I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My father was, at the time, the proud owner an up and coming chain of clothing stores. A prescient businessman, he enjoyed unparalleled success at a young age, and was able to provide his young family with all the luxuries of life. As such, my childhood was lavish. I was given the largest room in both our Nassim Road and Victoria Park Good Class Bungalows, and was waited on hand and foot by our two domestic helpers. I never remembered a time I did not have a personal chauffeur to drive me around, and it was a rude awakening when I had to learn how to buy food on my own in the school canteen, because I was unfamiliar with the concept of money and that I had to give something to get something. It would seem that life had been handed to me on a silver platter. Yet at the tender age of 11, I lost everything.

It was subtle at first. Fierce shouting matches in the dead of the night and cold shoulders in the mornings became common place, but I would not understand what they meant, not yet at least. I was told not to visit our property in Nassim Road as it was “under renovation”. My father started to come home later and later, and often came home heavily intoxicated, barging through the door at three in the morning raging that he would ‘win it all back from them the next time’. Not a few days later, I caught my mother concealing a black eye with powder and make up. The atmosphere around the house had grown icy, and my parents were no longer on speaking terms. It was an incredibly frightening and confusing time for me, not only because it happened so fast, but that there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The good fortune our family enjoyed for so long started to wane.

Fate reared its ugly head one day when I was called to the school office from class. I strode forward quickly, a sinking sense of foreboding in weighing heavily on my shoulders. I prayed fervently for a miracle, but deep down, I knew. The writing had been on the wall for a while now. I stepped into the office and saw my mother, eyes grim and downcast, clutching her purse in fierce defiance of fate. I excused us from the office and wordlessly walked her to the bus stop. Life from now on would not be easy, I despaired, holding my mother tightly. That night, we wept bitterly.

My father, once strong and wise, had given in to temptation and gambled away his fortunes, including our lives. In a moment of pig-headed terror, the coward took off with the little we had. We had to rebuild our lives without him. The first year was tough. His business partners pounced first, smelling blood. They threatened to sue us, and we begged them off with out of court settlements. The cars were repossessed, the houses long since gone. With prospects of high, steady wages slim, the once loyal staff packed up and scattered. We downsized to a dismal 2 room flat. My poor mother, a tai-tai (lady who lunches) with no qualifications other than her O Level Certificate, juggled three jobs, working as a cashier at the local supermarket, book-keeping at a hardware store on the week-ends at the nearby dry goods market and serving alcohol in a shady establishment at night. We hardly saw her then. I took it upon myself to relieve some of our financial burdens by delivering newspapers on my cousin’s second-hand bicycle in the wee hours of the morning, and worked like a madman to keep up in class and raise my two younger brothers, especially since we couldn’t afford the expensive tutors we had before.

As the man of the house, I had to mature quickly, especially when faced with wretched decisions like choosing between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table. It wasn’t long before I learned to really scrimp and scrape; hauling home discarded furniture, furnishing our table with ‘ugly’ produce, and constantly looking out for lobangs (cheap deals on offer) The persistent hounding by debt collectors and their thugs looking to reclaim my father’s debts also forced me to grow up, as I had to be vigilant to protect my family. I became good friends with the neighborhood policemen, and afterward they left us alone well enough.

That was three years ago. Our family’s situation has improved since then, and we finally have our own little apartment in Tampines. I did well enough for myself considering the circumstances and enrolled in a second-tier secondary school, and I was fortunate enough to stay away from vices and bad apples. Those three years were the most tragic in my life, but it taught me rich lessons. It taught me to be street wise and forged me into a principled and level-headed person, and it also opened my eyes to the hardship of the poor, something a rich elite like myself three years ago could never have understood. Life has taught me compassion and shrewdness in equal parts, and it has taught me to count my blessings, even the painful ones, and I am all the better for it.

This essay was originally written for the question: Describe the saddest experience you have had so far and how it has made you a better person.