Phone Calls & Codewords: What I Actually Want to Tell My Mom

Hey Mom,
Yes, I am studying. Yes, I ate today. The exam was okay. How are you?
These are the same exact phrases I tell my mother every night. In the same exact order.
Sometimes, the ‘L word’ isn’t the only way to express your love for someone,
Sometimes, little phrases are codewords for something greater.
I’m a first generation Indonesian-American, and my conversations with my mother are codewords for something greater.
Hey mom,
Yes I am studying,
Yes I have achieved your American Dream
I have placed the model in model minority
Because I make sure that my English is so perfect,
You’d think my vocal chords were my mother’s country,
Colonized and dipped in skin bleach
But with that, I have distanced myself from your culture,
As I make sure that I know words such as frivolous, pretentious, and rhetorical,
But I still can’t ask “How are you?” in Indonesian.
You brag about the hours I spend studying DNA technology and quantum mechanics,
But I still can’t help but think that I have failed you,
Because no matter how much rice, and durian
You put in my mouth,
I was never able to keep your heritage
On my tongue.
I am sorry.
Yes, I ate today,
But every time I come home
I see the way your eyes water when you stare at that scale.
I wanna hold you and tell you how beautiful you are
but my words are shot down by the self-criticism of your rolls.
I know you always tell me to be confident,
But I can’t help but notice you as you stare at the mirror
Rubbing your thumb against your stretch marks
As if you could make them go away
If you just rub hard enough
I get scared when you tell me you are not hungry
So I can’t help but ask,
Did you eat today?
Yes, the exam was okay,
But I hate the fact that I still have to take exams that were okay,
And will still have to take more exams
For another eight years until I finally have a stable job
And move you to a nicer house
And say, “You don’t have to work anymore, I can provide for you now.”
I’m scared that you will die
Before you rest
That you will wither away,
before you can finally enjoy life
That you will never realize
That those two jobs were worth it
That you will be gone
Before I can thank you.
How are you?
How are you really?
How many times did you swallow your tears to catch mine?
How many times did you throw away your dreams
To make room for mine?
What are your real dreams?
The ones that don’t involve me and my brothers going to college?
Can you tell me, or do you feel that we’re so distant
that there’s no point in closing the gap anymore?
Do you want me to live my dreams, or do you want me to live yours?
Either way, I would honestly be happy.
Or should I stop thinking too much and wash that dish liked you asked?
But instead I say,
Hey Mom,
Yes, I am studying.
Yes, I ate today.
The exam was okay.
How are you?
I miss you.

Written by Denamisbraqah “Dena” Igusti.