by CHRIS CHAE
“Have fun, I love you son.”
“I-” I stumble. “I lo-” I stutter. “Okay” I give up.
I hate those words.
It’s just 4 words. I love you too. But they’re just so hard to say.
Whenever they try to roll off my tongue, they just fall. They trip over themselves, tying themselves up and splattering into broken syllables onto the ground. They just lie there, hoping for someone else to pick them up and finish their journey but nobody does. Nobody can besides me. But in the time between the words jump from my lips and into nothing, I’m already out the door. It’s just 4 words but I still can’t tell her I love her back.
I step outside and I become one in the billions, a tiny, insignificant, fraction lost in a big cruel world but it’s still easier to say those words out here. I eat a sandwich and I love it, I see my friends and I love them, somebody cracks a joke and I’ll love that. It’s so easy to love things when all of it has no meaning. Love is thrown out into the wind like it belongs there and not hidden and treasured in the warm embrace of the heart. Out here, I’m just another in the crowd who loves useless things, somebody nobody will miss if not there. But at home, I’m that one out of one, that one and only son, my mom has and loves, but I still can’t tell her I love her back.
My mom works too much. She leaves early in the morning when morning isn’t actually there yet and she returns home when the sun is asleep and life is fading away. She leaves on conference meetings and rarely has time to relax before the cycle eats away at her energy and she has to wake up again when the sun hasn’t. But still every day, she never fails to cook dinner for the family. I come home after tiring extracurricular and hours of mind numbing typing working on college apps, to spicy kimchi soup and warm rice. And I know she’s tired, I see it in her eyes that dare to close and her mouth that holds on desperately tight to that smile but I still can’t tell her I love her back.
I wonder why those words are so hard to say. I’ve said many words in my life, many of them too meaningless to remember and too worthless to waste time trying to remember. I’ve said those words rearranged to a countless number of things, blurted out without a second thought. But when I look at my mom’s face, those words can’t seem to organize themselves. My brain pulls back on my tongue, desperately preventing me from making myself vulnerable to the woman who taught me life.
But while I still struggle to say those words, there’s still something that I can do. I know I’m not strong. I’m a small child with a weak heart, but what this useless son does have is a big stomach. So I sit down at the dinner table. I listen and talk and laugh and listen to words and the absence of words. And while that all happens, I’ll eat and I’ll eat and I’ll scrape my plate clean. I’ll look up at my mom and ask for more rice. To anybody else, it might not mean much. But to me, it means the world. It’s less of showing my mom that I love her and more of me asking her to love me again, but it’s how I can express the words that my mouth can’t. To ask her again and again to give me more rice, to give me more love, is how I can tell her that I love her. And she’ll pile on more rice, time after time, after time and I love her so much for it.