it’s past midnight and i start thinking about my umma dying again. she’s not dead, but as my head starts to spin i think—
well what if she gets into a car accident tomorrow morning on her way to work, you know anything can happen on the new jersey turnpike, wait she doesn’t take the new jersey turnpike anymore since we’ve moved, but what if she gets into a car accident anyway, they happen pretty frequently, and then she’ll be gone forever, and i didn’t even hug her goodbye when she dropped me off for an interview on move-in day
— and my chest heaves up and down, so i text my umma and tell her that i love her, and i miss her. just in case. (my umma is alive, by the way.)
the first time i had anxiety about my umma dying was sometime between preschool and kindergarten. i had a nightmare my umma never came back from her ESL classes at bergen community college. i don’t remember if this was before or after the car accident we were in. (it wasn’t on the new jersey turnpike.)
she took me to community college with her. she took me to the laundromat with her. she took me to the grocery store with her. she took me to the nail salon with her, where she worked seven days a week, non-stop. we didn’t have a babysitter then.
the day the patriots played the giants in the super bowl and lost, my umma stayed out at work for a long time, and to this day i still remember calling her and her not picking up the phone and wondering if she was okay, wishing she was home with me and appa on sunday nights. (she was okay, but driving back, so couldn’t pick up the phone.)
at my new elementary school i would see kids being picked up by their mothers, in their minivans, off to play soccer or go on a playdate or to violin lessons. and just once, just once, i wished i could be picked up by her.
i have a friend from high school who tells her mother everything, and i wish this were true of my umma and i. but there is too much to catch up on what she missed.
i tell all my friends, my umma is the best, too good for this world. she still works seven days a week, non-stop, juggling two jobs, cooking all the food, cleaning the apartment; she says she loves to work.
even when she’s angry or sad or frustrated she makes the effort to understand others. even when she says things that are rooted in bias, like when she said my bisexuality was just a phase, i know she tries to understand me. she still loves me. and that feels quite rare in the asian queer community.
i resented her for never being there for me when i was younger. but now i know she was only trying to help us climb the impossible ladder of the nonexistent american dream.
my umma crossed an ocean with her only child and her husband so that my appa could pursue his dream of getting an MBA in the USA. she told me she majored in german when she was in college, because that was where her favorite pianists, bach and beethoven, were from. she wanted to go to germany. she went to america instead. she still hasn’t been to germany.
my umma lost her umma when i was seven to cancer. she takes care of her mother-in-law, my halumni, like she’s her own mother. maybe that’s why i’m afraid of her dying even though she only turned fifty just a few years ago.