You are such an observant child. Some may call you “well-behaved” or “quiet,” but I too was given these descriptors when I was young. Being well-behaved & quiet nurtured my constant constant watching, my constant constant listening. In particular, my mother was the subject of my observations.
I wanted to understand what my mother thought, what made her laugh, what she felt when she broke open & cried out in the sanctuary, what made her close off & why. I’d watch from where I wasn’t seen & I’d listen while others assumed I was busy playing with dolls or memorizing spelling words.
I want you to know, Meyi. . . .
I see you.
I see you at the Greyhound station in New York, watching & listening as your mother says, “Thank you so much, Auntie. I’ll find a way. I’ll pay you back.” I see how you observe your mother as she is reminded: “You have people here. He is only a man.”
I see how, at the first rest stop, you watch your mother from across the room. You & your brother Winston hold your family’s place in line & guard the luggage as she makes a call. It is your father on the phone. But you probably already knew that, from observing your mother’s body language & her facial expressions. She was stern & closed off in a way she just isn’t with anyone else.
You stare out the window at the rising & setting sun, at the passing landscapes, but listen closely. You hear Winston ask how long until Wyoming then about the new house you are headed toward. Your mother’s answers are vague or not answers at all; you notice.
When you cannot sit next to your mother on the bus, you look up & find her & search her for any dominate emotion.
When you are all in the gas station restroom together, you watch your mother struggle to calm your youngest sibling on the changing table while simultaneously struggling with Winston who wants privacy & independence. Every time you help your mother with something as requested, you move immediately but it happens off-camera.
You are so blessed to have inherited a network as wide & loving as you have. Another Auntie shows up at the next rest stop with a home-cooked meal. As you eat, you listen. Again, your father is referred to as just “man,” not by name. Auntie says to your mother, “Don’t forget you have your dreams okay?” then invites you & Winston into the conversation with, “Guys, do you know we used to have so much fun?” Your mother laughs, finally, “Don’t tell the children those things.”
You share a seat with her & sleep on her shoulder.
Just outside the last bus, you shield your eyes from the sun so you can search her face for a response to your father approaching.
You look out the rear window at the landscape rather than ahead on the way to the house your father has prepared.
You study where you will sleep. You study where your mother will sleep.
Your eyes do not rest long on your father. They always always return to your mother.
You seek her out in the early morning & find her sleeping on the living room sofa. You rub her cheek as she rubs yours when she wants to wake you gently. She makes room for you & you close your eyes & rest with her again.
I shared much about how in awe I was of my mother, like you are, when I was your age, but there’s another parallel between us considering my life as an adult. In 2016, my son & I rode Greyhound buses from West Texas to Indiana so I could focus on my dreams instead of a man. Before that point, the two of us had slept on sofas & floors together when we had no home of our own. The epic journey we took & the many rests we’ve shared nested like matryoshka dolls created a bond that cannot be feigned.
I want you to know, Meyi….
Your mother loves you.
Even in the moments when she’s too stressed about your siblings or money or where she really wants to be to focus on you, even when she is having a laugh, finally, with an old friend & not you, even when she isn’t sharing furniture or sleeping next to you, your mother loves you.
It’s beautiful how tenderly you look to your mother to learn more about her & about the world through her. I hope you look just as tenderly to the unfolding of yourself.
I write this letter to you across time. The version of you moving around your version of 2023 is my age; to her, I say, remember the Aunties who created other options for your mother to lay her head, to eat, to be? In your own life, choose those elders & those friends as often as you can. They see & love you too.