listen to what i’m saying — 2

When she says, “Every time I ask you for something you make me pay for it,” she’s talking about/to my dad, my uncle. I disappear and become a proxy.

She creates situations in which I’m forced to act like the bully, then she splits from the reality of me, the daughter who loves her and does much for her (and receives much from her), gladly and promptly, and regresses into trauma.

She doesn’t know she needs me to be the bully; she doesn’t know she needs me to be her brother, her husband, so that she can finally¬†get it right, assert herself, win.

I need not to be the bully. I also need not to give in. If I give in I’ll lose myself. I have to hang on to my own self. But if I hang on to my own self, I play the bully.

Trauma ensnares us in a game of no-win. If I give in we both lose. If I hang on and play the bully we both lose.

The only way is to talk. Talk. Talk. Talk. Name the game. Game the game. Outwit the game.

But I know so much more than she does. Will she listen? Will she be able to face the anxiety of going to the airport with the right document but not the document that makes her feel safe, just so that we can both be free of this deadly game?

The anxiety is just a symptom. But symptoms keep us going. She has so many anxieties, so many phobias. Do I want to tamper with them?

This one is not so bad. This one is recent.

But: do I want to have this conversation? Do I want to name the game to her, unravel it slowly, word by painful word — make her see, make her understand? Because it will be exhausting, and I’m (coincidentally?) exhausted already.

Does she want to make sure that she’s welcome? Does she want to make sure that she has my attention? Does she want to know that, in spite of my exhaustion, there is a welcome spot as wide and as deep as the ocean she’s crossing for her in my heart? Today I found myself thinking, If she can’t let go of the wrong document, she can stay home. Is she pushing me to say, I want you at the cost of my sanity, of my subjectivity, of my autonomy, of my exhaustion?

Our minds are dancing a very tight long-distance tango.


listen to what i’m saying

My mother wants the wrong form.

When you come to the United States from a country for which the US doesn’t require a visa you need to fill out an online form. It’s called ESTA, for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Three years ago I filled out the form for her (confronted by these tasks, her otherwise most efficient English becomes null), saved it to my computer, and emailed it to my sister. My sister printed it out and gave it to my mom. Why doesn’t my mom fill out the form directly at my sister’s? She doesn’t.

The form I sent to my sister three years ago was not the right form. It was the form I had filled out, instead of the receipt the system spits back after it runs your credit card and takes your money. But since the US government only requires that you fill out the form, not that you present it to anyone at all, it didn’t matter.

The form lasts a year. Last year we did it again, over the phone, just like the previous year. This time I sent to my sister the receipt, which is what you are supposed to keep for your records, even though — I repeat — no one will ask you to see it.

My mom called me out of herself with rage and agitation. She gets that way. There is a strange little button in her mind that causes her to turn into someone who is fighting for her life, even when the circumstances are most benign.

She wanted the same form as the previous year. I told her, But it’s the wrong form. She said that was the one she wanted. I sent it to her.

Today the third annual form filling operation took place. I could sense that my mom was tense, but didn’t remember the misadventures of last year so I did what I had to do and told her I’d mail the form to my sister. “What form?” The receipt. “I want the other one.” It all came back to me like a wave of anxiety and strife and barely contained explosions. “Mom, it says here that no one will ask you to see it anyway, but that the one you should keep to your records is the receipt.” “Well I want the other one.” “Why?” “Because I believe it’s the right one.” “But it isn’t the right one; I sent it to you by mistake three years ago; I should have sent the other one.” “When I went to check in the woman at the counter asked me for that one.” “How did she do that? How did she indicate which one she actually wanted?” My mom gets seriously worked up. “You want the truth? You want the truth? I left the receipt at home.” “Well I guess it doesn’t make much difference because they don’t need it anyway.” “The woman insisted I gave her that one.” “She can’t have insisted on having one over the other, since you said you had only one on you.”

Barely held tempers explode. She wants to wrong form. I can’t send it to her. I won’t send it to her. I can’t send it to her. I hang up.

This exchange left me depressed, drained, terribly upset. Like I was wearing pants that were too tight and I couldn’t get comfortable. Like I had a needle stuck in my shin. Like a bad toothache. I couldn’t settle down for the rest of the day. I felt as obsessed as my mom. I couldn’t get the rage to subside. My rage fueled by her rage. “Every single time I ask you for something you make me pay for it.” The injustice.


Last week my therapist shows up after the weekend with a bandaid above her eyebrow. What happened? I walked into a door. Did you get it stitched? Not straight away, and when I went they told me it was too late. They also told me to stay out of the sun.

We spend quite some time the rest of the week talking about this wound, the stitching that didn’t happen, the bandaid, the scar that will form, is it going to be big, is it going to be visible, does it hurt.

On Friday, she’s still wearing the bandaid. “Why are you still wearing the bandaid? it’s been a week.” The nurse at UC told me that the most important thing was to keep it protected from the sun, so I expect I’ll be wearing it for a while. “Why?” To avoid bad scarring. “Is the wound very wide?” No, it’s just a little line. “So the scarring can’t be that bad. I mean, people get wounds all the time. It’s okay.” Well that’s what the nurse said. “Nurses say all sorts of things. You’ve had injuries before. Did you cover them for months? Did you get terrible scars?” No answer. “We are inside. It’s not sunny inside.” It’s a hassle to put the bandaid on more than once a day. “But it’s not even sunny outside. It’s an overcast and rainy day.” Silence.

I start blowing a gasket. I tell myself, Don’t blow a gasket. Instead I say, “Will you look it up? Will you at least consider the possibility that you don’t need to go around with a silly bandaid on your face for months just because a nurse blurted out something? You do know that if you ask two doctors about something you’ll get two different answers, right? You can find out for yourself, you know?”


“Will you do that? Will you consider it? Will you look it up?”


“You promise?”

By then the fury has turned into anguish. I have tears in my eyes. I can’t bear this. I can’t bear this.

I promise.