I forget Mother loves me, sometimes. All I remember from my childhood is being left alone all day, not seeing her, and missing her. From infanthood, I was separated from Mother, so that probably affects some of my negative thinking as well. When I was a few months old, I was sent to China with a stranger. They took me to my grandparents house, and my grandparents raised me until I was four. Then, I was sent back to America, to reunite with Mother. Because my parents couldn’t take care of an infant while also working hard to earn money, they sent me to my grandparents. An easy solution, it seems. Out of sight, out of mind. I wonder if she missed me in those years. I’ve never asked.
My first memory of Mother is at LaGuardia Airport. I’m holding a stranger’s hand while they escort me around the loud, bustling footsteps of businesspeople who clearly know their destinations. I’ve been crying through the whole flight because I miss Grandma. I am still crying. Everything is blurry. I hear my nickname called. Mei yang! I look up. A skinny, vibrant woman kneels at me. She looks like the pictures of Mother I saw in China. Grandma told me this is Mother. She asks me if I know who she is. I nod. I cry. Mother hugs me. I am warm. I’m not sure why I immediately knew that she was Mother. Afterwards, Mother’s younger brother, my uncle, comes over and hands me a vanilla-colored teddy bear with a sparkling blue bowtie. I stop crying. While we wait for a taxi, I show my new family my Kung Fu moves that I practiced in China. I bet they were scared. They tried to hide it with laughter.
We moved to Georgia not long after. We bought a house. My parents started a small business, a Chinese restaurant. Their business traumatized me. Because of the restaurant, my parents both worked 12 hours a day, every day, all year long. For money, of course. I got to see them on the weekends. During the week, after school, I go to the kitchen to get a snack, usually a tangerine or some peanut milk, my favorite. After eating, I’d do homework. After homework, I’d play a little bit by myself. For dinner, there is always a takeout box of restaurant leftovers from the previous night in the fridge. I microwaved that. I ate by myself. Alone, in the quiet house. At night, the moments between flipping off the light and dashing upstairs into my bed were agonizing. I was scared of the dark. On the weekends, I went to the restaurant with them. I helped around as soon as I looked old enough—bussing tables, sweeping floors, getting drinks, cleaning tables. This all started when I was six. The same year, I also started Chinese school, which were held on Sundays. This means that I only saw my parents once every week during the school year. There were nights I curled in bed, reading a comic book until I heard the soft humming of their car enter the driveway. Only then did I go to sleep.
I grew up in this environment, limited emotional and physical interaction with my parents gave me the impression that I was not loved or I was not enough, which I still think that somedays. Flashforward to now, I am a college student, home because of the pandemic. In one of the rarest moments, I remember that Mother loves me just as much as I love her.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I got her flowers and some cash because that’s what she likes. At night, my dad cooked. He hasn’t cooked in at least five years. His cooking still tastes the same—bad. Just before dinnertime, a few of dad’s friends came over. I did not know about this at all. When were we throwing a party? No one notified me. My siblings and I decided to wait it out. We were uncomfortable eating with strangers, especially my dad’s friends because we had to exercise the politeness that I did not have in my body as of then. After half an hour of waiting, Mother came upstairs and told us to come down to eat. She organized a table separate from the dining room for us. All the bowls of noodles already sitting on the table, waiting for us. She also brought our drinks, napkins, chopsticks, and some snacks. She knows I like snacking after dinner. There was even a plate of purple sweet potatoes, which are my favorite. She cooked them for me. We went to eat. It was much more comfortable. She came to check on us a few times. After dinner, my siblings usually eat fruit a few hours later. Since my dad’s friends were still downstairs, they couldn’t go downstairs to have their snack. Right on the dot, Mother came upstairs and brought a bag of three oranges, already peeled, for us as our after-dinner treat. At that moment, I was moved. Not to mention, she did all this for us on Mother’s Day.
I haven’t felt this kind of love in a long time, or I just haven’t acknowledged or recognized her love. As a young child, I was bitter all the time. Why did my friend’s parents come to the school PTA meetings? Why did their parents come to eat lunch with them on their birthdays? Why did their parents come to call them for dinner when we played outside? Why didn’t I have my parents by my side? I was self-centered. I only wanted my parents to be with me. I couldn’t understand the necessity of money. They were working so hard everyday to put food in my mouth, to buy me new clothes, and to have a roof over my head. To her, I am forever in debt.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
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