I started planning my trip home without really telling anyone anything. I told colleagues that I was taking a vacation. I only told my brother on the east coast and my niece that I was going home. I asked them not to tell the others that I was coming home. I didn't think I could keep my cool if I saw my siblings greeting me at the airport. There was too much bad history between us, a lot of mistrust and anger that I've kept locked away for years. I've learned a harsh lesson from them. Sometimes, the people who are supposed to love you and protect you turn out to be the ones who hurt you the most. Besides, I wasn't coming home to see them; I was coming home to see my mother. But it was an exercise in futility. My niece immediately called her mother, my sister. That sister called my other elder sister. Sigh.
Not that I blame my niece or anything. I mean, the contention is between me and her mother, not her and her mother. I wouldn't make her choose anyway between me and her mother. That wouldn't be fair. And as close as my niece and I are to each other, her relationship with her mother is important, and that's the way it should be. I could've just kept my travel plans to myself and not tell my niece at all. But I was making a stop in her town before the last flight home. Besides, I knew she had stuff she would want me to take home for her. She liked to send stuff back to her siblings and cousins.
I didn't really tell my friends either about what was going on in my life. But try as I might to appear calm, a few of my friends sensed my inner turmoil. I denied it, of course, because I didn't want to be a burden nor cause them any worry. But it was a conversation with one of my best friends that allowed me to reveal what was happening. My friend made the point that if I couldn't be honest with a good friend about what was bothering me, then I wasn't a true friend. I agreed, and I told her about what had happened. And as I feared, she was worried, as were my other friends who I let in on my situation. I didn't like causing them concern and worry. But I also admit that they did help give me perspective and the encouragement I needed to make the long journey home.
I planned to take a cab straight to the hospital to see my mother soon after I arrived. I'd go home to my mother's place the next day. A friend told me that she was coming to meet me at the airport where I was making my last connecting flight. She lived near the same town as my niece. I told her not to waste her time, but she was adamant that we meet. I told her the time my flight would arrive.
An odd thing started to happen a few days before my departure. I would find myself thinking about my mother at strange times and in odd places. All of a sudden, I'd find myself starting to tear up while driving or while in a restaurant. Out of nowhere, a long buried memory of my mother would spring into my mind. And it was a memory that made me feel like a small child again, helpless, wishing that I could do something more. When my father died, life changed completely for my family. By then, it was just us three young boys at home; my older siblings were grown up and living on their own after help from my parents. Life was hard after my father died, though my mother tried her best to keep us afloat. But I could see her struggle. My father's passing had made me grow up fast and become much more aware of what was going on around me.
On the drive back from the grocery store, I suddenly thought about one particular dinner so many years ago when I was a young child. It was the day before my mother would get her paycheck. We were eating the last of the rice and we had one can of food left. I remember my mother opening that can and dividing it's contents among the three of us boys, her youngest children. We ate and laughed and talked about our school day with Mom, but I noticed that she didn't eat anything at all. I asked her if she wanted something to eat, but she said she wasn't hungry. But I suspected that she wanted to make sure we got fed first, that she'd rather skip dinner so we could have enough.
I stopped eating, and offered her the rest of my plate, but she refused. I told her that I was full, but really, I just couldn't stand the thought of her starving for our sakes. She insisted that I eat, but I refused, telling her that I wasn't hungry anymore. It was the truth. Any hunger I had was pushed aside by my concern for my mother. She took my plate and divided it up amongst my two brothers, who gladly ate it all. I looked at my brothers, they were blissfully unaware of what was happening. My mother worked hard to keep us happy, and I wasn't going to spoil her hard work by telling my brothers my suspicions. So I sat there, laughed and talked when appropriate, but was feeling very conflicted on the inside.
That night, while everyone else was asleep, I started to cry as quietly as I could. I didn't want to wake and alarm my brothers or my mother. I felt so sad and angry. I was sad because I realized that my mother was making sacrifices for us. Times were tougher than she let on, and I was sad that she was so alone without my father or anyone else to help her. I was angry at God for taking away my father and leaving us in such a harsh situation. It felt as though we had been abandoned, and every day since my dad died was just painful and awful. I hated being a child, being so helpless, unable to help my mother in any real way.
Through my tears I could see the stars in the window. The half moon was shining it's silver light on the garden. I may have given up on God for forsaking my family, but I was still a child who believed in magic. I wished on those stars. I wished that I had the power to give Mom money or put food on the table so she wouldn't toil long hours doing hard work. I also wished that my dad would come back and that it had all been a terrible dream, so I could wake up and everything would be all right.
After making my wish, I stopped crying. I became practical. I decided that I would stop asking for presents, to stop asking for new clothes or games, and I would do whatever I could to make things easier for my Mom. When Christmas would come around, my Mom would take us to the store and let us pick out one present that we wanted. I refused at first, but she would insist I pick one. So I always chose the one that was fun but very inexpensive. Those toys I cherished, because I thought they cost money. I took real good care of those toys. Some lasted til long after I became an adult and started living on my own. Those toys my Mom eventually passed on to my nieces and nephews, who eventually wore them out. But that's okay. Toys were meant to be played with by children. And I know that my nieces and nephews got great joy playing with those toys my mother bought me all those years ago.
I've always been uncomfortable celebrating my birthday. I liked cake and presents, but I just didn't like the attention. After crying and wishing on stars that night, I hated celebrating my birthday even more. Because I knew how hard my mother had to work and how much money it was costing her to get a cake and presents. I started telling Mom how I didn't want a birthday party or cake or presents. I told her I had enough toys and I didn't like celebrating my birthday anyway. After a few years, she listened to me and stopped having birthday parties or buying expensive presents. Still, she insisted we have cake and she always gave me a little birthday money. I saved that money. And when it was Mother's Day or her birthday or Christmas, I would use it to get her a present, and I signed it with my brothers names and mine.
The first time she got such a present was her birthday. She cried, because she was surprised that anyone would remember. My older siblings certainly didn't. But that's the main issue I have with them. It always seems as though they never think about my Mom, unless they want or need something. I remember how moved my mother was when she got that present--really it was just a can of soda. All I had that first time was 50 cents. But the look of joy on her face gave me a great feeling, and I wanted to keep doing things that would make her happy. There weren't a lot of happy times then, so when they happened, we cherished them. Those were the moments that gave us hope, made us stronger, and helped us through our most agonizing, tormenting times.