My mother is the weather. As a child, I was the core target to which she would unleash her hailstorms and earthquakes that tore me down and broke me into pieces. Quite literally, she broke my arm when I was merely five, just hours after I returned home from school. The memory, still etched in my mind despite its minor nuances since I reflected upon it one too many times, starts when I step foot into the house on that chilly, November evening.
My mother had picked me from school just a little later than usual, appearing in the driveway with her old, red convertible that she had been using since her teen years. I jogged the distance from the entrance into her car, excited to return home for the television program that was scheduled to start in an hour's time. My backpack bounced against my back, its weight light on my shoulders as I barely brought anything to school. I greeted my mother as I always did, with a huge grin and a cheery, "Mommy!" to which she merely grunted in response. I wasn't fazed; this wasn't uncommon either. My mother, which I had already associated with the weather at the young age of five, had frequent mood swings with seemingly no specific causes for it. I kept quiet on the journey back, suppressing the urge to hum the theme song of Hey, Arnold that had been stuck in my head. Once we got home, I sped to the entrance and let myself in before my mother even killed the engine. I threw my bag aside and made my way into the shabby living room, which only had a couch that could ever fit two people at once, and a small stool beside it which I had always assumed was only bought to accommodate my presence within the family. My mother herself would often take up the two spaces on the couch as she liked to kick her legs up while she rested her head on the armrest; sometimes even falling asleep and staying there throughout the night.
Some days, my mother would be occupied with her chores at the kitchen, and I would get the couch all to myself. It wasn't much, but five-year-old me was contented with the murky, yellow-clothed couch that had a wine-colored stain on the right side of the seat. That day after school, I jump-landed on the wine stain of the couch itself, pretending that it was an indicator of where my bum should fit perfectly. I stuck my hand into the side of the couch, where the remote would often be hidden — just one of the long-running habits that my mother had. The theme song to Hey, Arnold filled the living room as I beamed, realizing that I had made it just in time to catch the entire episode. I barely heard the sound of keys clanging against the door as my mother locked it behind her, the sound of her footsteps entering the kitchen where she got herself a glass of water, and the sound of her re-emerging and making her way toward me.
Hand me the remote, my mother said as she took a seat beside me, careful not to come too close as if I had a contagious disease.
I turned around and looked at the expression she wore on her face — nothing too intense, she seemed pretty calm and mellowed down that day. I decided then, to ask for permission to the television for just a while longer.
Just another ten minutes, please, I dragged the 'please' a little longer as if it could convey how earnestly I desired to watch my favorite show.
Now, my mother said, her eyes fixed on the television.
Please, I pressed again, stubbornly.
She turned shifted her glance onto me, conveying a single message that I had learnt to read in her eyes throughout the years. That I was wrong, that I had made a mistake, that I now had to be punished.
I didn't realize what had happened initially when I felt a sharp blow on the left of my forehead, followed by a hollow sensation in my head as if my brain had shrunk and there was now more space between my skull and my brain itself.
The thermos flask that my mother had been using for her drink landed with a 'clunk' by the side of my legs. It was then that my mother launched herself toward me, her eyes filled with a fury that I could never imagine myself generating within me. I felt the muscles in my throat clenching as her large hands grabbed on my frail arm before she wrenched the remote out of my grip. Arnold was lying in his bedroom on TV, staring up into the sky through his glass ceiling. I found myself watching the show initially, then I turned my head slightly only to see myself — how odd, I thought — and my mother on top of me, wrestling me on the couch. My body was limp underneath hers, a red patch blooming by the left side of my forehead. I had a bird's eye view of the entire living room as if my soul had somehow left my physical body and floated into space. I willed myself to start flying around like how Casper the ghost seemed to do with no effort, but I couldn't seem to budge. My self, the physical entity, was still underneath my mother's plump, aging figure. She had both her hands on my throat now, her expression telling me that she was screaming at me. I must've forgotten to bring my ears along with my soul, I thought, as I couldn't seem to hear what she was saying. The silence filled the air for as long as I could recall until it was shattered by a sickening crack that seemed to come from within me.
I woke up to the smell of cold, sanitized air and the sound of my mother wailing in the background. I couldn't seem to open my eyes but I managed a soft grunt, which was my attempt at saying, where am I? A pair of rough, calloused palms brushed against my face in response, to which I instinctively flinched. The fear of being slapped, punched, hit, smacked, battered, or something worse, generated the strength for me to open my eyes. My mother, with her hair loose and falling in all possible directions, ran her palms all over me as she cried, My precious baby, I was so worried, how are you feeling? Does your arm hurt?
I couldn't bring myself to speak as I was too confused with too many things — who was worried? Am I her precious baby? Why should my arm hurt? Well, I eventually got my answer to the last question when the anesthetic wore off. My mother claimed that I had tripped and fell off the stairs later, and I didn't dare to argue against it in fear that she might break the other arm.
It was some time after that incident that I had developed a routine of predicting the weather each morning. It was tough at first because a sunny morning didn't come with the promise of it being sunny throughout the rest of the day. Sometimes I woke up to sounds of plates shattering in the kitchen, indicative of either rain or a thunderstorm. Sometimes I could smell the mouth-watering scent of burnt toast, and I know that it was a sunny day. I took pride in being able to always maintain consistency in my morning routines: I'd wake up at 7, brush my teeth and shower for 20 minutes, put on my clothes, and make my bed for 10 before I sat at the dining table at 7:30 sharp each day. My mother would sometimes not talk at all, which I grew to enjoy in my teen years. Most days, however, she would ask me if I was coming home that day. As part of my morning routine, my response would always be, Of course, mother. And she would then serve me my breakfast.
Some days, things would get a little trickier. Instead of asking if I was coming home that day, she would get me to stay home. I have school, I would say.
You're a liar. You're leaving me, I know it. I know I've been a terrible mother, I promise I'll change. Please, just stay with me. She sounded so devastated that I almost believed her.
I'm not, mother. I swear. I'd never leave you alone. I just have to attend my classes, I'll be back by the afternoon, I would reply. I didn't necessarily enjoy attending school — it was just easier than having to share a living room with the weather.
Don't do this, baby. Don't. I've sacrificed everything for you, I can't let you leave me, what would I do? You're all I've got, darling, she sometimes knelt on the ground when she said this. By the fifth or sixth time, I truly wondered if she believed everything she said. I knew better than to question her, of course, the scar from my broken arm, the burn on my thigh from the time she poured boiling soup on me, the small bald patch underneath my thick locks of hair that formed after she pulled my hair across the hall, all reminders of why I should never mess with the weather.
Things only grew harder as I grew older. Not that it had ever been easy, living in the constant fear of the person my mother would turn out to be on any given day. But it was easier, as a child, to believe when an adult tells you that she'll change. That it was an accident, that it was her fault — how gratifying it is for a child to constantly hear her parent apologizing to her! It had to mean something! I was an easy child, soft-spoken and obedient, always ready to accept my mother's apologies, sometimes forgiving her even before she lashed out to hit me. It's going to be okay, I told myself, because Mommy always apologizes for her mistakes. That's what matters, isn't it? That someone is capable of recognizing their mistakes and apologizing for them. After all, Mommy wasn't always bad. There were days she'd hold me in her arms, days where she sat me on top of the rusty, Yamaha piano beside the stairs while she'd sing Yesterday Once More in her soothing voice, days where she'd bring me on walks and tell me the name of every plant we saw on the way. It was easy, as a child, to look forward to these days knowing that it would come eventually. The punishments in between were, I used to think, a trade-off for the good days.
But these rationales fell apart as I grew older.
I first realized how wrong everything had gotten the night I returned home from my high school prom. My date back then — Han, a decent-looking Asian American boy from my Literature class — walked me home after prom. Our night at prom was spent mostly at the side of the hall beside a table filled with finger sandwiches. Our feet were pointed toward each other as Han's arms curled around my waist. It was that night that I had first experienced the idea of love; after years and years of pondering the true meaning of it. Our journey home was a magical one, our feet light even after an entire night of standing and trying to dance in our school's run-down gymnasium. The stretch of clear skies above our heads was filled with stars, each spark reflective of the fireworks I felt in my chest when Han leaned forward to peck me on my lips. We were at my front porch then, when his soft, sweet lips pressed against mine. The entire world seemed to disintegrate in that very moment, the shadows of my past ceasing to exist, my scars evaporating into atomic particles as I received the first-ever indication that I was worthy of being loved. This boy, with his calloused fingers from playing the guitar, his lopsided smile that emerged whenever we met gazes, actually loved me! But like an alarm clock set for the wee hours of the day, a ringing reminder that happiness was only temporary, the door to the entrance of my house flung itself open.
And there my mother stood, her face stone cold and her body rigid as she walked in onto the most precious moment that I had just been gifted in my life. A moment that she wasn't supposed to be a part of.
My eyes widened in fear. In retrospect, this must've been what made Han pull away from me. He turned instead to my mother, his expression confused as if he was contemplating whether it was appropriate to greet my mother first or loosen his arms around my waist first. He chose to do the latter as he must've realized the displeased expression on my mother's face.
You should go now, I told him. You don't want to see what happens next, I thought.
He gave my mother a polite nod before he took off in the direction where we came from, leaving me alone again with my mother, separated only by the distance of our porch.
I gingerly made my way into the house, my feet no longer light as gravity seemed to have imposed its force on me once again. To my surprise, my mother didn't say a word as I deftly slid past her at the entrance, careful not to come into contact with her. She merely shut the door before she made her way upstairs, whistling as she went along. Perhaps the weather was just a cloudy, dull one today, I thought.
I woke up the next morning to find out how wrong I was. It was the day of my college entry interview, which is probably why the memory still plays so clearly in my mind today. I followed my usual routine of getting ready, only to find out that my bedroom door had been locked from the outside. It didn't hit me immediately — I attempted a few jiggles on the doorknob before I realized what might have happened. My mother locked me in as my punishment.
I lost count of the number of times I cried out for my mother that day, from a weak, curious "Mommy?" to both my palms banging against the door as I watched the clock strike 10 am. I wouldn't make it for the interview. It was my first option, to get into the junior college just a few streets away from my high school, where I would be able to attend classes with Han if we had both gotten in.
The house was quiet for the next ten hours or so before I heard footsteps coming toward my door. I had given up by then — I did what I could and sent an email to the college, informing them of an unforeseen emergency. I lay weakly on my bed, starving from having skipped both breakfast and lunch. It was nearly 8 PM when the footsteps stopped outside my door. I scrambled over to rattle my door as I called, Mommy, let me out, I'm starving.
I can't, my darling, her voice was sweet and taunting at the same time, the same tone still haunting me even until today.
What do you mean? I said, too tired to even put up a fight.
I don't know, darling, I can't have you out of this house if I know you're going to leave me someday. That boy yesterday, he's dangerous. He's going to take you away from me, my mother explained earnestly.
I'm not going anywhere, mother, just let me out and let me have my dinner, I almost pleaded. All the anger within me had somehow managed to contain itself in a corner of my body, no longer wishing to be unleashed.
You know I love you, my baby, I can't let anyone hurt you. I have to protect you, my mom continued with an entire thesis on why she wouldn't let me out.
I starved for nearly two days, drinking tap water from my toilet sink before my mother came into my room to find me curled up on my bed with terrible gastric pains.
Things somewhat returned to my prior definition of normal after that, where I went back to tiptoeing around my mother's unpredictable changes. I didn't get a second interview for the college I wanted to attend — it's our policy, they said — and instead decided that I would move out of the town to further my studies in another state, a five-hour drive away from home. It wasn't easy, as an eighteen-year-old, to apply for scholarship grants, to arrange for accommodation, to be selected after three rigorous online interviews of a college that claimed to be one of the best in the state. I did it all in the comfort of my room, which was territory my mother had never seemed interested in invading.
When the day finally came, I packed the little belongings that I had into a knapsack and snuck out of the house to take the train that would bring me far, far away from the place I had been forced to call home for the past eighteen years.
I didn't leave anything for my mother, no note, no explanation. I no longer wanted to deal with whatever I had been dealing with for my entire life — it was over, I decided. I accomplished my duty as a daughter, I strived so hard throughout my adolescent days in an attempt to find ways that would make my mother love me, to find explanations and excuses for why my mother behaved the way she did, and to remind myself of classroom gossips that spoke of how every family came with its own quirks and oddities. My mother was just especially eccentric, I told myself. It doesn't mean that she didn't love me, and I knew this for a fact — despite the countless bouts of tornados and earthquakes that erupted within the four walls of my home, there were days where my mother was the greatest love of my life, the only pillar I had albeit not a sturdy one I could depend on. There were also days — and this one my favorite — where the weather seemed like a drizzle of rain with the sun still out, as if both the bad and the good were battling one another to take control over the skies. On such days, I could see my mother really trying to make things good for me, with the extra toast she put on my plate, her attempts to tidy the whole house before I got home, the little hugs she gave me before she retired to her room. On these days, I knew she loved me because she tried to give me her best even when she was at her worst. These were the days I clung to dearly, the days that reminded me of my sacred relationship with my mother.
Regardless, I came to the decision that those days were over. I still loved my mother, of course. She was my mother, after all. But it didn't equate to me having to live my days in constant inconsistency, lingering fear, and careful acts.
This heroic decision didn't get me far when I received my first mail two weeks after arriving at the college. My mother must've found the brochures and made her own calls to the college, for she somehow got hold of my accommodation address and sent me a brown, A4-sized envelope that seemed to have been used for other documents previously. I tore the letter open to find a single advertising brochure, Looking for a Home Loan? written in green. I turned the paper around to find a single sentence written in my mother's slanted handwriting on the otherwise empty side of the brochure.
Come back now before you never see me again, it wrote.
This part of the story might be the part where I held the greatest regrets whenever I looked back at it. Had I known earlier, had I been more educated, had I been more thoughtful, more aware, more understanding toward the signs of mental illness, the threats of suicidal intention, the intensity of my mother's emotions, the diagnoses of personality disorders; perhaps I would've done things differently.
But I didn't know any better.
I went home, of course, taking the train over the weekend back to the prison I had just escaped from two weeks earlier.
I didn't return with many items and I even bought a return ticket back to the college for Sunday evening. I was determined to explain myself to my mother, to seek her approval, to comfort her with the fact that I could return every fortnight or so if she needed me to, perhaps even to share with her the names of the few friends I had found in my classes. I found myself standing at the doorstep of my home under the sweltering August heat, steadying myself before I stepped foot into the house. A place that I had spent my daily life in just two weeks ago now seemed so foreign; it no longer felt like home once I saw the world outside of it.
The next few minutes still feel surreal whenever I look back upon it. Sometimes I wonder if I even remember it correctly; everything happened so quickly I barely had the chance to comprehend all of it at that moment. I remember thinking that I had some sort of telepathic connection with my mother as I stood in front of the doorstep, my hand pausing halfway before I reached for the door. She flung the door open right then — before I had the chance to lay my hand on the doorknob. Her gaze was wild, wilder than I've ever seen in my entire life. Until today, I'm not sure what sort of weather she would be categorized in under in my book of categories for my mother. Perhaps it somewhat resembled an apocalypse; the closest thing I could find to a weather. That term was definitely fitting to what my mother did that day.
She was dressed in a tight-fitting, floral dress-the one she usually wore on her good days. I remember her wearing it to the park when I was younger; we'd take long strolls in autumn when the weather was still nice to walk in. I found myself transfixed by the look in her eyes as she stood before me. She didn't step aside to allow me into the house, which I found puzzling for a moment. Her thin lips curled into a smile — a malicious one, no doubt — that sent shivers down my spine. That was when I noticed the item she held in her right hand. It was a gun.
Look who's back, she sneered.
You thought you'd run off and leave your old lady alone? You thought you could get rid of me? Her voice intensified as the veins around her neck surfaced like odd tree branches that were threatening to burst through her skin.
Mom, I started.
Well, you'll be stuck with me for the rest of your life, she said in a much calmer tone. Perhaps there was a hint of sadness in it. I couldn't tell.
She raised her right hand up gradually as I braced myself for it — I was so sure, so certain that she would shoot me in the head, right there and then.
I couldn't move. Everything within me felt like it would shatter into pieces if I even tried to take a breath. Oddly enough, a part of me felt rather calm and serene as I watched the following events unfold. I felt like I was a child again; my helpless figure tangled with my mother's as she bashed me up, my mind drifting off into space as my gaze remained on my mother's flushed cheeks.
This is the end, I thought.
She proved me wrong the very next second, for her hand continued to lift past her shoulders, as she curled her arm inward and brought the gun toward her mouth.
Blood splattered all over my face. I didn't feel it then; I had no idea how horrifying I looked when I knocked on my neighbor's door until poor Mr. Cooper stumbled backward and fell at the sight of me. Everything that happened after was a blur; I don't know how I got to the police station, I don't know how someone managed to clean up the remains of my mother, I don't know how I sent myself back into classes one week after my mother killed herself in front of my eyes.
It took me a long time to even comprehend what she had done to me. I wasn't even sure if I understood what she thought she was doing. I wasn't even sure if she knew herself. But that was my mother — a bagful of contradictions, the smell of honey toast one morning, and the smell of metallic blood against my skin on another. Some days I'd find myself wondering if I could have saved her. Wondering why no one had helped her when I was younger. Wondering what went through her mind during those moments; she must've thought that I had abandoned her after I left for college. I'd also wonder about what would've been different if I had stayed — wasn't it my duty to care for her after all she had done for me? Was I wrong to have escaped her grip? Those were the things I found myself considering in my later days; although it was often coated with a layer of relief that I hated to admit to myself. I was relieved that I would no longer have to live in the fear of her presence. I was relieved that I would no longer wake up to uncertainties, I was relieved that I could now be an actual person, I was relieved — until I realized how horrible of a person I must be to say that I was relieved that my mother was dead. Of course, it's arguable that I was a victim of abuse — that's what all my friends and the professionals I've seen told me. But what I often failed to convey with the words I knew was how I had also experienced my mother's love. Sure, she had her moments of violence and anger; but throughout it all, if there was one thing I knew to be constant, it was her love for me. This was something I couldn't explain in simple terms, something that I could only compare to the weather. If my mother's moods were the differing temperatures, storms, inches of rain, snow, natural disasters, you name it; then her love for me was the weather. It was there; regardless of its shape or form; you can't deny the existence of weather. The weather simply cannot cease to exist. That was what my mother's love for me felt like.
After her death, I found myself obsessed with the weather for a while. I checked the chances of rain, the temperature, the upcoming storms for weeks ahead; as if it could give me some sense of control over how I felt each day. I did this only until I realized that it simply didn't matter. Even on the sunniest days with a zero chance of rain, I woke up each day feeling like the weather was always cloudy, with a chance of thunderstorms.