Late bloomer that I was, I don't think I knew what independence really meant until I left home to get married and to start anew in another country. But I had a taste of it before I actually left home as I had to tie up all the loose ends, packing and planning.

It was an eye-opening experience as I saw the bank teller cut up my card - my card - in front of my eyes. I had just closed my account, shutting the doors that were once opened to me. It felt rather strange as I stood there and her scissors went snip. I'm even tempted to use the word, surreal. It was symbolic: literally cutting my ties with all that was once so familiar and always there for me. And for a brief moment, I wondered if I should be doing what I was doing. Was it right? And would I regret it?

Never one to eat alone at a public place, I had some time to kill and had my lunch at a fast food restaurant. It was my first time eating alone and it felt natural and easy, as if it was about time. Almost everyone else had someone else with them or were with a group. I was alone but I didn't mind. And it was strangely comfortable. I actually liked it. And I wondered why all this was happening. It was wonderful to be independent, to come and go as I pleased, running errands, stopping for a break.

I knew that I could be married and still be independent and have time to myself. But I would be part of a couple. It would no longer just be me alone.

A few years earlier, I had popped into a cinema for an afternoon movie before an interview. It was done on the spur of the moment. I thought it was my first time watching a movie all by myself but I was mistaken. Reading through old diary entries recently, I came across one which mentioned that I had watched a movie by myself when I was about sixteen years old. I was on my way home after school and had decided to step into the cinema for an afternoon movie. And I had obviously enjoyed that experience. Walking in to the theatre by myself. Sitting through the entire movie by myself. Walking out by myself. I liked it.

These days, I have been known to entertain myself with a movie or a walk through a shopping mall. It can be a lonely experience, as one can't help but look around at the families enjoying a day out together, or friends talking and laughing together, or even younger or older couples walking hand-in-hand, spending an afternoon at the movies or at the mall. One can't help but notice them. And I don't think I really feel lonely until I see a family together. I miss my family. I miss being part of a family, holding a young child by the hand or chatting with one's children as we wait in line to enter the theatre. I observe young mothers -- or even older mothers -- with their young children or their teenagers. These mothers are independent women but they are not always free to do as they please for they have other responsibilities where their children are concerned.

Running a household, with or without children, requires certain responsbilibities and commitments. I realise it is entirely different when children enters one's life. Having children changes everything, they say. I have seen it. And I know it to be true.

I am more independent now than I have ever been. There are times when I cherish that independence, even if it means doing things by myself, being by myself, walking by myself. Then there are the times when I feel hollow inside because of that independence. There is no child's hand to hold, no daughter to go clothes shopping with, no son to worry over as he goes bike riding. There are no children to sit and talk with at the end of the day.

Even when I was very shy during my younger years, I had an inkling of what it was like to be independent. But I knew that I wanted more. Didn't I always want to be independent, to feel and to be seen as independent?

Sometimes it is as if I'm the one who is standing outside whilst everyone else is inside. I choose to. Or do I?



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