Before the pandemic, I lived in New York City. On one of my mom's visits, we were sitting side by side on the subway heading downtown. I think we were talking about what to do about dinner that night. Suddenly she turns and asks me, “so, how many men have you slept with?” I'm used to questions like these coming out of the blue. Luckily, she says it in Greek. I began to argue with her, also in Greek, in a half-empty subway car, in the middle of the afternoon… about sex. Particularly how it wasn't really any of her business. “You came out of me,” which is her argument whenever I ask for privacy. Which I'm certain is a Greek thing. “Just tell me that there have been men!” She shouted. Was she asking if I was a lesbian, or if I was a virgin? “It's just sex, it's like a sausage going in and out, it's no big deal.” She was calling me a prude. “Okay, please stop talking, I have had sex,” I might have shouted in English, my mother then sighing in relief and going quiet. I would be remiss if I didn't say this is how most of our conversations go; me exasperated and mortified, she going silent or moving on to some sort of small talk. Our relationship has always been a tug and pull, mainly between my mother's traditional Greek ideas and values, and my yearning to be just like any other American Girl. My mother only come to the country in her early twenties, newly married, and not knowing one word of the language. Even so, she adapted to some American thinking and raised her three daughters with notions of getting an education, being independent, and never having to rely financially to anyone; especially a man. But some of the greek traditional ideas leaked through now and again. And then the entire world stopped. I was in New York when the pandemic came to the United States. We quickly became the epicenter of the crisis, sirens wailing at all hours, make-shift hospitals being pitched up in Central Park, and millions of people all around us completely devastated. It became too much for me. I started having panic attacks, not sleeping, and worrying about how I was going to survive. New York is expensive at the best of times, so I decided that it was best to move back home to save money. So I'm back in my childhood bedroom living with my mom and our cat Violet. I'm 30. I quickly had to set some ground rules. See, mom doesn't really know what a closed door means. She comes into my room without knocking. This would not work if I was in the office in the middle of a zoom meeting or filming a self-tape or writing. So I had to explain if the door is closed, you cannot come in. No, you cannot come pee while I'm showering. Have I mentioned my mom is bad with boundaries? She thinks I'm messy because I leave plates in the sink and she has accused me of loving Violet more than her. We've had a lot of difficult talks. Some even about sex. I told her about a guy I invited to stay over after we stayed out really late; how he offered to sleep on the floor and that nothing had to happen. “So he slept on the floor, did you give him enough blankets?' “No Mom, he slept in my bed because I wanted to have sex.” My mom shuttered. “I thought you wanted me to tell you about this stuff?” “Yes, but not all at once, Niki.” She's learned about online dating which she calls appointments for sex. Which I encourage because it's hysterical. On our family trip to Greece the summer I was 13, my aunt, my older cousin Eleni and I were sitting in a cafe. A really obnoxious sports car drove by, I think it was lime green, and my cousin said how much she liked it. Without a second thought, my aunt told my cousin, “if you marry a rich man maybe he'll have a car like that and you can ride in it.” I was shocked, so I asked my aunt, “why couldn't Eleni get a car like that for herself?” She looked at me with pity, “that's harder for girls to do.” My mother would never have said that to me. If I wanted a fancy lime green Ferrari she would say, “you'll have to work very hard.” I realized how different the two women were. My aunts do not know how to drive a car, they don't own their own property, do not have a bank account separate from their husbands, and don't work. Leaving in her early twenties made all the difference, not just in how she carried herself and lived her life, but how my mother raised her daughters. I'm brave because she was. I'm moving back to London in September and my mom is not very happy about it. She's just always going to worry about me when I'm somewhere alone with only me looking out for me. That's just the way it's always going to be, because I'm her kid. We keep having our hard talks, she keeps walking into my office without knocking. But we make sure we have an outing every Sunday, and she makes me laugh because she's the funniest person I know. And we talk. I haven't told her how many men I've slept with but I put the dishes in the dishwasher now. She's still learning about boundaries. And that's okay.
When I was little, I spent a lot of time on my mommy's lap. Listening, laughing, loving. For me, her lap was the safest place in the world, not to mention the most comfortable. I used to look up and admire the diamond pendant that hung from her neck. I always thought it was the most precious thing she owned, although she told me I was more precious but I don't think I ever quite believed her. One day, she turned me to face her and said that she would be sending me on a treasure hunt. No, this one didn't involve sweets or chocolate covered eggs, which greatly disappointed me. I watched her reach behind her head and unclasp the shiny chain. I was bewildered. Never before, not for as long as I had been a permanent resident of her lap, had I ever seen her take her pendant off. She looked down at my bewildered expression and laughed. Taking the diamond in her hand she held onto both sides and twisted. Just when I thought the sky was falling and it was officially the end of the world as we knew it, the diamond capsule opened revealing a heart. The heart was little and shiny. It looked like something I could easily loose and so I kept my hands on my lap and stared. The heart was somewhat incomplete. Well, there were pieces missing and a few chips on the edges but it was still, in so many ways, whole. I looked at my mom's face to see her smiling down at her hands and telling me that there, clutch between her fingers, laid her whole heart. At this point I wondered if I had somehow positioned myself incorrectly on her lap and I was somehow cutting off the circulation to her head because obviously mom wasn't feeling too good. There was no way her whole heart was that small. I mean with the amount of love she said she had for me, that couldn't possibly hold it all. Just before I reached over to feel her forehead she told me that it took her her whole life to find all the pieces and that still today, she was looking. She said that the most part of her heart, was me. By this point I was very confused. Then she tipped it over letting the small heart fall into her palm, leaving it's diamond case. Then she lifted the chain with the now empty diamond case and reached forward to clasp it around my neck. Still holding the little heart in her hand, she looked down at it and told me about the grand treasure hunt that would be the rest of my life. She said that I should go into the world not looking for but always ready to see and receive the love and beauty that awaits me everywhere I go. She told me to always try seeing the little hearts in everyone and remembering how much love they have the potential to hold. She said that sometimes they may be chipped like hers and missing a few pieces but they remain whole and will hopefully never break. Only later did I learn that my heart would also obtain a few chips and holes but like mommy promised, it never broke and it came with great healing and lessons. She said that I'll find most of my heart in myself and the rest from everything around me. She said that maybe one day I'll have my own children that will take up most of it. She said to protect it, like a diamond case and to give as much of the love that it holds away. She said that she promises that although it's small and fragile and may get lost or misplaced, that it will never 1. cease to be mine 2. run out of love to give and 3. run out of space for more. So, with the diamond pendant, that I promised to protect with my life, I would find the rest of the pieces of my heart and hold them in the diamond case close to my chest. I knew I had already found the first pieces from mommy's love and with that alone, I had an endless supply to share.
Once when I was younger my mother dropped me off at school. I was given neither lunch nor lunch money and mind you, I hadn't eaten that morning. My school's cafeteria food was unhygienic and my mother never let me eat there. That day, my mom told me she was going to come back to drop lunch for me. I was pacified and with a kiss to her cheek, I skipped off into the school building. That day went by fast and lunch soon came. I sat in my classroom, waiting expectantly and full of trust that my mother would bring my lunch. I waited till lunch was over, yet she never came. Fifth period came and went, sixth, seventh and finally, last period. The closing bell rang. My mother came finally. She entered my classroom holding a brown paper bag filled with food. Full of disappointment and anger (and hunger), I walked past her without saying a word. She turned and followed and we walked down to the car in silence. We got in and she began apologizing for bringing my lunch late. I was really mad at this point. I tried my best to keep my words reigned in but they burst out like a broken dam. I remember complaining to hell and back that day. Just last week, my mother told me how much she loved me. This is something she does frequently, but this time, she reminded me of a time when I was younger. A day she “forgot” to bring my lunch. She told me of how she didn't have money that day, how she went to work looking for who could lend her some money to feed her child. She went to this person and that, begging, and she eventually found a helper. Unfortunately, she did so long after my lunchtime. She told me how she immediately left work and drove to the nearest fast-food restaurant before driving to my school to deliver my promised lunch—she had no idea she was late. My mother, bless her soul, didn't have to continue. I remembered every single word I said that day; how she didn't care about me, how she always disappointed. Everything came back, clear as water from a spring. I was full of shame. I had nothing to say. No words could portray the remorse I felt and I cried that day, pained and full of self-hatred. My mother hugged me and told me she knew I didn't understand that day. And she didn't explain either because she thought me to too young to know or worry about our financial situation. “I'm not telling you any of this to make you feel bad. I know firsthand that hunger can make anybody mean.” I couldn't even laugh at her attempt to joke. “I'm telling you because I know that one day, you'll be a mother. So when your daughter—or son—doesn't understand, you too can have that patience.” All these things she whispered into my hair. Even till tomorrow, I will never forget the sacrifices my mother made for me, what I put her through for it. My ingratitude. I still feel that disappointment in myself whenever I think about it, and though it was very hard, I forgave myself. I learnt the value of those words “Thank you”, even for every little thing she does for me and I will never take her, or her love for granted again.
I still can't wrap my head around the fact that after all these years, I somehow mustered up the courage to write this letter to you. I've never been the best at expressing my innermost feelings, and you know it. Yet, here I am, trying to put those feelings into words which I had buried deep inside my mind. Yesterday, I was going through my old photo albums and your face popped up. Memories rushed to me and hit me like waves. It felt like I was drowning in the ocean of our memories and yet, somehow I managed to stay afloat. How? Because you held my hand! Tight, and strong and never letting go! It was when I saw the plethora of our pictures that I realized, how much I missed those golden days when I would get back from school and rush straight into your waiting arms. How you would narrate the same stories to me with different plot twists, every time I demanded a bedtime story and how we would spend hours talking pointlessly. Yes baba, I remember it all. I know for a fact, that when you held me for the first time in your arms, you had your eyes wet with moisture and the first sentence you said was, "She is the first girl in our family after 38 years." Papa and Mom did give me vivid details. They told me how you would never let any soul raise their voice on me, even mom. I remember them telling me how I would spend hours with you, playing cards, teaching you new stuff or just ranting about my day. After your demise, when I got to read your diary which you carried everywhere, I noticed, almost every entry had my mention! That time I didn't realize the depth of your love for me, but now I do. And there isn't anything in the world which I wouldn't give to spend at least 10 minutes with you. Since you left me at a very tender age, there are a lot of things I wish I could tell you. I want to tell you how my teacher praised me for being active in the class. I want to make a complain of Mom cause she scolded me for not eating my vegetables today. I want to tell you about my first crush who broke my heart. All of it! And not just that, I also want you here with me. So bad... I want you to see me grow into a self dependent woman and praise me for my independent nature. I want you to see me graduate. I solemnly wish you were here to take me to my favorite park whenever I am feeling down and push me on the swings until I am laughing my heart out. But Alas, someone rightly said, 'The world is not a wish granting factory.' There are so many times when I wish I could hug you tight! I wish I could still come to you when mum cooked bottle guard and you would convince her to give me my favorite pickle. Talking about food, you know, I still love to eat that Garlic Chutney which we so fondly gobbled up every chance we got, no matter the amount of scolding we had to endure later. When you left me, I was too young to understand how messed up things actually were. I didn't realize that all the time which I spent with you, will now just be a part of my treasure box of memories. Bitter with the pain of losing you and sweet with the amount of fun we had. Yet, I could never relive them... No combination of 26 letter will even come close to expressing what I feel for you. You were an important element of my childhood. Even if our memories are a little hazy, blurry, and tainted with my childhood amnesia, I will always cherish them and keep them close to my heart. Every night when I look at the sky and whisper a shy good night, it's actually you I am talking to. Every time I pray to God and my wishes are fulfilled, I know it was you pulling some strings and convincing God to help your little angel. After all, your love for me knew no boundaries, right? You are even willing to negotiate with God, just to see me happy. And you know what baba? I won't cry! Why should I? When I know that you are right beside me right now. Caught ya! You're laughing at me as I struggle to pour my feelings onto this piece of paper. Now, you're smiling gently because I caught you red handed. See, I know you so well, don't I? I am your little princess, I will always know you inside out. However, you know a funny thing? I don't even remember the last time we talked or the last memory I had with you. Probably because at that time, I didn't know it was going to be the last... Had I known it was the last time I would ever get to see you, I would've hugged you a little tighter and held onto you a little longer. I know you are reading this letter baba. I just want you to know that I love you and I miss you. I know you are always watching over me from your comfy seat in heaven, and that's some sort of relief. I know I am not the brightest crayon in the packet, I have made mistakes. But I swear, I am working on correcting them. I hope I grow up to be the grand daughter you wanted me to be. I want you to be proud of me. That's enough for me! This is not goodbye Baba. It's just farewell, until we meet again... In a better place... Your Grand Daughter Shreya
I am fighting, flailing my little arms. A lady and a man I don't know, are stuffing me into this stupid car seat. I look out the fingerprinted window and there she is. Staring, watching, not doing anything at all. A single raindrop wanders its way down the window, lost, nowhere to go. I fight even harder, refusing to stop until I get what I want. The car starts to move, so I twist my body to see if she is still watching. Deepening my twist, so I can get one last glimpse before we turn off the street. I face forward with tears streaking my face. I don't know these people who are taking me away from her. From the lady, I have known all my life— my mother. I am confused, trapped in this strange building. After they took me from my mother, they took me to this horrid place. I feel completely claustrophobic locked in this small room. I hope I can leave this devastating room. I honestly don't know why it seems so devastating, but I guess it just is. The room is bland, boring. The walls are an off-white color. A dissatisfying color. The only toy here is a small kitchen set. The kitchen set looked as if to break at the slightest touch. It has white paint peeling off. The paint being torn from the set, just like me. I miss her terribly, my mother. I feel scared, my anxiety spiking. I am just sitting on this patched up couch looking at the cup of water on the table next to me. Random people keep poking their heads in, trying to encourage me to drink water, but I am not thirsty. I hope they find something better to do than to keep bothering me. The same woman and man that took me from my mother walk through the door and stand in front of me. I stare at them blankly as the woman says, “My name is Ms. Blaster and this is Mr. McDoris.” I nod my head, for my mind is elsewhere. My mind is busy. Busy on all the worries rushing through my head like a tsunami. Ms. Lee gets on both knees and looks directly into my eyes and says gently, “Can you come and follow us, please?” She stands up and walks out of the room, with Mr. McDoris following. I hesitate, then finally give in and run to catch up with them. I walk into a massive lobby. People are sitting in black chairs. It felt airy, unlike the small room I was in. The people were all nicely dressed, they seemed arrogant, even though I have never met them before. Windows cover most of the walls. I continue to follow Mrs. Blaster and Mr. McDoris. They lead me to this woman I remember spending time with a couple of months ago. She would take me to the Kings Dominion and Maymont. The woman is wearing nice clothing just like everyone else, except I could tell that she wasn't like them at all. She's not really tall, but she is definitely much taller than me. Ms. Blaster, Mr. McDoris, and the woman start talking about something that seems like it's important, but I'm not paying attention. I am busy trying to understand the situation. I squeeze onto the woman's hand as if it's my life support. I make our way to the car and she buckles me into my car seat. She walks around the front of the car and gets into the driver's seat. Once again, raindrops hit the window. A single drop wanders all the way to the bottom and disappears. More lead their way into the safety of the frame. Tucked safely together. United. Every insignificant thing belongs somewhere. For some reason, that gives me a sort of clarification that everything is going to be alright. I think this is the first time I truly feel safe in a really long time, I don't have to endure any more pain, physical nor emotional like I have before. I also think that you have to believe it yourself, you have to believe that things are going to get better. You have to have hope. Hope. Hope is a wonderful thing. For the first time, I have hope. I have hope that I will be safe. I have hope that I will be happy. I have hope for my future and hope for now. Even though I have endured tragedy, I have regained hope.
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