“Maybe you love me just a bit too much,” she tells me as we drive back home from her violin lesson, in that slightly angry, diffident tone that she seems to be using a lot these days.
I feel like I’ve been punched smack right in the face. I feel stunned, angry, disappointed, and I tell her so.
“Oh, you are over-reacting now. I can’t even talk to you anymore,” she says mournfully.
And, there we were.
Sitting in silence once again. I had driven her all the way to Manchester and back because I wanted to spend some time with alone. It was hard to do that these days. I miss laughing with her and sharing things, just anything. I feel so completely alone at times, and counted the days, minutes, hours when she would be home from University.
“Yes, I do love you. A lot. How is that a bad thing?” I try again, trying to bridge that chasm that has opened up between us lately. Cars whizz past us towards dusk, and my heart starts racing. I have to slow down.
Yes, I have loved her so much. So much that it hurts. More than me. More than anything or anyone. I wanted to give her the world. I wanted to bring her every happiness that I didn’t have growing up. I was making up for all that lost time.
I suddenly feel very angry. She is so selfish, is all I can think to myself. All that I have done for her all these years. Everything that I have been through.
“I will always be there for you, I promise,” I’d said to the beautiful big brown eyes; that crinkled up face looking up at me, as I lay there heavily sedated after the traumatic birth and the c-section. I didn’t expect to become a mother so young, but since the very first day I knew, I also knew that I would never love anyone more than that person, who didn’t even have a name or a face yet. I will give her the world, and more, I had thought to myself.
I had to leave her there while I came to a land so unfamiliar, so harsh, so lonely and so far away, just to build a life for the two of us. “Please don’t go,” she had said tearfully, sobbing quietly into my shoulder, and my heart shattered into the tiniest pieces as her tiny body held me tight. I pulled myself up, leaving and walked away, without looking back. I knew I couldn’t do this, but I had to.
There wasn’t a single night that I had slept peacefully, tossing and turning, dreaming of her, and crying in my sleep every night. I spoke to her every day, saving money for those phone calls. She seemed happy. My mum was the best person to look after her, probably much better than me, I told myself every day, as I wrote my thesis, spending hours in the library, finding the real me, the strong me, the best version of myself. I was finding myself, but a part of me was missing.
“I love you, mummy,” she always told me on the phone, “more than anything else in the world,” and it seemed all worth it.
And, then we were together once again, and I forgot everything else. I forgot myself, and everything I wanted in life, except her, and her dreams. I was a parent, and I was going to be the best one ever. I let it define me.
“I thought I gave you everything, did so much for you,” I start talking really fast, words coming out before my brain has time to process them, and I can’t stop. I know that I am going to say something really stupid very soon, but I can’t help myself. I am thinking of all those years, months, days, nights, that I didn’t stop to think of myself.
“Yes, you did. I wouldn’t be where I am without you. That’s not the point”, she says sounding so exasperated that it makes my eyes sting. “But, I wasn’t happy. Surely you must have known that.”
I don’t know how this happened.
All I had ever wanted was to give her all the happiness. I thought she was happy. I really did. Maybe it was just teenage angst, or maybe I was just too tough on her. But, I wanted her to do everything she was capable of.
“You are going to ruin her life,” her father had told me when I was getting ready to bring her here with me, alone. She was so small, and I wanted to protect her from all the pain in the world. I was going to be her shield, I had promised myself. Maybe I tried too hard. I always do, don’t I, in everything that I do. I just go too far, perhaps.
She was my firstborn, my only one for so long. It was me and her against the world. I was going to be her best friend, the one she always turns to, and the one who always has her back. I wanted her to know that I will always have her back, no matter what. I bought her things before she knew she wanted them. I stayed up at night worrying about her. I felt her pain, her happiness, and her triumphs.
“I thought we were going to be so close,” I say finally, softly.
“Yes, we are. Much more than we used to be, don’t you think. It’s much better, isn’t it?” she says, and I am confused. Baffled, really. I thought we were close all those years. “No, of course not. I was so unhappy then,” she says once again as if I hadn’t heard her the first time. I could feel her dark beautiful big eyes looking at me reproachfully, as I stared at the road ahead. I didn’t turn around, and she turned away.
I thought she could talk to me about anything and everything. I thought she was telling me everything. Wasn’t I there for her always? Didn’t I show her that I would be there for her, no matter what? Where did I go wrong? How did I get it so wrong?
I knew her before she could know herself, and I thought that I still did. Maybe we just tell ourselves these lies.
I had been away from her for all those years as I built a life for us, and she seemed happy and content. She was thriving and flourishing. She was a delight, everyone said so. She was the apple of their eyes, her grandparents who doted on her. Surely it was good for her to be settled where she was, rather than here with me as I struggled to make ends meet. I was going to create a happy space for her so that we could be together and I couldn’t wait. Every time I spoke to her, I felt angry with myself, and with life.
We had lost those years, those days and months where I didn’t see her doing everything that I should have, her dance recitals, and her laugh, the one with the crinkles in her nose, and the way she threw her head back with utter abandon and delight. She had got it from me. I smiled as I think of us laughing together. It was like looking in the mirror. She had so much of me; she had the best of me and the worst.
“Maybe we are just too similar. Maybe that is the problem,” she sounds so grown-up and mature, and I feel so proud that it takes my breath away. I tried too hard. I tried to erase the worst parts of me from you, I think to myself. I didn’t want that for you. I wanted you to be the best version of myself, and I wanted you to be the best version of yourself.
“Yes, you did what you thought was best for me,” she agrees, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. We are arguing so much these days. I am so afraid to say anything because I feel outdated, so ignorant, so old when I speak to her. “But, you don’t think that it was the best for you?” I can’t resist it. I should have let it go.
“It’s just impossible to talk to you these days,” she sighs, and I agree. I wait for her to return, but then it is never as I had imagined it would be.
I just wanted to create the happiest home for you, the one I didn’t have.
I remember those days when we ran from the bus stop back home in the snowstorm, giggling. Or, those days when we would cuddle up on the sofa, just the two of us, so cosy, together in our little rented apartment, and watch Project Runway together after school, on that television that I had saved and bought with my first salary, and that we had carried together up the stairs, your tiny body heaving with the effort, and my older bones with exhaustion, as the rain splattered down heavily on those huge windows that overlooked the green.
I remember that I had decorated your room with your favourite colours, pink and purple. I remember those nights when you couldn’t sleep, and I would stay up all night next to you, seeing you nod to sleep, gently patting you down, and then seeing you toss and turn with your nightmares. I did silly things just to make you laugh all day, even when I felt like crying all the time. I also remembered the days when I would cajole you to do another hour of violin practice, or another hour of maths, sitting by you, with you, so that you wouldn’t feel alone.
“I know that you did, that you pushed me so that I would succeed. I wouldn’t be where I am without you.”
“But, but..,” my voice starts cracking. Gosh, I am beginning to sound a little like my mother, the ruminants of my Indian accent falling into place when I am upset and angry. I try very hard to maintain my composure, my dignity.
“Didn’t you think that I loved you then? Did you not feel loved?” I am sounding desperate now, desperate for that acknowledgment, desperate to hear that I hadn’t wasted those years – those days, those months — trying to think of you and nothing else. It sounds pathetic. I am pathetic.
I push my foot down hard on to the accelerator, and the car glides away smoothly, but my limbs feel heavy. Maybe it is time to just stop.
“What do you want me to say? I already said that I was very grateful,” her voice rises sharply, and I know that I wouldn’t be able to control my temper either. We were too alike; too stubborn, too volatile, too emotional. She is sounding just like me, so much like me.