Mom, You Used to Teach Me

By Nhi


When I was a small boy, my favorite motion was curling and stretching my tiny legs on your lap during weekend, when we took the bus to visit grandmother’s house. Contrast to Western parents who championed independence by encouraging kids to be on their own seats, you wanted to cover me with your arms. When I asked you why you didn’t let me be on my own, you reasoned that it would be too selfish for a child to occupy a vacant seat. The bus was packed with other adults who needed rest in the midst of “horrors of life”. You thought so.

Mom, do you love me?

My pride furrowed my forehead. I rolled my eyes to show that I was very upset with you, climbing on your lap and folding my arms so that you would have to thread your fingers around my belly instead of my chest. To strangers, I looked like an obedient three-year-old embarking on the first phase of rebellion. I succeeded. In pretending. Inside, my childish heart was boiled with fierce ecstasy, of which fragile moments I could never touch again, even when my lips were overwhelmed by that chocolate moment of first kiss when I turned sixteen. Time stopped. The cessation of time made my ink of happiness stop being absorbed into my gestures. I stayed still. I stared out of the window. I glanced at the grizzled man holding a bag of bread and sausages on our right. I squinted at the fashionable woman sitting before us, who passionately tapped on usernames of her Instagram friends as a poisoning habit, but didn’t linger to look closely at even one picture they posted. I fingered your smooth skin. How warm it was.

Mom, can you love me less?

For my whole childhood, I hardly saw you. You were so ferocious toward me that you would pay my nanny twenty dollars an hour. Despite that she was an intelligent lady forcing me to read everyday, I preferred Mom. Supposed you hadn’t had a hectic work schedule, I would never have craved for your bony knees under my thigh every weekend. I liked us being on the bus, where there were a lot of nearby strangers who could only divert their eyes to a limited number of places. We got seen. Being printed on the same canvas with you – I enjoyed that.

Mom, can you choose another way to love me?


We lived in a big city. There were 8.4 million so-called New Yorkers. That’s almost half the 19.75 million residing in New York State. You said that because there were so many crammed into one city that offered millions of opportunities, people started to get too busy for conversations and smiles and friendly gestures and sometimes even basic human decency.

When I turned eleven, I told you that I objected. People didn’t help or smile at strangers because it would be dangerous. I held the door for a woman today when we both got in the apartment building, I told you, gesticulating because I learned that telling stories with hand movements would be more effective. Looking straight into her eyes, ostensibly random but actually half-intentional, I was waiting for the delightful sound of those words, “Thank you”. I used the word “ostensibly” and “half-intentional” because I thought those difficult words would impress you. She didn’t say anything. I then switched to finding a trace of a friendly smile on her cherry lips because she might be having a cold. I wanted to show you how I didn’t take it personally only after a second. No smile. I looked at her. She looked at me. Coldly. I shivered. She walked past me as if I didn’t exist. For a moment I thought I didn’t exist. That was a dangerous thought. Why would anyone have to feel like they were invisible? You said I was right. Right in the way most people are right when they get rid of a kind gesture they used to live with. Right with valid reasons, good sense and painful truths. We all want to protect ourselves from unwanted troubles and further burdens and emotional catastrophes that make our lives wither away more regretfully. You stroked my hair and then put your hands on my cheeks. But being kind isn’t just about doing kind things. It is about having kind thoughts. You lovingly deepened your look into my wide eyes. For example, the woman who you held the door for today might just got news that she was laid off. She wondered how she would find a new job and cared for her beautiful son as a single mom. Tears flooded her eyes but she couldn’t cry because she was an adult. She wondered how she would get by, about why everyone still seemed able to smile and do kind things while her world is shattered. It is unfair. It hurts. Do you think she still has the energy left to say Thanks? I didn’t say anything. I thought of the word “maybe” that you used. Why was everyone using that word to break an argument? I wanted to tell you, “Mom, maybe she is just pure rude” but I stopped because I know you would find a reason to justify her rudeness. I could find a reason to justify her rudeness.

You suddenly stood up and went to the bookshelf to take out a book called The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. You flipped the pages to page seventy-two.

During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. You pointed at the line you highlighted. I saw some words you scribbled next to that line: “When I have a son, I will show him this.”



Maybe I should have asked that woman, “Hey, how is it going? Are you alright? You don’t look well.”

Why are you not with me anymore?

Sometimes, a question is that important to someone. Receiving a question makes that person realize that he or she is still visible. Not invisible. Still exist. Not a ghost dwindling to the nothingness.

I wish death weren’t a thing in life. But, if death doesn’t exist, how do you find the fear that encourages you to love life?

 Why is life so beautiful? And how do I know that life is beautiful when I don’t feel it?

 On my eighteenth birthday, I wondered how many parts in me were functioning because of me. Zero, because I lived for you. All, because living for you was no different from living for me. Maybe, all children would regret certain things they did to their parents.

 But only, only after parents passed away.

 It is a universal truth any child will understand at some point in their lives, even when their parents are healthy and happy. We know this truth so well but no matter what we do to console our souls, we aren’t capable of changing it.

 Guilt is a part of being born to someone.

 I wish.

 I wasn’t born.

[This is a fragment of a fiction series I am writing for my class. Let me know what you think.]


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