How many times she must have labored to make you stop crying, and how many times she held you, acknowledging your pain as you cried.
May 1, 2023
This piece is part of the Love Letters notebook, which features art by Ali El-Chaer.
You are watching your mother cry across the table at a dim sum restaurant. You never come here without her, because there is no menu and you don’t speak your mother’s language well enough to order on your own. If that didn’t make you feel guilty enough, the fact that your mother’s tears are falling into her shrimp roll really puts you over the edge.
You think to yourself how many times she must have seen you cry, how you came into this world from within her, crying. How many times she must have labored to make you stop crying, and how many times she held you, acknowledging your pain as you cried. Maybe it’s fair that now it’s her turn, but you are still unaccustomed to it, and you wince a little as she sniffles. It hurts to see your mother cry more than anyone else.
Your mother is crying about her own mother, and telling you how she, your mother, has spent her whole life feeling abandoned. “You were abandoned!” you want to say, but you can’t, because she is still talking and you don’t know if that will make her feel better, anyway. You don’t know the entire story, only that your mother lived for most of her formative years with an abusive aunt, who at one point had boiled your mother’s hands in a pot of water on the stove. You don’t want to remind her of that in this moment.
“Do you ever think about how a woman can hold three generations in her body during pregnancy?” your mother says. “Herself, her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter. Because all the eggs are in a female fetus.”
It’s kind of a miracle, as all birth is, but a miracle you are not sure you want to be a part of.
“Don’t you think, then, that a child could inherit the two generations of trauma that came before her?” your mother asks.
It is possible, which makes you even less eager to become a mother.
“I’m sorry if I didn’t learn how to be a mother from my own mother,” your mother says, crying again. This is the worst thing she can possibly say.
“You’re a good mother,” you say weakly. This is true for the most part, although it doesn’t feel accurate in this particular moment, as you smell rolling carts of fish and hear harsh Cantonese tones in the air. You suddenly feel sick, but you swallow back the nausea and take your mother’s hand. Your left hand grasps the cup of jasmine tea, still hot. It burns a little, but that’s welcome in this moment.
Your mother sniffs one last time, and says thank you. A waitress drops off your check. You grab it.
“I got this,” you say, as you put down the credit card your mother helped you get when you were seventeen years old, the one she helped you pay down before you knew what debt was. Today, when your mother doesn’t feel like a mother, it’s the least you can do.