I was told that everything already went back to normal when my mother started doing her regular chores again.
This easily became my favorite hasty generalization. You see, when life around you abruptly stops altogether, any sign of getting better is a sign you’d be more than willing to accept as truth.
When my dad left, I almost surrendered to the sameness of normal and never. I never felt comfortable with the smell of post-separation soup hovering over the upside-down plate no one ever used.
It felt to me like a zero after the decimal point. It highlighted two things: emptiness and preceding smallness.
This spelled our daily lives.
So when weeks passed and my mom somehow started to come back to life, I tore down the possibility of routine being different from normal.
When she started cooking again, and asking how her cooking was, and told stories over meals, and slipped jokes every now and then, just like before, things were – as far as I was concerned – fixed.
I would wake up again to the inviting smell of breakfast every time and things went on as usual. She would ask how the food was, and I would respond with a polite nod signaling approval. We would share stories of how our days went and laugh over silly jokes.
But then the thick layer of routine sagged as the jokes got watered down.
We later on found that we shared an open secret that sometimes we would fake the laughter to deny the difficulty in swallowing the food. Honestly, the soup would always feel too hot. The rice was always steamed with excessive water. And the drinks were painfully saturated with artificial sweetener.
When she asked me how the food was, I realized her voice broke at certain points similar to her rehearsed assurance that things are the way they were.
I would fake a nod of approval in response.
The truth is, I can still taste the minutes she wished it was her emotions curdling while she cooked that tasteless soup, I know her tears were responsible for the watery rice, and not too long ago, I have noticed how she would douse the juice with sugar because she worried that the rind from lemon, or the touch of her hands perhaps, would make the drinks unbearably bitter.
And really, I couldn’t find the taste of the food drowned beneath scalding bowls of her daily apology.
Her doing the same chores again said nothing about things reverting to normal. If anything, the sight of her doing the same chores again was just her reliving the nightmares she roughly dressed up as normalcy. Surely for the kids only starting to feel what a nightmare their lives have become.
Don’t fuck with my head – things are never normal when each spoonful of dinner requires a heavy serving of sorry so it does not taste like an unapologetic statement of a mother who cannot make delicious food for her kids and their father; a mother who always puts too many salt, or pepper; a mother who worries that the food on their dining table may not be enough; a mother who worries that she may not be enough to keep her husband in their dining table.
Every ‘forgive me’, every ‘my bad’, every sullen and sunken ‘sorry’ were screaming proof that our reality did not equate to normality.
Shut up, do not even try, I already know – the smell of soup can erupt into a miasma of suspended sorrows; upside-down plates kept untouched on the dining table only makes the table emptier; and while these are eventually forgotten, broken things remain very broken.
But it is okay, mom. We can be broken.
It’s okay. That wasn’t your fault, I promise. You don’t have to be sorry.
Please do not be sorry.