I didn’t mean to do it. I was moving the boxes, and I thought, no big deal, I’ll just open the little box. There were stamps and other papers in there, but nothing of a personal nature. Then I went to the box that held two ornamental paddles and an old black lacquer jewelry box.
It was my mother’s, a music box, with a mirror and a painted scene on it. I picked up different pieces of memory, earrings, necklaces, most of it mine, but some hers.
And then I opened another box. Undated black and white pencil/charcoal drawings. I wasn’t sure when she had done those. Among those sketches was my mother’s divorce decree from my father, and my name change decree, when I took my mother’s new surname as my own – Yumei.
It wasn’t until I opened yet another box. This one was filled with letters and cards. I opened one addressed to me. And that’s when it happened. A door long left unopened within me, slowly swung from its hinges, and a draft filled that empty room.
I read her words. She was writing to comfort me, to give me courage, hope. The date on the card was just before I left the father of my first two children. I was uncertain about the future and sad.
She wrote about rainbows, her recollection taking her back to the Yangtze River. No matter where she was in life something always took her back there. Always to that balcony waiting for her brothers. Now, we were both standing on that balcony, and she was holding that rainbow out to me, telling me to hold on, to believe that it would take me to where I needed to go, that I would find that pot of gold, my pot of gold.
She calls me “My sweet sister”. There’s that familiar feeling of ambivalence. What does she mean sister? If it hadn’t been for the fact that she had insisted I be her mother for as long as I can remember, I wouldn’t be so conflicted. I hadn’t wanted to be her sister either. I had needed a mother.
I don’t remember my reaction to the card back then.
But now the words on this card look suspiciously different, like maybe they carried some hidden meaning I did not have the capacity to see before.
Could it be that she wasn’t trying to get me to be something else to her? That maybe she was trying to be something to me? Sister to sister, woman to woman, a line of female warriors, survivors. Maybe she was inducting me into a clan of women by virtue of the challenges and sorrow we shared…and I didn’t see it.
I don’t know.
I stare at the card, look at the lipsticked kiss marks as if they have something to say to me.
And suddenly I feel a deep ache within me that only comes from missing someone in that terribly poignant way, when the missing you feel knows it will not be answered. I guess that room wasn’t so empty after all. Tears press close to my eyes, but they do not fall. They remain suspended within me like a realization dawning.
And I know, right now, in this moment, today…I wouldn’t mind being a mother to her. I wouldn’t mind at all.