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Roads not taken


Hello Mother, I went to your old apartment today. I sat near the entrance imagining your smiling face just behind the window panes. I imagined you coming out weighed down by home made soup and the heavy Mahjong bag, ready for an evening of fun with family. Somehow, I could smell the soup and hear the tiles rattle. Your face though was becoming blurry. As years go by it will become blurrier. One day it will vanish altogether.

It is Easter Sunday today. One year ago we were having a family dinner just like the one in my mind. We were happy, we were together, we were whole. My heart hasn’t been torn out and left to bake in the cruel desert sun, yet.

I often think about our last 100 days together. You spent most of them in the hospital. One of those days, after another sleepless night you begged me to take you home. “Let’s go back, where I can get a good night’s sleep.” You said it as if a couple of nights of rest will somehow magically cure your terminal disease. I said:”What about your washroom needs?” At this point you have lost the command of your legs. “Then let’s steal a whole bunch of diapers. Let’s go and don’t tell anyone!” You said, matter-of-factly.

Mother, you had twinkles in your eyes and music in your voice like a little girl ready for adventure and mayhem, ready for anything. As your son, how I wanted to make your fantasy come true! How I wanted to grant this one last wish of yours. I thought about how I can tell the nurses we are going for a walk. I can drive the car to the visitor parking near the front. I can carry you like an army medic. Before they know it, we’d been driving down the street to freedom, to rest, to happiness with that big bag of diapers flattering in the wind.

That image burnt up as soon as it appeared. The rational side chimed in. I would have to do the job of five nurses. What drugs will you need? How do I check your blood pressure, heart pressure? Will you suffer more because of our momentary lack of judgement? Will I regret and have to take you back? What if they won’t take you back? Oh how I hate the unforgiving chains of reality.


The last thing you ever said to me was: “Will you be back tomorrow?” The last voice message you ever left to me was: “They cannot find my heartbeat.” You knew the time was near. You had a feeling. You were scared. You cried every time I brought Mabel to visit. You knew you won’t see her growing up. You didn’t want to leave, but you knew no banquet lasts forever. One time I came to see you and you were praying. I stood behind the curtains and just watched you in silence. The tears in your eyes brought out tears from my heart. You talking to your god. Telling him all your heart’s desire and secrets. I wonder  what was said, even though I didn’t need to know.

On another day I took a picture of you while you slept. I wanted to remember my mother in this way. One day, I want to look at this photo and convince myself you simply went to sleep and can wake up any time you want to. Anytime I want you to.

Mother, we all miss you very much. The world misses you. Happy to report you are not missing too much though. You love baseball, but since you are not here, they cancelled spring training. You love maple syrup, but without you they didn’t feel like having the Elmira maple syrup festival. Birthday parties, Hanukkah, Family Day, Easter Family Dinners, Dimsum, Concerts, Hockey, NBA all cancelled. Anything that makes the human experience worthy is pretty much cancelled.

We are all holed up in our dwellings like hibernating marsupials. Eating canned foods and watching Friends reruns; trying to escape the cruel reality of life; trying to focus on better and simpler times; trying to understand why life had become so cruel. Isn’t life what we make of it? Did they lie to us in Bible study or biology class? Does 3D 4K 5G still add up to 6 degrees of separation? Or does it add up to nothing but cancer? Have we became cancer ourselves, to our world?

Mother, your son didn’t have the courage to help you escape your prison. I hope you can forgive me now that I am imprisoned. I am not a coward but I think too much. I will always wish I could have been a better son. I will forever be asking for forgiveness and understanding. I will constantly look for ways to love more, to share more to learn more, so that one day, on my own deathbed I can say to you: “Mother, I am finally ready, Let’s escape together.”


On a bus far far away, in a strange land, mother and child sit near the window. Endless orange grove surrounding them. Mother looks at the ripening fruits and asks: “What do you think? Should we go get some oranges?” The son resolutely stands up and answers: “Of course, let’s go right now.” Never again will he regret the road not taken. In life nor in death.

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1 Comment »

  1. Hello Zheng,
    I just read your latest story regarding the love you have for your mother and how much you miss her. Again very well written and expresses your true love to Zoey, for sharing such a high quality of compassion and respect in raising her children.
    I have never written a story like this regarding my mother that I lost 2 days after my 16th birthday in 1970. Although the circumstances were extremely different then yours my mother was also very caring and comforting. I do visit her grave site and tell her I am so sorry I did not realize the horrible situation was so suffocating because my abusive father
    neglected to wake up and smell the roses. Instead he abandoned ship and he went adrift as mom and I sailed into a tsunami. My mother mistakenly over dosed herself during the night and I found her dead in the morning. Suddenly I was alone and the creditors were kicking the door down to empty the house family belongings and change the locks.

    I cannot explain to you now what my path included as that would be a book by itself. However after many years of exploring through trails and errors in life I never let go of my love for my mother and felt that I must do a much better job at raising a family then my father.
    Your pain is understandable because you had a very satisfactory long term relationship with your mother which you cherish with a golden heart. You can talk to her through focusing with her spirit because she is right there everyday watching you with love and admiration.

    I am very pleased that you have come into our lives because you are the type of man your mother wanted you to be.
    Thank you Zoey ! We miss you !


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