I just remember her crying a lot. Sometimes it was because she and my father were having a fight. Or because my brothers wouldn’t come home. Or because she and I screamed at each other until we could only muster tears and nothing more. I thought she was a paranoid, fearful woman, I knew I was an insecure, angry teenager, and we clashed a lot. They were intense, emotionally draining, sometimes physical clashes. We would both cry a lot after. I would never apologize enough and she would forgive too easy. In the guilt of the aftermath, I was fully convinced I was the sole reason for my mother's unhappiness. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned that she cried a lot before I was born, too.
She was 16 when she married, 19 when she had her first child, and about my age when her husband left her with three kids, ages nine, five, and one, to go 12,000 miles away to start a new life without her. She could only hope her husband's adventure would eventually include her and the three kids of varying ages. The time “without her” lasted seven years. She cried a lot during that time. She wept while reading letters from her absent husband; while looking out the window at familiar buildings but feeling foreign and sudden and stinging pangs of solitude; while being overwhelmed by three kids of varying ages.
I asked her if she cried less when she made up that 12,000 mile difference and reunited with her husband again. “No, I cried more.” She wept while trying to read a language she didn’t comprehend; while looking out the window at unfamiliar homes and streets and feeling then-all-too-familiar pangs of newly-found American ignorance; while being overwhelmed by three kids, now ages 16, 12, and eight.
I was born. I grew up. I saw fights. I heard yells. I followed suit. The four of us boys put her through hell and we all resented her for reasons beyond my current comprehension. For my mother and I, our fights and my words were always justified in my mind and her infinite understanding only drove me crazier. At my lowest, I succeeded in verbally and emotionally stinging her. At her lowest, she never once failed to forgive me.
For too long, my own insecurities got in the way of realizing that this woman had overcome more heartache in any one of her days than I had felt in my lifetime. She dealt with pain and suffering across continents and thousands of miles. And I remembered how forgiving she was when I rarely, if ever, gave her the benefit of the doubt. She would never say it but for a long time, I was a bad son. I was probably a bad person. I wasted days and months of my relationship with my mom because I shunned the very possible task of just imagining myself in her near-impossible situation. Had I taken a moment to sympathize, I would have certainly realized I would not have lasted one day if I faced a fraction of her tribulations. It only further burns at my soul knowing how terribly patient she was as she hoped and prayed that I would figure out how to be a better man so that she wouldn’t constantly have to be the better woman.
I never gave her the respect she deserved or spoke to her or of her with the reverence I did my father. Maybe this is just trying to rationalize my behavior after the fact, or maybe it's taking a line of thinking that will allow me to drop the guilt I have carried for a long while. Either way, I owe her a debt of gratitude beyond what a typical mother is owed. She pushed me in a way that I didn't understand while absorbing my venom. I felt forced to be better without knowing why. And I became better on my own with her as the catalyst without ever realizing that it was the result she had been hoping for. I returned to her as a greater man, a more complete person, and, I hope for her sake, a better son.
I’ve posted photos of my mother and me on social media. I have several photos of her saved but none of them were taken before four years ago. About the time I realized she was never a burden, just someone who clearly had my best interest at heart and mind even if she lacked in execution. I look on those photos now with abounding joy and a constant sadness for how much pain that I (along with the rest of her boys) put her through. What's incredible still is that she has never once failed to forgive me. I take solace in the fact that, if nothing else, her limitless integrity and patience for those around her has been a driving force for how I think I would like to be. As a man, as a person, as a son. Hopefully, as a husband.
I could have been better. I’m trying to be now. I hope I am. If that's the case, I have her to owe.