Now that I’m living back at home, I really don’t cook often. In fact, I try to avoid it if I can, instead opting to prove that I’m a responsible individual by doing everyone’s laundry, scrubbing down the bathroom, or using my own money to fill my tank. But today was different. I wanted to do some major buttering up, so I decided to make dinner.
“Meatballs,” I told my dad over the phone when I asked him to pick up milk on the way home.
“Did your mom ask you to cook?”
I groaned a little inside while my dad took a moment to get over his disbelief and skepticism. My mother’s reaction wasn’t any better, and when she woke up to find me cooking, I could tell she was battling her inner urge to come take over for me. She was concerned perhaps that I would hurt myself, or worse, burn the house down. And god forbid that should happen when she’s so close to retiring. So after my goading and whining convinced her that I would be fine, she left me alone and instead resigned to her iPad, though she stayed in the kitchen just in case.
We mostly continued on about our tasks in silence, but toward the end while I was forming the ground beef into neat little balls, a funny memory come to mind.
“Hey ma, remember the first time you were teaching me how to make this, and my hair got in my face so you put a hat on my head to keep it out of the way?”
She looked up from her iPad and paused to think with a furrowed brow. “No.”
“Really?” I was surprised. “We have pictures of me wearing a hat that’s way too big for my head while I was rolling meatballs.”
But she really couldn’t remember it. This distinct recollection of being nine years old and getting wrist deep into a pile of raw meat while my mother watched on in amusment was something completely gone from her mind. As far as she was concerned, it didn’t exist. I could have been making it up, but I wasn’t. It was something so vivid in my head, but apparently not in hers.
Occasional lapses in memory isn’t anything unusual for my mother. Everyone on her side of the family has a tendency to be absent-minded, indecisive, and oblivious. There was one time I went to a restaurant with her and her three sisters. It took them 15 minutes just to place an order because they kept forgetting their options and they all couldn’t settle on anything.
But this particular instance frightened me. It frightened me as much as the time she was surprised to find out I owned a credit card — the same credit card she helped me open just a year earlier. This lapse only confirmed it: She was well on her way to becoming my grandfather.
From what I remember, my grandpa was a pale, thinning Chinese man who smelled absolutely terrible and was confined to his bed because he was both blind and crippled. What made everything worse was that he had gone senile not long after I was born. As a young man, he moved during World War II from China to Philippines where he met my grandmother and had six kids, the youngest being my mother. So sometimes in the middle of the night he would wake up thinking he was back on the mainland, singing Chinese folk songs or let out a panicked cry in Cantonese, though no one could understand him. The noises would terrify me, like a lost ghost screaming in the dark for help. I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep afterward.
Whatever kind of man he was, I never witnessed it personally. I only heard about him through stories from family and friends. And they say he was a very strict, no-nonsense man sort of man who ran a bakery in his village. When he disciplined, he disciplined hard — the typical asian parenting technique. And sometimes he would get mad for no reason at all.
Even though I never got to see that side, I could see a lot of him in my mother. The strict values, taking school and work seriously, rough discipline, and most of all the moodiness. There would be days where my mom would feel so unappreciated (because being a mother is the most thankless job in the world) that she would stomp around the house in a fit of rage, like a grown toddler taking down everything and everyone in its path.
“You’ll see one day!” she would sob and slam the door. “One day when I’m dead, you’ll all see how hard it is. And you’ll wish you weren’t so ungrateful!”
She would always play that card. The “when I die” card, and god I hated that more than anything. Her words dripped with such conceit and bitterness and misery that it made me want to tear her face apart. And even today, I still have dreams where I actually do that. But now that she’s much older, she’s calmed down a bit. And to be fair, I’ve grown up a bit from my annoying childish ways. Though I often suspect there are still days where she thinks I’m an ungrateful, incompetent, spoiled American brat.
If it’s one thing my mom did tell me about my grandpa that no one else told me, it was that he was very affectionate and loving despite his authoritarian way of raising children. And it must have been true because she cried hysterically in my father’s arms the day he died, as did all her siblings.
Funny thing is, I think I would say the same thing about my mother. Her volatile mood swings make me so furious I could explode, and her indecisive, needy tendencies have tested my patience way past its limit. We get along perhaps 20 percent of the time and in the 80 percent we’re either arguing or trying our hardest not to rip each other’s throats out. But she was always very loving and caring, and even when she’s being a pushy bitch you still get that sense that her intentions are golden. That she only wants the best for me.
I was really miffed that she forgot about us making meatballs together. Even though it was just one moment, I felt like I already lost a part of her that we shared. And then I thought, maybe she was right all along.
Maybe I really will miss her when she’s gone.