Content warning: This article contains themes of physical, emotional abuse

Dear Mom,

Since I last saw you three years ago, I have thought of you every day. I have remembered the warm moments when I felt you loved me and you knew I felt the same. For the past two years since I last spoke to you, I have tried to memorize your voice from memory alone, have tried to learn by heart the screech of your voice when you are angry and the soft whimper when you are sad.

I am too afraid to listen to your voicemails. Each day, though I try to move on and want to forget you, I cannot. I cannot forget what I have done to you or what I have done to alter our lives forever.

I do not know what to say other than that I am sorry. It will never be enough, I know. You must believe me when I write that I would give up almost anything that you asked to make you happy. I know how you have suffered for most of your adult life, for I have been a witness, and it brings me great pain to also know I have added to that grief. But I could not surrender my freedom for your happiness and, to be honest, I am not sure that my compliance would have made you happier either.

It may still be difficult for you to understand why I could not follow through with the arranged marriage. You promised that he was a good Hindu man with a high income who would help me build my own career. I know you intended to secure a future for me that would be free of the financial insecurity that you endured with my father. But Mom — I was only 17.

You did not ask if I wanted this. Instead, you hurt me, you blackmailed me, you hit me with a tree whip, you let my father threaten to kill me.

You did all of this to force me to agree to his proposal over the phone. You made me fear for my life in our home. So I could not stay. I know it broke your heart when I came home from work that day, grabbed a backpack, ran away without looking back, but I could not stay.

Yet, it is difficult to blame a perpetrator who is themselves a victim. I do not know what you have endured in life, but I have witnessed part of your struggle. I have watched my father harm you and threaten your life as he did mine. I have heard you softly cry, begging to God to kill you, when you believed my sisters and I were asleep.

I have tasted the meals you made as you spoke with your sister living in our homeland about how difficult it is to live in this place, alone, without her or your brother or your parents.

I know you have lost much and lose more still as the days pass you by.

You have hurt me, but you yourself have been hurting since I was born. I am especially sorry that I could not protect you from my father. I was a coward and was always as afraid of him as you were.

As I write, I know this is a letter that I can never send. You would not understand half of the words on this page because of the English barrier, and the cultural barrier may be an even more difficult hurdle to overcome. What is freedom to you, and what is freedom to me, after all?

For you, perhaps it involves money, the moment when our family can move to a suburb in Warren and does not worry about rationing the food in the fridge. But for me, who grew up reading about and seeing white American children’s freedom, it is to wear shorts in July, to spend time with friends without needing a reason, to marry someone I love at the time I choose, not someone you chose for me when I was still in high school.

I wish I could say that I would give up the world to see you again, smiling and welcoming me home, but we both know that is a lie.

If I was ready to give up the world for your happiness, I would have given you my world, agreed to your arranged marriage, not gone to college — lived a life that I could not be happy with. But I cannot bear to give you every piece of me. Our worlds are not on the same plane. I wonder if you have realized that too.

I love you dearly, and though I do not deserve nor expect your forgiveness, I hope someday that you will remember me fondly.

I hope someday that you will give me a call. I miss your voice.


Your Eldest Daughter

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