if this message could be in my mother tongue it would be
an estranged daughter messages her mother
Hello Mẹ. I tried calling you but it didn’t work. It has been a while since we talked. When did we see each other last? A year ago? Sorry I didn’t go to see you. I think you know why I didn’t. We’ve never had the best relationship.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of how much you are on my mind even though you’re not in my life. When I walk past roses, I think of you. Roses: your one pride and joy. You enjoyed cultivating them, snipping off the thorns, and putting your nose close to the soft petals. Gardening was one of the very few things which relaxed you. I tried to be discreet as I watched you drop your guard around your flowers and plants. If you saw me, your stress would return and it’d be my fault.
One whiff of the floral scent of Elizabeth Arden 5th Avenue and I remember how you tried to carry the world for me without any complaint, without buckling under the pressure, without letting your emotions leak. You didn’t know emotions can’t be buried. They always come out, one way or another.
I always forget to carry an umbrella even when I know it’s going to rain. Maybe some part of me still thinks you’ll be there to hold the umbrella for me like you used to. You’d give more cover to me so you’d be half wet and I’d be dry. When I was still in primary school, I’d put my small hand over yours on the handle to help you. The smoothness of your skin always surprised me.
When I eat phở and the beef broth washes over my tongue, a part of me still recoils from it. In Year 11, you yelled at me for getting 80% on a maths test as I ate phở at our dinner table. You said I didn’t try, that I was going to be a failure if I kept going like this, that I was ungrateful for you. I fought back tears, my face warm from shame. I thought you hated me. Maybe you did a little bit, at that moment. But maybe you hated your life and not just me.
You always wanted too much of me, too much from me. It was like: I gave birth to you so now you belong to me, you came out of my body, you are made of me — without me, you wouldn’t exist. I think that’s why I always felt like I couldn’t breathe around you. But that was your idea of motherhood. That was what you were taught by your mother and her mother. You were told motherhood was about you taking care of me and me taking care of you. Why else would you want to become a mother? Why else would you go through all that pain of watching your body change in ways you’d anticipated but didn’t know? All that effort of working at the sewing machine through most of your waking hours to make money for me? All the stress over having enough to pay for school, clothes, and food to cover the price of having a child? You never let me have much outside of the necessities such as toys or going to the movies. When you were a kid, you didn’t have much and you turned out fine. When you talked about your past, you’d say how you were lucky to be able to have rice everyday because you knew some kids who resorted to eating lemons.
People told you about the pain of motherhood and the work involved but nothing prepared you for me. When I told you I was depressed, you were convinced I was just sad. We all get sad but we go on, you said. I tried to explain it wasn’t sadness, it was something hollowing out my insides and I wanted to cry all the time. I couldn’t concentrate on my classes. I struggled to get out of bed. Everything was so hard. You reminded me people back home had it harder. There were people like you who had to drop out of school to help their family make money. I was lucky. I should be happy with what I had. I had more than you ever did. You gave me your all — wasn’t that enough?
I was mad at you then for dismissing me like that. My depression had nothing to do with what I did or didn’t have or how much you loved me. But now I know you weren’t only dismissing me. You were dismissing yourself too.
When Dad died, you never spoke to me of how you felt. You spoke about him but omitted your grief. You kept asking me to move back home now that you were all alone. It made sense. A mother takes care of her child and then the child takes care of their mother. But being around you was suffocating. I told you that and you said what was the point of raising me if I wouldn’t love you back? You needed me. After all you had done for me, couldn’t I do this for you? I was your daughter. Your only child. But we couldn’t spend a day with each other without getting into a fight. Before, we had Dad to step in. You accused me of loving Dad more even though I was the one who came from you. You were the one who held me in your womb for all those months. I knew this was your grief speaking, the messed up part of our culture coming out of your mouth but it still hurt.
We understand love differently. To you, love is about sacrifice and pain. You made yourself disappear for your husband and for me until you forgot about yourself. You did that because otherwise you’d be a bad wife and mother. And if you were bad at those things then who were you? To me, love is about taking care of yourself before others. Loving myself so I can love others. I had to learn that because I was putting you and Dad before myself and it made me feel empty inside.
That’s why I moved out. So I could be myself. So I could love myself. You had never known love like that. You had only loved others, not yourself.
I tried to talk to you but every time I did, you asked me to move back in with you. You felt so alone every morning when you woke up. You remembered no one was there for you and your heart broke. Your heart ached. You could feel it in your chest. Everyone you loved deserted you.
The last time we met, you talked again of how I belonged to you, you gave all your life for me, and what was the point of me if I wouldn’t come live with you and love you? I declined. You said to never see you again. You didn’t want to see someone who would disrespect you like that. You said you might as well not have any children. My whole body shook as I left your house.
I knew you were unwell and needed help but I had to take care of myself first. I don’t know what you’ve been up to. I don’t know if you’ve talked to anyone else. I don’t know if you regret what you said or if you feel justified by my absence. I don’t know if you want to hear from me. I don’t know if you’ve been wanting to apologise but didn’t know how because no one ever apologised to you. I’m sorry I couldn’t take care of you. But I love you, Mẹ.
I love you so much.