The cold and quiet Bangladesh airport filled with my loud cries as I was taken away from my loving mom’s arms and placed into those of a tense and muscular man. I was 4 years old, and his arms felt unfamiliar even though he was my dad. I couldn’t stop crying, yearning for my mom who was now behind cold, clear doors.
As I boarded the plane to New York City, the image of my mom’s teary stare and forced smile stuck with me.
I spent my early childhood mostly alone. My dad was busy driving for Uber to afford an immigration lawyer to bring my mom to the United States. After he dropped me off at home after school, I would be on my own for three to four hours until my older sister came home.
I missed my mom most at bedtime. I missed her soft voice as she would tell me a bedtime story and her delicate fingers would slip through my hair from scalp to end.
However, as years went by I missed her less and less. My memory of her became blurry until the only clear memory I had left of her was from the airport. As sad as I was, there was nothing I could do to bring her back, so I told myself to accept my lonely reality.
Yet there were days when I couldn’t, especially during parent-teacher conferences. No one would come, and I’d feel so mad inside. I worked hard in school because I wanted my parents to smile and be proud of me. Instead I felt abandoned.
Growing up without my mom, I always believed that she chose to leave me because she was a selfish person who didn’t want to fulfill her responsibilities as a mother. Whenever she called and told me she missed me, I thought that she was lying. If she truly missed me, then why didn’t she simply move to America and live with us? To me, the answer was that she didn’t want to be with our family, so she had sent us thousands of miles away to another country.
When I was 10 years old, my dad dropped me off at my aunt’s house in Jamaica, Queens, for the summer. Before he left, he said, “I’ll be back in a month, and I promise to bring someone special along with me.” At the time, I didn’t quite catch what he meant by “someone special.” I was too upset about my dad, who I barely got to see anyway, leaving for a whole month.
However, that summer turned out to be one of the most fun and exciting times of my life. For once I wasn’t alone anymore; the house was filled with my aunt, uncle, baby cousins, and neighborhood friends.
The month went by quickly and the morning of my dad’s return arrived with the end of summer vacation. I was excited to see my dad again, but I had completely forgotten about the special person he was bringing with him. When my aunt yelled from the front porch that my dad had arrived, I ran outside, only to be confused.
I stood in front of the tall figure of a woman, and my dad was nowhere in sight. I didn’t recognize her, but she felt and smelled familiar. “This isn’t my dad. Where is my dad?” I turned around and asked my aunt. The tall woman in front of me said, “You don’t remember me, baby? I am your ma.”
“Ma?” I thought to myself, “She’s my mom?” I had forgotten that I even had a mom.
She picked me up and spun me around, and a burst of laughter escaped my mouth unconsciously. She hugged me tight, so tight I could feel her heartbeat. I had my mom back and, even though I didn’t know her, I knew that I never wanted to lose her again.
Not Her Same Old Girl
Back at our apartment, we began transitioning into our new life together. My dad switched out the twin bed he slept on for a king-sized one and added a vanity mirror in the room that now would be theirs.
As excited as I was for us all to be together, after being on my own for so long I had grown to like the freedom of having my own routine. The next morning, as I got ready for the first day of 6th grade, instead of enjoying my usual privacy I was startled by the creaking noise of my mom pushing open my bedroom door.
She sat on my bed and said that she wanted to watch me get ready for school. But having her watch me get dressed made me feel uncomfortable. I felt like I had just met her.
So I asked, “Sorry mom, but could you give me some privacy? I’ll meet you in the living room in a bit.”
She laughed at the word “privacy,” almost mocking me, and said, “I’m your mother. Why in the world would you need privacy from your own mother? How old are you to be talking about that?”
“Privacy doesn’t require an age, mom. I just don’t feel comfortable. I’ll meet you in the living room in 20 minutes.”
“Wow, you don’t feel comfortable with your own mom? How are you going to live with that mindset?”
“I have been living, all these years, without you.”
“Why have you become so rude? America has changed you, you’re like those White girls now. You aren’t my same old girl anymore,” she sobbed, “I don’t know you anymore.”
It was true that she didn’t know me. She didn’t know all the nights I’d spent crying, the mornings I felt overwhelmed, and the afternoons at school that I felt embarrassed when a teacher asked where my mom was.
Tears rolled down her pale, freckled skin as she yelled about how rude and harsh I had become in just the span of a few years. But to me seven years were so much more than that. They were seven long years that I had spent struggling, taking care of myself, and feeling alone.
Walking on Eggshells
I knew building a relationship with her would take time, but I didn’t expect to be fighting the day after her return. I thought we’d spend quality time together, going on walks and sharing dinner like my cousins and close friends and their moms. Instead, we walked on eggshells around each other, afraid of another nasty fight.
In the months after, she tried too hard to assert her motherly authority over me. She gave me a curfew, homework time, bedtime, and restricted what I could eat, wear, and how I could do my hair. I could tell she felt that ordering me around was the only way to make me respect her, but it had the opposite effect.
In contrast, her relationship with my older sister was sweet and loving. She was seven years older than me, so she got to spend 11 years with our mom in Bangladeshand had a greater connection to her. They seemed to hit it off from the first day, spending early mornings on the weekend drinking chai from matching blue China cups. Seeing them together made me angry at my mom, but also myself.
I felt as if something was wrong with me because I couldn’t get along with my own mother. I had looked forward, for the first time, to not feeling all alone after school. Instead I felt lonelier than I had been without her.
From 6th grade until the end of 8th grade, my mom and I fought frequently. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic started.
A Single, Red Rose
For me, being stuck at home gave me a chance to get to know my mom.
I learned that she doesn’t like any sugar in her chai, watching horror movies, or doing makeup. I learned that she hates the color yellow and roses are her favorite flower, but she especially likes receiving a single rose.
So, to celebrate her birthday that September, I decided to surprise her, sneaking out early to the nearest flower shop. It was the first time I got to do something for my mom, and I hoped it would show her that I still had hopes for our relationship. Once I got back home, I hid the flower and chocolate cake I had bought behind my back, then went to my room to set up and light the candles.
Yelling, “Mom, come to my room,” from the top of my lungs, I stood with the lights off and the cake lit with candles in my hand. Once she opened the door, her hands covered her open mouth and then her surprised lips formed a big smile. Her smile became mine as I told her, “Hurry, make a wish and blow out the candles!”
With a gasp of air, the room went completely dark. After she turned the lights back on, I handed her the single rose.
A tear ran down her face, which took me aback. Thinking I had done something hurtful, I asked, “Why are you crying? What’s wrong?” After taking a few moments to wipe the tears off her face and catch her breath, she began, “My mom, your grandmother, did the same thing every year on my birthday. A single red rose every year on this day.”
I was caught even further off guard by her confession. I didn’t know that the pretty flower held so much meaning. I barely remembered my grandma; she passed away a few years before my mom came to the U.S.
The Other Side of the Story
As we sat on the kitchen table with two plates, each topped with a slice of the chocolate cake, my mom told me her story. She seemed happy telling me about her childhood and college life, but her smile vanished as soon as she got to her arranged marriage to my dad. I was shocked and angered as she told me about the horrible things that happened to her after entering my dad’s family.
They constantly mocked my mom’s work, quiet personality, and appearance, her freckles, thick eyebrows, and curly hair. Worse, there were multiple times that my mom was denied proper medical care after being severely injured in an accident. On top of that, they forced her to do house chores while in pain.
Then she told me that it was never her choice to stay behind in Bangladesh. My dad thought she was a “naive” and “slow” woman who couldn’t adjust to the fast-paced nature of New York City, so he abandoned her back in Bangladesh. It wasn’t until he realized he couldn’t work and take care of his two daughters at the same time that he decided to apply for my mom’s visa and reunite us.
Hearing her story, my anger towards her for “abandoning” me vanished. Instead, I felt guilty and sad for my mom, and resentful of my dad for keeping her away from me. I was ashamed of blaming her when it was my dad’s fault all along.
I also felt comfortable enough to finally open up about my own struggles during the past seven years without her. I told her how much I missed having parental support and care, and about the emotional void that coming home to a dark house and having no one to talk to had created.
As I told her my side of the story, her delicate hands caressed the side of my face, slowly tucking my hair behind my ear. Her hug was warm and felt like her way of saying, “It will all be OK now.” Pulling away from her hold, I confessed, “I missed you a lot, mom. I am so glad to have you back.”
Arpita is a senior in highschool who loves writing as a form of expression. Her story is about her reunion with her mother and their journey to finding compassion for each other. She wishes readers will find comfort and perseverance from her writing.