
Toys and books were a luxury, when I was growing up. I’d never read an English book from cover to cover until I was seven, because my grandma, who looked after me, didn’t know what a library was. Still, I was happy in my own little world where happiness comprised of watching TV, playing board games with my cousin, Sharon, and the occasional outing with my mum or aunties. I never wanted or hoped for anything else, not even a new toy or pencil case, and being an only child suited me because I loved the quiet and space to do and explore things in my own time. Being content was a constant, just as not working hard was unimaginable.
Growing up ambitious, it was always hard to find people whom I could relate to. Teachers and peers didn’t understand my gutsy attitude, and why I couldn’t just blend in. It was hard to bare my soul to anybody, because I’d be judged for being too crazy—too outlandish. Yet, I was simply doing what my mum had taught me: “Question when you don’t know, try when you haven’t tried, and give everything your best.” I was an intense child, and perhaps it was also my choice not to give anybody a chance to understand me, as I had no desire to explain myself.
You must think that by willing to work hard and not having anything to lose, nothing could go wrong for me in life. As is the case for most strong-willed women, a huge question mark remained when it came to finding a partner willing to support my ambitions, and with the self-confidence necessary to make the sacrifices accompanying that.
I have been in relationships with men that started out with them being supportive of my ambitions; all up until the moment those same ambitions started to eat into theirs. It all ended disastrously and in terrible emotional turmoil. The last guy I dated became possessive when I began getting more attention than him, and I was not allowed to work in a job that required travelling, or else risk being on the receiving end of some sort of silent treatment. I simply couldn’t express my hopes and dreams, or be comfortable in my own skin.
Just over a year ago, I took the plunge and exchanged vows with someone totally unexpected. And I’ve never been happier. I found a man who has selflessly taken up my ambitions for his, a man who has consistently and silently been providing me with the added confidence that I need to keep moving.
Instead of guilt-tripping me about my endless hours at work, he makes coffee for me at the start of my day. Instead of grumbling about how I have no mental bandwidth for his problems, he finds time to take care of things at home so that I can feel more relaxed. Instead of letting me manage my family matters alone, he takes it upon himself to communicate with my grandmother in a language that he is terrible at, and brings her to the doctor when I’m busy. Instead of leaving me to meet my friends and their children, he comes along and brings the children to the playground so I can have some alone time with my friends. All these are done without a single complaint.
I don’t commend him every time he takes it upon himself to make my life so much better, but I know that deep inside, he knows that I’m grateful. It is only with him that I realise loving someone can mean so much more—someone whose strengths truly complement mine, whose abilities are beyond my imagination, and whose persistence has made mine pale in comparison.
I used to think relationships were all about bringing two lives together and living the best of those two lives, in sync. With him now, we have carved out a third life together; one that began not just with me or him, but one that starts with us. It is constant work, and with every successful attempt, there’s more than a few frustrations before we get things right. But this is a life that is more than I could have asked for. He didn’t promise me an easy time, but he has shown me that he will always be there. He didn’t promise me a bed of roses, but that we will go through it all together, even if it is a bed of nails. He didn’t promise me laughter every day, but he cries with me when I cry.
Every tummy rub or kiss we share, I am thankful for the moment we are both in. I am so in awe of how much more of myself I have become, since Adrian came into my life. What I didn’t think was possible before, now is.