I walk into the Texas airport with my mother, and she holds me as if this is our last moment together. Ma kisses my left cheek, then my right, and then my forehead. Her tenderness intimidates me. Even on the way here, she had held my hand, squeezing my limp fingers in her own. I don’t know what to do with such an overload of affection, so I do nothing.
I am becoming my mother. I know this because people tell me I resemble her. But also, I’m becoming her because I disapprove strongly. I worry strongly, I love strongly, as she does. Sometimes, I offset the intensity with humor. I ruffle her hair or do a little dance. Our family has, I believe, too much intensity. We care too much. Perhaps we should care less.
On the plane, I think about the message she has left me with. Stay happy. This was Ma’s mantra for the month I visited her. Stay happy. It’s the reason she lets me binge on Netflix, with the occasional disapproval of the shows I choose. This is so dark. What you watch affects your mental state, just like what you eat affects your physical state. I see the logic, and I watch my shows anyway.
Stay happy. It’s the reason she suggests therapy. We meet a counselor for four consecutive Tuesdays, with Ma and I seeing the counselor separately. I have never met a therapist or spoken to one. In the beginning I am nervous, afraid of judgement, of her discovery that I am broken. But the counselor simply listens, without judgement. She accepts my emotions for what they are. The counselor doesn’t want me to be happy. She doesn’t want me to be anything. She doesn’t want. She just listens.
Stay happy. It’s the reason Ma drops me to the library to borrow stacks of books, why she comes home from work and cooks fresh meals despite her fatigue, why she does the laundry and cleans the dishes and sweeps the kitchen while I watch my dark shows. Ma wants grandchildren, and she wants me to move back to America. But I don’t want kids, and I like living in India. When your brother and you were born, I felt like for the first time, that these people were mine. Motherhood, I imagine, is a complicated emotion, one that chooses a night of worrying over sleep. I don’t understand motherhood, but I do know that possessing something nurtures the fear of losing it. I want us to love without fear.
This is what makes my mother happy. Hugging me before she goes to sleep, holding me in her arms and resting her head in the nook of my shoulder. And with a deep exhale, she releases the day’s buildup of love.
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