In the Echoes / by Stillwater Magazine

By Monica Chen

I.

            You’ll be born on a Monday.

The winter winds will make no sound outside the hospital walls as they cower in fear of your mother’s screams. The words will tumble from her mouth, like the frenzy of snow falling just a window away, in a language foreign to the doctors and nurses.

The blizzard of white will stop as you let out your first cries and your mother will name you after the storm. The quiet power. The beautiful destruction.

Your father won’t be present for your birth, though you will be the only thought on his mind as he prepares the new apartment for your arrival.

A gently used crib will sit in the corner, soft white blankets entwining around the rough wooden bars. The cloth will still carry the slight smell of hunger, exhaustion, the inside of your father’s suitcase.

“Welcome to your new home,” he’ll whisper to you as you and your mother step over the threshold, his fingers gently running through the small tufts of hair on top of your head.

His English will be broken, accented in the wrong places, but you won’t be old enough to notice.

And your mother will smile as she steps into the apartment, breathing in the smell of bread baking in the oven.

II.

            You’ll grow up on a Tuesday.

            You’ll knock softly on your baby brother’s bedroom door as your father tucks him into his cradle. Your father will look up at you with a smile and nod his head before gently patting the small tufts of hair on your brother’s head and adjusting the slightly tattered white blanket over his small body. You’ll return to your room and crawl to the edge of your bed, huddling under your blankets and pressing your small body against the white wall. You’ll clutch a small book against your chest, the bright red cover a stark contrast against the soft beige night shirt your mother made for you.

            Your father will walk into your room only a minute later and he’ll take his spot on the bed beside you, bending his knees to just below your feet so that he can fit on the small mattress. The metal springs will creak under his weight and you’ll wait a brief moment for him to get comfortable before you press your book into his hands.

            “Mrs. Meyers gave it to us,” you’ll say to him before you stick your thumb in your mouth and wait for him to start reading.

            He’ll silently pull your hand away from your mouth and you’ll pout, but you’ll know that you’re getting too old to still be sucking your thumb anyway.

Your father will flip through the book once very quickly before closing it and holding it out in front of you. “Daddy’s tired. Why don’t you read to me this time?”

            Your eyes will widen and you’ll break out in a smile. “Okay,” you’ll respond before grabbing the book. “You know, Mrs. Meyers says I’m real good at reading.”

            Your father will chuckle softly and close his eyes as you begin reading.

            You’ll make it through the first half of the page before stopping on a difficult word. Your father will sound it out with you, slowly, patiently. He’ll do that for each word that trips you up before his eyelids become too heavy. And as he begins to drift into sleep, your words will dance around his head, and he’ll dream of the time when you’ll be teaching him new words and helping him sound them out.

            And when that time comes, he’ll ask you to write down his life story. His culture’s history, his family’s past, his journey to a new world.

And the words will be in English.

III.

            Your plane will depart on a Wednesday.

            Your mother will cry and your father will hold her shoulders as if to hold her back from jumping on the plane with you. Tears will stream down your mother’s face as she zips up your backpack and reminds you to keep your passport and documents safe at all times.

            She’ll pretend to be mad, but the spite won’t make it to her eyes.

            “We gave up everything to come to this country and now you just want to leave?” she’ll ask in her native tongue.

            You’ll smile at her and give no response.

You won’t expect her to understand.

            Your father will hold his lips together in a tight line, one you’ve come to learn over the years means that he is trying not to get emotional. He’ll gently brush his right hand against your hair as he presses you to his chest, your arms wrapping around him. Then, he’ll pick up your suitcase in his worn hands as he walks you to your gate.

            “I’m proud of you,” he’ll say.

            “Thanks, Dad,” you’ll respond, smiling back at him as you take the handle of your suitcase out of his firm grip.

            “Your brother should have come to say goodbye,” your mother will say, dabbing her eyes dramatically with a napkin.

“It’s fine,” you’ll reply. “Tell him I hope his tests go well.”

Your mother will nod and continue swiping at her eyes with the crumpled napkin. “Call us the moment you get there. And watch out for thieves and pickpockets. And don’t talk to strangers. And remember to eat.”

            You and your father will glance at each other and smile.

            And with one last wave, you’ll walk slowly down the hall to your flight.

IV.

            Your daughter will arrive on a Thursday.

            She’ll be three weeks early, and even though you and your partner will have prepared for months ahead of time, you still won’t be completely ready for her.

            Rose-faced and blue-lipped, she won’t cry right away, and the doctors will take her into a back room to run some tests. You’ll hold your breath as you wait for the hospital staff to return, cheeks pink with fear and lips blue with sorrow.

            Your partner will lay a hand on your left forearm. You’ll take it in your right and press it to your cheek. They’ll flash a small, exhausted smile at you and the unease won’t leave your chest, but you’ll still find yourself smiling back. And you’ll think back to the first time you met them, a year after moving to a new country, when you weren’t sure whether or not you would fly back home. And the first time you said “I love you” to each other, and how it sounded a lot like “stay.” And the day you married them, two years after you first started dating. And how they met your parents the day before the wedding and yet still wanted to join the family. And you’ll know that you’ve never wanted anything more in your life than to have a family with them.

            Your hands will shake against your partner’s until your daughter is returned, first into your partner’s arms and then into yours. Your baby girl will yawn and wriggle in your grasp. And then she will wail and cry and scream.

            And you will smile because, in that moment, it will be the most beautiful sound you have ever heard.

            And you will whisper in her ears your hopes and dreams for her future, as she grows and thrives in the land that you have chosen for her.

V.

            The hospital will call on a Friday.

            And you’ll be on the first flight home that Sunday, running through the airport gates, into your brother’s arms. It’ll be the first hug you’ve shared since you were teenagers.

            Your brother will drive you to your family home, the bells striking twelve as you wind through the narrow roads.

            The house will still smell like baked bread, as it did when you were growing up.

You’ll cook stew for your father and your brother as they watch the television. And you’ll press a soft hand onto your father’s shoulder as you urge him to eat something.

            He’ll sit stoically in front of the couch, commenting on the news as it flashes by on the television, face pale with loss and hands sinking into the armrests.

            Then night will fall and you’ll walk into the living room after washing the dishes from supper and you’ll see him cry for the third time in your life.

            First when his mother passed.

            Second when his sister passed.

            And now for his wife.

            And you’ll softly push his left arm onto his lap and sit down on the armrest, your right arm wrapped around his shoulders, your head rested on his. His entire body will shake as he is wracked with sobs.

            You’ll sit with him until his eyelids begin to drop before ushering him upstairs into the bed he once shared with your mother.

            He’ll slip in on the left side and still only take up half the bed.

            That night, you’ll lie awake in your childhood bed, the wallpaper still peeling and the bed springs still creaking. And as you send a text message to your partner and your daughter, peacefully resting in the home you’ve made for yourself, you’ll wonder why humans bother to love.

            Sometimes I wonder that too.

VI.

Your grandson will be born on a Saturday.

You’ll be the third to hold him.

First his mother.

Second his father.

And the guilt will wash over you as you play with his pudgy little fingers and coo softly into his ear.

Because you never gave your mother or father the opportunity.

Because your daughter stayed close by.

Because you didn’t.

VII.

You’ll die on a Sunday.

Slowly. Softly.

Sleep will take you, as you had always wanted.

As you drift more and more into a permanent rest, you’ll smile selfishly because you’ll leave before your partner. You won’t have to learn how to live without them.

And they’ll know once they wake. They’ll know immediately as the life leaves your body, the warmth still lingering in your queen sized bed.

Your daughter will cry at your funeral, tears mixing with mascara and running down her cheeks. Her husband will stand, arm wrapped around her waist, holding her gently but firmly. They’ll accept people’s condolences and shake hands and whisper their thank-yous.

Once the funeral ends, your daughter will return to your family home with your partner.

She’ll dote and she’ll comfort. She’ll turn off the lights in your master bedroom as your partner settles into the sheets. Then she’ll return to her childhood room and call her husband and son, saying her goodnights and breathing harshly into her pillow before sleep overtakes her.

And in the following silence you’ll hear me whisper.

I’m sorry.