An Unlikely Hero

Every child needs a hero; not like Spider-man or Captain America, but someone to tell them how important they are, to make them feel wanted, and teach them how to be strong. All my life, I wanted to say that person was my mother, the woman who came to America at age 19, who does not have a single mean thing say about anyone. She is beloved by all her meet her, a wonderfully sweet lady, and I love her, with everything I have. Which is why I think my heart breaks to not call her my hero. And I almost hate myself for feeling that way since I was a little girl.

 My childhood is a blur, I think it’s because I block out memories of my past, the ones of an abusive household, both physically and emotionally. My father carried his stern look with him always, striving for perfection when it came to his expectations. But that left him with nothing but disappointment and disdain for me, one that he acted upon often. I turned to my mother fearful wanting her help, wanting her to say something to stop him from hurting me. But she stayed silent, begging me to do the same. She reminded me I mustn’t tell anyone. It was my family’s secret, but I tried my hardest to just be a part of the family everyone else would see.
12- years-old seems to be the age everything changed, the age I  vividly remember my mom’s silence, where I somehow can’t block out the memories that have been ingrained in me. A time where the line between the father and monster turned grew even more undefinable. For years I had learned that the smell of beer meant for a sleepless night,  the sound of belts snapping sent would forever send shivers down my spine. But, above all I knew to never mention any of this to anyone, A lesson that did not come from my father, but from my mother. Her apologetic behavior for him ranged from “He’s just doing this because he loves you” to “Maybe if you actually did well on the test, he wouldn’t be calling you stupid and worthless.” I tried to understand her and tell myself that maybe one day when I’m older I’ll be over all of this. The bruises on my back and the ringing in my eyes are still a feeling I have not forgotten. I needed my mom, I needed all the pain to stop,  yet, she never came through and I promised myself at 12 years old to never be my mother. I wanted to be loud, happy, and not living in fear, all the things I watched her try to strip away from me. As much as I loved her and understood she thought this was the way to protect me from my father, I couldn’t sacrifice myself, my being, to be the quiet and terrified daughter she wanted.
Then,there was Amy, A silver lining in one of the darkest times of my life. She was a gentle elementary school teacher never once questioned why I wanted to spend so much of my free time at a school. At a critical time of my life filled with bullying and panic attacks, Amy’s classroom gave me the comfort I desired.  I wanted to be just like her, emulating her kindness, when my father was trying to take that away from me.

I was so full of life and eagerness to be Amy’s  special helper. And I was- with every chance that I got, I was there. I was drawn to her heart and quirkiness and her ability to never show  a hesitation of softness.  It was place where my happiness felt genuine. I didn’t have to pretend to be anything else than myself and that was always enough.  She listened to my 12-year -old nonsense and for the first time in my life, I felt like was important. Amy’s kindness was special, something that despite all the wonderful teachers I’ve had, it gave me hope that my future could be filled with the same kind of joy I was finally shown.  I adored her with all my heart, writing in a journal that I kept hidden under my mattress how I hoped to make her so proud, thanking her for showing me what it means to actually have someone showing me how to love others.

Years passed and I watched as my mother grew quieter and more distant from my me. The Stockholm Syndrome she was under grew stronger, pulling her away from the woman she once was; she was almost unrecognizable. While I knew the blame was on my father and my mom was a victim just like me, I begun planning a future without them. Because loving my mom does not me I have to sit here in my own self destruction.

By 16, I was counting the days until my 18th birthday, freedom was a concept I could only imagine. I remained in touch with Amy, still thinking about how her kindness helped shaped the young woman I was now. However my teenage years were still terrorized by a monster who made me feel a new kind of worthless, one that differed from younger years. It was a terror that made me question my existence, my abilities, my intelligence and purpose in this world. One that mocked my mental illness before I even realized what was wrong with me. One that blocked my contact from the outside world by having access to my phone and messages, leaving me feeling completely dependent, as if I never would be able to get out.

That year I met Andrea, another teacher who offered me comfort in her classroom. While my mother grew distant from me, and continued to join my father in telling me that I’m not good enough to survive on my own, Andrea was my constant reassurance. She reminded me while the world was big, it’s people like me that are able to conquer it. I felt so incredibly alone, never quite sure what to do, but there she was every day. She sat there at her desk, listening to me go on and on about my social problems with friends, to feeling heartbroken over a red-headed boy. I even told her about the problems with my parents, though I purposely held back details, it was something I’d never done. Andrea wrote my college recommendation letter speaking about my determination- A trait I didn’t even know I had. She told me that, no matter what my dad or anyone else tells me, I was ready for college, and that I’m a fighter who keeps moving forward despite what I believe. Though I was afraid of the constant judgement I would face with my anxiety building up and  my fears  grew stronger, while others laughed and pushed me away. She never turned me away or made me believe that everything I felt was in my head, I felt valid, important, finally like there was a future for me beyond the life I was given. I would talk to her everyday (no really, everyday), and whenever I doubted the goodness of the world, she always proved me wrong in best way possible. It was the support system a 16-year-old needed and she was the role model I looked up to for just about every problem I had. While she may not have had the answers to every situation I put in front of her, she reminded me that even though my happy ending might not be what I wanted or thought it would be, that they do exist.

Both Amy and Andrea welcomed me no matter how old I got, and they were there for me in ways no one else was at the time. I learned how that genuine kindness isn’t just a concept I imagined, it was real and it was right in front of me. And above all I learned to have faith in other people, but more importantly how to have faith in myself. They were they were the heroes in my life

As my twenty-first birthday approaches, I look back on the years and know that I’m far from the girl I once was; I fight more than I ever did throughout my life. I stand up to abuse, to cruelty, or to anyone who tries to threaten peace in this life. My father no longer terrifies me as I have grown into the woman with unbreakable voice, I don’t let him control me and now I have the strength to speak up for my mother and will continue to do so until she has the same ability to do the same.

I do it for my mom, I do it for Amy, I do it for Andrea, and I do it for the 12 year old little girl with big brown eyes and the warmest hugs. The one who never lets go of love when she receives it because she’s not accustomed to it. She doesn’t know yet that the pages she wrote in a dim light in her room would soon be shelves with 20 journals of unfinished works because of how quickly her mind works and how proud she is of her voice.  I fight for her, I fight to be the person she needed, and to be the woman the other little girls need, the one my mom needs.

As happy as I am to no longer be that 12 year old, I love her; I love her when no one else did, I love her for making me who I am today, I love her for finding wonderful women in her life such as Amy and Andrea to guide her. I’m my own hero now, but this much is true- I never would be fighting this to recuse myself and others like me, if no one showed that I was worth saving.

Little by little I see my mother regain the light in her eyes and the ability to not live in fear; I’m so proud of her, and I tell her how strong she is; to survive and keep on living is the strength within itself. My mom might not have saved me, but I’m going to fight like hell to save her, because even though every child needs a hero, grown-ups do too.

-J

My Mother’s Unspoken Words

The earliest memory I have with my mom is in the kitchen, I can’t imagine it would be anywhere else. She brought a bowl, two eggs, a measuring cup and pancake mix to the ground because I couldn’t reach the counter. We mixed the ingredients together and she grabbed a chair for me to stand on so I can reach the counter and pour the mix into the pan. She told me to be careful pouring the batter, but I didn’t listen, my finger got too close to the pan, and I got burned. I jumped off the chair crying and my mom picked me up and quickly ran my finger under cold water. I sat at the table crying, and I watched my mom finish making the pancakes.

To this day, I’m still weary of the kitchen; the heat of the over still terrifies me, feeling fire near my skin or even taking something out of the microwave was scary for me. Afraid to get burned once again, I stilled baked with my mom, but I never went anywhere near to oven. I watched her, wondering if cooking will ever give me the same kind of peace I see in my mother. The kitchen was her canvas and her food was her masterpiece. Food to her, was the greatest gift she could give to somebody.

I’ve always believed food is a universal language, it tells the story of the generations of families to the dedicated chef who created them. The only women at the grill, carrying pride and passion, yet extreme modesty. I think it’s because she knows it only takes one taste for people to understand her artwork. She is an artist drawing inspiration from the land that she came from and the one she now calls home.

Cooking is an art form, and my mother an artist, showing me the bravery I lacked from a young age. just because someone isn’t in your mind of bravery doesn’t mean they are. Fearless in the Kitchen, allowing her to open her shy personality, it’s easier for her to talk to people once they’ve had a bite,  because it’s as if they’ve already know a part of her.

 

At 19- years- old my mother came to America from the Philippines, and has not been back since. While I’m sure her heart sometimes aches for the connection to her past, she has created a new life here and is very much loved. As I’ve grown older, the less she talks about her home country, I wonder if it’s because another day here, is another day further away from the home she once knew. Since I was young I’ve longed for a connection to her past. Asking her to tell me stories of her former life. I would ask more questions in one language than she can answer in Two. She’s a quiet woman, and her stories never carry too much detail, she’s always at a loss for words. But, with each dish came another story, a lot of them would sometimes be the same one but I was okay. My mom was no longer at a lost for words, she might be bilingual but cooking was her language of choice.

It’s through her quiet and calm serenity I learned that strength comes in many different forms and for my mother, her strength can be found in the endless nights she spends making 1000 rolls of Lumpia without asking for help. Her hands and eyes exhausted, but she can’t dare disappoint and holds her ability with much pride, knowing she’s the only one who can fill each one with her perfection. With each new recipe, she shines and shows her bravery, fearlessly taking on new ingredients and events. I see her courage as she lets strangers try her hand made creation, telling them a story with just a taste. There’s vulnerability in her stories, yet she stands in the middle of a kitchen allowing everyone to watch her make them come to life. I’ll never get the joy on her face when she see’s someone take their first bite.

Throughout the years I often felt as if I was losing my mother to some monster with two faces. Yet, each time I doubted her, she would return to the kitchen, showing me she’s still there. It was the thing that remained constant during my youth. There’s a strength in the ability to find a safe haven in time of trouble. Though it’s a strength I still don’t quite understand, with each taste and each year, I get a little better at understanding.

And I’ve gotten better at listening to my mother’s unspoken words.