My Mother — The Poor Thing

I drove my mother to the textile market. On the way back, within five minutes of entering in the car she had fallen right asleep. Couldn’t blame her. The contrast of the tropical weather outside to blissful coolness of the air conditioning inside the car is an instant comfort in its own simplicity.

She woke up halfway through our drive back home to a phone call. I overheard her talking to her younger sister over the phone. Her younger brothers and sisters had been at the house ready to talk to her, but she was “inconveniently” out of the house — shopping with me at the textile market for my sister’s wedding needs. But they’d left now since she took forever to get back home — “Good riddance,” I thought.

As soon as she put down the phone, she suddenly bursts into tears. I didn’t know what to make of it. The poor woman — she never cries. She never asked for help either. Even when she asked me to go to the market with her, she communicated it in a rather matter-of-factly manner. “I’m going to the market. You wanna come?” Of course I happily inclined — anything to get me out of the house. I’d stayed so long at home (4 days) — any reason to be out and about and smoking cigarettes would be a luxury for me right about now.

I hated seeing her cry. I hated people for always taking advantage of her. Only for her to break down and cry to ME. She’d always cry to me. Little did she know — I’ve always kept my emotions inside. I never have been able to cry until I’ve been taken advantage of, trampled over and run down by a stampede of foreseeable circumstances which could have been avoided of course, but of which I would deny and assume everything that happens is for the best — even when I or anyone else become a victim. I suppose it’s one of those intro-extro tendencies. But maybe, it’s just the way the world has to go.

Back in the car, she cried. The poor woman, she cried. “I used to have two close friends in the countryside,” she said. “When I married BJ (my brother), they asked me how nice it would be to go to the city to be able to attend the marriage. I told them, next time. When you got married…” She drifted off. Unable to carry on and sobbed uncontrollably. I took my hand and placed it on her arm while keeping my right arm with a firm grip on the steering wheel. I stroked her arm comfortingly. “Forget it. Let it go.” I said — assuming she still harbored regrets and anger surrounding the downfall of my marriage.

She continued, “Now that Adella’s getting married, I remembered my promise. I thought, how nice would it be to bring some of our distant cousins from the countryside — who has never seen the big city or even considered leaving their town for leisure time. I just want to make people happy. I considered renting a whole bus for 25 people — Ricky’s taking care of the bus rental. Aunt Ratna wants to donate food and cakes. Your uncles and aunts are at home, ready to intervene with my plan, they don’t think I’m doing the right thing.”

“Persetan dengan mereka semua,” I said. (Fuck them all). That mouth of mine. It always gets me into trouble. Always have been, always will be I suppose. It’s somewhat of an uncontrollable reaction from me. I spoke softly. But my words were firm, strong and meaningful. It was genuinely what I felt. I looked her straight in the eyes, “Fuck them. YOU do what YOU want. This is YOUR promise, this is something YOU’VE always wanted to keep. So KEEP it. DO it. If it’s something YOU believe in, then only YOU should have the power to say what can or can’t be done. People will only judge from their own perceptions. They’re only jealous because they themselves don’t have the ability to be able to make other people happy. They’re trying to stop you from doing it, because they can’t do it. If it’s something YOU want to do — then DO IT. I’m ready. I can drive, I can do whatever you need me to do. Just say the word and I’ll do it.”

My mother turned to her sister-in-law sitting behind me, “Ever since she was young, Flo is the only one I could ever turn and talk to! Henry would only try to take care of my feelings — he’d comfort. Adella would burst impatiently, she has a mouthful on her. But Flo — she’d be the most comforting of all my children.”

“Well only YOU know what your limitations are. Don’t let others deter you from doing so,” my step Aunt agreed.

“People will talk,” I continued. “They’ll only talk — they’ve got a mouthful on them but I don’t see them doing anything.” We’d reached near our house and mum stopped off at a nearby caterer. “Mum. She’s got too many brothers and sisters. And this is all they ever do,” — while I made yapping expression in the air with my left hand toward my step Aunt. “She’s soft, she always wants to please people. She’s too nice. I also heard about how her younger brother conned her and he never returned.” I agreed with her. “Yeah. Her younger brother... Ahh, life happens,” while I replayed the scene in my head of how he used to asked me for money when I used to intern at my previous post-production job, at my first ever job but never told my parents of how I gave him money. It was Rp. 750,000 in 2007 — small fee of course. But what a boost it was — from broke student to dedicated, relentless and unfearful assistant producer. I’m not too sure of the specific details in which he conned her, but it must have been traumatizing enough that none of her other brothers and sisters tried to keep in touch with him.

As soon as we reached home, mum continued, “She (pointing to me) DID tell me, Mum… I’m not conceited, but I just don’t care for others. But what’s the difference between not caring and arrogance?” She laughed. “It’s a very fine line,” I said. But please mother, don’t take my silence for arrogance. I hate how you’re always pleasing your brothers and sisters endlessly. Or how you’d bitch about Dad to me. If you loved him, you’d never bitch about him. As I never did about my ex-husband. I never spoke to anyone about the rights and wrongs of our marriage. I am strong and I expected him to be as much.

What I meant was, I never did care for much for YOUR family. The leeches. The men, so lazy and undetermined, unwilling to lift a finger involving house chores or so much as holding down a firm job. The women, so soft and strong-willed in making homemade foods for income. Perhaps it was that mindset that I never liked from your side of the family. But perhaps that it also how I turned out, I suppose. So much different to Dad’s side. They were all loud, but they’d joke around. No one would leech off one another’s finances but they’d all had held down jobs and were self-sustaining. I watch everyone around me. I listen to the way people talk at home. So many people, so loud, so unpeaceful. The loud condescending comments and voice tones. The hypocritical help but with bossy demands. No one speaks from the heart. Everything everyone said always sounded or felt demeaning or hurtful. At least to me.

“It is both a blessing and a curse to think and feel so deeply.” It truly is.

The very unique individuals at home, I watched them enough to know what I want and don’t want to be. To try to keep my balance as silent but strong. To be strong but not conceited. And then I am reminded of this quote I wished my mother would understand from my perspective.

“Do not take someone’s silence as his pride, perhaps he is busy fighting with his self.” — Ali Bin Ibn Thalib.