I never did thank you. For raising me. Although we didn’t always connect, seemed worlds apart – I know you did your best in the end.
No person wants to admit this, always attempting to hold up a game face, but it was difficult to see you this past month. To me, you’re still that flawlessly skinned, sparkling girl – tinkling with laughter as you dole out the day’s soup.
A girl of the earth, the rolling countryside who dreamed of art school and marrying that doctor who use to slyly call on your parents, offering candies as he stole admiring glances. His attention left you wobbly and light-headed.
But travel was in store, a gleaming future in a land 5,000 miles away from your own: Canada.
Dad’s letters oozed sticky sweet, like pink cotton candy, promises of lust and love everlasting. A man on the brink of passion will offer anything. He said, “Sponsor.” You said, “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
With a seer’s ability to divine, I can pluck a memory of you passing through customs in Vancouver, swathed in a sleek pencil-line dress, clacking pointy-toed heels on industrial lino. Your serene beauty unsettles the officer attending to you, but his voice remains nasal, almost an accusatory tone, asking question upon question. Where is your medical? Who is your fiancee? Bring out your passport.
You are scared, don’t understand the jumble of words tumbling from his mouth. But your eyes shoot with fire, even defiance. You traveled all this way, not for a piddly gwailo to interfere, but a chance at renewal – a beginning.
Customs thrust paperwork at you, gesturing for you to move on. You gather luggage, a cardboard box full of gifts, and your dignity – walking with head high, back straight through the gate. But you pause. Slits of sun beckon you towards the window. You peer outside, noticing black oil spots staining the concrete where giant jet planes sleep. You breathe in the awe, not quite believing you actually took an airplane to this unknown land, where they speak in audio hieroglyphics. Maybe there will be more adventures. You secretly hope. You press against the reflective glass, delighted with the brushstrokes of green landscape in the distance.
You turn towards the exit, leaving an imprint of your forehead on the glass. He’s waiting. Your future.
At the marriage ceremony, the commissioner asks that both of you sign the registry. Foreign, unpronounceable names are replaced with David and Mary. An innocent, biblical union becomes official.
It’s now 1968, your baby girl is wailing in the corner, while your oldest boy piles wooden blocks into a precarious tower. You clean some rice and yell at her to stop. Your head pounds, wondering when David will come home from the restaurant, if at all. You steel yourself for who might burst through the apartment door. The drunk David. The gambling David. The David doused in another woman’s perfume.
Somewhere in your exhausted state, you recall the girl who loved to rip through the village after chores at the farm. When you felt shiny. Laughed easily. Had no worries. The image fades. Baby girl keeps crying and supper needs to be cooked.
By the time I arrived on the scene, it became clear the wrong David would generally come home. The one who disappointed you, hurt with inaction and philandering – paid himself before providing for the family.
Bit by bit, your dreams floated to the floor in a chalk dust cloud. Insubstantial. One day your flame died. I didn’t blame you.
The sickier you became, the harder it was for us to shield you. Your mind became a high level security prison, while your body degraded. I hated the thought of placing you in a nursing home, but it was the best choice.
3 years ago it was a downward slide when your brain tapped out. The doctors called it a mysterious coma, running test after test, finding nothing. Was it a sign that you had given up entirely? I still wonder.
Then you woke, resurrected from the murky, dense waters of death sleep. What wasn’t called a stroke took on all the characteristics. Now you exist on the plane between peace and chaos, holding on, but barely.
Tears roll down my cheeks as I write. I’ve asked myself why a lot lately. Why do this? Rip my entire life apart to not have a permanent home, steady friends or a solid career?
I do this for you, mom. To live the life you could never live for yourself. To be free.
Your slumped, atrophied body trapped in a wheelchair will be replaced with legs that will jump a train or hike up a mountain, marvelling at the vistas as you catch your breath.
Out of the inability to speak a booming voice will scatter birds, one that approaches complete strangers, trying to communicate in their language. And you will laugh. So hard it hurts your belly, stretching the opening of your jaw.
Your gnarled hand will spread open like a blooming flower, rolling textures between your fingers. Exotic fruit. Silk from a factory in Vietnam. Mosaic tiling in Hagia Sophia.
That feeding tube is banished, as you ingest stinging peppers, noxious smelling, sweet tasting Durian, steaming noodle soup from street stalls or syrupy cocktails.
We all have our reasons why we travel. Shut our eyes, pinch our noses, and dive in.
You are the best reason, the only one.