(Page 3 of 3)
My parents always left the front porch light on for me when I came home late, and that night was no different. I walked up the driveway, comforted by the sight of my house. It wasn’t anything special, the one-story I had grown up in, but the stillness of it juxtaposed with the small movements of our oak tree—leaves and branches swaying to create shadows that danced on red brick—gave it an impressive quality.
All the lights were off inside. I left my sandals on the shoe rack and thought about whether or not I should put slippers on. My mother insisted on it, not wanting our feet to track dirt into our rooms, onto our beds, but the plastic shoes made a pat-pit-pat sound as they dragged across wood, and I wasn’t in the mood for noise.
I walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
The fridge still open, I twisted my neck around to see my mother.
“You startled me,” I said.
“Sorry. Are you hungry?”
The fridge was packed. Two plates of pork dumplings sealed in saran wrap and a container filled with my dad’s barbecued chicken legs. I could also make something, the fridge freshly stocked with whole wheat and white bread, carrots, bok choi, shredded cheese, three kinds of mushrooms, tofu, green onion, sliced ham and turkey, eggs. But I really wasn’t hungry. Sometimes it was just nice knowing your options.
“Ethan called while you were out,” my mother said, opening the door to the backyard.
“What did he want?” I had blocked his number months ago. “Where are you going?”
“To sit for a few minutes. I can’t sleep.”
She left the door open, an invitation for me to join her. Outside the air was surprisingly dry by Houston’s standards, and cool. We sat in woven lawn chairs. A breeze ran its fingers through the leaves on our pear and fig trees. The baby hairs around my mother’s face went flying while the rest stayed confined in a clip.
“What did he want?” I asked again.
“He said he tried to call you, but the call wouldn’t go through.”
“What else did he say?” I hugged my knees to my chest and sank further into the strips of plastic.
“He said he wants to talk to you, and would like for you to call him back.” She paused, and then said with ease, “I told him to stop calling us.”
I faced her. She stayed looking forward. My mom didn’t believe in sentimental moments; she preferred to let emotions slip away unidentified. I never would find out what Ethan’s call was about. I was curious, but I couldn’t backpedal on my mother’s sternness. I could hear the absolution in her voice when she spoke to Ethan on the phone, and it seemed right that my mother would be the one to end things. I’m sure Ethan got the same sense of finality. He would never call again.
Coyotes howled in the distance, a cacophony of different volumes. After the noise died down my mother shifted in her seat.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Did you want to go to art school?”
I had thought she was going to ask about Ethan. “No,” I said. “I mean, not really, not seriously. There are other things I’d like to do more.”
“Your dad thinks if I hadn’t pressured you so much, then maybe you would have applied to Parsons.”
I laughed, too loud for this time of night. Birds flew from a tree in our neighbor’s yard. I watched their silhouettes cut across the moon.
“What does dad know,” I said.
The statement proved satisfactory. We leaned back in our chairs. A minute passed, then another. In our silence, the once serene chirping of crickets turned urgent and foreboding, tiny screams for help.
“In college,” my mother said at last, “you will find another nice Chinese boy, one who will treat you right.”
And just like that, we were talking about Ethan again.
“Why does he have to be Chinese?”
“Easier that way. Look, it’s always been easy for me and your dad.”
In the years that followed, it would become an obsession of mine. Revisiting this moment and thinking of all the ways I could have—should have—countered her argument.
“Good for you guys,” was all I said then.
She put one knee up and began massaging her foot. “Now that you’re going to college, your father and I are thinking about moving back to China.”
This news, though it couldn’t have been prefaced worse, was not a surprise. I almost expected it, even though I hadn’t known it was coming.
“Of course, we will visit and you will visit. You don’t have to worry.”
“I’m not worried,” I said.
“Good.” She put her foot down and squinted at the far left corner of the yard, as though she had seen something. She sighed and her eyes returned to normal. She asked, “How was your night?”
There was something in the way she said it—her tone; amused, condescending—that made me think she knew. At school the next day, I would spill to Natalie the details of losing my virginity. I would tell her that my mother somehow knew, and Natalie would tell me that as usual I was being paranoid. How could she have known? It was impossible. And yet, sitting next to her outside, both of us waiting for fatigue, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my mother had been there the whole time, in that room in that ugly apartment with that dull man, hidden so I couldn’t find her.