Untitled II

The fact that it did happen at all fills me with regret and even makes me a little uncomfortable upon remembering it. Almost a decade ago, when it wasn't possible for me to make the trip home for a visit, my mother and cousin visited us instead. I was thrilled at first for here were two of my favourite people coming to see my home for the first time. But sad to say, even though it was an enjoyable visit overall, there were strained moments. And I wondered why.

No doubt this was the first time that my mother was seeing her only daughter's new home, that she actually had a life away from her own family and her country of birth. I realised later that it was different when we visited because she was still in her territory, among everything, as well as everyone, that was familiar. She had to adjust - just as I had to adjust - when she stepped foot on foreign soil. She was not just a tourist but a family member who was visiting her child - that she had raised - and her husband.

After they left, my phone calls to my mother became infrequent. There was just no desire to call her at all. I didn't make the effort like I once did. It was a terrible thing to do but I remembered her visit and how uncomfortable it sometimes was, the tension, the misunderstandings, the moments when I felt small. I wasn't mature enough and I couldn't let it go. Like a pitbull who had his jaws clamped on an object, I just could not let it go. I even confessed it to an elderly co-worker who smiled whilst shaking her head. She was a mother too and she understood. And I was grateful that she didn't judge me and my actions, or lack of it.

During a phone call to my mother some time later - for time does heal - she even asked if she had done something wrong as I didn't call home so often anymore. Of course I answered in the negative. And, over time, things were right between us once again, as if nothing had happened.

You didn't do anything wrong, Mum. You were just being my mother. And you had to adjust to this other person that I had become and to the new people in my life.

My grandmother had passed away whilst I was visiting family a few years ago. It seemed odd that I should be there and, at the same time, fitting, that I should be there to attend her funeral.

Her casket was in the funeral parlour for a few days and my mother, younger brother and I, visited during the day. Then my mother suggested that we should say the rosary. Something went wrong at the beginning as I was either saying it too fast or ... something. My mother got visibly irritated and told my brother to lead, to say it as they had always said it. It was like a slap in the face. I felt like an outsider. And having been away from home for so long, of course I was an outsider. But it felt odd to be treated that way.

We were all facing the casket. I felt the blood rushing to my face and the hot tears threatening to escape. And my mind screamed, or wanted to scream. I was getting angry with my mother and if I really gave in to the moment, I realised I would become angrier. I kept telling myself, "Don't do this." I had to remind myself that she was upset because her mother had just passed away. She had to shoulder all these other responsibilities. She was upset. So was I. This wasn't the time to be disagreeable nor dramatic. I wasn't sure what I would have said, anyway. But I kept my feelings under control, allowed the moment to pass, and said the prayers along with my mother and brother.

And all was well again.

I sometimes feel I have to make up for lost time for not being there for my mother. While I was at a shopping centre with my brother, I came upon a cake stall and decided I would surprise my mother with a few pieces. When I presented it to my mother at home, to ask her to have a piece, she refused. She just wasn't interested in trying a piece. My younger brother told her - in our Cantonese dialect - that her daughter thought of her and bought it specially for her. I had ambivalent feelings at the time, wondering why she would refuse something I had bought for her. And it was only at my brother's prodding that she seemed to understand. And I felt like I was out of the loop. Maybe being away for so long does that to you sometimes.

My mother and I didn't always understand each other. And there are times, even though we are so far apart, or because we are so far apart, that we sometimes don't. It has always been easy for her to confide in me, though. And, wherever I am, I've always appreciated that familiarity and intimacy. Over the years, she has learned to listen to me even more, to respect my decisions. I've learned to be more patient, to try and understand where she is coming from. For it isn't easy to be so far apart from someone that you love, to return for a brief visit, and then to leave again. It can't be easy. It's never easy. We enjoy the time together, taking each day as it comes, at the same time knowing that the departure date draws near with each passing day.

I try to understand my mother. She is the only parent that I have left, the only immediate link to my past, so to speak. And I want to make amends. I feel responsible somehow. Why, I don't know. But if I really felt responsible, surely I wouldn't have left home in the first place. Or did I choose to leave home because I felt responsible? Or maybe I felt that I wasn't needed? Maybe I felt it at one time, and just went with that feeling, not knowing that things could, and would, change. The incidents that happened in the past are probably remembered only by me because I have an elephant's memory.

She is the only parent I have left. I guess that says it all. And I do feel responsible for her, to some degree. I may have learned some lessons too late, unable to change the past, where she is concerned. Maybe the good that came out of it was that I actually learned anything at all.

Didn't Superman interfere with human history? Ah yes, but I'm not Superman. Hard lessons. But I needed to learn and to understand. I know it. I've always known it. But being unable to change the past can be one of the hardest lessons of all. Old news. It's all been said before. Yes and yes. And yet I had to say it again.

An elephant never forgets. Sometimes I wish I could.



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