I’m From Wappingers Falls, NY.

by Kevin Chen

Satellite overhead image of New York State from Google Earth 2022

The priest wrapped up his homily. “I would be remiss not to include a word to all the mothers on Mother’s Day. Say thanks to your mothers, and hope that they will continue to guide you in your lives, because they are most probably the only ones in your whole entire life that will love you unconditionally.” Unconditional Love. My heart sank a little.

During my life, one virtue I hold on to very strongly is honesty: honesty in living your life the way you want to, and honesty in disclosing your true thoughts and feelings. However, there is one situation in which I’ve concluded that honesty could do nothing but hurt. I know this because I have already tried once.

Around 30 years ago, my mother and her eight sisters, along with her parents and her grandmother, had been living as part of the lowest social class in Vietnam. In order to make a better life for themselves, they decided to come to America, and my mother was the sole pioneer. It was a lonely voyage. She crossed the ocean on some dingy boat, where the deceased were supposedly rolled off. She lived in a dog-eat-dog world, a world where only simple ideas existed. There was only school, cooking, and family. A complex idea like homosexuality was not even defined.

So it should not have been a surprise when I arrived home one day from high school in freshman year to find her sobbing on the floor in my room, holding up scrapped “love” notes to a high school obsession, crying about how I am “not her son.” I had come out a few days ago (on April Fool’s Day… I never ended up saying it was a joke), and she had decided to rummage through my stuff that day for any hint or clue as to how I had grown the way that I did. When she and I sat down to talk calmly, human to human, mother to son, she could not understand anything I was saying. I could not offer her any type of solace either; she thought the root of the problem had to be her parenting, and that only I could choose to “fix” what I had. She talked about disowning me, about my father’s heart giving himself trouble ever since I disclosed that part of me. My sister’s parental backing for college was threatened when she supported me. She could not understand the idea that my heart can only belong to another man.

It was one of those barriers I always feared hitting: the ultimate barrier between human hearts that prevent us from fully understanding each other, a barrier that may have its uses, but in this case threatened the fabric of my whole family. I realized just how helpless the situation was. It was impossible to change what other people thought, especially people that I love, but at the same time, it was impossible for me to change how I felt. It was the ultimate catch-22. And since I was the only one who noticed this and could comprehend it, I understood that I had to be the one that conceded.

So I erased it.

My great grandmother had been a great comfort to my mother when they had lived together in Vietnam. After school and working for the whole day, my great grandmother would prepare boiling water for my mother to bathe in. My mother proudly claimed that she was the grandchild my great grandmother spent the most time with. When my mother had decided to leave for America, my great grandmother asked her “…What will I do now that you are gone?”

She had passed away a day before my birthday. After my mother’s successful voyage, she eventually managed to arrive to America as well. She lived a total of ninety-seven years. My father said I did not have to attend the funeral, but I volunteered to anyways, taking a make up final two days early and heading on the earliest bus homeward.

I am usually not one to cry. I did not even cry during the whole coming out ordeal. The reason I probably did not cry is that I at least had some control of the situation and how it proceeded.

The morning of the funeral, we all went to the funeral home to see her body one last time. After a bit of cantonese praying, it was time to close the coffin. My aunts had all gone up to the front, and woefully cried aloud feelings and words in their home dialect that only select few in that room could understand. My mother nearly fell backwards as she exclaimed completely unintelligible words in their dialect. As the coffin came close to a close, everyone’s tone suddenly rose, and loud stomping reverberated throughout the room.

I closed my eyes. I imagined pain that I could not relieve my loved ones of. The coffin closed, and I started to cry aloud, a sound that was similar to my own laugh. I felt helplessness, just like seven years ago, but one I had no control over, one I could not alleviate. It was an idea I could not understand; I’ve only met my great grandmother a handful of times (and most of those times the language barrier prevented any form of communication besides her holding my hands in her soft palms), and I understood how important she was to other people. But that is just it: I only knew her in terms of how other people felt about her; I had no concrete opinion of her on my own. So because I could not relate, and could do nothing to help in the matter, I cried uncontrollably.

In my mind, all I could think was “How could I help?” How could I help my mom through this death, even though I cannot fully understand what my great grandmother has done for this family? How could I help my mom through life’s challenges? How could I help my mom understand who I was, but somehow preserve the love we have for each other? I was helpless.

Afterwards, at the funeral banquet, one of my many aunts asked me if I had a girlfriend. I awkwardly and bitterly answered “冇 (I do not have one).”

Two days later, we attended the regular Sunday mass back in our hometown on Mother’s day.

Maybe someday I can be fully honest to her. But for now, it will have to wait until I have gotten strong and independent enough. She may never even get to know. Sometimes I feel I am a coward, but life does not always work out perfectly for some people, and I accept that. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. When you know someone cannot comprehend an idea, and will only experience pain from any mention of it, what good is it to divulge? What use is it to explain? Every additional second I stay under her care is one she would not have given if she knew just one thing about me. All I hope to do in this lifetime is to repay her back for borrowed money and borrowed time.

I glanced at my mother’s eyes, her eyes which have forgotten all the pain from seven years ago. “What?” she asked. I said, “Nothing.”

I prayed.

“God, I know I don’t believe in you anymore, but if you exist, please… protect my loved ones who so dearly believe in you.”

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