My mom pushed down on the shift, and I heard tires grind hard against the dark asphalt, pushing to a start. The car inched forward.


We sat in silence. I had an overwhelming urge to turn on the radio, but knew too well it would lead to a fight I didn’t ask for. She doesn’t like it when I play music in the car. Not even when it’s dark out and traffic is tedious and neither of us is talking. Sometimes it’s too loud, other times it’s distracting her from her thoughts. But I think it’s just because she doesn’t understand the English lyrics.

When she does let me, I, in a most careful fashion, pick out songs that I think she would like (Chinese folk songs and classical music, the latter I love as well), and we listen to them quietly. She occasionally makes a comment.

“We can talk,” she sometimes says, although we don’t really follow through with that either.

And then silence became violence. I rolled down the window to fill my lungs with fresh air, which had somehow become a scarcity in Beijing. Outside, the dim sky loomed over the city, casting long, narrow shadows of pedestrians on the sidewalk.

When we had finally gotten past the intersection, her ringtone went off in the quiet vacuum. She reached an arm into her purse on the backseat, taking her eyes off the road.

“Mom . . .” I protested, tugging at her arm.

“I got it. Don’t worry.”

“Mom, I’m serious. I hate when you multitask.”

It slipped out of my mouth harsher than I’d intended. Her arm paused abruptly. Shit. If I had a talent, it would be making her mad. I braced myself for the rest of the car ride.

But when she turned to me, the look on her face was just a mixture of surprise and hurt.

“You never used to worry when I was driving. You’d just sit in the backseat and trust that I’d keep you safe.” She said, and I suddenly couldn’t look at her in the eye, taken by a rush of guilt in my stomach.

It was her fault. Really. I had the right to tell her that she wasn’t being responsible. So why did I feel as if I had just betrayed her in the worst way possible? Why did I feel guilty at all?

She turned back to face the road now, the expression on her face blurred by the shadow of a skyscraper. For some reason, I started thinking about what Oscar Wilde once said: “children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.”1

I looked over at my mother. The descending sun had taken the last leap of faith on the skyline, casting her profile in the most elegant silhouette. I had no idea what was on her mind.

  1. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 1998), 104.
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