We All Stand Still Sometimes
By Michael Koh
You watch her on the bed. You feel helpless. You tear at yourself from the inside from frustration. She smiles at you as if she is fine, but you know she is lying and it hurts to know that. You grab her hand and tell her that everything is going to be okay. When the words come out it feels like you have committed a crime, for you know and she knows that what you’ve said isn’t true.
You see her smile. You try and smile back, but all you can do is hold back the tears. You remember when she raised you while your father was away on business trips. You remember when you took a piece of gum from the grocery store below your apartment and she let you have it. You remember when you did it the second time and she turned you around and kicked you out the door. “Bring it back,” she said, “or you’ll get a beating.”
You look at her weathered face now. You apologize from within. You are sorry for getting arrested, you are sorry for calling her names, you are sorry for disappointing her at every turn, you are sorry for lying to her face, you are sorry for keeping secrets from her, you feel yourself about to cry. You can’t let her see you cry.
You’ve seen tears fall silently from her face as she worked tirelessly to keep the family afloat. You’ve heard her weep as she lay in her bed after her first stroke. You feel like there’s nothing you can do to make right the years you’ve tread on so carefree. All you can do is tell her how much you love her. You know it’s not enough.
You were five and she was still young. She picked you up from school and you told her stories about the pictures you drew and how much you missed your father. You showed her the picture of you in between her and your father. You thought nothing of the silence that followed. You never realized the bitterness between the two and the hate-mongering fear that followed after his sudden departure from your life. You are now 23. Your mother is on the hospital bed. She’s suffered a minor, but second stroke. You have no one to turn to. You haven’t heard from your father since you were twelve. There is no one to ask for help.
“Mom,” you manage to say. “I’m sorry about everything.” You can feel her eyes on you. “I feel like I’ve done nothing but cause trouble.” You feel her hand on yours and you know that she feels comforted that you are beside her. “This isn’t fair mom,” you say. “It should be me in this bed. You deserve so much more than this. It isn’t fair,” you say. You can feel the tears coming. You hold back your sobs. You can’t let your mother see you like this, you reason. “I don’t understand,” you say. “I don’t understand.”
Your mother suffered her first stroke while you were in high school. You were in your English class when your name was called over the loudspeaker. Your name was never called over the loudspeaker. You felt dread and a coldness envelop your body. You imagined the worst. You saw the principal and the first words out of his mouth was, “You need to get to the hospital. Your mother’s extremely ill.” When she left the hospital and came back home, you would lie awake at night, listening for her breath, wondering when and if you’d never hear her breathe again. You began to feel interested in the death sections, far more than the achievements they might have accomplished in their lives, of biographies you would read on Wikipedia. You began to obsessively read authors and listen to music by those who had committed suicide. You wondered about the afterlife and the process of acceptance.
You look into her eyes. You feel a sereneness from the brown pupils that watched over you as you dug a hole in the sandbox, as you rode your bicycle up and down the driveway, as you graduated first in your elementary class, as you placed fourth in the 100m dash, as you sang Christmas songs on the radio, as you performed in musicals, as you left for college, as you left jail, as you stumbled home drunk, as you graduated with your bachelor’s. You feel an overwhelming desire to break down and repent to your one and only mother, but you cannot, whatever you do, have her recognize your wickedness.
“Mom,” you say. You can see her eyes. She is looking at you. “I’ve been a terrible son.” She holds on to your hand and you can tell that she can only see one thing — her child. No, she seems to say. I’ve loved you, and always will love you, no matter what. Miraculously, you see her rise from the bed and she embraces you so tight you feel the air leave your lungs. You feel wetness on the side of your neck. You feel tears flowing down your face. You both convulse as you both sob, and you know deep inside that it is her time.
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