“My father was a charming man. Large of belly and thick of neck, with an appetite for lard-heavy meepok, fried Spam, and braised pork belly. He could and did talk to absolutely anyone. He was my cousins’ favorite uncle and my classmates’ favorite Dad,” Rachel Heng says of her father, a lawyer with a gambling problem so severe, he lost millions. Heng writes beautifully about family bonds and what home means as she reflects on what she, her mother, and her brother faced attempting to find a stable housing situation in the years after her father abandoned them.
Our second home, if you could call it that, was the living room in the small flat of an aunt. Thus began my years of sleeping on the floor. I did not feel it as a hardship. At nine, sleeping on the floor seemed fun, like camping, though I had never been camping.
I remember little about my aunt’s flat. When I think back on this time, I think of the slice of apple my mother had told me to eat that I secretly threw out the window. The next day, my aunt found it in the common corridor outside the front door, shriveled and brown, beset by ants. I remember the hot slick of shame as I lied that I had no idea how it got there. I was punished nonetheless, made to stand in a corner in this unfamiliar place, reflecting on my crime.
My grandmother spoke Hokkien, no English, and little Mandarin. I did not speak Hokkien and my Mandarin was poor, so we spoke little. I was scolded by her often. Though I remember little of the substance of her scoldings, I remember their tone well: aggrieved and indignant, which at the time I took for dislike, but now I understand to be love.