07. Love language
My mother had been struggling with a psychosomatic disorder since 2020. She got better then worse. In May of 2022 she hit a new low and stayed with my husband and I for three weeks until she finally went back to the hospital for treatment. I suffered from stress and anxiety while she stayed at our home in San Francisco. I was angry that she relied on me, afraid of her total dependency and didn’t know how to be kind to her. Nothing I said to her made her feel better. She would call my name in pain and refused to be left alone. When I wrote this piece the best thing I could do for her at the time was to greet her when she awoke, ask her how she slept, offer her breakfast. Later in October after she was better I wrote a poem in the form of a letter addressed to my mother as a prequel to the piece. It’s so terribly sad.
I don’t remember when I broke my arm
I was two years old
I know that I broke my arm when I was two years old
because you told me about it.
You told me that I fell off a chair
That I cried
That I cried in my sleep that night
That the next morning I couldn’t carry even a small apple
So you took me to a hospital and we found out my arm was broken.
You told me this story to praise my resiliency
But maybe I needed to be comforted
I cried in my sleep with a broken arm - alone
I was two.
I don’t remember the time you took me and my brother to your friend’s house
I was a baby
I know about the time you took me and my brother to your friend’s house when I was a baby
because you told me about it.
You told me that I was such a quiet baby
That I slept well
That when you were leaving
you forgot to take me with you
Until my brother reminded you
That I was sleeping in the other room.
You told me this story to praise my quietness
How well I slept
But maybe I needed to not be forgotten
I was a baby.
I remember when you and Otosan divorced
I was twenty and away at college.
You called crying
You worried about money
You picked up more hours at your job
and got promoted and became a manager
You worked and worked and talked about your colleagues
Never about yourself
When I asked How are you? you answered with work gossip
I said I didn’t want to hear about people I don’t know
I said I think that’s rude
I asked How are YOU?
I remember when you had to retire because of the pandemic
You suffered from pain in your throat
You said you couldn’t breathe
like George Floyd.
I came to you and took you to the Mayo Clinic
We went to the otolaryngologist (oto la ryn GO lo gist)
the pulmonologist (pull mo NO lo gist)
You were diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety
You checked into the behavioral health clinic
and received electroconvulsive therapy
like One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest
You took many pills.
After your hospital stay you were full of energy
You came to San Francisco to see me and Thor
We went hiking in Pacifica and ate Korean food outside
You went to see my brother’s family in Tokyo and played with your grandkids
My niece and nephew
You refused to do talk therapy
You repeatedly said you weren’t sad or lonely
But maybe you’ve been sad and lonely
ever since I’ve known you
Ever since I was a baby
when you forgot about me sleeping in the other room at your friend’s house
Ever since I was two
and broke my arm and you let me cry overnight alone
And maybe you couldn’t remember me or comfort me
because you were sad and lonely
all this time.
I can’t offer you
words to make you less sad or less lonely
What I can offer -
Good morning, Mom
Did you sleep well?
Did you have a dream?
Here's breakfast, fruit salad, a little tea.
I was encouraged by Professor Francis Wong to talk about my music in his Asian American Musical Communities class and presented this piece along with two others. I read the poem first and played the music after. The poem and the music came from the same source of inspiration but I hadn’t considered them together as one performance. I was surprised they went well together. I liked that the sadness in the poem seemed to soften with music. I wasn’t good at moving away from self-victimization and retraumatization in writing but could get to processing and healing through music.