A Letter for Mom

I remember the days of our struggles, though the struggle was really yours; I was merely along for the ride, often adding to the difficulty of living in the 1980s. I'm sorry I ran away from the bus in Istanbul on our trip to get our visas, but I'm glad we caught the robber who attacked the bus driver.

A year later our true journey began, just me & you. A small apartment with 1 bed, and you gave it to me, made it mine. You slept on the uncomfortable couch and decades later your back aches because of it. I bugged you incessantly when you needed a well-deserved nap on that white couch. I was just bored. I hid chocolate under the cushions, and when I forgot one time during the summer, I flipped them over to conceal the stains. I thought I was so clever, but I was simply buying myself time.

We didn't have a car at first, but that didn't stop you from taking the bus to get groceries while I cluelessly stayed home and watched cartoons. A sudden smile would emerge at the sound of the key entering the lock. You'd kick the door open with both your hands full of heavy plastic bags just dying to rip apart, your face covered with sweat and smog from the City of Angels. I should've helped you then.

I'm terribly ashamed of when I asked you to carry me on the sidewalk because I was "tired" one summer day. Such a lame excuse for a 6-year-old.

The early mornings, the smell of tea brewing in the kitchen, the same walk to the grey elevator and the descent into the garage that sometimes served as my own personal playground. The daily routine of taking me to school and my shameful request to drop me off before the main entrance because our cheap Datsun 210 with faded paint couldn't compare with the Corvettes and Jaguars driven by the parents of my classmates; the ones that made fun of me for not being at their level. That's quite alright...I'll take a seat on a higher level of dignity than wealth any day.

Remember how the front seats were ripped and you covered them with black t-shirts since that's all we could afford? I do, and I even remember the panther on the passenger seat. And now? Now you ride shotgun on heated silk Nappa leather seats in a German sports sedan. It's 'cause of you.

I'm glad Lanai Road had a good afterschool program, allowing me to stay till 6 pm and easing your burden of keeping me preoccupied. A familiar "beep beep" would beckon me to say bye to my friends, leave the handball court, and come racing down to you in the parking lot. You'd greet me with a hug, a kiss, and a container of fresh fruit. Gotta eat healthy you said.

A quick ride home, a quicker supper prepared, and off you went to continue working, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I never mentioned it then, but I knew why you had to leave: it was to survive. But sometimes the loneliness would be too much to bear, and I'd lock myself out of the apartment and walk down to the lobby and chat with the guard. I wish I remembered my conversations with him (I'm sure they were deep), but I'll never forget the circular headlights of the Datsun. My mom was home. I'm not scared anymore. I can sleep now.

You had a solid reputation of having a powerful voice, and it was merely a matter of time before someone would ask you to sing at family gatherings and parties. You'd say no, you'd pretend you didn't feel like it, you crushed their hopes, but moments after the mingling restarted, their whispers were suffocated by the words you sang. It's as if the world stood still as everyone just sat and stood in awe, some closing their eyes and enjoying the sound waves bouncing off them. I'd foolishly put my hands over my ears and pretend I didn't like it. And now? Now I write and sing my own songs, but my voice doesn't come close and lacks the fortitude that emanated from your chest. It's not even an apple falling far from the tree, it's an orange that is forever bound to the branch, limited in talent and range, but unwavering in desire.

Mother's Day, 2006. It was May 14 and it coincided with my graduation from Illinois. When we met outside after the ceremony, when the rain clouds had given way to sunny skies while the asphalt remained damp, I told you I didn't have much to give, just a dedication of my degree and thesis. You broke down and I rue my unwillingness to break down with you. What was I afraid of?

I always thought those tears were due to the absence of my biological and surrogate fathers that day, so thank you for reminding me during our conversation 24 hours ago when your voice traveled thousands of miles through space from the other side of this planet.

In essence it was the culmination of all of your hard work: the sleepless nights, the multiple jobs, the myriad of sacrifices you made that undoubtedly shaped me into who I've become. And as long as you're here and long after you're gone, I shall continue to be the son you're proud of, but know that your pride is surpassed by the admiration, respect, and love that flows through my veins.

It's what keeps this heart beating, now and forever more.