Do you still remember when your Mom was your everything?
|Goodbye, Halcyon Days
My feet ache as I walk toward my home from a draining day at school. Bags weigh heavy under my eyes, tempting my eyelids to shut myself down to a sleep that could leave me in bed for 11, 12, maybe even up to 17 hours of sleep, my record. The music I blast in my ears keep me focused enough to make it home. As I enter into my restaurant apartment to assure my parents that I have made it back safe, the enthusiastic sound of my mom’s voice fills my ears. “Jonathan! I’m so glad you’re home. How was your day?”
“Uh, my day was normal, as usual, can I just get something to eat so I can head upstairs home already.”
“Well then, can I get a hug please?”
I dart my eyes at her.
“No. Now isn’t the time for games or jokes okay? I’m not 4 or 5 years old anymore. I have homework to do, essays to write, tests to study for.”
The nearby customers giggle.
“Kids are just growing up so fast these days, ya know.” My mom sighs and blushes slightly.
“As you can see, my son just doesn’t love me as much as I love him.”
Was that another joke?
My earliest recollection of myself was that of me waking from bed. My mom comes into the room “Hi Jonathan.” She planted a wet kiss to the forehead then curled her fingers. “Goochee Goochee Goooo.” I used to break into breathless laughter when she tickled me. She often did the same to my little brother who is a year younger than I am. I would often cry, “Mawr Dee Dee.” That’s what I would say. It was broken Cantonese for “I don’t want little brother.” When my brother did something cute or flattering to my mom, I would often follow by saying “Mom, look at me. Look at me! Look what I can do!” Sometimes, I cried when she didn’t look back. I pushed my brother around and there were a couple of times when I attempted to shove him off my mother’s bed when I crept into her room during the middle of a cold or scary night to sleep with her.
My brother eventually began to drift from my mom and lean towards my dad. While my brother and dad bonded over Chinatown food pickups and Vietnamese Noodles, I was with my mom at MACY’s and fancy restaurants. People, ever since I was little, would tell me that I looked more like my mom than I did my dad, save the big head. She said that it was because I was smart, maybe even smarter than she was.
Around 7 years old, I was introduced to Kelvin, a cousin. He was a year older than I was but was in the same grade as me because he was held back in 1st grade. Apparently, he skipped a semester’s worth of homework for all his subjects. He helped me enjoy the world of Dreamcast and Playstation. When he moved in downstairs from where I lived, I was overjoyed. Growing up with him to my teenage years, I came to recognize that he was a very independent child. He was naturally more mature than I was and he was a hero to me. He always seemed to have money and he could do whatever he wanted. Order pizza? Spend hours at a friend’s house? Sleep till 3 pm? No problem. He had quite a life. Time to eat dinner? No it’s okay. He’s busy with games. Time to study? He “already” did it. Or he would “get to it”. Time to come home? No, he still has 45 minutes left to spend at the net-café. That life appealed to me.
Sometimes, as I went to bed, I stayed awake trying to tune in on the screaming and yelling of my aunt, uncle, and Kelvin downstairs. I even witnessed a time when Kelvin wrestled with his dad to the ground. One day, among this ruckus, as my mom was driving, I would tell her, as usual, the fun things Kelvin and I did together. It’s my 7th-grade self chattering excitedly with my mom about just how awesome my day was, as if I was a teenage girl squealing at her best friend about that cute guy who looked at her on the train. My mom gave a sigh and blinked rapidly several times.
“Kelvin is not a good role model, don’t learn from him.”
It was just me and my mom in the car, but it was Kelvin who spoke.
“I don’t think you understand. Just shut up, mom.”
In 8th grade, my mom decided to have me work part-time in our restaurant. They said it was for my own good. But when my friends decided to come and order food from my restaurant, I blushed and chuckled weakly when I asked what food they wanted. Then, from the counter, I would watch them joke and talk energetically amongst each other. Sometimes, when I could see them in the distance through the windows, I would go to the bathroom or pack noodles in the back for half an hour, an hour, sometimes two hours, just to make sure I didn’t have to see them. Other times, when I wasn’t working, and I came to the restaurant with friends to pick up some drinks for the fun day I was having, Mom would always ask me if I was having a good day and wished me safety. I often replied commanding her to “stop embarrassing me” and “leave me alone with my friends”. I remember one time, after a response like that, she swallowed hard and looked down. “Well, do you want me to get your friends something to eat?”
It was the last day of my sophomore year in my high school, Stuyvesant. I sat at my desk dazed, flicking a pen, over and over. A paper, rolled up into a ball rests next to the garbage can in which it missed. It was my report card. My mom stood by the doorway to my room.
“What are you still doing here? Get out.”
“Jonathan, you can do so much better than this, I don’t think you’re smart because I know you are. You see though? You didn’t listen to me and you just did facebook, facebook, friends, friends. I tried warning you. All year! And it’s all for nothing, nothing you hear me!”
“What are you saying?! I try mad hard in school. I have assholes for teachers and I’m not that smart, dream child every fuckin’ Asian parent wants.”
She could see that I was lying. Lying to her and lying to myself. The weight of it all and the thought that maybe she could still be proud of me was too much and that maybe that’s why I let her down. She came and held me close as I cried into her food stained apron.
As I sit in the restaurant, deafened and oblivious to hustle and bustle of the rainy day food orders by my headphones, my mom hands me a Styrofoam container in a bag. In it, is chicken fried rice with honey wings, my favorite. I take out the keys to my house out of my pocket.
“Make sure you do your homework, okay?”
“Yeah yeah, I got it.”
I get up and catch a glance at her turning around and sighing again so I tap her shoulder and I raise my arms outstretched.
“What, son, did I forget to give you a water?”
I look and see that my arm was coincidentally pointed toward the refrigerator.
“No, Mom, uh I’ll give you a hug.”
What the hell, though really? Who really says that? Hugs should happen spontaneously or be invited without words at the very least. But she still comes in and I close my arms, giving the awkward pat on the back. I haven’t hugged her for what was maybe months. Then I gave her a quick peck to the cheek. I haven’t kissed her for what was definitely more than five years. It was a moment in which I just wanted to let my mom know that even though I wasn’t 5 years old, I still loved her the same 11 years later. I certainly won’t be crawling into her bed anymore, she wouldn’t be giving me the tickle torture anytime soon, not that I would let her, and I wouldn’t care if she gave attention to my brother because it meant more freedom for me. But I still had to say it. “Uh, mom I lo..lov…” “Jonathan it’s okay, this is already a lot coming from you in one day”, she teased.
“Just go home. I know you’re tired.”