I wonder if Mom remembered the last time she hit me.
I spent much of my childhood in fear of my mother. I understand, and have understood for a long time, why she had such an awful temper. Life was hard: she and Dad were starting over in a foreign country with three kids in tow, she did not speak the language, and there was very little money. It was a brave venture, and doubtless all sorts of people thought it quite foolhardy too.
Many years ago, The Teenager asked me if Mom hit me with a stick, and I think she was quite surprised when I said yes. She did not understand sticks, or being hit, because of course she couldn’t even remember the two times she was spanked. Mom’s weapon of choice was a bamboo switch, but bamboo was not ubiquitous in America. Much to my dismay, she found a big plastic ruler to replace the bamboo switch; I believe it was one of Dad’s engineering yardsticks. I hid the ruler, thinking no ruler, no beating … but of course she found it. The ruler broke during one of the beatings, but she continued to use the broken pieces into my teenage years. The last time she hit me she could not find the ruler, so for the first time I could ever remember, she used her hand. She grabbed me and twisted my cheek so hard she left a bruise. I did not cry, I had learned not to cry a long time ago.
She never touched me again. I think it was because maybe for the first time in her life, she felt my physical pain. There could be no distance between her hand and my flesh. It took me twenty-five years to forgive, twenty-five years to let the anger go, twenty-five years to say good-bye to the child I was. In true Mom fashion, she never asked why I left and stayed away, and why I came back. I’m sure she thought me the wayward daughter, and was waiting for me to come to my senses. She was waiting for me to hui niang jia.