I recently finished reading Victoria Chang’s Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief and it inspired me to write in the epistolary style. This letter is inspired by the photo (below) I took recently of a family friend’s child.
The little girl turned two years old today. You should have seen her in her pink dress and ruby-red shoes. Her dress reminded me of the one our mother made for my 7th birthday. Do you remember that dress? The skirt with its layers of peach tulle.
The little girl ran around the parking lot, a flurry of pink and a flash of red. We tried to hold her back but she pulled us along until we resisted and planted our feet. You should have seen how she struggled to lead us to a destination of her choice, how badly she wanted to be free.
She is not mine but there are times now when she glances at me when she starts to play with another toy or makes a move toward the washi tape all neat and ordered in the acrylic box in my office. She looks up at me, her eyes searching, waiting to see if I will say something, or if I will rush over and stop her from touching things that aren’t hers.
She is only two and already I am trying to control her behavior, molding her to be obedient, to suppress her curiosity and playfulness. Is this what happened to me? To us?
I hear Lola in my voice every time I try to stop her movements. I don’t know if Lola would be proud or if she would find it funny that I of all her grandchildren turned out to be the most like her.
Do you remember how she would inspect the dishes after I washed them? This is why I waste so much water and soap, scrubbing more than once, brushing my fingers along every inch of the plate, checking for dried bits of rice I may have missed. Every time, it has to pass her inspection.
There was that moment when you must’ve been 11 or 12 and I was 8 or 9 when you accidentally dropped a tray of drinking glasses in the kitchen of our old apartment by the local high school. I don’t remember what Lola said to you; all I remember is Dad’s anger because she was more concerned about the broken glass than she was about you, centimeters away from bleeding.
We know now that doing something wrong does not mean there is anything wrong with us. Or do I? I look at that little girl’s eyes and I wonder if I ever looked like that (or still look like that), waiting for approval or disapproval, not knowing if one action will fill me with so much shame that I wouldn’t try it again. If all this time I haven’t let myself run and play without judgment like I used to out in the streets of Kawit, the town where I was born.